Trust And Fear

Writing about my time at Härnösand Folk High is actually something I wanted to do while I was still there. I created a blog here on WordPress back in 2015 but nothing more came out of it. Every time I sat down to write my head went empty and got crowded all at the same time. All my intentions were pushed aside by fears and worries over what you would think about me and my words. I also wondered what I could possibly have to offer in this vast sea of already established bloggers and inspirational people. Of course I am still curious about you, but not because I am convinced you will think I am a complete nutcase or that my words are insignificant.

I also held my visions and dreams locked inside. I thought that I couldn’t write about what has not taken shape yet, that I can’t share what I don’t understand before I myself know how it all fits together. To show you the process, my unfinished or unpolished creativity, was unthinkable. It had to be something worth sharing. But do you know what? How can we hope for the sun to reach us if we hide in the shadows? This is something that I learned to acknowledge, a belief I strengthened during my time at Härnösand Folk High. For every time I let go of my words and share my thoughts and dreams, I grow more confident, no matter how strange or abstract it may be. To share who I am and what I do, what I envision, gives it substance. Makes it real. Like the little baby pines I planted a few weeks ago. I took them out of the cardboard box they arrived in and set them down in the earth. There they stand now, among moss and lingonberry bushes, stumps and flowers, beneath the sky to be nurtured and grow into a forest once again.

In the same way I share my words and my photos, and I love doing it. I believe in it. And that is how it is supposed to be, don’t you think? This is how I believe I manage to fight against the nervousness. I took those first steps, got over the threshold, let go of my fears and made space for what I truly feel and think, deep down. What I truly want.

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I believe that to trust others we have to trust ourselves. I had no faith in my own abilities, and what I thought of myself was lower than low. When we trust someone we let them in, we open ourselves up and give them glimpses of our innermost selves. I did not think much of that person I was on the inside, I don’t think I even knew who that was, so to invite others to take part became very difficult.

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The experience I want to share with you today took place during an excursion. We created so called Interest Groups of various kinds which met up about once a week (sometimes every two weeks) during the first hour of school on Fridays. The Outdoor Group I joined did many things together–walking in snow shoes, skiing. To start the day like that was so wonderful, and it gave so much energy. In April last year (2016), we went to a place by the ocean just outside of Härnösand called Smitingen. There is a beach, summer cottages, some trails, places to grill, and cliffs. On these cliffs I went head to head with my fears.

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CliffsAndStudent

At first, I just enjoyed the adventure of being surrounded by nature, and these rocks were a comfortable challenge. I breathed deeply of the ocean air, savoured the scent of pine and resin mingling with that tangy breeze sweeping in with the waves. It wasn’t until later, as we reached the cliffs further up ahead, that my insecurities began to take over. And suddenly I stood there on the edge of a gaping crevice. Waves rushed in deep down below in the darkness, and in my eyes it looked like a death wish. At one point I even wondered if I would survive this or die and never see my family back in Finland again.

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The very core of a Folk High is acceptance and equality. The individual. To be met as you are, for who you are right then and to be given the time and be offered the tools you need to take the necessary steps. For you. Because you aren’t there for anyone else but yourself. To work through and take on the challenges you need to get to where you want to go. And to do this, we have to work together. Accept and respect each other. This is the heart, and this is the spirit of a Folk High.

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TeacherAndStudent

Out on those cliffs, with the waves crashing below, I met that deeply rooted fear and lacking trust. And then my teacher crossed over. Just like that. It’s easy, you can do this, he said. Do you trust me? A man jumping from cliff to cliff like he was born to do it. I told him no, but also that I didn’t really trust anyone. I kept looking over my shoulder to my friends, and argued there had to be another way around. Sure. Up. Which was even worse. I was literally petrified. But all throughout my hesitation, no one said a thing to make me feel I was being a coward or ridiculous. Nothing and no one but my own demons shouted at me.

I can’t do this. It won’t work. I’ll never get to the other side. I don’t want to. What a stupid idea to come out here–I’m slowing everyone down. They won’t catch me, they’ll lose their grip–I will lose my grip. I am such a pain in the ass.

My head was filled with impossibilities and my entire body responded according to my intentions, that I just couldn’t do it. I made a few half-hearted attempts but mostly I just clung to the sides and felt like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. My memory goes a little hazy here because once I made the decision to put my trust in the hands of others–my life, my body–I shut down all thought process, silenced the taunts and jabs of my ghostly persecutors, and gave myself over to the task at hand. The thing with fear is that the more you think about it, the worse it gets. Of course I wasn’t able to rationalise quite so well in the moment. But I am here, alive, and writing about it.

HighUpTheCliffs

Once across to the other side, breathless and trembling, I said aloud from now on, every time I think I can’t do something, I will think of this day. And I have. I will never, ever forget. Not only did I build a little trust that day, but I drowned a good dose of my fears and left them there in those freezing waters. And the feeling that came with breaking myself loose, taking the chance, accepting the help of another human being was so powerful. I didn’t reflect much on it in that day or the weeks afterwards. Not until much later. And after I shared this experience in front of the school those couple of weeks ago, my teacher came up to me and gave me a hug. He told me he didn’t know it had had such an impact on me. How could he, though? I didn’t talk about it openly, not like this, not with these words and these reflections. But I am so glad I finally did.

This was only one of the challenges I met and took on during those two years. However, for each step I took in spite of I can’t do this reverberating through my entire being, I put down a stone. Piece by piece I built a foundation of self-confidence and trust in myself, a trust in the world around me. I took note and recorded proof with which to contradict those voices which always managed to convince me I couldn’t do something. They still try, but I pay them much less mind now because I know differently. I am not a failure. Just as long as I keep trying, keep taking those steps.

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The teachers at this school had that special ability to find and help us focus on our strengths. For me, this was the key, since I already was so good at obsessing over my weaknesses. With this help I am now working on turning those weaknesses into strengths. After all, throughout my life I had adapted the habit of seeing so much from a negative point of view. Finding faults and ways to sabotage myself by staring myself blind at all that I couldn’t do, which resulted in one opportunity after another passing me by.

These days, instead of focusing on the possible failures and botched outcomes, I remind myself it will be an experience gained. I will be all the richer for having tried and failed than if I had done nothing. Success lies not within dodging failure but within embracing the opportunity and possibility to learn, gain, and grow. And we all start somewhere, don’t we? When we are little and learn to walk we fall on our butts, on our heads, bump into things and meet that fight with gravity and balance again and again. But in spite of the tears, the pain and frustration we never, ever give up. Failure is not a concept we conceive of at that stage in life. Just because we have that awareness now, why should we let that get in the way of passion and want, or make us shy away from dreams and visions?

I know that some days are tougher than others. Defeat hits us harder, our confidence falters, we see more failure than progress. What I have found is to at such times accept it and let it be so. What I have come to believe is that we have seasons within us just like the nature around us. For me, personally, spring is my toughest time. When everything seems to come to a stand-still, spring might even throw in the reverse. Winter returns and paints the world white, and those buds on the trees cannot seem to reach through to the sunlight, nor be coaxed by the birdsong. But the seasons change, every single year the world bursts into colour sooner or later. As do we. So to get to know ourselves and feel those seasons within, be kinder to ourselves, more understanding and have patience is I believe so very important.

I want to thank you so much for reading and joining me through this experience. If you want to share any of your own experiences that have in one way or another had an impact on your life, I would love to hear about it. For now, I wish you all a wonderful Friday, and a happy Midsummer Eve! ❤

WeMadeIt

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Be Louder Than Your Fears: An Introduction

Be louder than your fears. You may have noticed I have this in the header section of my blog. I also have it with me these days in the back of my mind. On the days I have to step out on the battlefield to challenge myself it is my banderole. It is the beat of the drum as I stride forward, head held high and knees shaking. Engraved on my heart too because no shield and no armor is of any use if I want to change. I have to let those challenges hit me so I can feel them, receive them, understand them.

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Fear. I sit here and think about it, how it once ruled my entire life. Fear doesn’t seem to come alone, though. It isn’t just fear; it is a lack of belief in one’s own abilities. Not much sense of self. The strange need for confirmation and praise from others yet never, ever believing it. No matter how many compliments or how much encouragement I got, the voices and words of criticism and degradation I had ever heard in my life won. One phrase I seemed to love to use once, the one phrase that resonated all through me was you are such a fraud. I used to be mindful of and so very careful with every single word I spoke because sooner or later this new cheerleader or supporter of mine would find out how very wrong he or she was about me. One day soon, he or she would see me for what I really was. A fraud. A poor, pathetic excuse for a human being. Harsh? Yes. But that is how I truly saw myself.

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Trust. I didn’t trust anyone. But how could I? I was wholly convinced anyone and everyone I ever came across would betray me. And I never even gave them a chance to prove me wrong. I was always right. It was easier that way–better that way. At least I wouldn’t be disappointed. Which, funnily, I always ended up feeling anyway.

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Hope. The crushing weight of hope lost. Yet it never died. Deep down, some part of me never, ever gave up hope. Hope is an odd thing, because no matter how hopeless things seemed, how hopeless I felt–hope was the glowing ember that always ignited and kept me going. I actually used to hate that feeling before things started to turn. With that sense of self-irony I would tell myself oh, what the hell, I love failure and rejection anyway, so why not give it another try? What could be more fun than being totally crushed? The more the merrier! I also used to think it was my stubbornness, sometimes I still might. I remember comparing that sense of keep going as a cogwheel mechanism deep, deep down that forged ahead on the absolutely worst days while I was being dragged behind on a line. I was on the ground, got pulled across gravel and dust and through muddy swamps. It never, ever stopped.

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I am sharing this image in honour of some personal inspirations of hope: great Swedish illustrators from times past, like Elsa Beskow and John Bauer, and the accompanying stories; my grandmothers who enriched my childhood with the enchanting fairy and folk tales of old; and for Jonna Jinton who embodies hope and creates art with soul, showing us magic and dreams truly can be the stuff of our world.

So how did it all change? How did I turn it around? These are questions I have asked myself a lot. During my last weeks at Härnösand Folk High, I spent so much time trying to go through my past few years to pin point the pivotal moment. I couldn’t. I still can’t. And, I think, that is because that magical moment doesn’t exist. Rather, the magic lies within a formula of many different moments. A sequence of moments that lead me through the haze until the day I realised I could see clearer. I think of it as the mist on a cool morning after a previously hot, baking day. How do you define the single moment in which it dissipates? I didn’t even know the mist was lifting, and so I didn’t think to keep an eye on the process. Until I noticed I could see across the distance.

This is where my journals have become so important. And they confirm my belief that it is a formula. A series of moments–motions–that lead to insight. It is all a process, and I take it all–one day at a time. One step at a time.

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I have already mentioned I went back to Sweden a couple of weeks ago to accept a stipend. The gesture moved me so deeply, like a confirmation of all the challenges I have met, all the obstacles I have overcome in the past few years. After receiving the message about the stipend, I thought that now I want to write about this. I had wanted and meant to for quite some time, but this gave me that last push. It also inspired me to write this and the next post in Swedish, too. Since about the age of eighteen it feels like I have travelled all over this planet, and because of that I seem to have become more comfortable with English than my own mother tongue. But at the Folk High I received so much encouragement and support writing in Swedish that I wanted to do it also as a gesture of how grateful I am. And this is exactly what Härnösand Folk High is about–an atmosphere of acceptance and equality. Not even always through spoken words. It is more like walking into open arms and being embraced. You are surrounded by all that which is needed for you to find your own inner voice and to strengthen it.

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I wrote these posts before I left for Sweden, and I had intended on posting them back then, minus the part of me receiving a stipend, since I was to keep it secret until that last day of school and the ceremony. I never did, though. And then I thought I would post it after, which would give me a chance to add some photos from the school. But I forgot. I took a few photos at the very start but then I got lost in the joy of being among all those people again, meeting my teachers and fellow students who still had a semester or another year left. I did however step up in front of the entire school to share the very moment I will share here, too, in the next post. One of many, many moments I got to experience during my time at Härnösand Folk High. One of those many opportunities I was given and accepted to challenge my fears–be louder than my fears.

So with some photos from that day, and a few more words, I will in the next post tell you about a day I got to challenge both my fear of heights and my fear of trusting others. Meanwhile, I would love to hear about any experience or challenge you have had or met which has had an impact on your life. After my time at Härnösand Folk High my belief is stronger than ever that we can learn so much from each other. Even from that which may seem small to us. Some of us go through life and apply these valuable lessons we have picked up and learned along our journeys even without thinking much about it, but to someone else it could be quite the inspiration. ❤

 

The Unintentional Prelude

Even though I moved back home to Finland to rejoin my family in December last year, I still haven’t unpacked all the boxes of stuff I brought with me. So when I started working on the blog post wherein I’ll share Loke’s and my 9-hour hike, I thought I would go through my journals to see what I might have written that day. It took me a while but I found it eventually… and got stuck reading what past-me had to say. I’m laughing at myself because I just mentioned the lacking organisational and time management skills in my previous post. It makes me think of this image I saw once, of counting sheep when trying to go to sleep, and it ends up with hey, Macarena!

So now I have hit a bit of a hey-macarena situation with my blog post. I intended to just add an excerpt from my journal entry, but one thing lead to another, and suddenly I had poured out a ton of words before even getting to the actual hike. So instead of deleting those words, I am posting them as a fitting example of my process. Let’s call it The Unintentional Prelude.

June 20, 2015

Dear present-me,

Hiked the High Coast trail today! Got a total of 32 km! I am not sure how I am still alive. Or sitting up. Poor Loke is totally pooped. But it sure was nice. More than nice. Awesome, even. I am so proud of myself for doing the entire 1st course of the High Coast trail! Oh. And BOY am I glad I invested in those Meindl hiking boots. Without them, my feet would be chopped pork.

I wish I would have had a diary excerpt to share from when my parents first moved us–my siblings and me–from a Stockholm suburb up to this area in 1989. Not that I really kept a journal back then. I was eight years old and I hadn’t found my love for words yet. Suffice to say, younger-me did not share my enthusiasm and love for Ångermanland, the northern province of Sweden in which the High Coast is located. To my young self it was dark, remote, and I knew no one, at first. All my friends were a world away. Winters seeped through the creaking walls of the old house, and outside the cover of snow seemed taller than I was (enough to bury our car at times). I didn’t dislike nature, but the loss of my friends and the world I knew muddled my impressions.

From old photographs and stories my parents have told, I know my father took me out on smaller hikes to pick berries and mushrooms already as a baby–I rode along in a sling on his back. And later on, as my siblings arrived and we got older and could use our own legs, we stumbled around in his footsteps, climbed large rocks, hunted insects and explored the undergrowth. We would help each other to lift smaller boulders to watch in fascination the intricate patterns created beneath by all manner of critters and little lizards. Once we found a snake sunning itself. Another time we crossed paths with elk calfs. It is safe to say my love for nature has long been cultivated in me, and I in it.

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At my request, Mom dug up some photos. Bless her.

When I came back to Härnösand in autumn 2014–and every other time through the years, really–I always remembered our family hikes with fondness. I took every opportunity I could to go back to those places we visited as children, coaxing whoever available along as well I could, but the one place that had the greater pull was a cabin built and maintained by a local outdoor organisation. It’s open all year round and is free to use by anyone. Nestled on a bare cliff on top of a ridge it gazes out over the amazing landscape that signifies the World Heritage of the High Coast.

View from Tuäggenstugan
Did you know that due to the post-glacial rebound, the High Coast rises 8 mm annually? And it will continue to do so for generations to come, gradually slowing down.

The trek up to Tuäggenstugan, as the cabin is called in Swedish, is situated a few minutes drive from a small village by the name of Ramvik, about 30 km northwest of Härnösand. My father still lives there in that creaky house I called home from the age of 8 to the age of 13 (and sporadically in later years).

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The house used to be pink once, and white-beige-ish before that. The two smaller windows were once shop-sized windows. The house’s bottom floor held a sewing and fabrics shop in the earlier 1900’s – 1950.

My father’s house–almost only a stone’s throw away from water–faces Ångermanälven, a 463 km long river. The name originates from Old Norse–anger–which seems to have various meanings, such as tight/narrow, and names of lakes and bays have contained some form of the word anger. Mostly in Norway, but also in Sweden. In this case maybe it refers to that the province of Ångermanland is full of fjord-like (fjord-ish?) formations, although by far not comparative to our neighbour’s majestic fjords.

If you looked closely at the photo taken from Tuäggenstugan you could see the pylons in the distance (tiny, tiny). That is a suspension bridge–Höga Kusten bron–which was inaugurated 20 years ago, now, this year. Before it was built you had to take a ferry to the other side, or drive another 15 or so kilometers further north to cross. Next to the High Coast bridge on the other side of the river, atop some cliffs, sits the High Coast Hotel–where they serve absolutely delicious food–and that is where my hike began. The hike this post was supposed to be about. Er, oops?

Regardless of taking a little detour, these sneaky extra words still tie into all the reasons why this place means so much to me. Which is something the younger-me, as I mentioned earlier, never would have thought she would one day say. As I write this, and truly think about it, I find myself smiling; the place I once couldn’t get far enough away from is the very place that much later would have such a big impact on my personal growth and, ultimately, my mental health. I won’t go into details or dedicate any major words to that here, and get sidetracked again, but when I left Finland over two years ago I was suffering from deep depression and anxiety, social phobia, PTSD–and, now, let me tell you that all that has changed.

Bliss
Feel the moment… just this moment.