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2021. The Hardest Job.

In my lifetime I have witnessed the internet become a source of shared images, experiences and endless voices with different perspectives to share. In 2016 I became one of those notorious voices on the internet, sharing my experience of weight loss, while battling with immense grief.

What began as a way to update my family, friends and hair salon clientele, without having to relive a deep hurt through each conversation, my little space on the internet became a source of inspiration through social media platforms.

At that time the words I wrote gripped the pages with enormous grief. With each ending expression dancing with words of hope. Hope for a better life, hope for a better future, hope for a life without anguish. Yet, my life had felt like a dance with the devil. Outwardly, I was an outstanding achievement, but in reality, I had just become addicted to my own psychical endorphin release during that transformative time. With each fete I conquered, I craved more. The endorphins spoke louder than the screaming unworthiness I had felt. And I put it all out on a social media platform for the world to see.

These very public personal conquests were the hardest jobs I had given myself. Self fulfillment, feel good endorphins and outside validation were the rewards after each task had become completed.

Step 1 - Fight through grief

Step 2 - Lose weight to find myself

Step 3 - Pursue feelings of liveliness

Step 4 - Overcome fears and anxiety

Step 5 - Open my heart to others

Step 6 - Be a present mother to my children

Step 7 - Find success at work

The hardest of jobs, each task had its own struggles and pitfalls as I worked through them.

The notoriety of my weight loss “journey” became a burden to me once I felt all eyes on what I was trying to accomplish. The epic Frodo-worthy quest of losing 128 pounds came at the height of social media’s fitness boom. Looking back now, I realize I hadn’t been particularly clear enough about the suffocating grief that was compelling me to change every aspect of who I was. I wanted nothing to do with the person who had just suffered through tremendous loss. My past had broken me, shattered who I was and how I perceived myself. Feelings of unworthiness of self and of happiness lived at the forefront of my thoughts. So I retreated into my self made chrysalis and pushed as hard as I could to be a different person.

Losing weight wasn’t hard. My hyper-focus on clean eating and exercising was easy once I had gotten used to the routine. The pain of hunger paled in comparison to the pain of my internal battles. Even becoming an obstacle course racer could barely touch the pain. The hardest part of it all was learning to love my body regardless of how it looked, something that I still struggle with to this day. Self hate is a woman's best friend, we are our own harshest critics. How many times must we peer in a mirror and tear down the parts of ourselves that make us unique to who we are? Endless thoughts of attributes that could be changed to appear younger, to be shaped to perfection, to be anything but what and who we are. Self love is a term thrown around like confetti through social media platforms, yet the reality of the actual practice of it is foreign to so many.

Eventually that mindset and my body would betray me. Rather I had betrayed it. I never slowed down or listened to the cues that were screaming at me to accept myself as I was and not pursue the unattainable. My endless search for perfection only came to an end when I developed fibromyalgia. The widespread musculoskeletal pain brought me to my knees.

As my life slowed down I began to realize that the weight loss journey wasn't the story of success as the internet had defined, it was merely a chapter of my life. Little did I know some of the hardest jobs were yet to be confronted.

Much of the last few years were spent figuring out what the term “balance” really meant and how I could implement it into my daily life. As time trickled on, so did my interests in the pursuit of happiness.

Losing an absurd amount of weight quickly never filled the gaping holes in my heart. Nor did the validation or esteem take away the always looming depression from those feelings of unworthiness. The most fulfillment I had found was through traveling and trying new experiences. I had felt smothered by being at home. Haunted by ghosts from the past and things I wanted to forget. Home started to feel far from where the heart was, I convinced myself that I belonged anywhere but the shitty little apartment I had rented in the midst of my family tragedy. The more I explored, the more the sense of belonging I felt out in the world. Stepping outside of my life and venturing into how others live their daily lives gave me great perspective on what it truly meant to be alive. It was my favorite life lesson: Travel has the power to reshape us and make us whole again for those who are in search of it.

On a solo trip to the United Kingdom, it was there that I felt pure, natural happiness and purpose for the first time in what felt like an eternity. I hadn’t worked for it or redirected my pain to feel it. I just felt it, I lived it. Every little thing I had worked for in the prior 3 1/2 years took me to that special moment in time. The cherry on top was reuniting briefly with a man I met months earlier and my newly found happiness led me to have a vulnerable open heart. Little did I know, he was the love of my life and it changed everything. It was a path I didn't know I needed, but somehow I always knew it would lead exactly there.

I began to feel content to live my life again. My eyes reopened to the life I was so quick to leave behind before. It felt like an awakening, rude almost. I had put my “real life” on hold while I searched for the real me that got lost within. The collateral damage was a hard truth to accept. Grief had robbed me of my children’s childhood. I had blinked and they were no longer young, innocent children, but growing adolescents.

Parenting teenagers became the hardest job. For a brief time I had emotionally lacked the capacity to be present and it was beginning to show. It fell into unison with my work life hitting a wall. Years of being stagnant in my career as I pursued my other interests made me recognize the need to be financially responsible as I crept further into my thirties. Suddenly, naive children who had no understanding of income became sharp tongued teenagers regarding our financial situations.

It inspired one of the hardest roles I had ever taken on, business owner. A leap of faith towards a prosperous future unlocked a passion that I had never known was there. I leaned into my creativity for my skill and knowledge of my particular profession. My desire to grow my business flourished just as fast as my small beauty studio did.

Little did I know, just months after opening my own personal business that navigating a pandemic would become the utmost hardest task to take on, just as it had become for every other person in the world. The negative effects spread like wildfire across the globe. While it wreaked havoc on my emotions and financially on my business, I learned the real value of where I wanted to be and what I wanted my life to look like. The months of introspection became a true life line to hold onto. I had come out on the other side of what had happened in my life years prior. At last, the path as I venture closer to my forties has been revealed. Surrounded by my two children and newlywed husband, a new future with a different kind of happiness and fulfillment is here.

With my little space on the internet I wanted to create a space where perfection isn't at the forefront. Come just as you are, individualism is celebrated here. There is no perimeter of our life, no distortion of the human spirit or body. The jobs that we assign ourselves to accomplish or overcome are just obstacles in our mind. There is no limit to what a single person can do. The ability to conquer, to change, to rediscover is something that every single one of us possess. This message is something I will passionately enforce: Life is what you make it!

Hello, Justine Jones. It's nice to finally meet you!

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