Shut Up and Take the Picture

Y’all probably know by now that I was in a car accident a little over a year ago and (for what seemed at the time like a minor accident) it has seriously changed my life… Sometimes in ways I don’t even think about. When you deal with chronic pain, after a while it becomes your new normal. You just cope around it and get on with your day as best you can.

The other day, my attorney asked me to gather some pictures of myself pre-accident, showing my level of activity and demonstrating previous abilities that I’ve lost. As I scrolled through recent years of photos and searched on terms like “sports,” “hiking,” and “holding kids,” I ran through all the feels…

First: sadness. I felt an enormous sense of loss for things I’m missing. Hiking, camping, softball, Jazzercise, reading, tossing my kids around, doing puzzles, picking up my friend’s toddler… these are things that were once an integral part of my health, happiness and identity. And for now, I can’t do most of them; and things like reading and hiking are severely limited.

For the past fourteen months, I’ve been so focused on figuring out how to manage the pain and how to do the things I still can do, I haven’t taken stock of all the things I’m missing out on. Seeing all of it there together in living color brought on a wave of unexpected grief. Like I’ve lost part of myself in the last year, and I can only hope that with time and training I’ll be able to bring most of her back.

Pride. Yeah, okay, maybe I can’t do everything I used to do right now. And maybe some things–like tossing my growing kids around and probably playing softball with any proficiency–were bound to come to an end soonish anyway. But as I looked over the things I’ve done in the last few years, I realize that I’m more of a fun mom and general badass than I sometimes give myself credit for. I never have and never will be an elite athlete, and I may or may not ever meet “healthy” weight standards.

But damn, y’all. According to Google Photos, that hasn’t been holding me back. I’m super proud of the pictures showing me being active with my kiddos, committing to exercise challenges, and having fun with my life. Seeing those pictures is really helping inspire me to dig in and work hard to get as much of my health back as I can.

I dig that girl in the pictures. I want to be her again.

Gratitude. I’m grateful for my overall health, good fortune, and the wonderful people in my life I’ve shared all those moments with. For my kids and Hubs and my wonderful Jazzercise family and friends who say things like “hey, let’s go zip-lining in the redwood forest!” or “we’ve never walked 39 miles in two days in Chicago together… don’t you think it’s about time?”

Because when I look through these pictures, I’m almost never alone in them. And when I am alone (like when I traveled by myself in England a few years ago), it was almost always just hours before or after I made or met a friend. And those solo journeys wouldn’t have been possible without the love, support and trust of a guy who is happy to go with me anywhere, and to hold down the fort at home when I need to go alone.

Acceptance. Sometimes I hate pictures. When I stop to take a selfie or let someone snap a candid shot of me while doing something active or revealing, I often hesitate. Do my knees look fat? Are my wobbly thighs showing? Do I look too sweaty, dirty, washed-out, bloated, or tired? Will people think I’m self-absorbed if I stop to take a selfie on every time there’s something cool in the background? Am I self-absorbed just for worrying about whether people think I’m self-absorbed??

Don’t lie. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve totally been there.

But looking back through the visual record of vacations and softball tournaments and the rest of it… I don’t see the chubby thighs or wrinkles or arm fat I always think I’ll hate. I could see my weight fluctuating over the years, of course, but even when I look back at my heavier self, all I see is how much fun I was having. How happy my family looks. What an adventure we’ve had.

Remember that trip where the kids hated that we forced them into Hawaiian shirts, but all was forgiven when we got ice cream and ran around on the beach at sunset? Remember biking 24 miles pulling both boys in a trailer? (My thighs sure do — they may be wobbly but they’re still stronger for it!) Remember we had such a blast camping but ended up in urgent care after a spider bite?

These photos and memories are my treasures. And I’m glad they’re here, glad I didn’t wave away the camera because of cellulite and imperfections and hating my face in profile. These photos are proof of what I’m capable of, far beyond what a lawyer or insurance company needs to know (although that has turned out to be pretty important, too!)

They’re proof of a life lived to the fullest: risks taken, games played, mountains climbed, hugs given, grins cheesed… All the things that really matter in the end.

So next time there’s a camera pointed your way, I hope you’ll just smile, relax and enjoy the ride.

Your turn! Post a picture in the comments that makes you feel proud of your life, even if you weren’t super excited about having it taken at the time.

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MJ Pullen

M.J. Pullen is a Distracted Writer and the mom of two boys in Roswell, Georgia, where she is absolutely late for something important right now. Her books include quirky romantic comedies and playful women's fiction -- her latest, SUGAR STREET released on 8/7/18. Join her Distracted Readers newsletter list for updates, free content, giveaways and more.

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