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.

Photography Exhibition 01

Hello everyone 🙂 It has been a while since I have had time to write, which hopefully will change very soon, but I have pondered the idea recently of posting some of my photography. I have mentioned in previous posts that photography is a passion of mine, and one of the only things that really allows me to forget my stress. In my busy schedule recently I have not had much time for it and I really miss it. I would like to look back through old photos of mine, for nostalgia purposes, and maybe share my favorites every now and again. So, this is the first post in my Photography Exhibition, I hope you enjoy it!

Whispers in Pink

Whispers in Pink

A Longing Melody

A Longing Melody

Every Step I Take

Every Step I Take

Twisting and Turning

Twisting and Turning

Chasing Waterfalls

Chasing Waterfalls

Crystallized

Crystallized

Softly

Softly

Fairytale

Fairytale

 

All photos are © Noelle Kraft Photography. Please do not use without permission ❤

When One Door Closes…

There’s something incredible that happens as you get older. At first aging may seem like a cage that gets smaller each time you pass another year, trapping you in the prison of shortening time and making you feel suffocated. To an extent this feeling never completely goes away, but with the oncoming of maturity also comes emotional liberation.

As children we are not ready for this experience. Childhood is meant for fun and exploration, naivete and learning our limits, and discovering the differences between right and wrong. The journey to this feeling of freedom begins in our adolescence at the first moment we start wondering what other people are thinking when they look at us. In its youth, this feeling seems like a fairytale. Around the time a pre-teen sets out on the awkward road of physical changes and self-discovery they are entirely self-centered and obsessed with fitting in. There are some people who may refute this, and to an extent everyone’s experience is subjective, but at the same time every person has the deeply-rooted need to be liked. As a teenager this need is your world. It isn’t anyone’s fault, it is a right of passage and a burden we must carry as we make our way to adulthood. You will say things that you don’t believe in order to make your friends like you, hold your tongue to avoid “tattling” on people that you want to fit in with, set aside activities that seem childish or uncool, and at some point you will say those words that every parent dreads hearing, “I don’t tell you everything that happens in my life anymore.”

Everyone hates this stage. Siblings, parents, strangers in the mall, and probably even you. I’ll admit that I think back to my teenage years sometimes and roll my eyes at myself. However, things start to change a little bit around the age of 18. Instead of wanting to fit in, you want good company. You desire to surround yourself with people that you like so that you have the option of actually being yourself. You are finishing high school and moving onward to college (or work, etc.) and maybe subconsciously you start to realize that the high school drama that you used to keep yourself in the center of now begins to feel like a waste of time and energy? You break out the classic Disney movies and reminisce about your childhood, then the next day at school aren’t afraid to say to your friends, “I watched The Lion King last night for the first time in years, I cried so hard!” Somewhere along the line the word No becomes okay to say if you are protecting your own well-being, and while your parents might still be embarrassing on some level you are starting to feel like enough of an adult to talk to them as an equal.

The next four years or so welcome forth affective autonomy. Your life changes drastically after high school whether you go to college or not:  more freedom, new friends, more responsibility, etc. There comes a moment amongst all of this change and turmoil where you realize that you no longer care. I don’t mean this in a bad way, rather I mean that the idea that others are always watching and judging you no longer bears a weight on your mind. You begin to do things you want to do because you want to do them. You start to learn and appreciate new things, make friends with incredible people you never imagined meeting, and when you get dressed in the morning you put on clothes that make you feel good rather than clothes that will make others like you. Your relationships turn into quality friendships, and you start to understand that petty drama and fake personalities are not something that you have time or space for. It is along with all of this that you also begin to feel that quality really is better than quantity, and that you will be a happier person in the long run by allowing people in your life that you want there and ignoring those that poison your mind.

This is the path I’ve traveled over the last 10 years of my life. Now when I think back to my awkward teen years I sigh and wonder why it was ever worth it for me to care so much. I’ve learned that it’s okay that I like both shopping and football, baking and playing The Legend of Zelda, doing my hair and bing-watching Netflix in my pjs while eating cookies out of my TARDIS cookie jar, and being girly around some people and nerdy around others. Even more amazing is that this liberation gives you the energy to learn things about yourself you never even thought about before. For instance, only recently did I realize how picky I am about the people I let into my life. I can tell within couple minutes of talking to someone for the first time whether a friendship with them is a good idea, and if I decide that I want a person around I will fight to keep their friendship and I will give them everything I can. This revelation is something that I never would have come across when I was 16, but learning about it now has allowed me to strengthen preexisting and new relationships.

There is a point to this whole story. As a teenager your eyesight is so narrow it seems like high school is all there is and ever will be. After you leave you realize how big and amazing the world really is, and how worth it it is to get through those difficult years so you have the opportunity to make your reality something wonderful. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by good people in middle school and high school that made it a relatively good experience for me, but there are other people who aren’t so lucky. Those people are who I am talking to today. High school isn’t everything. Whatever else it is that is holding you down isn’t everything. The world is so much bigger, so much wilder and so much more invigorating. Maybe it is hard now, but it gets better, and after are you are free from those chains you have the ability to make your life what you want it to be. I waited longer than I would have wanted to to make this realization, don’t make the same mistake. Think about this now. Revisit old hobbies, make a list of new things you want to try and places you want to go, have all of this ready so the day you feel that door open you can step through with a smile make the most of it.

Counting Stars

I was 21 years old the first time that I touched the stars. Up until that summer I had seen writers talk about the feeling of insignificance you experience when gazing up at the vastness of the universe, but it wasn’t an idea that I understood or even believed existed. That is, until the night that I really slowed down and looked.

The year leading up to this had been the worst year of my life. Depression and anxiety were commonplace, and every time a person cocked their head and asked me, “How are you doing? How’s the family?” I grew a little more angry. Comforting hugs were brutal reminders that I was thought of as a porcelain vase, ready to shatter with the slightest nudge and in need of constant protecting. I hated being babied, I hated help, and all I wanted was to be left alone. I was immensely relieved when my dad told us that we were going to our family cabins up in Canada that summer. Our cabins are quiet and away from the world. They are nestled in the woods in a cozy part of Ontario and sit up against one of the bluest lakes you can hope find. It smells of wood and pine and gives you the chance to run away from the hot summers and enjoy the cooler temperatures that grace the north. There is no cell phone service, no telemarketers, it is perfection for those with a quiet soul and a book.

Despite my relief I was, of course, somewhat miserable. I was happy to have time away from home, happy to be out of the hot weather, happy to have my camera with me, but there are always those nagging thoughts in the back of your mind that say “Your mom isn’t here,” “You’re not allowed to be happy,” and my personal favorite destroyer of self-esteem, “You are a horrible daughter.” No matter how much you try to ignore them, they are always there. Even now I know that they are filed away somewhere deep in the back of my mind, waiting for just the right amount of anxiety to be stirred up that they can hammer in the spike that crumbles the wall I am always rebuilding.

In-between these awful thoughts I did remember the reason I was most excited to go to Canada that year:  a meteor shower. It had been rare that I had seen shooting stars, and having the chance to view a meteor shower further north with less light pollution and clearer skies had me excited. It was chilly that night. I wore a pair of sweatpants over my pjs and the warmest hoodie that I had with me and trekked outside. Everyone else was inside or sleeping so I was on my own, which is exactly how I wanted it. The lights from the living room faded the closer I got to the boathouse, and were non-existent by the time I laid myself down on the dock. If you can imagine, this wasn’t one of the fancier new floating docks that you usually see. It was the old fashion kind with splintery wood and four long metal rods to plant the dock into the ground. Still, it was comfortable and I was happy for a little time to myself.

Nothing happens when you first look skyward. You expect it to be this sudden inspiration that causes your eyes to glow as you recognize your place in the world, but it isn’t. I laid there on the dock still and silent for I don’t know how long, my eyes searching the immense black canvas looming over me. A few meteors passed that caused me to smile, but the more you search the sky the more overwhelming it becomes. There were more stars than I had ever seen in my life. I was looking at the arms of the Milky Way stretching long over my head – millions and millions of miles long but I was seeing at them with my own eyes. The more you shift your gaze, the more you begin to realize how grand the night really is. It covered me in an intense dome, and the longer I tried to take it all in the clearer it became that I couldn’t. My heart started to pound harder in my chest, the world around me vanished, and a feeling of panic that I wasn’t expecting washed over me. I was terrified. In a universe so big how could my life, my problems, possibly matter? I know this sounds cliche, and maybe you are even rolling your eyes thinking that I’m just being silly. Believe me, I get it, I was one of those people. It is a feeling too intense to describe. It is real and, I won’t sugar-coat it, it is very scary. That feeling of insignificance is one of the most horrifying things that I have ever experienced in my life. I cried on that dock, silently, still too mesmerized by this terrifying expanse to move.

But then something changes. Somewhere in the experience a feeling of calmness washes over you. My breathing slowed, my tears stopped, and my soul warmed. The immensity before you can easily provoke fear if you allow it, as I did, but after the initial fear fades away all you are left with is its majesty. It is beautiful and it is yours. Never again will you look on that same sky, and in that moment it is as if it was created just for you. I felt myself slowly break free of the chains in my mind that kept me from soaring through the stars. That was heaven, it had to be, and for a split second I knew my mom was looking on that same sky and smiling.

You might be hoping at this point for a “happily ever after” ending. Maybe I saw the error in my ways and decided live each day like it was my last? I’m sorry to disappoint you with a flat “no.” Life doesn’t work that way in my experience. I am after all inherently me. I am high-strung and timid, I don’t know how to be very assertive, I take time to place my trust in new people, I complain (a lot, sometimes too much) and, most importantly, I am human. I make mistakes and I attempt to right my wrongs. I have my good days and my bad days. I put my faith in the wrong people and sometimes expect too much for all that I give. Still, through all of this, I have my sky. In the end the meteor shower didn’t matter very much, but rather the memory of those stars. I carry them in my heart every day, and when I find a spare moment to remember them they greet me with open arms as I lay on the dock.

Life is fast, both day-to-day and long term. I often get caught up in the busy world and forget that there are bigger things going on around me, which is why having that experience to look back on is so important. Maybe we really are insignificant specs in the universe, but it is a universe created for us. Every night those stars are in the sky, and every night millions of people ignore them. I have no doubt that if every person took one night to touch the stars their lives would look very different to them.

My Dock, Under My Sky