Oceanside Portrait Shoot with Jessie Shaw (The Island, My Home)

Back in August, my friend Jessie came down to the Texas Coast to coach a swim meet. She's getting back into portrait photography, so she snapped a few shots near where I live. I was really excited about this because it's a short walk to the ocean and I wanted to capture the beauty of the place that's helped heal, change, and challenge me this past year. 

I've talked a lot about what "home" means to me -- on this blog, and often in little snippets on my Instagram. I've been hesitant to claim anywhere lately as such because, well, I've felt rather displaced. When I became too sick to live on my own in Austin, I moved back to my family's ranch in North Texas. Austin was the first place I lived on my own as an adult, and it was extremely hard leaving that life behind. I told myself I'd be back soon, but months went by, my illness unfortunately progressed, and I, overtime, had to let go of the life that existed before I became very ill. 

Last May (2015), I moved down to my family's little cottage by the sea on the Texas Coast, and I've since treated this little island as my home-base. It's a small town, without much access (fairly miraculous I've been able to access acupuncture and a body worker who specializes in chronic pain and practices reiki). But living by the water, as expected, has been extremely therapeutic for me. I'm a pisces through and through (hey, water sign), and feel most at peace, most myself, and most at-home near water. This past year has also been the first time I've spent substantial amounts of time alone since becoming very ill. It was, at the time, unknowingly helping build back my confidence. There was a time in my life where I couldn't stand long enough to make a salad, safely get back to my bed after a detox bath without blacking out, or drive my car. So living on my own for weeks (sometimes up to over a month) at a time, was definitely a necessary jump toward finding new boundaries, and taking the steps toward becoming an empowered adult(ish) again. I'm still fairly nomadic, in that it's pretty rare that I'm in any one place for more than a few weeks at a time, but this past summer, I was able to consolidate most of my belongings. I've let go of a lot of my things, and truly, felt a weight off my shoulders. For the past 2 1/2 years, I've had things in several cities across Texas. I felt so displaced, unorganized, and know it contributed to an overall unbalance of my system.

This May (2016), I packed up my childhood room at my family's ranch (my parents are getting ready to sell and transition to their next phase in life), and I finally cleared out my storage unit in Austin -- selling or donating most of the items I accumulated over the six years I lived there: the first couch I bought with my own money, art work I've created, art I've purchased, tons of knickknacks I've collected through travels and thrifting, and furniture I repainted and remodeled -- I kept my favorites and released the rest. I say release because it was just as much as an energetic release as it was a physical one.

It's been emotional, of course. I saw me in so many of these material items. "They are just things," I'd remind myself. But I think part of me felt like I was letting go of who I was - the young woman who was freshly out of college, working full-time, with so many wonderful plans and adventures planned ahead. (I was so type-A. Everything was planned. Oh, how I've learned to tune into my free spirited nature.)

But who I was is only part of who I am now. And for the first time, I'm really acknowledging and paying tribute to the woman I am becoming. 

Here's some of my favorite photographs from my portrait shoot with Jessie -- in the Gulf of Mexico, on the jetty, and along the sand dunes which home beautiful sunflowers and a mix of natural herbs and salty air that create the most wonderful scent I've ever smelled.

Check out her blog and Facebook for more!

Portrait Photoshoot with Danielle Shull at Oak Harbor (Whidbey Island)

Today has honestly been a very difficult day for me. I've been both emotionally and physically challenged with my current treatment protocol, and ya know - just life and all of which it brings. But this evening, my new friend Danielle shared the shoot we did back in June on her website, along with my story.

I remember driving back on the winding roads as I wrote this little note to her, a note that she's now published:

This makes it all worth it. 
This is where it's at.
Every time we step out and allow ourselves to be vulnerable,
the magic shows up.
Thank you for allowing me to step out. I have always struggled with wanting to move past or escape from my current reality. Days like today make me feel alive again—they make me feel safe and at peace with where I'm at—even though my pain isn't gone.
You've already taught me so much in just one day. Thank you for sharing your day and pieces of your life with me.
Love,
Melissa
6/29/16

Today, my pain is certainly not gone. Today, I spent my time either on the bathroom floor or curled in bed. But you know what? I keep going. Blind faith? Some may say so.  But I keep going because I know. I know that I've been able to let go of some of the fear that's been controlling me for my years with illness. I keep going because being vulnerable and showing up allows life to work its magic for us.

See Danielle's site for the full story + photos.

Here are a few more of my favorites:

All Photography By Danielle Shull