My Photography Journey | Autism Spectrum Disorder And How It Changed My Life. | Nightingale + Willow

Hey everyone!

I hope you all had a wonderful week!! It’s Friday! The highlight of my week was on Monday, when my daughter got off the school bus from her developmental preschool and said “MOMMY! I married a handsome boy on the playground today!”

Jaw Drop

She makes me laugh. She makes me crazy. But she makes me laugh. I love her so much.

I’m so lucky to be able to work from home and have this career that allows me to work and further my dream as a photographer but put 100% into my family and their needs.

My life was close to being so different. My journey isn’t something that I’ve really talked a lot about but I have a message that I want to get out to any of you who feel stuck between wanting to put your family first but needing that income to take care of them. Let’s go way back.

Pokémon Snap.

I remember the exact moment that I became interested in photography. I was eight years old and my brother and I got a Nintendo 64 for Christmas. Yep. My nerdy roots run deep, guys. One of the games that we opened up with the package was Pokémon Snap. It was this game where you ride around in a wooden cart and take photos of as many Pokémon as you can find–but in the best possible light, framing, etc. I quickly became obsessed.

Flash forward to sixth grade. I was a slightly overweight girl who badly needed braces and some good friends. I joined 4H and picked a few categories that sounded fun, one of which was photography. My mom and dad bought me my first real camera. It was a red Nikon Coolpix and I was very proud of it.

I ended up staying with 4h photography up until my senior year of high school. After I graduated I attended the University of Indianapolis and studied Studio Art and Photography. My photography professor was a genius and I soaked up every little thing that she said. Her own professor in college studied under Ansel Adams himself–which I thought was neat.

Towards the end of the first semester of my second year, I started to get depressed. I was having episodes where I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I didn’t know what was going on. And to top it off I was losing interest in photography. I knew I loved it but I just didn’t want to do it anymore. That spark that made me interested in the field was suddenly gone. Shortly after my second semester started, I dropped out. It’s not something that I’m proud to admit. Several months later after a massive panic attack left me unable to leave the house, I started seeing a therapist and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I don’t know what would have happened had I been in college 60+ miles away from the only people I felt truly comfortable around. I try not to think about it.

A couple years later I had a beautiful baby girl. She was 2 weeks late and way too little. But she was perfect. I named her Melody after Ariel’s daughter. I would always feel her move around when I would sing to her and I felt like the name fit.

Melody started First Steps when she was around 18 months old. She was talking but then all of a sudden stopped. My beautiful babbling baby went mute. They found her to be developmentally behind as well so they started her on Occupational, Developmental, and Speech Therapy one time a week. They mentioned the term Sensory Processing Disorder. They could treat her symptoms but they could not test or diagnose her for it. This went on until she was two years old.

By then I was working full time at a healthcare facility in Lafayette, Indiana. I was going through a terrible divorce and needed to make money to support myself and my daughter. I wanted to start over somewhere else so badly. I made a goal of moving to Hamilton county within the year and 5 months later I accepted a job transfer from Lafayette to Carmel. It was an answer to prayer.

Between student loan payments, not receiving child support, and general bills–I had to get a second job. I struggled to find time for doctor visits. Let alone personal time! Melody started up speech therapy and occupational therapy again too and I felt stretched to my limit. I was limited on the amount of PTO I could get in a year and taking time “unpaid” wasn’t an option without getting in trouble. Not to mention they lacked the coverage for the employees that had the PTO. It was a mess. And I was becoming one as well.

One of my good friends asked me if I had heard of developmental preschool. She gave me a number to call and I found out that it was a school that offered the therapy that Melody was receiving. I set up an appointment and for the first time in awhile, it felt like life might not be super hectic.

Or so I thought.

I had to reschedule her preschool IEP 3 times because my boss wouldn’t let me take a couple hours off to drop her off and pick her up from the evaluation. I would get a YES…and then a day prior that YES would become a NO. This continued to happen with other events as well, like vacations. So I gave up on trying to take time off. The director of the developmental preschool program eventually offered to pick Melody up from her daycare and take her back when they were done. It was my only option.

I was so embarrassed. And so frustrated. As a parent, they tell you that you need to put your kiddos first no matter what. And I tried. But they also tell you to make money and provide for your kiddos.

A few months later Melody was referred to a developmental-behavioral pediatrician. Her regular pediatrician wanted her to be further evaluated since she had been receiving OT and ST for a long period of time. What I didn’t know was that appointment would change her life forever.

She asked Jesse (back then fiancé, now husband) and I a ton of questions and spent time observing Melody play and asked her questions as well. Then the words spilled out of her mouth.

I am diagnosing your daughter with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

She then went on telling us why she believed she was autistic and gave reason after reason. We were there for two hours and she needed us to come back without Melody to further discuss the road that lay ahead.

That particular road scared us; it was the unknown. It involved so much more therapy for Melody. And then she recommended therapy for Jesse and I. Support groups each week. More doctor visits. Medicaid waivers. Special education services. Genetic testing. The list went on and on.

I didn’t know how I was going to do it. Extra time was not something that I had and now I needed more of it. I just prayed. I prayed for an answer. A clear answer.

A couple weeks later I was having dinner at Jesse’s parents house and the topic of my college education came up. I talked to them about how I studied photography and studio art and I loved it but I lost my passion for it. And when you’re taking out student loans for your college education each semester, one needs to be sure what they want to do. I didn’t say anything about my depression episodes, but that terrible memory was also in the back of my mind.

At that moment everything became clear.

We got home and immediately I talked to Jesse about this idea that popped into my head. I can do photography! I was so filled up with joy and excitement, the A.D.D inside of me could barely hold itself together. The words just fell out of my mouth. I can do photography! I can start a business! I can use my college education! I can make my own schedule! We can have time for all these appointments!

We prayed. We talked. And we prayed again. Two weeks later, Nightingale + Willow was established. I checked out seven books from the library and read every one of them. Business. Marketing. Photography basics. Editing. I googled everything I could think of. I Facebook stalked several local photographers’ pages and paid attention to how they captivated their audience. How do people do this successfully? I listened to podcast after podcast. (The Stay Focused Podcast. Anything Rachel Hollis related. Etc.)

I had enough saved up to buy a Canon Rebel T6, a monthly subscription to Photoshop, and a photography book that I could write in and I went to work. I practiced and practiced everyday. I watched YouTube videos on editing and lighting. But mostly–I practiced.

There were moments when I almost let other people’s hateful words and doubt get in the way of my goal. People who I least expected it from and were close to Jesse and I. You’re not a real photographer was one that really got to me. Saying things about me on social media. Sending horrible messages to me via messenger. But I pushed through. I wanted to prove them wrong. I needed to do this for my family.

Today, I am closer to the skill level that I desire but I am not there yet. But I am better than when I first started out. And that’s what matters. Take a look at these before and after shots:

Before & After

I am so blessed that I was able to take that horrible situation and turn it into something beautiful. I absolutely love my job and my clients. I work really hard. And I have a wonderful support system. But I also have God; I couldn’t have done this without his help.

Melody is doing well. She has therapy four times a week now and is enjoying dance and other things. It’s terrible that we live in a world that makes you choose between being a parent and providing for your kids. It’s ridiculous. But I found a way around it. Rachel Hollis talks about saying NO and that’s what I did. I wasn’t going to let my daughter fall between the cracks. I am her mom.

I have some advice for anyone struggling to balance work and home life: don’t choose work over your kids. It’s important to have money to care for them and to pay for your bills but you are replaceable at your job. Your kids only have one mom. Maybe your obvious solution is different than mine but please don’t feel like you have to choose between being a parent and keeping your job. I about chose my job and that’s scary. I didn’t think there was a way out but I found one. And you can too.

Stay Strong, sister. I’m rooting for you.

I want to hear from you! Did you do something similar? Or have questions about how I did this? Send me a message. I love hearing from you.

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