Have you ever felt like everyone’s definition of happiness was so far out of your reach that you would never measure up?
Have you felt judged as a failure by others? Have you ever thought ‘this is not what my life was supposed to be’? That’s what Katie Taylor felt a few years ago and then the words “Rewrite Happy” popped into her head.
What did it mean? What was she supposed to do with that?
Some people might describe Katie Taylor’s story as one of failure after failure – but the reality is Katie’s story is about struggle and survival and strength.
Katie came from a dysfunctional family and dropped out of high school at the age of 16, “mostly to get away” she says. By age 17, she was renting her own place and paying her own bills. She was married to her high school sweetheart at 20 years old, and soon had three babies. They moved to a small town and she found herself isolated physically and emotionally. Her husband was addicted to drugs, working 60-70 hours a week to support his drug habit but not paying for propane, rent or other necessities. He was either gone or strung out, leaving her with a life that consisted of borrowing money for food, changing diapers and heating water on a hotplate to give baths. In that moment, all she wanted was to escape. She took a handful of pills and woke up in the hospital where she was a patient for a few days before being sent home.
She returned home to a foreclosure notice and a call from Department of Human Services (DHS). Her husband was reported for heroin use. She needed to get out of the house and relationship immediately if she wanted to have any hope of keeping her kids. With just enough gas to get to her sister’s house but no plan for the next step, she left. DHS guided her to Community Action Agency’s “Welcome Home” program. The program got her into an apartment with her kids in just one day and helped her find a job. But the program also required her to get on her feet within 3 months. Making just 7.50/hour and no child support, she took every bit of encouragement she could find. By the time her oldest was ready to start kindergarten she had found a house to rent and was doing really well.
A short six-months later, her estranged husband contacted her and said he was ready to get clean and be there for her and the kids. She believed him and let him move in. Very soon, she saw he wasn’t serious. The tell-tale signs were apparent that he was still using. Then she got a phone call while at work, that her toddler had been found wandering the neighborhood without shoes or coat. She told him to leave and he threatened to take the kids because she was ‘crazy’, no one would believe her, everyone loved him and she had been in the hospital as a crazy person. He kept breaking in the house and verbally beating her down until she ended up taking the kids to a homeless shelter just to feel safe. The words, the regret, the feeling of being a failure and no support system were taking their toll. One day she dropped the kids off at school, drove the van into the garage, left it running as she closed the door and hoped she had enough gas to end her life. She vaguely remembers firemen breaking in and dragging her out, then being in ICU and committed to protective custody. She was angry. Angry that she had failed – again – and proven that she was unstable, just like her husband had said. This is not how life was supposed to be. She thought of her kids, the reason she got up every day, the one dream that she was pursuing. And she began to realize she DID want to LIVE – she wanted to take care of those babies, to survive herself. And that was the beginning of a different way of living.
This is when she began to “rewrite happy” for herself. She would no longer let others decide for her what life was supposed to be and why she wasn’t doing it right. She wouldn’t hear the judgment of others any more. She would stop putting everyone else first and focus on healing herself.
Each day was a struggle. She again found a job and a place to live and began putting it all together. She had done it before, she could again. She got a divorce and kept focus on being the best mom she could be. There were set-backs and small steps ahead. She looked for more positive role models and found one in her former sister-in-law who had gone to college while raising 4 kids and Katie decided she could finish school too.
She enrolled in classes at Western Iowa Tech to earn her High School Equivalency. She went to school every day for 4 months and graduated. She finally started receiving child support and saw an opportunity to do more than survive – she could go to college. She found out Briar Cliff University has a scholarship for single parents. The Sister Liola Scholarship was for people just like her – people trying to make life better for themselves and their families. She wasn’t sure she could do the classes and raise a family but thought she’d try; just the way her sister-in-law was doing it. Today, Katie is doing it; she’s succeeding. Finishing her first year of college pursuing a business degree, she is also launching Blush & Bloom photography.
Long a passion of hers, photography had been put on hold by one crisis or another throughout the years. She practiced when she could and self-taught many of the techniques. Before long she was being encouraged to charge people for her services. She was being told she was “that good”, something she struggled to believe. Today the business is taking off more quickly than she imagined.
As a survivor, she wants to raise awareness of suicide. “Suicide is real. We need to do more than check on people we know are depressed. It is hard to pull yourself out of the funk.” Katie says. We need to take action, don’t accept the pasted on smile and the ‘I’m ok” response.
Katie has decided to do something. She’s taken that phrase “Rewrite Happy” and her passion for photography and started to share it with others. Some might see it is frivolous but she knows sometimes those little things make a difference.
She’s using her photographic talent to bring a little brightness in the midst of dark. Project Rewrite Happy provides free family photos to a single parent each month. Given the opportunity to prompt genuine smiles and make people happy – people who may not know what to be happy about – is something she knows makes a difference. On those days when it is dark, the photos show brightness. It’s also an opportunity to share that “Happy” is written in so many different ways.
“It’s taken me eight years to get back on my feet. There were lots of failures in that time period, but focusing on one day at a time and celebrating each small accomplishment has gotten me here.” Katie says. Her goal is to make Rewrite Happy into something big; to support those who are hurting and give hope that you can reinvent yourself. There isn’t one kind of happy; there isn’t one path that everyone is supposed to take and it is never, never too late to “Rewrite Happy” in your own life!
Join Project Rewrite Happy.
Maybe a family photo isn’t a ‘must have’ the way food, diapers and rent are. But imagine not having a picture of your kids to look back at when they are grown. Imagine not having evidence there were smiles and good times when you are in the darkest moments. When you do that – you realize photos are important. Katie offers a free single parent family photo shoot each month, and the family receives digital royalty free photos of the entire session! You can help a family “Rewrite Happy” at one of these sessions by donating gift cards or services for the families.
- Haircuts/styles are often needed before the photos
- An outfit for each member of the family
- Maybe a dinner out while they are all dressed up
- Printing and framing those photos
If you’d like to support Project Rewrite Happy connect with Katie at https://www.facebook.com/BlushNBloomPhotography/
Katie’s story reminds us to be careful about judging others when you don’t know their story; about imposing our idea of happiness on others. Her ‘failed marriage’ is actual a story of surviving.
“Over a decade, I stuck by him. I stayed after the physical abuse, before we married. I justified it wasn’t really him, because he was on drugs. I was faithful and supportive through his first 6 months in jail, before we married. I stayed after he cheated on me with my friend. I was faithful and supportive during his one year stay in jail, our first year of marriage. I was supportive through all the arrests, including forgery, theft, arson, and manufacturing. I drove him around all the times he lost his license. I bailed him out of jail several times. Don’t tell me I didn’t give it my all, because I did, but my one-year old son crawling around the house with a bag of needles was my final reason to leave.”
By Cyndi Hanson