Hi, I’m Karen Spies. I’m a creative who has worked in small businesses my entire life.
I graduated from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and went on to work for 3 different art jewelers and a large scale metal sculptor. The jewelry was tedious (aka hot, dirty and dangerous), and I knew that eventually working in one of those small shops, I was likely to get injured. So I went back to school.
I started my first business in 1999 after graduating with my MA in Buddhist Studies. I was single and pregnant with my second child, one I was determined to keep.
To that end, I decided that nobody was going to come between me and my baby. So, overeducated (if there is such a thing) and underprepared, I started a green cleaning business with my friend when my baby was just 1 year old.
Why was I so determined? I gave my first son up for adoption at 18 years old. It was a trauma that shaped both of our lives.
After our dramatic and deeply healing reunion, I realized that something was still wrong. I still had grief.
It continues to be strange to me that after such a dramatic ‘miracle’ I’m still not integrated. Logically, things had been “resolved” but the grief had become such a part of my experience, that it couldn’t just declare it “done”.
I remember the first time I was blindsided by grief. I had gone back to work, 2 months after giving birth and a woman with a baby in a stroller walked into the fitting room where I was working. A voice in my head said “That could be YOUR baby, and you’d never even know.” I could feel the sourness in my mouth and the tears welling up in my eyes. I was suddenly suffocated by my own emotion. At other times in my life though, I would go weeks, even months without it crossing my mind.
A big part of grief is letting go of the movies in our minds. The things we did together that slowly begin to fade from our memory as we try to reinforce them, growing more and more 1 dimensional as time goes on. The hardest part for me was knowing that I had not been there for my son. He had an amazing family that WAS there for him but I still can’t shake the sadness about how much of his life I was absent.
The Gift of Grief
For me, the gifts of grief are it’s ebbs and flows, it’s intensity and the lightness I feel when it lifts temporarily.
The crushing suffocation of grief isn’t solid. If we wait, we find delicious humor and silliness poking through the cracks. Maybe the ratio of humor to pain isn’t what we’d like but the humor seems much more powerful and curative against a background of grief.
I raised my daughter, and then 2nd son, mostly as a single parent. Wanting connection but lashing out when I felt disempowered or controlled in my relationships. When picking up my daughter from school one day she told me that the teacher had asked everyone in class what their parents did for a living. Her answer had been “I don’t know”.
I had hid my work from my daughter because I didn’t want her to think less of me, or tell people what I was doing for work. I was embarrassed to be cleaning houses with my private school MA, but there were precious few job opportunities for Buddhist scholars.
But I learned about running a business with my own two hands and with much help and support from my business partner, Carolee Corey. At one point we had 6 employees working 5 days a week, and we learned a lot about the people that were willing to do that kind of work. They were typically people who were desperate and needed quick money. But after payday, they would call in sick with outlandish excuses.
Eventually, people’s homes were damaged by our employees negligence and we took the fall for it. We lost clients, and we lost revenue.
Then I pivoted into something more creative, web design. I had a lifelong friend running his own web business and he mentored me. Finally I found something that fulfilled my creativity AND needed my intellect for implementation.
My reunion with my oldest son knocked me off of my feet. Literally. A few months after he showed up on my doorstep, I had a head-on collision on my mountain bike.
On one of my morning bike rides in July of 2015, I was “hittin it”. I had my headphones on full blast and the cool morning air was fueling me as I pushed as hard as I could, even though I was not yet on the mountain trails that were my plan. But something went wrong and I ended up in a head-on collision with another cyclist.
After months of being unable to read books (and ordered by my doctor not to look at screens), I landed a website gig. It wasn’t my best work and I quickly realized that the super stressed hustler “do-it-all” entrepreneur wasn’t who I was anymore.
How could I continue to get clients when exhaustion and confusion from my TBI dominated my life? I was lucky. I worked in my home, alone, in a dark room where nobody was demanding things from me.
Suddenly talking on the phone made me cry and working on the computer exhausted my ability to reason. At networking events, the bright lights and loud clamor of excited voices left me confused and unable to hold a conversation.
That’s when I really began the long process of learning to STOP pushing my limits and instead respect them. To STOP feeling guilty for resting when I needed to and most importantly to FORGIVE myself constantly for overcommitting or not being the person that I was before.
The Gift of Brain Injuries
One of the gifts of brain injury is learning expert-level self- monitoring. It becomes very important to notice the nuances of overwhelm and take action on them.
Self-care is usually thought of as a luxury or an “extra expense” but when you are oversensitized and overwhelmed it becomes the vitamin that keeps you from wilting.
I’m 100% convinced that if everyone respected their energy and limits with the care that one MUST when affected by a TBI, they would become masters of productivity, clarity, limits and rest. That’s what I bring to Goddess Mastermind besides the logical mind honed by years of business experience. I have a genuine desire for each person to honor themselves and create a lifetime that fosters growth and wonder.