When I was a freshman in college, I struggled with depression and an overall lack of self-care. I drank way too much, ate unhealthy foods, and made really poor choices in my daily life. I sank into a dark place where I had a hard time even getting out of bed in the morning to make it to class, and started to feel hopeless about my future. The idea of suicide slyly lurked in the background of my mind, popping up as soon as I began to enter those times of darkness.
Throughout this time, however, there was one thing that kept me going. And that was a constant practice of uncovering beauty.
Whether it was through a song, or a poem, or a piece of art; a journal entry that I wrote, or a blog post that I found on Tumblr, or a photo that I took while exploring the city; I was consistently searching for and uncovering beauty around me. I was desperately searching for proof that life could be both terribly hard and breathtakingly beautiful at the same time. So when I read an inspiring quote, or heard a song that moved me to tears, or overheard a moving conversation between strangers on the subway, I was tapping into a feeling of relief. I was moving into a place where I could see beauty around me, and remember that life wasn’t always all bad… there were sprinkles of hope in there, too.
I remember one particular winter day where I was feeling really low. I had gone for a run along the frozen Charles River, with my headphones blasting in my ears, when I slowed down along the path to retie one of my shoes. When I stood back up, I saw before me graffiti on a wall that read, “beauty is here.”
I turned around and saw one of the most captivating sunsets I’d ever seen. I had been so focused on running away from whatever was troubling me at the time, both literally and metaphorically, that I didn’t notice the beauty surrounding me. I was so caught up in my own head that I was turned off to all of the jewels around me in the present moment.
I remember feeling sorry for myself that day. I felt stupid and ashamed for feeling so depressed and hopeless when I knew, on a deeper, more spiritual level, that life was full of so much to offer. How could I forget? There was a literal sign right in front of me, reminding me that beauty is here, right now, if I’d only slow down and notice it!
This concept reminds me of Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild, in which she shares wisdom from her mother, who said:
“There’s always a sunrise and always a sunset and it’s up to you to choose to be there for it. Put yourself in the way of beauty.”
Even now, I have moments of darkness with depression and anxiety. But, I make it a constant practice to uncover beauty in everyday situations. I open myself up to notice and be aware of the little things that make me feel alive and grateful for this life. I express gratitude for these things and their undeniable reminder that this life is short and we’ve got to appreciate it while we can. And like Cheryl’s mother so wisely instructed, I do my best to put myself in the way of beauty, so I simply can’t miss it. Because I wouldn’t want to live any other way.