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I’m Dakota, a Wilmington, NC-based photographer helping engaged couples feel comfortable in front of the camera and creative businesses grow with purposeful brand imagery.

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Life Update: In Honor Of Mental Health Awareness Month

June 1, 2023

I have been vulnerable in blog posts before and it’s always felt like a weight lifted when I’m able to get my thoughts into words. Sharing them leads to some of the most thoughtful conversations.

Recently (though it feels like years), it’s been more difficult than ever for me to share personally. 

At first it started as a break to recover from some burnout, then it turned into the busiest seasons of my business and writing blog posts felt more like a chore than a treat.

Then I entered a stage where I just felt too soft to let people in. I was breaking down core beliefs about myself and the world, redefining core values, setting new boundaries, and healing. I needed to take a minute and feel confident within myself first before I let others join.

…All while still running a business and creating memories for those I serve.

May is Mental Health Awareness month and I’ve felt drawn to share a little of my story because if I’ve learned anything it’s that you genuinely never know what people are struggling with.

I understand a lot more now how people can say concerns can come as a shock or that mental health struggles can consume your life. How you can look happy and bring light to those around you but be unable to supply it for yourself.

2022 was one of the hardest years of my life, specifically the last few months of 2022. I lost my joy for the things that I used to willingly give up sleep for (and I LOVE sleep, hehe). I didn’t have motivation to chase after goals with the same level of determination. Oftentimes I felt like I was strapped into a rollercoaster that I didn’t want to be on and couldn’t get off of. I was swallowed by extreme emotions and drowning in the weight of lack of control. Panic attacks lasted entire weekends. I wasn’t myself.

I had to do something – I was consistently seeing my new therapist (love her!), journaling to process my thoughts, and trying my hardest to just keep moving forward. To find things that made me laugh, where I could feel like myself again.

In January, with the suggestion of a friend, I signed up for a half marathon and trained intently for 8 weeks. This was monumental in sparking the fire to get out of my head and into my body. I was sleeping better, my appetite came back, and I had a deadline I was personally accountable to with a really, really exciting reward.

What I wasn’t expecting was to find a new level of radical acceptance of myself and my life – past, present and future.

“Radical acceptance means practicing a conscious effort to acknowledge and honor difficult situations and emotions – fully accepting things as they are, instead of ignoring, avoiding, or wishing the situation were different.”

For me, an aspect of that looked like stopping the use of the word “should.” The way things “should” be, what I “should” be doing, how I “should” be feeling, how they “should” respond.

There’s so much pressure and shame in that word.

There’s no room for love, peace, grace, truth, or any of the other things that make life beautiful and worth living.

One of the biggest “should’s” of all was “I should be able to beat this.”

But the truth is you don’t need to feel shame around the way you feel or how you are. It doesn’t help you work through things to find peace if you can’t see reality clearly and make moves based on facts, not your feelings (which simply don’t always tell you the truth).

I have given my absolute all to continue to seek and understand acceptance. To push myself up the mountain of depression. I’ve learned so much about myself in the past year and one of the most important lessons is you don’t have to do it alone. You can’t. 

You have so many tools at your disposal, if you can just muster the strength to reach for them – including leaning on your support system, finding ways to fuel and move your body, understanding yourself on a deeper level through therapy, simply processing your thoughts through writing or talking, or supplementing with medication. 

Being brave enough to admit you need help is a huge feat but it makes the journey much more doable. 

I am so thankful to be surrounded by people who have extended grace, kept me laughing, checked in on me, held space for me when I just couldn’t say the words out loud, and those who listened intently when how I was feeling wasn’t lining up with the person they know I am. Who I know I am.

You just truly never know.

Today I am still very much on my journey. Every day is a continued effort to unapologetically prioritize my mental and physical health and I am so proud of my progress. I can feel the acceptance, peace, and love wash over me. I am able to better identify how I feel, understand why I feel it, and then release the emotion. I can physically feel myself healing and getting stronger, setting and holding boundaries to protect that.

I definitely still have areas to grow but my word for the year is PUSH and that is showing up in so many ways (as it typically does!).

Some days the push is as small as posting something to my Instagram story. Other days it’s as big as making business moves to create the future life I want to live. But I’m here – pushing away!!!

I tend to share a lot of the sunshine and highlights here and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that – those are the things I want to look back on and celebrate with my community! That is the type of energy I want to put into the world.

But it’s not the full story.

We can easily fall into the trap of believing that’s all that someone else’s life is. That we’re alone when we feel something that looks different than hitting goals and having something exciting to share.

Life is so complex. So many conflicting things can simultaneously be true.

I’m coming in right under the wire for Mental Health Awareness Month but this should be a reminder that this conversation never really stops. We are so lucky to live in a world where it’s cool to talk about your therapist and mental health care is so much less taboo.

Check in on your closest people.
Ask them how they’re doing and push (appropriately) for the real, authentic answer.
Don’t be afraid of what they say.

Check in on yourself.
How do you feel, really?
Is there a disconnect somewhere?

Most importantly, give yourself some grace.
It will be okay if things aren’t going the way you think they “should.”
It’s strong to ask for help, even if that makes you feel weak.

I am so thankful to feel supported when I share my own experiences and I look forward to sharing what I can when I feel confident enough to do so. 

The best thing to do is be curious and open to starting the conversation.

You can feel very alone, but I promise you are not.


I’m Dakota, a Wilmington, NC-based photographer Helping engaged couples feel comfortable in front of the camera and creative businesses grow with purposeful brand imagery.

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