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Writing Catalog


Hadley Stevenson

Grade: 12

Bay Village High School

Instructor: Kristen Srsen Kenney

Sprout, Blossom, Flourish

Writing Portfolio

Sprout, Blossom, Flourish

Joining the New Girl Order

After reaching the highest score in the class, 42 pushups on the push-up test, I strutted out of gym class beaming with confidence. Decked out in either Nike or Under Armour, little fifth grade me was always up for a good competition, a chance to show my athleticism. I took pride in feeling and acting strong, especially when that meant beating all the boys on the pushup test.

Fast forward to eighth grade, and I found myself halting at 20 pushups; I knew I could have forged ahead, but it was something else that was holding me back. My pride and strutt had fizzled over the years. Instead of beaming over my abilities, I felt embarrassment and shame towards my strength. My dynamic persona had shifted with my peers; I felt more comfortable shining as a "nice" girl and letting the boys handle "being strong".

Every morning, the bus would scoop me up along with my doctored, filtered personality. From the window, I would give a melancholy wave goodbye to my true-self waiting for me to return home. Perhaps I could have avoided this somber goodbye if it weren't for the constant feeling that I needed to morph myself into the idea of a "perfect girl." I experimented with clothes, makeup, and my personality to find my new ensemble. I tried on every model, friend, and celebrity hoping that one of them would give me the acceptance that I thirsted for.

Once athletic clothes weren't flattering anymore, I tried jeans.

Once the natural look wasn't attractive anymore, I tried mascara.

Once being yourself wasn't acceptable anymore, I tried masks.

Lots of this pressure stemmed from my concern about what boys would think of me. I yearned for them to see me as desirable and charming. Because of this, I began to act timid, giggly, and even weak. I thought that acting this way would get me approval from both boys and girls. However, even when I got their attention for a split second, it was shifted to a different girl before I could get the chance to feel good about myself. Earlier in middle school, I would have beamed if someone told me I looked strong, by eighth grade, I shuddered at that same thought and only wanted my physique to be described as skinny. In my mind, I tried to run as far away from my true self as possible.

Watering down my personality to please others started to feel natural. I truly began to believe

that I was a weak,

ditsy,

and shallow girl.

I believed strong girls were undesirable.

I believed my worth was determined by others.

I believed my skin was the only way to get a guy's attention.

After chasing after this unattainable image of myself for years, one day I took a deep look at myself. I couldn't recognize my reflection; I had strayed so far from the bubbly, confident little girl that I once was. Now, I had morphed myself into looking and acting like bits and pieces of friends, family and models. Realizing this made me feel lonely, in my own body.

Maybe, instead of burying the qualities that make me unique, I should embrace them, I thought. Maybe fitting in is overrated, and standing out is true beauty.

I was finally able to see that the only version of myself that would make me feel most comfortable, is the version where I don't hold back any of my characteristics. If I kept hiding my strengths, my light would be forever diminished.

And, with that, I threw off my repressive coat and embarked on a change.

I threw my heart into education. I had always loved to learn, and I wanted to build my intelligence. I deserved to be recognized as a smart girl. And, then, this journey became more than about me. I stood for all girls. I realized that not all girls get to go to school and have a chance to get an education. I needed to be a game-changer for them, too. I started to work hard, not only for myself, but also for the other females who don't get the same opportunity.

I pushed my body into a healthy routine. Instead of striving to look skinny, like the models depicted on social media and magazines, I now focused on exercises to make my body stronger and healthier. I spoke with words of kindness that my body had been so deprived of hearing. I was no longer ashamed to have visible muscles; in fact, I now wanted people to know that I was a strong, determined girl. These new ideals made it clear that there was something compelling about being found as a hardworking, strong, and intelligent female.

This new version of myself helped me realize that the world doesn't need well-behaved, submissive girls,

but rather wild,

free,

and individual ones.

And now that I know I don't have to be "her" anymore,

I can be me.


Little Things

Happiness is…

the wind pushing your hair back as the boat glosses the water

fresh cut hydrangeas in a glass milk jar

watching their smile lines deepen as they hug

Gratitude is…

dropping in for surprise visits to hear about their life

admiring each white, lush cloud as you stroll on a refreshing autumn day

heading to bed early because your body asked you to

Love is…

staring at familiar eyes in the mirror while you repeat how proud you are of yourself

an insuppressible smile taking over your face as you gaze out the window and think about him

letting your sister have the last bite of lavender creme brulee

Peace is…

waking up early on a summer day; eating breakfast on the patio so you can hear each bird sing their love song

laugh/crying at National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation while feeling the warmth of your loved ones around you

deep breaths; feeling the calm stream through your body

As I sit back and admire life,
   I realize it's all in the little things.


My Light Within

Captivated.

Attentive.

Engaged.

I propped my head up with my hands to ensure that I could absorb every bit of information my teacher shared.

We were in our nutrition unit, and our teacher was discussing how each type of macro digests. I found this information to be fascinating; it made me want to analyze my eating habits. I loved the idea that I could easily boost my health by paying closer attention to what I was eating. I've always loved school, but this class made me feel like I had knowledge that I could immediately apply to my life to improve it.

Inspired by the nutrition unit in class, my health journey began with my diet. I tried out different foods, recipes, eating schedules, and vitamins. Quickly, I determined what worked best for me and what didn't; I focused on incorporating the things that had fruitful health benefits and made me feel energized and sustained. Now, I enjoy reading articles about food to expand my knowledge on the subject; I also make an effort to switch up what I'm consuming every week to get various minerals and vitamins while keeping meals exciting.

My sophomore year I got into regular exercise. With my healthy eating boosting my energy, I realized I needed an outlet to release it. I started with running; it turned into an activity I looked forward to because of the rewarding freedom. This then prompted me to experiment with other forms of exercise. Soon, yoga, pilates, sculpting, cycling, and walking filled my afternoons. I found that the more I switched up my activities, the more excited I was to work out. Going to classes on my own forced me to step out of my comfort zone and create new experiences . After I left classes, I was proud of myself for the productive workout I got in and grateful for my health that allowed me to do it.

After I modified my nutrition and fitness regimens, I realized that it wasn't enough. I knew the most critical component to health lies in your mind. I needed to do some work on the inside.

I was introduced to a beautiful little book called The Four Agreements. I had never before read a self-help book, but I was hooked immediately. I loved the simplicity of his lessons and the idea that I had control over the quality of my thoughts. As I dove into the book, I found myself changing. I started posting sticky-notes with affirmations around my room, taking time to meditate in my day, and immersing myself in every self-improvement podcast and TED talk that I could find. These little habits quickly changed from five-minute practices to parts of my day that I couldn't live without. My mind felt clearer than ever.

My journey with mindfulness carried to my junior year as well. I wanted my peers to enjoy the journey of mindfulness, too. With the help of my favorite English teacher, I created my high school's book club; students from all different grades and high school cliques were able to come together and share a love for books. We read books of all genres, from self-help, to Greek mythology, to classics. I could see my journey traveling outside of myself and impacting others. For once, I was seeing kids genuinely excited about reading and reflecting on their own lives. Absorbing ideas from the books and reflecting gave us the creative outlet and introspection that we needed in our lives.

Striving to keep my mental, emotional, and physical health prosperous has become one of my most meaningful passions in life. I feel that it is our job to accept change and go in search of it so that we can keep evolving into the best version of ourselves. Because of this spark within me, I feel called to continue learning and sharing mindfulness with others.

Afterall, I learned we must find the light within ourselves to help light the world.


Rocks

I'm fifteen years old, sitting in the nurse's office, trying to figure out which bodily ache I could lie about and have it be believable enough for her to send me home. I go with the stomach - I think nausea makes them uncomfortable because they don't want a child throwing up on the premises. It wasn't entirely a lie, though. When I'm deeply upset, my stomach feels as though there's a pile of rocks weighing it down, forcing me to give attention to the needy, whiny issue. Sure enough, as soon as I needle her with my ailment, she sends me packing.

I'm sitting, waiting for my mom. As she pulls up, she gives the concerned mom-look.

I'm reeling, racing through my thoughts, which course through my mind at one hundred miles an hour.

I'm thinking, reeling back to my freshman year.

Freshman year, I experimented in uncharted territories. New ideas, substances, and behaviors greeted me at high school. I got my first boyfriend, and I went to a couple of parties, so what? I ventured out of my middle school comfort zone, which consisted of hanging out with friends maybe twice a week and spending all my time at home. My first boyfriend excited me. While some would see it as a typical high school relationship — go to each other's sporting events, lots of walks, casual dinners, homecoming, etc,— for me, it was hours filled with entirely new life experiences. Five months was a fair amount of time to discover what I liked and disliked about males. I was slowly seeping into the mold of a high school relationship - the things you say, the way you think, the things you do. And, he took me to parties, which were exciting at first; I felt I was "in" the clique. But soon, my new lifestyle caught up with me and the rocks began to settle.

I'm mulling, yearning to seep into these events. It didn't matter that I felt fake, empty, and invisible. It didn't matter that every party I went to gave me another rock on the way out to sit in my stomach. It didn't matter that my moral compass told me I was doing things that weren't in my life-alignment. It didn't matter that I knew deep down that this was neither my crowd nor my scene, but I stuck around anyway because where else is a 15-year-old supposed to find her self-worth?

I'm seeing: this is the starting point of my self-discovery journey. I realized there was a lot more to life, especially a lot that I didn't know. The problem was that this exploration wasn't very conducive to a particular friendship I had.

I'm seeing, my life-long best friend as a devoted Christian, with an even more devoted family, to whom I was very close. They shared with me their love and values, making me feel Seen. Safe. Supported. The way they treated me made me feel so accepted, that I was terrified the love would be ripped away if they knew the whole story. And, when I told the truth, it was.

They lectured me on the sins of partying.

Rock.

They told me about the crippling damage that premarital sex brings.

Rock.

They reminded me that the Devil was behind these pursuits.

Rock.

If I engaged in these behaviors, then I was betraying God.

The rocks quickly piled up.

I wasn't living up to the perfect christian girl that they wanted me to be.

I became fearful. Fearful of their rejection and disappointment.

I had to keep the experimental part of my life a secret from them

They saw an obedient, god-fearing teenager, but I saw a confused, empty girl trying to feel loved.

I lied for a solid six months.

I'm thinking, back in my mom's car, wondering when her innate motherly senses will kick in. Eventually, she breaks me down, and I tell her: I had confessed to my best friend what the past six months consisted of, and she was tremendously upset. Before I could finish explaining to my friend, she was in tears and beginning to build up her wall. She said she felt heartbroken. betrayed. used.

My mom: Thinking. Reeling. Sitting.

I'm sitting, feeling the surge of a panic attack. I throw up. I replay the interactions in my head. I catch my mind, which won't let me diverge from all the horrible scenarios that might happen in the future. Failure. Unworthiness. Shame. I hit rock bottom.

I'm reeling, knowing my mom isn't pleased with the situation either, but not for the same reason. Unlike my friend, she tells me I'm allowed to have experiences, it's part of being a teenager and finding myself. But, I'm still young, impressionable, and vibrant. She said no one should tell another person how to live; you are only in control of your own life.

I'm listening. Right as she spoke those words, the rocks began to dissolve.

I'm sitting, feeling the lightness of my head from short, hard breaths. Worry and guilt starts to lift their rock-laden weights. As the weight lifts, tears shed down my face, stirring up my insides. For the first time, I realize: I am ok. I'm still alive. I am here.

I am fifteen years old. I was so deeply attached to all of my emotions that I didn't know how to take a step back and keep them from consuming me. The worry swallowed me up like a storm and spat me out on a lonely beach. But I am here.

I am fifteen years old. I sit on the couch and think about my life. Middle school, a time where I was little and carefree, seems ages ago. Boyfriends, the nice and the not so nice, seem to be escapes from myself. Parties, times that were draining and lifeless, seem to leave me feeling fake and not enough. But I am here and I am enough.

I am fifteen years old. I haven't found the things that give me a spark, the things that make me excited to live. I haven't unfurled my personality or my passions. I haven't chiseled out the hollowness of my body, so I'm still wandering through life, searching for fulfillment. But that's okay. I'll continue to mess up, to hang out with the wrong crowds, to tell myself the wrong things, until I find what feels right. Finding myself isn't supposed to be easy, and I've learned to accept this.

And, with that knowledge, those rocks start to

lift,

crack,

dissolve.


Storms

The past. The future. That's where my head was at - stuck in a game of tug-of-war. I led a shallow life, always caught in the impact zone, when right beneath me, there was calm. I was deeply attached to every emotion that surfaced:

The worry: swallowed me.

The guilt: dragged me down.

The anxiety: kept me fighting for air.

My appearance defined me, or so I thought. Clothes, hair, skin, and brands slapped a value on me. The relationships in my life clouded my mind as well; the status of them could either drown me or push me high above the surface. I clung to drama to keep my brain distracted from the longing I felt deep inside.

Longing for calm in my life.

When situations unfurled in front of me, all of them needed a reaction. My thoughts kicked and thrashed until I was too exhausted to hold myself up anymore. I didn't have the awareness to see back then, but my lifestyle had only ever driven me to greed. selfishness. guilt. worry. pain.

Most of all, fear.

This habit of living unconsciously manifested itself in all kinds of situations in my life, not just the dramatic ones. When I was with my family, laughing, I still found my attention somewhere else, thinking about the next event. I lived for 3:11 when the bell rang, for the weekends, for summer, and so on. Nothing was ever enough; there was always a
lingering void
an emptiness,
nothing satisfies it.

I was always seeking the next thing that I thought would fill me up.

But how could I live any differently? The entire world around me was constantly nudging me and saying,

"Buy this and you'll be happy"

"Look like this, and you'll be happy"

"Post this and you'll be happy."

And, I believed it.

Eventually, after struggling and gasping for air every day in my ocean of unconsciousness, I gained enough awareness to see that I was in a debilitating cycle. I wanted out.

And, then. Sophomore year. I caught a glimpse. It started by reading. I had never been exhilarated to read before, but I was beginning to see the appeal. I poured myself into new books. These were different: they had treasures and new life intertwined in them. And among all the books I read, there seemed to be a common denominator.

Live in the Now.

Immediately there was a shift in my life when I tried to apply the message. Firstly, I became intensely more aware of my emotions. At first I started simply; my goal was to notice my thoughts and feelings. When I was doing something I loved, I'd stop to recognize my contentment. When I was anxious, I'd stop to recognize my fear. When I was angry, I'd stop to recognize the root.

From there, I'd tune in to everything that was happening around me: the environment, the people, the feelings, and the senses. For example, if I were collecting sea glass at my cottage, I'd explore the moment. Feel the warm air. Listen to the soft waves caress the shore. Watch the shimmering lake glitter. All of this grounded me in the present moment. My mind could be nowhere else except the quiet beach. I watched my happiness grow and my worries fall away.

At first, this practice was difficult for me because I was impatient and forgetful, so I'd run through the moments without remembering to breathe them in. But when I remembered, and I found my mind running through the millions of ways a situation could turn out badly, I'd simply pull myself back into consciousness.

Can you know for sure that these situations will become a reality?

Are things this bad, or is it all in your head?

Why are you arguing with what is?

As I stopped to realize, I started to be still.

And then, the storm turned calm.

Next, I began to differentiate between my ego-driven unconscious self and my conscious, awakened self. It was clear to me that I was allowing my ego to carry me through my life every time I lost myself in emotion. From there washed up the fear and pain. So, like usual, I'd pull myself back to consciousness and practice disidentification from situations.

I'd feel, instead of prognosticating.

As time elapsed, the worry and impatience slowly washed off me. I no longer needed to react to every situation, and I quickly learned to let things be. I still cared for situations and people, but I learned that I only had so much control over my life; I can only do so much until it's time to hand my situations over to a greater source. And with that came immense, electrifying freedom.

Life is meant to unfold the way it's supposed to.

Now, I welcome the storm.


Breaking Out

I stopped in my tracks when I saw the photograph hanging on the picture display. Parents from the band and Rockettes had decorated the display case in our school to commemorate our season. Covered in streamers, tissue paper, and photos, it was a stop in the hallway that students liked to explore. As I approached, I was horrified by the close-up picture of my friends and me. My face, coated with red, inflamed acne, made me think I was looking at a different person. Flustered with embarrassment, I slid the glass door open and snatched the photograph out of the display. No amount of guilt could override the shame I felt over my face.

For most of my teenage years, my skin was flawless, clear, perfect. Sure, I'd run into some random breakouts, but they were surface-level and vanished within a few days. I was comfortable, even confident, in my skin. Then, the summer going into senior year, my skin dramatically changed. First, my chin: a few deep cysts that multiplied and became more painful. Then, after a few weeks, the cysts crept up to my cheeks, my nose, my forehead. And, then, before I knew it, my entire face was covered in irritating pimples... As I waited for someone, anyone, to help me, I cried in pain: the itchiness on my body felt agitating and the dread in my mind felt draining when I looked in the mirror.

Masks were my primary protection, from covid and exposing my face. I wore them whenever I could, hiding myself, so no one could see what was beneath.. I felt helpless; there was nothing I could do to change my skin. My mind would drift and spiral into haunting thoughts:

Did others see me as gross?

Did they feel that I was repulsive?

The embarrassment and shame overwhelmed me.

It was easy to tell when others stared at it, and some would even make comments. During almost every babysitting job, I would have a child ask me, "Why do you have bug bites all over your face?" or "What's all that red stuff on your face?" My acne was all that people saw when they looked at me. I felt like a monster. Why did everyone only see my skin when I hadn't changed as a person?

As I started to fall to an all-time low, my mom got me an appointment with a dermatologist in only a month. Once the appointment came around, the doctor told me exactly what I was expecting: I was suffering from severe acne and needed to apply for Accutane. I went on the medicine, and slowly watched my skin start to heal.

During this waiting process, I had a friend contact me, describing her breakouts and sharing her shame and anxiety around her skin. She had asked me for advice, so I started typing.

"I understand, and thanks for coming to me. I'd love to offer what I have. The shame and anxiety surrounding acne are very familiar topics to me. Two things helped me: 1) My acne forced me to learn where true beauty comes from and where I was finding my worth. I found that I was letting too much of my worth be determined by what I looked like. When the cysts started to cover my face, my self-esteem immediately crumbled. This was a hard realization, but I was finally able to see that my worth and beauty aren't determined by my looks but rather by who I am as a person. Acne doesn't make me lesser; it's just another stage in my life to learn from, so that I can be wiser for the next chapter. 2) I read somewhere once that when trying to deal with insecurity, it helps to embrace it because once you've put it out and are proud of it, the shame fizzles away. Of course, I still like to wear makeup from time to time, but opting for a natural look has made me more comfortable with my skin at this stage of life. I also started to talk about my acne openly, just as I'd talk about any other experience in my life. Bringing this insecurity out of the darkness eased the embarrassment and made me proud of my skin, acne-covered or not. Practice being grateful for your healthy body and all that it does for you. When you think about it, we have so much to be grateful for."

After I sent the text, I sat there in disbelief. This text was the first time I'd genuinely reflected on the lessons I'd learned from my journey. At that moment, for the first time, I felt gratitude. I was thankful for my skin and all that it taught me.

Now I can look at pictures of that girl, with or without the spots, and love her regardless. I'm proud of that girl.