On Passion, Principles and Changing the World

Last weekend, I met a very interesting guy, a philosopher. We connected over a few beers in the pub, and when I walked him home, he offered me another drink at his place. There, we talked the night away. Or should I say, he talked the night away and I listened (mostly). Which I might add, is quit the accomplishment. As my friends and family will happily tell you, it’s not easy to shut me up, and only a few succeed.

He talked about his view on the world, and how he thinks we should live our lives. What fascinated me the most is his passion and in your face dedication to his principles. It made me rethink my own life. There was a spark of recognition. I used to be that girl: strong principles, highly opinionated, and very passionate about making the world a better place. And somehow, somewhere along the line, that changed. I became more moderate, less left-wing, and less passionate about changing the world.

So, he made me wonder: “What happened?”. What happened to the girl who forced her parents to start separating trash from recyclables; who refused to run her bicycle through a red light, even in the middle of the night when there’s no other traffic around, because rules are rules; who believed in a caring society in which the less fortunate don’t fall through the cracks; who marched to Den Haag together with her dad and uncle to protest against unfair and unsociable politics; and who stood up against bullies in school.

Well, let me tell you what happened, life happened. Over the last two decades, I have battled with (chronic) depression. It took most of my energy to stay afloat. When so much energy goes towards keeping your head above the water, making the world a better place just doesn’t make it to the top of your priority list. Almost three years ago, I realized I couldn’t live like that anymore. I had to stop fighting myself. It was do or die, and I finally had the guts to face my problems. It was a long and slow road to recovery, but I made it and I’m feeling better than ever.

I have learned to appreciate the little things in life and slowly passion is making its way back into my life. I’ve always loved traveling. First as an escape from my life, now to discover other parts of this beautiful world. And look at me now, I’m living abroad, in the beautiful city of Washington DC, doing a job that requires me to travel around the world. During my therapy, I rediscovered my creative side. I love loosing track of time when I’m designing my own jewelry, and seeing a smile on someone’s face when she wears one of my designs.

Since my recovery, I have come to realize that many people suffer from mental health problems, and it’s still considered a taboo in today’s society. Not many people talk openly about their mental struggles, making it harder for those suffering to admit their problems, to others but also to themselves. All the years I was secretly struggling with my depression – I would not call it a depression back then-, I stuck my head in the sand and pretended to be fine; trying to fool the people around me, but only fooling myself. Looking back, I wish I had excepted the fact that I had problems a lot sooner in my life, and reached out for help earlier. It would have made my life so much easier.

I have made a very conscious decision on speaking very openly about my struggles with depression. It’s my honest conviction that by speaking up, I might help those who are struggling now. I hope by having one-on-one conversations with people, and by blogging about it, I might change someones life, by being the light at the dark tunnel of depression, a shimmer of hope that you can beat depression and come out on top, or by creating a more understanding environment by talking to bystanders. It might be naive, it might be horribly optimistic, but I do believe I can and have made a difference in people’s lives. I hope I can contribute, if only a little, to getting rid of this taboo. And to the people who think it won’t matter whatever I do, I say, “I don’t give a shit! This is something I believe in and will fight for!”.

You know what, I guess there is still some of that little girl with her principles left in me. The principles that I will passionately fight for might just have shifted over time from making the world a better place to changing the life of people around me.

How about the philosopher, you might ask. Well, the jury isn’t out on that one yet. I love how he inspired me to have a good look at my life and my role in this world.

 

Tourist in my own city: the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC

It’s been almost a year since I wrote a post on this blog and what a year it has been. I hit the one-year-recovery-from-depression mark, landed a job in Washington DC and moved to the USA. It sure was an eventful year and I couldn’t be more proud of myself.

Inspired by the I Heart My City posts from National Geographic, I have decided to write posts about my “touristic” adventures in my own city. I have lived in many cities, and somehow I have seen and learned more about cities and countries that I haven’t lived in than the ones that I have lived in. Crazy, I know, but somehow once I live in a city I get too caugth up in the day-to-day life to do the touristy stuff.

I moved to DC just about 2 months ago and until this weekend all my time and energy went into adjusting to my new job, finding a place to live and making this new place feel like my home. I work two blocks from the White House, but hadn’t walked over to see the National Mall and all its museums and memorials yet. This weekend I finally made time to visit the Mall and the Tidal Basin for the famous Cherry Blossom Festival, and boy was it worth it.

Cherry Blossom

Cherry Blossom Festival 204

In 1912, Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo gave 3000 cherry trees to the city of Washington DC, which were planted around the Tidal Basin. Each year, when the cherry trees blossom, the Cherry Blossom Festival  is held to celebrate and honor the long-lasting friendship between the United States and Japan.

Many people visit the city and the Tidal Basin to see the Cherry Blossoms during peak weekend. If you are ever in the neighbourhood of DC in the beginning of April, do make the effort to visit the Cherry Blossoms at the Tidal Basin. However, if you go when the blossoms peak be prepared, you will be one of many, it will be (over) crowded and very touristic, but so worth it.

There’s a festival with food and drinks, music and lots of entertainment. You can go on boat rides, bike around on the bikes of DC’s bike sharing program, rent a paddle boat or you can just walk around, brave the crowds and enjoy the Cherry Blossoms. And when you are at it, don’t forget to pay a visit to the many musems and memorials on the National Mall.

I for one truly enjoyed being a tourist in my own city this weekend! When have you been a tourist in your own city?

For more information on the Cherry Blossom Festival, go to
http://www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org

For more information on visiting the National Mall, go to
http://washington.org/DC-guide-to/national-mall or http://www.nps.gov/nacc/index.htm

I have entered this post as my contribution to this week’s Daily Post Photo Challenge: Monument. Not only is the Cherry Blossom Festival in DC a monument in itself, for all it’s fame and history, it’s located at the National Mall, which is packed with monuments. A few of the iconic monuments are captured in the photos above: the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument and the White House.

A word a week photo challenge: the favourite mountain

This is the last post in my Weekly Writing Challenge: Using Forms Creatively trilogy. The challenge was to use a custom form in a post and write a second post based on the information you collect from your form. I added a custom form to my submission for the Word a week challenge: Mountain, asking my readers to pick their favourite mountain photo and tell me why it’s their favourite photo. Two days ago I posted a half time score of the voting.

Using the form added an extra dimension to participating in the photo challenge. I have always loved participating in these photo challenges. They force me to look at my photos from a different perspective. It’s like seeing my photos for the first time all over again. The comments from my readers gave an extra layer to this new perspective. It was really inspiring to hear what my readers like in my photos. Some of their comments were very sophisticated and made it look like I actually know a lot about photography. They made me feel very proud of my photos, simply taken with a compact camera, not hindered by any expert knowledge.

The feedback

Here are some of the comments I received:

Glencoe no1:

It was so hard to choose, especially between your favorite and the one I eventually picked. I love the stillness you captured in Scotland 1. The lake is a perfect mirror for the landscape to look into. Love it.

Cinque Terre no3:

The layout of the town at this angle, the extra colors, it all works very well. Not the typical landscape, it has something more. It’s just close enough to give intimacy into the town, but not so close as to be intrusive. Lovely!

Khao Yai:

I like the sense of depth and the contrast with the sky.

Glencoe no3:

This my favourite due to the sheer scope and panorama the photograph provides. You get the sense of scale that these magnificent mountains have, and think it is such a lovely scene!

The favourites

When I chose my favourite photo I doubted between two photos, before eventually picking my favourite. I guess their must have been some quality in both photos, because they tied for the position of favourite mountain photo. The favourites of my readers are

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre no3 (Italy)

Glencoe - Three Sisters

Glencoe no3 – Three Sisters (Scotland)

A word a week photo challenge: Mountain, the half time score

Last Monday, I published a selection of mountain photos as my submission for the Word a week challenge: Mountain. As part of the Weekly Writing Challenge from the Daily Post, I added a form at the end of my post asking my readers about their favourite photo in my submission. On Friday, I will publish the favourite mountain photo of my readers.

This was the first time I used forms in one of my posts. I wasn’t sure what to think of using forms. But I must say, I actually like it. It’s fun to get direct feedback from my readers, to hear what their favourite photo is and why.

As a teaser, I’m posting the current top 3 of my readers, in random order. If you want your favourite photo to make the final cut on Friday, please go to my post Word a week photo challenge: Mountain and vote for your favourite photo. I would love to hear from you.

The half time score:

A word a week photo challenge: Mountain

This week I am going to combine a few photo challenges with this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Using Forms Creatively from the Daily Post. The writing challenge is to add contact forms to a post this week and write a second post based on the information you collect from your form. My idea for this writing challenge is to publish a photo challenge post with a wide selection of photos and ask you for your favourite photo. At the end of the week, I will post the favourite photo for the photo challenge based on the feedback I got from my forms.

The word of the week is Mountain for the photo challenge of A word in your ear. Those of you who know me, know I have a serious fear of heights. As in, I don’t like it when I’m standing on a table fear of heights. So I wondered if I would actually have interesting mountain photos. But to my surprise I actually found quite a few nice ones.

Cinque Terre in Italy

Cinque Terre, where the mountains meet the sea. A beautiful National Park in the North West of Italy. You can make amazing hikes in Cinque Terre. It was one of the many highlights of my backpack trip from Bergamo to Roma in 2006. If you ever get the chance to go to Italy, plan a few days in Cinque Terre. It’s worth it!

Scotland

If you say Scotland, you say the Highlands. Beautiful Bens (mountains) and Glens (valleys). From the magical Glencoe with the Three Sisters, to the green Glen Nevis for those who don’t dare to climb the Ben Nevis (the highest mountain in Scotland) and the cliffs of the Isle of Skye, it’s amazingly pretty. Everywhere you go you feel like you’re walking in a fairytale. Besides the bag pipes, castles and cute little kids in traditional kilts, these were the highlights of my Scotland trip. Fair enough you don’t go to Scotland for its good weather, but if you love hiking Scotland should be high on your travel bucket list.

Khao Yai National Park in Thailand

I went to Khao Yai NP to spot the wildlife, macaques, gibbons, hornbills and many more. But I did find one great photo of Khao Yai showing the numerous hills covered with jungle, as far as you can see. Even though, Khao Yai NP is not famous for his mountains, it is definitely worth a stopover for a few days when in Thailand. The views over the jungle-covered hills are amazing and with a good guide you will spot numerous wild life.

Khao Yai NP

Khao Yai NP (Thailand)

Favourite photo

Of course, I cannot ask you for your favourite photo without choosing a favourite myself. It’s hard to decide, since every photo brings back travel memories. But putting aside the memories, my favourite photo is Cinque Terre no3. I love how the coloured houses just seem to pop against the green of the mountain and the blue of the sky.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre no 3 (Italy)

 

I would love to hear what your favourite photo is. At the end of this week, I will publish a post with the most favourite photo among my readers. Please let me know what your favourite photo is and why, by filling in the form below. The information that you fill in will only be visible to me, not to the other readers.

Stay tuned for the results of this poll and for similar posts for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Pattern and the Travel Theme Challenge: Beaches.

How a veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome became my source of inspiration.

About a year ago I started this blog for a few reasons. After a long battle with depression, I finally was forced to face my demons during a year of intensive therapy. I rediscovered myself, my feelings, my creativity and how much fun life can be. At the end of my therapy, I decided to start blogging to inspire myself to keep fluttering through life like a butterfly, to travel and be creative.

More importantly, in therapy I learned to be honest with myself and my emotions. Until then, I was a master in pretending that everything was fine, or even better that everything was just perfect. I was not only fooling people around me, but most of all myself. Ignoring my emotions until they became so strong that they could no longer be denied, sweeping me into yet another depression.

Nowadays, I can no longer lie to myself or others. Being honest with myself has become second nature. So, when my company doctor advised me not to talk to my colleagues about my struggle with depression and my therapy, I gave it a shot. But I abandoned that strategy very quickly. I do not feel ashamed of my journey. It has made me who I am now and a depression is a disease which you can beat. So why hide it? I’m not constantly spreading the word, but when people ask me about it, I tell them honestly. And I must say, all reactions have been positive. With this blog I want to contribute to bringing psychological diseases out into the open. I hope to inspire others to fight and beat their depression, by letting them know they are not alone and it’s okay to struggle. You can get through the dark times and enjoy life again.

About being honest, the last couple of months I haven’t made time to blog. I could think of a million excuses why I didn’t blog. But to be honest, I guess my reasons for blogging dropped from the top of my priority list. Over the last half year, my focus has shifted to getting my career back on track. I love my job and despite my long absence from work I’m getting awesome opportunities which demand my focus. I’m extremely thankful for this and proud of it! However, old mistakes are looming around the corner. My job does not define me and I need to take care that it doesn’t consume me. The last and maybe most important reason for me to blog is to remind myself, not just others, of the mindful way of living I became accustomed to during therapy. So, me not blogging over the last couple of months could be a sign of loosing myself in all the awesome opportunities my job has to offer.

Over the last few weeks, I was searching for inspiration to start blogging again. Last week, I saw a very inspirational interview in Pauw en Witteman, a Dutch talk show, with Peter van Uhm (former commander-in-chief of the Dutch army) and sergeant major Patrick Kaslander. Patrick Kaslander has been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS) since he came back from his last mission to Afghanistan, having witnessed platoon members being injured and killed by a roadside bomb. As a medic he was the first to give medical treatment to the victims. Now, he has trouble leaving his house for a walk around the block, fearing the enemy in every bush and behind every tree.

According to former commander-in-chief Peter van Uhm 20% of all veterans suffer from PTSS. Despite the large number of veterans suffering from PTSS it still is a taboo in the army to talk about it. Therefor, it’s hard for a lot veterans to get the right treatment. The army is investigating new types of treatment. One of these treatments is service dogs for veterans. These dogs help the veterans to trust their surroundings again. Experiences with using service dogs to treat veterans with PTSS in the USA and Canada are positive. Peter van Uhm is an ambassador for service dogs for veterans in the Netherlands and recently has provided Patrick Kaslander with his service dog Figo.

Figo has given Patrick Kaslander his life back. He can walk around his block again and even join his wife doing the groceries. This might sound silly, but I remember vividly how being able to comfortably do my grocery shopping was a milestone in my recovery. The “beauty” of this story is that the son of Peter van Uhm was one of the soldiers that were killed in the roadside bomb that Patrick Kaslander witnessed. Now, they are fighting together to tell the world that PTSS is nothing to be ashamed of. That takes a lot of guts. Especially for Patrick Kaslander who is still struggling with his disease.

This interview reminded me of my mission of being open about depression and letting the world know its just a disease and nothing to be ashamed of. So I’m back to blogging. Thank you, Patrick Kaslander and Peter van Uhm for being my inspiration!

What have you been ashamed of? And who was you’re source of inspiration to let go of the shame?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Love

This week’s photo challenge from the Daily Post inspired me to write about the loves of my life. Love comes in many different shapes; from people to animals, from old to new, from far away to close by. Love is always around, but most appreciated in difficult times. For me, it took battling a depression […]

A word a week photo challenge: Round

This week’s photo challenge from A word in your ear, made me think of my cat and dog. My cat is a little ball of fur, always sleeping curled up in small spaces. My dog tries to do the same, but he’s just to big and bony. He’s just not so round.

Weekly photo challenge: Illumination

Illumination is …

…highlighting the best features

The Alhambra in Granada (Spain)

The Alhambra in Granada (Spain)

The Alhambra in Granada (Spain)

The Alhambra in Granada (Spain)

…making you feel at home

Making you feel at home

I love the light in my living room

…a magical moment

St. Peter's Basilica in Rome (Italy)

St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (Italy)

St. Peter's Basilica in Rome (Italy)

St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (Italy)

This is my contribution to the Weekly photo challenge: Illumination from The Daily Post.

Travel theme: Multiples

It is time for another Travel Theme Photo Challenge. For this week’s theme “Multiples”, I decided to use photos shot in the Netherlands. I had plenty of multiples to choose from.

Orange, our national colour

On Queensday and on game days of our national football team, the Dutch love to dress up in orange. Whole streets colour orange and stadiums are transformed into a sea of orange. I have to admit, we do go a bit crazy. Every two years, when there is a European or World Championship tournament, Guus Meeuwis (a Dutch singer) gives a concert in a football stadium.They show the match on big screens in the stadium, followed by an amazing concert. And of course, everybody is dressed in orange.

Orange crazyness

Windmills

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about the world heritage site Kinderdijk. This location is famous for its multiple windmills. If you ever visit the Netherlands, I can definitely recommend a visit to Kinderdijk. The windmills are impressive!

Multiple windmills at Kinderdijk

Winter lights in Delft

I live in the city Delft. It’s an old and typical Dutch city, with old Dutch style houses. Every winter, the tree in front of this pub is filled with beautiful lights. I love it. A couple of winters, on a cold winter evening, I just had to photograph them.

Winter lights in Delft Winter lights in Delft

Old bicycles

We Dutch love our bicycles. One of the most photographed places in the Netherlands must be the bicycle parking at the Amsterdam train station. However, being a local, I have never photographed this enormous amount of bicycles. I do have another bicycle photo to share with you, though. A couple of years ago, on a bachelorette party, we went cycling on old style bicycles. Hilarious, since your pedals are connected to your front wheel, which makes it rather difficult to ride these bicycles.

Old style bicycles