Where the heck have I been?!?

Man, 2020 was DARK.


We’re going to get vulnerable here. Because I truly believe that there’s really no real way to move past what happened without embracing vulnerability (thanks for the wisdom, Brené Brown).


Most of you know that I had to step back from business in 2020. (If not, you can read more about it here.) It was an incredibly difficult decision - and one that I did not take lightly.


And when it was said and done, life did NOT get much easier.


2020 was rough for all of us. I know we each have a unique story about how it challenged us, took us to our complete edge, and changed our lives forever.


This is just my little story. A heart-felt letter from me to you. While I don’t necessarily believe I owe anyone an explanation for why I disappeared in 2020, I want to share with you what I went through and how it’s changed my life and my business forever.


Flash back to mid-march. All of a sudden, everything was closing. Towns across the country and the world were shut down. For me, that meant that I began working from home full time. My kids were with me FULL time. And the hospitals kicked me out on my ass.


That probably would’ve been enough to kill my business in 2020. But luckily, the births I had scheduled were in locations where I could be present, with a mask and a camera.



But there were much bigger problems at hand. And none of them were directly related to Covid.


My son had been struggling for years. Between some traumatic events and underlying mental health conditions, Covid was the straw that broke the camel’s back.


The day that I decided to step back from business was much like any other day after mid-March in 2020. MY son had yet another major meltdown that challenged the safety of both of us. I don’t even remember what about, and I’d lost count as to how many had happened by that point. The police were called - again. And again, they told me they couldn’t help me. There was nothing they could do.


In fact, there didn’t seem to be anything anyone could do. Respite care at Cedars shelter was a life-saver, but only temporarily. He’d come home after two days and the outbursts would continue. So we’d alternate between them and the in-patient mental health unit at Bryan. We were doing 2-3 days a week of intense in-home therapy. He was on all the recommended drugs. (Coming from a very naturally-minded mama, one can only imagine the emotional turmoil from this decision alone). There were days where I spent hours locked in my room, waiting for the tranquilizers to kick in and knock him out - because there was nothing else I could do to keep everyone safe.


I felt alone. Scared. Worried about how my son’s future would turn out. Wondering where my sweet boy was. Wondering that the hell I did to screw him up so terribly. I was worried about our everyday safety. Worried about how I was going to keep my preschooler safe during his unpredictable tantrums. And on top of it, the anxiety in the world around us was rising. It’s safe to say the least of my concerns was contracting Covid - or whether I was going to do remote or in-person learning. At this point, we were just surviving. But the added anxiety in our world was almost too much to bear.


I gained all the weight. No - not your typical “Covid 15” from staying in, binging Netflix and too much takeout (though I did that too). I lost all motivation to do anything. I would go from not eating at all, to eating all the things (I’ll take a Runza number 7 with onion rings and a cherry Pepsi, please - like everyday). I’ve been through a lot of shit in my life, but I don’t think my stress level had ever been higher.


I asked myself - If I can’t even care for myself (and barely my children), how in the world could I have anything valuable to give to my clients?! The simple answer was - I just couldn’t. I had nothing left. I had to take a break. Take stock. And take care.


And that’s when (and why) I decided to step back.


Things didn’t get easier right away. In fact, they became more difficult. Each therapy session brought out more and more anger and tantrums. I had amazing and supportive friends, but they could only do so much to help.


As a mom, you want to believe that you’re all your kid needs. That with enough love, parenting books, and a little tequila, you can do anything! I had to forget everything I thought I knew about kids, child development, parenting, and even my own son. I had to come to terms with the fact that we were in this difficult place, and my dream of his happy and “normal” transition from child to adolescent was just not going to happen the way I planned (I would’ve given anything for a normal “I hate you mom” in these moments).



It’s funny though - once you accept reality instead of trying to fit into your preconceived view of the way things are “supposed to be”, solutions start to appear….


I finally made the difficult decision that I was not everything he needed me to be. Not even close. He needed INTENSE treatment. He needed to be away from home. And I needed the space and time to rest and reset.


On September 1, he started what would be an almost 4 month stay at a residential treatment program. During that time, I did as much nothing as I could. I gave myself a full two weeks to just BE. Then I started putting the pieces back together - in my home, in my heart, and in my soul.


It was a slow process, but bit by bit I found myself and my motivation. I started a daily yoga practice (again). I began working out most days. I arranged my space so that it was organized, functional, and pretty. I remembered that I actually have hobbies outside of kids and business (though not many). And I gave myself permission to be unavailable.


Fast forward to today and life is soooooo much different! Residential treatment was a complete life saver - for my son, and for our whole family. I got to pick him up exactly a week before Christmas. I was met by a typical almost teenage boy - snarky, messy, smelly, and perfectly annoying. Who was now taller than me...



Seriously though, I feel like for the first time in years, I have my son back. He’s funny, smart, witty, determined, compassionate, helpful, and kind. And the best part is - he feels good about himself again.


2020 was dark, but in sooooo many ways there were some incredible shifts that needed to happen in order for healing to take place. I saw it in my own life, and I believe the same energy is at work in the larger community as well. Things are not always what they seem - and 2020 is the absolute best example I can think of.


So what does this all have to do with my business - and my clients?


Well, there are definitely some changes coming!


First, you can expect me to be A LOT more intentional from now on - about my time, my projects and where I spend my energy.


That means when we work together, I’ve decided that YOU are worth my time. For you, that means you get the BEST of me (not just the “what’s left-over of me”). I will not be taking just any clients and any births. I will not be taking all the clients simply because they want to throw money at me. If we work together, it will be a mutually beneficial relationship.


This also means I am going to be a tough guard of my time with my family. Sundays are now officially “un-plugged family days”. Which means that, unless you’re in labor, if you reach out on a Sunday you likely won’t hear back from me until Monday.


I am also expanding my offerings to pursue more of what I’m passionate about, and incorporating different ways to serve YOU. So stay tuned for more on that throughout 2021! (and if you want to be the first to know, make sure to join my VIP list here!)


Lastly, I just want to say a heartfelt THANK YOU for giving me the grace, space and understanding in 2020 as I worked through some extremely difficult times. I know it was hard for you too, in your own unique way. Just know that if you ever need someone to talk to - I’m here. I’m great with a camera, but I’m also a pretty good listener, too.


2020 - thanks for the growth. 2021 - I’m ready!


(PS - everything shared above was with permission from my kiddo)

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Lincoln, NE birth photographer and doula serving southeast Nebraska

Leslie Castleberry

Tel: 402-217-1495

leslie@novitaphoto.com

© 2019 by Novita Family Photostories, LLC.