Several years ago, I found myself laughing as much as I breathed, loving wholeheartedly and striving to be the best I could be. I set goals and put in the effort required to not only reach them but often surpass them. I amazed not only myself, but also my family, friends, and mentors as well.
I loved life and appreciated the precious moments that brought me meaning and happiness. I enjoyed the pleasure of my own company but warmly welcomed long late night talks with friends. I stayed true to my beliefs and felt comfortable defending them.
Beyond all else, I was comfortable in my own skin. I felt love for the person staring back at me in the mirror. I admired my features and accepted imperfections that never caused doubt or insecurity. I was defined very clearly as a talented runner, devoted student, and loving friend.
Several years ago, my happiness seemed effortless. Several years ago, I had it all. I couldn’t have asked for more joy in my life.
Then suddenly, I found myself battling a five-year fight against the person who somehow became my worst enemy: me. I was no longer the laughing, loving, and ambitious girl I once was. I no longer looked in the mirror and loved the person staring back at me; instead I scrutinized my flaws, like the freckles painted on the bridge of my nose and my stubby fingernails. I was trapped inside my own vicious mind and had molded my losses into destructive thoughts and habits. I had accepted unhappiness, loneliness, and despair. I had given up on myself.
Or so I thought. When I reached my own version of hell, I found the strength to pick myself back up. My journey back to happiness began with a camera and a journal.
I made a promise to photograph myself every day for a month, with the goal of accepting (perhaps even embracing) the flaws I had grown to despise. I was determined to love myself again. At first it was a challenge, being that I had only taken one beginner’s level photography course and lighting was an obstacle in my apartment. In the evening before bed I journaled my thoughts. Over the course of a year, I developed an irrepressible passion for writing; it became my savior. I turned to writing when faced with any challenge that year. The words seemed to spill effortlessly onto the paper before me as if somehow the pen in my hand knew what I wanted to say before my mind did. The connection grew each night that I wrote before drifting to sleep.
I developed my photos and put together a collage of self-portraits in a scrapbook. As I stared into my ocean blue eyes in the photos, I was astounded by the change I incurred over the past year. The journey I took. The obstacles I overcame. I felt alive again.
On this cold February morning, I admired the beauty of the rising sun outside my bedroom window. I watched pink hues gradually turn to blazing orange as a reassuring sense of peace, serenity, and comfort filled my heart in knowing a new day has begun: a new day to write, photograph, and love. Each new day has something beautiful to offer when you choose to face challenges instead of falling at the feet of your fears.
Life, though challenging and unpredictable, is beautiful. What a shame it is to waste what precious time we have in life, to spend with family, friends, and loved ones. Though life is short, it’s never too late to turn things around and find yourself again. In this life, we make choices. We can choose to wallow in our losses, to be sucked into a deep, dark hole of despair, and to hurt others. Or, we can choose to grow from our suffering, to surpass our own expectations, and to offer our love to others. We can choose to admire the beauty of every rising sun.
Words by Kristina S. // Featuring Jenieva Lebsack.
© 2015 Reef Magazine