Unapologetically You

© Noelle Kraft Photography

© Noelle Kraft Photography

Everyone at some point (or points) in their life goes through a period of re-evaluation. This time is characterized by bouts of self-reflection and critical examination of your deepest thoughts and desires. I, so far, have had exactly three such occurrences.

The first is a rather mundane story. It occurred toward the end of my senior year of high school in the view of an impending graduation. I struggled with the same questions everyone does: Who am I? What am I supposed to be? Did I choose the right university? Is it okay that I want to take a year off before I further my degree? I did take a year off, and to this day I don’t regret it. I heard a lot of the mildly irritating comment, “You know most people who take a year off don’t usually go back to school, right?” However, despite these words ringing in my ears, I never doubted my decision. After all, I know myself best.

The second period of revelation came about during the winter break of my sophomore year of college. It had been about five months since my mother passed away and I was, as anyone would be, feeling lost, confused, and sad. Up until that point I had struggled through college. I tried several different majors to no avail and the added burden of knowing I was running out of general electives was weighing on my mind. I spent the month and a half or so that I was home from school between semesters in deep thought. What am I supposed to do? What would make me happy? I discovered things about myself that I had never known before and still stick with me, all because I took the time to think. I ended up returning for spring semester with a smile on my face and conviction in my heart. The first moment I got I declared psychology as my major and loved it. Is it what I’m doing now? No, but I wouldn’t take it back.

The past few months I have been working through my third stretch of self-discovery. Many people get a little blue during the winter months, but piling on additional stressors this year made it particularly unforgiving for me. Those of you plagued with anxiety will know how dangerous it is to be left alone with your own thoughts, especially during times of mental and emotional strain. It’s something that is difficult to understand if you do not suffer from anxiety, but if one bad little thought enters your mind and you don’t have something to distract you it will begin to fester. The more you think about it the more your mind will begin to blow it out of proportion. Eventually you will know that what you are thinking is crazy and unrealistic, but you can’t make the thoughts go away. The more you try to handle it yourself, the worse it gets. At one point my encumbered mind was so overwhelmed it drove me to cry myself to sleep every night for a week. Of course, I couldn’t tell anyone this. I have the bad habit of pushing people away when I need them the most. I knew that friends would help me feel better, but when I’m upset I’m less likely to talk to people. I don’t even give them the chance to make me smile or laugh, though I know everyone in my life would be more than happy to do so.

But then one day it was gone. All the anxiety and stress and depression I had been fighting left me in one liberating exhale that I still can’t explain. It was like a movie when the rain suddenly stops and the clouds clear away to reveal the bright sunlight. A few days later it tried to creep back in, but with all of the strength I could muster I refused to allow it to consume my mind again. I don’t know what suddenly caused the storms to dispel and I may never will. But if I had to guess, I would say a person. The right person walking into your life at the right time and saying all of the things you never knew you needed to hear can have a stronger impact than either of you realize. The person may never know what they did for me: their words reached me when no one else’s could. They didn’t know I was suffering emotionally and weren’t intentionally trying to brighten my spirits, they were just being themselves and for whatever reason it was exactly what I needed. I could never see them again and still I will never forget them.

Today was the best I’ve felt since December. I hiked with a friend and enjoyed the warmer weather, something so simple but for some reason today was soulful. Today I felt so unapologetically me. Are things perfect? No. But I can handle it. I’ve proven to myself many times that I’m strong and can conquer life’s curve balls. I’m not sure why I ever doubted that.

So here is my advice for the oncoming spring: Be completely, whole-heartedly, and unapologetically you. Help others, live and breathe your passions, smile, and find what makes waking up in the morning worth it.

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We are privileged. We live in a world now that even 30 years ago may have seemed like something from science fiction. In fact, the inventor of the mobile phone credits Star Trek’s TOS communicator for giving him the inspiration to create the tiny handheld device (That’s right, guys, you can thank TV for that little rectangle that’s glued to your hand). We can connect with anyone, look up anything, and pretty much experience the entire world without leaving our bed. The technological advancements that we have made are mind blowing – covering everything from daily activities to space exploration to medical equipment. If you haven’t taken the time to appreciate all of the years of hard work and scientific breakthroughs that have gone into creating that little piece of technology that you use to look up cat videos and take selfies you really should. It’s safe to say, I think, that we are pretty lucky to live in today’s world. Indoor plumbing, heating, tech out the wazoo, but what has this done to us?

I’m sure we have all had this experience:  you are hanging out with a friend and start to become frustrated when they won’t put their phone down. I’ve been guilty of it, every one of my friends has been guilty of it, but if it’s so annoying then why do we continue to do it? Why are those bright little screens so addicting, and why are they more important than preserving the beauty of making a personal connection? The greatest moments I’ve shared with people have not been through a text message, but instead came from the laughter of two individuals growing in friendship. Technology has single-handedly stolen from us what makes us human: intimacy.

Think about it. There is a level of connection that humans reach which cannot be achieved by any other creature. Your cat cannot tell you when she wants to be when she grows up, and two butterflies can’t confide in each other their deepest secrets. What makes us different is our ability to relate and empathize, to understand and sympathize – to be intimate with someone (Just to clarify, I don’t say “intimacy” to refer to what happens between the sheets. But you knew that. I think? Yes.).

The loss of intimacy that has resulted from technology is scary enough when you think about it, but even more terrifying is the assimilation that has been caused by it. I call to your attention:

“The Basic White Girl.”

I’ll bet the second you read that a mental image appeared in your head. It is probably something along the lines of a bleached blonde who tanned a little too and is long sitting with her friend outside of a coffee shop. There is some combination of UGGs, leggings, and North Faces going on there, and there are definitely pumpkin spiced lattes. They are both on their phones while holding a conversation that is full of annoying laughs, “Oh my God,” and “I can’t even.” Am I right? If I’m not then I’m probably close.

Technology has made it so easy to connect with people that it makes it even easier to lose your individuality. When you can constantly keep in touch with people at every hour of the day, doesn’t it make sense that you would begin to think and act more like each other? That little phrase that I am constantly hearing from men “All girls are the same!” is starting to make sense now, isn’t it?

Speaking of men, aren’t all guys the same, too? That’s what I hear, anyway. Of course, it isn’t true. Just like all girls aren’t the same. But along the way there may have been some morally-loose men that made friends (it happens), and then those friends made friends (which also happens), etc. That morally-loose quality is not solely spread by technology, but technology is a conductor. Think of college, for instance:  Morally-loose Johnny texts bookworm Ronny to come to a party. Ronny refuses on account of there being a test in the morning, but after some not-so-gentle prodding from Johnny he gives in and decides to forgo his studies. At the party he has fun, drinks, meets Basic White Girl, maybe gets lucky, and is praised in his endeavors in texts the next day from Johnny who says, “Good job, bro! That chick was so hot!” Next time Ronny is asked to go to a party, he might be more inclined to because of this positive reinforcement. Every time Ronny goes out he is praised by Johnny, and the next thing you know he is partying with the best of them. And you know what? Eventually Ronny will find a new friend and the trend will continue.

Assimilation isn’t always a problem, right? Of course not. It feels good to be liked. It feels good to fit in. I’m not condemning it in the slightest, but it occasionally has unfortunate outcomes. There is a different matter that is a bigger problem than this, however, and that is objectification. Not just of women, but of men as well (since people seem to forget that it is a two-way street). With the world online now it isn’t hard to find something to get your libido humming with just a few keystrokes. There are a million and one ways this is damaging that I can go into, but that might be for another blog post. My point is, technology makes it so easy to find a sexual conquest and even easier to be rewarded for it. But when did getting to know a woman’s body become more important than getting to know her mind? When did “sexy” and “hot” become interchangeable with “beautiful” and “handsome”? I’ll admit, some guys are very nice to look at. Any girl who says otherwise is lying. But I have never been more attracted to a man than when he is talking to me about the things he is passionate about. Do you know what is most alluring in a person? Individuality. Passion. Ambition. Intellect. Talent.

All of the things that you can miss when you are looking at your phone.