Before I See Too Much

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2016 has officially come to an end and maybe it’s time for me to embrace everything that’s happened. Everything I wouldn’t accept. This year was both utterly beautiful and hopelessly ugly, but I guess this ultimately is what life is supposed to look like. It can’t always be rainbows and butterflies. I had to learn this the hardest way, and it terrifies me to say so but there were days I almost felt like giving up. I believed my heart wasn’t fitted for anything but love and kindness. When it broke, I was sure it was the end of it. I would never be the same person. I would never be that beaming girl dancing in the ocean again. I would no longer radiate happiness and if I can’t carry happiness within myself, then what’s the point ?

I’ve spent my whole life obsessing over happiness. I would find a way to make it happen, then I’d never let go. I would have done anything to grow into a happy human. I never had much faith in myself but I wholeheartedly believed in dreams and our ability to fulfill them. I wanted to travel the world, and so I did. I stepped out of my comfort zone and explored more countries than I can count. I embraced the joy of backpacking on my own and let every adventure I experienced, every soul I connected with shape me into a better person. I was happy.

I have learned the difference between being and pretending now. No amount of pretty pictures could make up for my heart shattering into a million pieces. No place felt remote enough for me to forget what had happened. Although traveling is my true love, I think at some point it became more of an escape. I rode my bike around Czech Republic’s countryside, wanting to escape adulthood. I ran away to the Scottish Highlands, wanting to deny the truth I never felt like I belonged back home. I got lost in Swedish ghost towns, wanting to bury the pain of losing my first love. Every time something could possibly harm me, I’d leave before I could feel too much. I refused to let any negative emotions tarnish the light in my heart. I had no idea back then how much damage it was actually doing to my heart.

Some people close to me say they feel like I’ve grown from this. I sound more mature, less naive. Am I ? Most days, I just feel so empty it’s hard for me to really see the good in getting your heart broken. I remember so vividly the day I went back to college after a 10-week internship and hysterically confided in my best friend about the boy I had met in the hospital. My friend was much older than I was and he knew things I didn’t but he thoroughly listened to my love tale and smiled. A few months later, I dramatically told him my boyfriend and I had had our first fight. He smiled again and gently said relationships were complicated and so would be my first heartbreak. I disapproved and vowed to never fight again. As for the part about breaking up, the mere idea of us falling apart used to petrify me until we made ourselves a promise to never give up on one another. And so my heart was safe, just like that.

Maybe I was slightly naive, after all. I genuinely believed in this promise we’d made. When things started feeling different, I refused to see it and instead held on to our promise. When he started working night shifts and suddenly got distant, I believed the only reason he was shutting me out was because he was hurting and so I would do my best to help him. The truth is there was nothing I could have done. The truth is he never loved himself enough to love me like I wanted him to. Seeing how ugly that truth was, I felt like it was my duty to cover it up and so I worked harder and traveled more. I wore better smiles. But sometimes, no matter how much you want to conceal the truth, you just can’t.

Now the truth is out in the open and there are days I wish it wasn’t because I don’t feel strong enough to face everyone’s judgment. I sometimes wonder if I did the right thing by publicly sharing what I felt deep down inside me. But then I hold on to the belief vulnerability is incredibly powerful and everyone’s story is worth telling. And so I fumble and hesitantly tell mine, thinking it might help someone feel less alone and make room for more empathy and kindness. Our ability to feel and connect as humans is beautiful and this is the kind of love I still believe in.

And so 2016 wasn’t just the year my heart broke. It was the year I hitchhiked around the isle of Skye and climbed mountains with the greatest stranger. It was the year I held my best friend in my arms and finally allowed myself to cry. It was the year I reconnected with my soul sister and her sweetest mother. It was the year I learned how to surf and mastered the art of covering up my body with thousands of bruises. It was the year I met with the coolest bartender in Portugal and felt a deep connection. It was the year my friend offered me to fly an airplane so I could feel alive again. It was the year I watched my family come together again. It was the year I nurtured friendships but also neglected some of my most precious ones.

It was the year I connected with a friend who inspired me to read more French poetry than I ever had before. It was the year I encouraged my photographer friends to travel to Ireland with me. It was the year I spontaneously dyed my hair. It was the year I went back to medical school and pursued a degree in psychiatry. It was the year I felt carefree enough to go swimming naked in the middle of winter. It was the year I started shooting weddings and finally felt confident at what I did. It was the year I drained my bank account and bought the camera of my dreams. It was the year I went backpacking in Italy, hiked in the pouring rain and connected with an Australian expert. It was the year I attended my very first music festival and got so hysterical I appeared on Belgium television.

All in all, I think it was a year of growth. It was a year of acceptance, forgiveness and resilience. My heart may still feel heavy but it’s very much alive and burning with more love than ever before. I know yours is too and no matter what 2017 holds, I hope you never give up on yourself. Here’s to a year of creativity and endless adventures. Here’s to gratitude and peace. Here’s to falling in love with ourselves.
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Behind the Happiest Smile

img_4336fbI’m 6-years-old and I run around dead leaves in the garden, as happy as a child can be. I have to be a happy child, I think. There is enough suffering already so I can’t make it heavier. I find a safe place to escape and decide to bury the pain I feel there. From then on, I’ll be nothing but a happy child. It becomes my responsibility to take care of Mom, to make sure she’s okay. I want to help Dad, too. I know he’s hurting just as much as she does. I often stand between them two, begging them to calm down, reciting a never-ending list of reasons why we should be a happy family.

As years go by, that list gets shorter as the consuming chaos grows bigger. I stop believing we can ever be a happy family but I can’t give up on Mom so I dry her tears at night and whisper ‘I love you’ as she falls asleep. One day, Dad isn’t allowed to come home anymore. Although I feel relief, I can’t bear the thought of him being alone so I secretly meet with him in coffee shops. I tell him I forgive him and I still love him. Mom finds out and shouts the ugliest words at me. I think I was never as happy as I pretended to be. I could always feel the buried pain within myself, but I refused to let it out. I made myself a promise to never let it define me. I vowed to do better and grow into a happy human. I would take care of people. I would strive for happiness. All I had to do was step out of the darkness and yearn for the light.

I started obsessing over happiness. Everything had to be magically beautiful. By taking pretty pictures, I would persuade myself my life was beautiful. It was never about convincing anyone else. All I needed was to believe that, I, would one day be happy. I dreamt of traveling the world but I had never felt reckless enough to just do it, until I hopped on that bus to Germany four years ago. I had always lived in fear, but as soon as I stepped foot on that foreign soil, I felt a deep sense of wonder. I decided to live on the road and let every experience, every soul I met, shape my heart. I no longer had to seek happiness as it was right in front of me. I felt joy with every fiber of my being. Everywhere I’d go, I’d collect stories and memories. I was an independent young woman seeing the world for the first time. I was fearless.

Some days, it seemed like I had it all. Like I had made it, after all. Soon after, I started thinking about the missing piece in my life again. Love. That funny, abstract concept I knew nothing about. That made-up idea in my mind shaped by romance novels. Timeless love stories that led me to believe love was a fairy tale. I was 22 when I fell in love. Before that, I was too scared to even think about opening up to someone. The walls I had built up around my heart came crumbling down, and so I risked everything for the boy who became the missing piece to my utopia. To the carefree and happy life I was so eager to throw myself into. He became my family. Life would only get sweeter now.

He changed everything. I can precisely recall how overwhelmed I felt seven years ago, when our eyes met for the first time. There was something beautiful within his gaze that he couldn’t see. A twinkle so bright yet so broken. We’d get so ridiculously goofy together. We’d run at the grocery store and slide around like wild children until one of us would get serious and say ‘Let’s focus and buy some real food for dinner’ only to get out of the supermarket an hour later with nothing but sweets and chocolate. In the evening, we’d feed our soul and mind with love and dreams. I’d go on and on about how incredible it felt to even be alive. He’d look at me distantly and say ‘I believe you’ll do great things, Laura’. He had that faded smile on his face that meant he believed in me but could never find the same confidence within himself.

I think in a way I always knew he was the boy with a wounded soul. Maybe I was wrong from the beginning. Maybe I was never supposed to rescue him. I wore myself out trying to make him see life through my eyes. I wanted him to realize just how tremendously good he was. I believed the love I had for him could only make him warm. His would make me grow higher with every sunrise so how could mine be anything but soothing ? The truth is, the more I loved him, the more unworthy he felt.

It was never my fault and I can see it now. I have stopped feeling riddled with guilt. I have ceased to think I wasn’t good enough. I was. I did the best that I could, but I guess some things just don’t work out like they should. Maybe someday they will. Maybe we’ll be happy again. For now, I feel like I just need to seek truth within myself. I need to stop smiling when I feel like falling into pieces. Life can’t always be beautiful. I can’t always be happy. And I can’t keep on lying to myself and pretend it’s alright. It’s not. None of this is. It’s unfair and cruel, and I didn’t deserve it. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t feel a sharp stabbing pain in my heart. I gasp for air but I feel hopeless. I hold onto love but I feel forsaken.

It’s all so achingly ugly but I need to let it out. I need to be brave and release the buried pain behind the smiles I’ve learned to fake. I need to allow my heart to break. Only then will I truly heal. And when I do, I hope I can fall in love again. But it won’t be with Kevin or any other boy this time. It will be with myself. I’ve kept my disdain for myself quiet for too long and I can’t bear it anymore. I don’t love myself. I never have. I know it makes no sense that I would be so loving and forgiving to others, yet so crushingly hard on myself. Sometimes I feel like the things I do – my job, my passions, the way I behave around friends and family – are just a big act to fill the excruciatingly painful void inside myself. It’s time I look within myself. I’m only human, but it’s a beautiful thing to be nonetheless.

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The Heart that Breaks

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It’s August 20th. It’s 2am and Kevin wants me to go to bed but I’m stubborn and say I want to finish assembling an Ikea furniture. He gets mad and falls asleep. Out of the two and a half years that we have been together, he has never been the first one to fall asleep. I’d always beat him to it. He’d run his fingers gently through my hair, kiss my back very softly then he’d get into deep talks with the Sleeping Laura, as he enjoyed calling me. Every morning, he’d faithfully report those funny conversations to me. He used to love the Sleeping Laura because she’d always talk nonsense and grumble whenever the light touching would stop.

That night, he never got to tell me stories. I never got to let him lull me to sleep. Instead, I dig up the ugliest truth and the love I thought I knew vanished in the blink of an eye. I felt helpless. I had just become hopelessly broken. I went out in the middle of the road and wandered barefoot, trying to figure out how to breathe but I physically couldn’t. Every single step was slowly yet sharply killing me. My whole world had collapsed and as hard as I tried to understand it, it made no sense. I spent weeks wondering what went wrong, asking myself why I wasn’t enough. I genuinely felt like I had failed us by not being enough. I couldn’t eat nor sleep, I’d break down in tears every single minute of every day. I was going nowhere.

Our relationship had been withering away because we were growing up to become too different. I wanted to travel the world. He wanted to get a better job and earn more money. We’d despise each other’s aspirations. I’d preach vulnerability and letting our emotions out, but he’d be too scared to allow me in and so he’d withdraw into himself. He suffered from depression so we had decided to battle against it together. As a team, because that’s what we were. He was my panda bear. I was his sand shrimp.

We fought against all odds in the name of Love. Our love was the one thing that made sense. It was an entity I never doubted, and so I wouldn’t let it burn down. I knew just how good he was, and I was bent on proving it to him. I would not give up on us. I’d tell him I loved him everyday. I’d be my silly self and pretend I was a bloodthirsty zombie until he had to start running for his life. I’d catch him up and he’d burst out laughing then he’d look into my eyes, smile and kiss me. All of this felt so incredibly real to me.

Until it wasn’t. And maybe it never was. But it’s been seven weeks now and aside from the messy crying, I’d like to believe I’ve grown just a tiny bit. He may have never loved me. He lied and cheated and he will never be the boy I fell in love with again. Our love has come and gone, and as much as I wanted us to grow old together, it’s time for me to let it go. It’s nowhere near easy. It’s actually the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. There are days I just want to crawl into my bed and numb the pain until I’m no longer able to feel. Days I wish I had never met him so I never had to watch our love dissolve so abruptly. Days I hate him for giving up on us. Days I love him and would do anything to have us back.

Then there are brighter days where there’s no us anymore and it’s alright. Someone I hold close to my heart once said to me ‘it doesn’t always have to be bad’. I said nothing but felt disowned. I was heartbroken and it had to be bad. It had to be dramatically irreversible. It had always been like this with me. Feeling everything fully. Knowing no balance.

No matter how overwhelming they get sometimes, these emotions are what makes me feel alive. They’re the reason why after backpacking all around Europe, I just booked a ticket to Indonesia. They’re the reason why I’ll be working in an orphanage someday soon in Africa. They’re the reason why I run around barefoot on an Irish island, happily screaming, my feet covered in sheep poop. They’re the reason I throw myself into the ocean all dressed up just so I can swim with seals. They’re the reason I stop on the street to take pictures of a homeless man, before sitting with him and listening to the stories he tells me. They’re the reason I approach strangers and tell them they’re beautiful. They’re the reason I kept on trying to stand up on that bloody surfboard in Portugal.

The waves of unworthiness and grief come crashing over me, and I do sink at times, but I’m going to stand up again. I’m not giving up. I’ll be catching the most beautifully ravaging waves, and it’s all because I’m alive. I’m truly, remarkably, passionately alive. We all are. And we have to believe with all our hearts that we’re going to do wonders. We’re going to take risks. We’re going to chase our dreams. We’re going to make mistakes. Lots of it. We’ll learn from them, then we’ll make some more. We’re going to love madly. We’ll pour our heart and soul into it, because Love is all. We’ll experience everything : the pure utter joy, the heart-wrenching pain, the soothing beams of hope. We’ll seek truth within ourselves and practice gratitude. We’ll cultivate and nurture a deep sense of love for ourselves. We won’t ever stop growing.

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Breath of Life

IMG_1491fbIt feels like the air is being drained from my lungs. It is getting thinner and thinner until I can no longer breathe. I poured myself into love and it used to feel gentle. It still does but no matter how much I deny it, I am slipping away. I convince myself it’s okay and I’m okay. I have no right to disrespect such love and give up on the person who loves me unconditionally. This has to be enough, and I have to be patient.

Maybe I shouldn’t be a nomad. Maybe I should be saving money for a house, settle down and have children. Becoming a mother is actually one of my deepest dreams but it’s not the right time. None of this is. I crave experiences and human interaction. I want to travel the world and share stories with others. I want to fly to Scotland and connect with the cheesiest soul. I want to volunteer as a nurse in an orphanage in Africa. I want to drive all around Australia and sleep on remote beaches. I want to learn how to surf and spend eternity in the ocean. Mostly, I just want to feel alive.

It’s almost summer now. Grey winter days are over. A few weeks ago, I left unexpectedly and went backpacking on my own around Italy. I woke up before sunrise and met a psychic while carpooling who told me I had to slow down and stop pursuing so many goals. He believed I needed stability and rooting. What does it even mean ? He said I’d get irremediably lost if I didn’t start listening. My boyfriend wholeheartedly believes this is what I need too. I got into a heavy debate with that stranger over life and expectations.

Society expects from us that we go to college, get married, have kids, settle for a career … I’m not saying any of this is wrong but you should question what society wants from you and what you really want for yourself. I’m a registered nurse and I’m so incredibly passionate about the patients I care for but I need to be just as passionate about my own existence. Finding myself. Looking for truth. Following my hungry heart. Experiencing pure, utter joy. This is what my soul strives for.

When I was in Italy, I hiked in the pouring rain without an umbrella. I walked through the fog for hours and the rain kept getting heavier. I was all alone, phoneless, in the middle of nowhere, with no idea when I’d be able to reach the next village. It was challenging but so brilliantly life-changing because during that hike, I pushed myself beyond my limits and really got to look inside myself. I explored my beliefs and in that moment, I knew exactly who I was. A pretty reckless girl for hiking in extreme weather conditions when I was strongly advised against doing so, sure. But a remarkably happy one, too.

As days went by, I befriended open-minded souls from all around the world. We lived in a remote hostel on top of a hill. I’d go for walks in the evening and eat cherries while listening to an Italian man singing opera with his parrot following along. I’d say ‘Ciao’ to every local and they would all cheer at me and smile so genuinely. My new friends and I would go out for pizza and share stories about life, cultures and dreams. As I went home to the hostel one night, I met with a boy from New Zealand. He had moved to Europe and I could instantly feel the fire in his soul. The way his eyes lit up when he told stories mesmerized me. The way he smiled made my heart race away. We got into a deep conversation about life and what it all means and it brought comfort to my soul knowing that he existed. Knowing that there are other human beings who have this intense passion for life. I guess the thought of not being alone is soothingly beautiful.

Coming back to my hometown always makes me feel like I’m out of step. A little part of me dies each time I give up on absolute freedom. I’m grateful for all these life-changing experiences because they truly are extraordinary, but they’re so short. I’ve never traveled for more than two weeks and I find myself questioning more and more the choices I make. Do they make me happy ? What do I really want ? I know the answer deep down, but I’m scared it will permanently hurt the people I care about, so I keep it quiet. However, I think I’ve reached a point where my heart can no longer remain silent. It is so eager to live and to love. It strives for this big adventure, and so I shall embark.

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