Advice

Feeling Tiny In This Big Big World by Rachel Abrahams

I love visiting New York City but have always, deep down inside, been very intimidated by the city. It’s also made me feel a bit afraid as well despite the fact nothing threatening my safety has ever occurred while visiting. I always enjoy myself but usually with an edge of discomfort floating around on the perimeter of my brain.

Something happened on this last visit where I was incredibly comfortable in my skin and enjoyed myself to the fullest while wandering around the city, despite being 5 months pregnant. I walked around alone and never once felt the usual intimidation and edge of fear. It was very freeing. Most would say it was because I have been there enough that finally it felt familiar so I wouldn’t be nervous.

If I am being honest with myself, I know the real reason of this change in perceived fear is because of how my anxiety and depression have been doing these days. It’s not a topic I talk about too often, especially my depression, unless I show how silly anxiety can make me feel. The best way I can describe my depression is I wear it like a backpack. I feel it there, it has a pressing weight on my back, it’s an extension of me, & as long as I keep it in my sights I typically do just fine with it. 

View of Manhattan from Brooklyn Park

View of Manhattan from Brooklyn Park

It took me many many years (and umpteen therapy sessions) to understand that a lot of my depression is directly correlated with my daily anxiety. As a result, I have worked very hard to teach myself daily awareness, coping skills, and now make decisions to alleviate my anxiety. I have also learned there is no shame in this and I am honest with the people who love me about how I am feeling. I explain the not so great days and It feels like by doing this I don’t let the mountain of negative feelings and sadness build up because I admit to them right away. I don’t bury it deep in my secret shame drawer (which eventually explodes with being overly full and overwhelms me). This seems to do a great job at keeping my depression at bay and just hanging on me like a backpack versus cloaking me in its Darth Vader cape and making me disappear.

When my depression & anxiety does get ahold of me, it can make me feel very isolated and tiny in this big world. I get lost in the idea I am a meaningless cog in the overwhelming wheel of life. I am convinced I am a burden to the people around me. It envelopes me into a fear bubble of a perceived reality that my rational self KNOWS is not real but is too overwhelmed to fix this point of view.

Bryant Park Carousel

Bryant Park Carousel

I have had three very serious depressive periods of my life: first when I was 16, again during college, and then in my late 20’s/early 30’s. These periods didn’t come on all at once. Instead, I describe it as standing on the ocean’s shore watching a tidal wave come painfully slow at you and feeling powerless as it crashes over you and then pulls you off your feet into its murky depths – all happening at such incrementally slow speeds that you are thinking you are ok and then you are underwater wondering what has happened. Then, I fight to not drown and it’s exhausting.

During these times I was fully functioning in both school and work, an expert at performing to my fullest abilities but all while walking around inside my bubble of fear and loneliness. I was not truly connecting with those around me but still looking the part. This is exactly why when people decide to take their own lives it typically shocks everyone around them and comes as a complete surprise. During depression, the light is figuratively on but no one is emotionally home.

NYC Fire Escapes

NYC Fire Escapes

So, what changed for me? A catalyst in my finding a way to keep the depression and anxiety from becoming full blown episodes was watching the Brene Brown TedTalk Listening To Shame where she said:

            “If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive”

That statement stuck with me and began a very long and involved process of teaching myself to be honest, owning up to my feelings, leaning on those I trust, and stop living in my petri dish of shame. Some might say I am overly honest these days about my anxiety and depression but it’s the biggest coping method I have to try to fight against the chemical processes of my brain.

Chrysler Building

Chrysler Building

And that’s how I know this is the real reason why I did not feel that overwhelmed stress and fear while visiting NYC because this time I was honest with myself and forced myself to feel empowered during my visit. I spoke aloud my discomforts and fear to my husband and friends who then gave me very rational and emotionally supportive responses. I believed them (no matter how hard my anxiety/depression makeup didn’t want to) and confidently took on the city feeling like I had the skills I needed to enjoy myself and connect emotionally with my surroundings, instead of walking the city inside my bubble of fear and isolation.

I no longer let myself take this isolating bubble tactic in life and it has made my world an incredible rainbow coloring full of love and empathy which helps me to have more good days than bad. It’s the recommended way to live. Trust me.

Sometimes I Do Not Believe You by Rachel Abrahams

Something happened to me recently that completely floored me. It's not often when I am left speechless but this left me stuttering and gaping my mouth like a fish out of water. 

I was networking at an event just chatting away and answering question for people. It was mostly the same questions over and over so I was getting my speech pretty down pat. A woman walked up to me, started to ask her question, stopped herself, and then said "Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry but you are just stunning. Your hair, your coloring and what an amazing smile. You just stopped me in my tracks. Sorry if that's weird I just feel like I had to tell you". 

Satellite Beach, FL

Satellite Beach, FL

Yup, I was left speechless. This perfect stranger just gave me the most amazing compliment and all I could do was stammer out a "Wow, thanks, uhhhhhhhh" and then thankfully my brain kickstarted itself back into gear and I attempted to continue to have a conversation with her. After we chatted and I answered her questions, I thanked her again and she walked away.

 I really doubt this woman remembers this moment all that clearly but here I am still thinking about it and in wonderment of how kind she was. It's also made me think more about her unsolicited compliment and how I reacted. 

 At first, I was in shock (What, me? Not the person behind me? Are you sure?) and then it turned into unease (Is she pulling my leg? What if she is making fun of me?) and then I came up with answers to explain her compliment (Maybe it’s because of the shirt color I was wearing. Maybe it was the lighting. Maybe she wasn’t wearing her glasses and I was a multihued but happy blur). Yup, I am a pro at second guessing myself.

Satellite Beach, Florida

Satellite Beach, Florida

How many of you suck at taking compliments? Your immediate reaction is to downplay what someone said or even not believe them at all. I once heard when you don't believe someone's compliment you are essentially calling them a liar and that really stuck with me. There are people in your life who tell you wonderful things about yourself and you don’t believe them. Are they liars? No? Then maybe it's time to start listening to (and believing) what they say. Don’t worry though, I say this knowing I am in the Doubting Thomas of Compliments Club.

 I also tend to behave poorly when people highly compliment my photography. I will say oh that one was popular because everyone loves the beach or people love that because it’s got bright fun colors. I know I am being a dummy because people wouldn’t say nice things if they didn’t mean it. Unfortunately, it is a terrible habit of mine to not believe the positively awesome comments given to me.

My theory is that many other folks (myself included) have a tendency to not believe they are the ultimate at something unless there’s arbitrary data to prove it. For instance, people think they aren’t truly beautiful unless they’re famous or a model. They aren’t talented artists unless they have a bajillion social media followers. They aren’t funny unless they are getting paid gigs as a comic. They aren’t skinny unless they fit into size 00.

Satellite Beach, FL

Satellite Beach, FL

So why don’t we trust other people’s eyeballs and hearts when they take the time to say wonderfully kind things about us? Why do we believe these arbitrary numbers and data as being proof of our fantasticalness? I am honestly not sure since I know I perpetuate this problem so here’s my own small answer that will help make me feel better about it, a letter to that kind woman:

Dear Wonderful Lady,

I wish my brain had worked properly that day you took the time to say the nicest thing to me. If so, I would have said a proper and genuine thank you. I also would have tried to ask you more questions about yourself and get to know you better (I can’t even recall your name. It flew out of my mind in shock and awe) rather than moving on to another subject in my discomfort of being complimented. I know I can’t change that day but I do hope you continue to say what you really feel and let the beautiful positive words flow out of you. You are being the change I wish to see in the world and I want to adopt your method as a role model for me. I also endeavor to believe the people in my life when they tell me I’m awesome, wonderful, talented, and amazing. It may take some time and effort but I will work on it. Many heartfelt and genuine thanks.

The Day The Earth Stood Still, In A Good Way by Rachel Abrahams

I celebrated a significant 20th Anniversary recently for the longest relationship I’ve ever had (outside of my marriage). I have been completely and totally in love with Tori Amos and her music for 20 years. 20 freaking years. Sometimes there is a musician or artist out there who grabs ahold of your heart and, no matter how life shifts and moves, stays with you for your lifetime. For me, it’s been Tori Amos.

Tower Bridge - London, England

Tower Bridge - London, England

Now, I am perfectly aware some of you may have no idea who Tori Amos is or you do know and she is definitely not your cup of tea. So I ask, what is the thing that rocked your world and has stayed by your side through all of your life changes? A musician, artist, book, poet, city; anything that when you are in their presence you just feel like they complete you. Wait, that’s cheesy. They are your spirit animal (that’s better) and you remember the first time you experienced it like it was yesterday. That’s what I am talking about. Now you can relate, right?

When I think of Tori Amos, it reminds of a scene from the movie Love Actually:

Harry: What is this we're listening to?

Karen: Joni Mitchell.

Harry: I can't believe you still listen to Joni Mitchell.

Karen: I love her and true love lasts a lifetime. Joni Mitchell is the woman who taught your cold English wife how to feel.

Harry: Did she? Oh, well, that's good, I must write to her sometime and say thanks.

It’s not often in our lifetime we experience that feeling where our entire world is turned sideways in the most eye opening, positive, and uplifting way possible. Those experiences leave a permanent mark on your heart and I feel like sometimes we forget to focus on those and instead think of the negatives, the things that caused us pain.

Tower of London and Tower Bridge - London, England

Tower of London and Tower Bridge - London, England

I remember the first time I heard one of her songs. I was at a dance competition, practicing a routine in a hallway and heard her song “Silent All These Years” float through the air. I ran into the room to watch the performance and, though the dance was beautiful, I was riveted by the song. The notes, her voice, and the lyrics turned my brain and heart upside down, in a way I hadn’t experienced before. I had to know immediately who sang the song.

This was before the iPhone and internet so I grabbed a program which had the dance studio’s name, asked around for the dance teacher, and then (FINALLY) found the teacher to ask her the most important question of my life at the moment “WHO SINGS THAT SONG?”. I know she thought I was insane in the membrane, but I didn’t care. After that, it was game over for me and the true beginning of my emotional education. I was changed.

The 2nd “once in a lifetime positively changing experience” for me was when I visited London for the first time. It was entirely different from my Tori experience in the sense that London creeped into my being slowly, like a fog, over the time I spent there for school and left me a completely changed person when I went home. I look back at that time as a pivotal point in my life where I can actually see the proverbial fork in the road of my life and London redirected me for the positive.

Tower Bridge - London, England

Tower Bridge - London, England

I was in college and had the opportunity to study abroad in London and made the utmost best of it. I lived on the same street as the British Museum and obsessively spent every minute I had trying to absorb the entire city into my memory. I had lofty goals.

It was an addiction of the best variety. I couldn’t get enough of the museums, the history, the buildings, the cultures, the food, the obvious and not so obvious differences of living there vs. the U.S., and navigating my independence. I made the decision to reprioritize the bold, confident, and adventurous version of myself I had lost in the shuffle of college and the pressures of trying to decide what I wanted to be when I grow up.

It is absolutely no accident, in my mind, that I came home from London and within 6 weeks began dating my friend of nearly 6 years who is now my husband (we’ve been together for 13 years).  I also took a quick weekend trip to Ireland, which became my next study abroad location a year later. Again, no accident. My Ireland semester introduced me to my roommate Erin, who is still one of my closest friends.

Tower Bridge - London, England

Tower Bridge - London, England

Do you see what I am getting at? There are these moments in our life which alter our core being in the best way possible. They can either shake your proverbial life foundation so hard you can’t believe how different life looks now or they will grow slowly on you like mold and change your inner world into a soft mossy heaven.

These moments change you into the best version of yourself you had always hoped you could be and shouldn’t be minimized or forgotten. They should be celebrated with anniversaries of happiness and remembrance.

For my anniversary, I listened to every single album Tori Amos has created in order of release date. It was a time warp of the last 20 years of my life and eye opening to hear the music with my adult (I am an adult supposedly now, right? Society says so) ears/mind.

I was so happy I did it because it reminded me of how far I’ve come and that I have so much more to accomplish. I also wouldn’t change a damn thing.

If you love this, it would make my heart so happy if you shared it. Pass it along to anyone else you think would enjoy reading it too using the share button below.

Creativity Takes Courage by Rachel Abrahams

NYC - Central Park Bethesda Terrace

NYC - Central Park Bethesda Terrace

I recently dyed my hair purple. Bright Grimace/Barney purple (you remember them, right? Am I dating myself? Did either of those characters give you nightmares too? Or was it just me?). Now, before you go imagining my head looking like a grape, it’s not ALL purple. I mixed it in with my usual copper red and it’s just enough where people look again and ask “Do you have purple in your hair?” and I answer very proudly “Yup”. I know purple hair isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (my husband isn’t really a fan but he also said it’s my hair) but you know what lesson I have learned recently in life? I don’t have to shape myself to other expectations – just what I love. What makes me happy? Having purple hair makes me happy and that’s all that matters.

It takes courage to step outside the normal boxes. It takes having a DGAFlip attitude on the surface and then making sure your insides are along for the ride even when you may be having some doubts about it (fake it til you make it, right?).  That’s true courage, in my opinion. Therefore, I can call myself Captain Courageous for rocking out the purple hair and not caring (I was tempted to rhyme there but I can only nerd out so much before you all kick me to the curb).

San Diego, California

San Diego, California

You know what else takes courage? Creativity. And honestly you can’t be a truly creative individual until you believe in yourself. If you worry too much about failing, about what others think, and about standing out from the crowd - all of these worries will lead to failure. Or not even trying at all.

I hear people tell me all the time they aren’t creative. When people say that to me, I can guess they are either in 1 of 2 groups.

Group 1: They don’t realize something they do often is actually very creative

or

Group 2: They have lost the courage to try

Do you think you aren’t a creative person? Which camp do you fall into?

Maybe you are someone who doesn’t realize you do something creative all the time and are overlooking it. Just because you aren’t putting a paint brush, glue gun, or musical instrument in your hand doesn’t mean you aren’t creative. Do you cook? Garden? Do interior design? Journal? Love fashion? Makeup? Hair? Tattoos? Reading? Karaoke? Pairing your rainbow colored kicks collection with your outfits? All of these (and so many more) are ways you are being creative and don’t even realize. Knock it off. Give yourself a hand. You are not giving yourself enough credit.

NYC - View From Empire State Building

NYC - View From Empire State Building

So, what about if you are in Group 2, where you’ve just lost the courage to try and be creative? Remember how I dyed my hair purple? If I let fear dictate my choices, I’d still be walking around with normal hair (but wishing deep down inside I had purple hair). If you want to be more creative, you just gotta suck it up and DO IT. Harsh words, I know, but don’t let fear of failing or sucking at it prevent you from trying. You know how creative people become more creative? They fail. Yup, they try something and fail and then take those lessons learned and try again – and again – and again – and then hit their stride. In these days of social media, you don’t know this anymore because people only share the awesome stuff.

One of my biggest regrets as a photographer is I spent the first 4 years of running my photography business being afraid. I was afraid to break the “rules”. What rules? Oh, the ones I kept hearing photographers spout on different message boards or comments on Flickr saying things like “too much Photoshop”, “looks fake”, “good photographs need minimal editing”, etc. What if they said that about me and my photographs? So, I tried (and failed) to follow those rules. It’s not the first time I’ve been a failure at following rules. Guess what? Remember that DGAFlip attitude? Now, I make my own rules. More color? YES. Brighter? YES. Blow out the sky? SURE, WHY NOT. If it makes my heart happy – that’s the only rule to follow.

Paris, France - Notre Dame Cathedral

Paris, France - Notre Dame Cathedral

I also was afraid of trying something different and then finding I hated it but realized quickly that’s the only way to grow. I edit photos all the time and then go back weeks/months later and decide I don’t like it and I will just start over. It happens. What do I learn? How NOT to do it. What else? I am refining my own taste.

What does this soapbox rant mean? I swear I have a point. Don’t let your fear of sucking at something prevent you from trying it. Don’t let that be your excuse of why you aren’t a creative person. Cuz if you tell me that, I will call you on your bullhockey and say “WHOMP! Try again. Give me a legitimate reason for not doing it”. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be attempted. Progress NOT perfection.

What’s the only rule? HAVE SOME FREAKIN’ FUN, people. That’s it. Enjoy it. Laugh when your dessert you attempted to create falls apart from the oven (and then smile in delight when it still tastes amazing despite looking like a literal hot mess). Add alcohol into the equation and make it a friends night together trying something different. If it’s not fun it’s not worth doing.

It takes courage to be creative. You have it in you but it just might take thinking outside whatever self-limiting box you’ve imposed on yourself. So how are you going to do it? You don’t have to dye your hair purple like me (although I would welcome you into the Purple Durple Hair Club with the most open arms ever) but there’s something fun and different you’ve been interested to try. Now is the time. Do it.

P.S. If you are looking for something super simple and low barrier to entry for being creative, try coloring in those new coloring books for adults (no, not THAT kind of adult. As in – coloring books with designs that are less Care Bear and Disney and more patterns and shapes). Here are some examples on Amazon

P.P.S. Did you notice the theme of the photos?