a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
Lights by Liana Handler (16, Florida)
The lights, a clouded soup of streetlights, lights from apartments, lights from flashing Times Square signs, headlights, and the faintest glimpse of stringed fairy lights draped across trees with a delicate touch, reached towards the stars painted in the canvas above, meeting the darkness in a never-ending battle, a sign that humanity -regardless of ego and pride and self-worth- would always fall to Mother Nature. The urban light towered far above the skyscrapers, but even it ended.
Most things did.
threshold by Naomi Horner (15, USA)
an invisible line we cross, growing from
childish to responsible
and when asked
we call ourselves “mature”
with bold black strokes, messy print
across flimsy paper
am i all grown-up because i’ve taken college classes,
mature because i can cook and clean and care for others?
lilac by Asra Jafarey (20, Pakistan)
on the colour lilac
moonlit skies/ a story untold/ inexplicable sadness/ eyes growing old/ with anguish/ and stone-cold fear/ the scent of a candle you keep near/ the ocean most nights/ heavy with grief/ collapsing/ as swiftly as belief/ bruised knuckles/ trembling lips/ a ripe plum/ staining fingertips/ a scab/ a november evening/ endlessly/ looking for meaning/ hypothermia/ awaiting dawn/ the steady pace/ of a love gone/ blue and bloody
of the Body by Isabel Su (16, New Jersey)*
i mold my thumb into the bruises on my knees; a royal-purple ache,
i exist to be sentenced,
a mannequin pruned,
observe: my eyes could be gouged-grotesque, my skull dizzy & broken
and the blood would garnish my Corpse--
we learn our imperfections, too soon
my finger traces harsh the stripes of my hips; taut &
taught. please, slough the flesh off my bones
where it weighs me down;
i want to soar, knees-knocking &
finger, meet throat: salmon-pink & fleshy fulfillment.
if only the Body could be emptied forever--
(After Jamaica Kincaid)
Eat your breakfast faster, you’re going to be late for your first day of 8th grade. Make sure your skirt doesn’t go above the knee and wear underpants under your skirt. Listen to the teacher and don’t crack jokes with your friends during class. Adults take first impressions seriously so remember that before you make any choices you’re going to regret. After school, make sure you don’t skip any of your academies and put in all your effort. You have math, art, English and piano today. When you’re done with your academies, don’t eat junk food so you don’t lose your appetite just like you did last time when you ate a whole bag of hot Cheetos secretly before dinner. Also don’t use all your allowance at once. I’m not giving you more this week. Please check on halmoni and halabuji on the way home and pick up some side dishes from them. Halmoni said she is packing bulgogi, doenjang jjigae, radish kimchi, bean sprouts and your favorite galbijjim. Thank them and hangout and talk to them about your school with them for a bit before you come home but don’t be too late. It is dangerous these days.
Ivy Days by Aisha Al-Tarawneh (16, Qatar)*
Scarab beetles dig into its skin
Crawling in beneath the eyes
Metallic whispers behind the curtains
Drawn over the last dredges of its ailing mind
Cry of battlefields in the shadowed world
Hidden beneath an unsteady painting
(It stands before a cracked glass mirror
Painting smiles on the face with the shards)
Searching for sweetened air, head thrown back, the waters crash into it
It drowns in mounds of dying fireflies
sitting in a corner with a cardboard box of trinkets that were once so precious and are now just a reminder of time. 3:45 am on a wednesday, your phone stares at you with a new message and suddenly there's a new rhythm to your heart and you wonder if people will blame you for wanting to make it stop. you see i thought i was doing better and maybe i am and this is all very emotionally driven but i am so scared right now and am hoping to create something beautiful out of it so i can say yes, i am better, look at me i finally match the sentiment i nurtured when i was 16, bellowing it as if i knew what it meant to be seen; i say take that broken heart and turn it into art. i forget there are so many pieces, how could i possibly hold them all? i am thinking hard and i am thinking deeply until my thoughts are just slabs of concrete being pushed against my mind because could you imagine something that just doesn’t fit anymore? there is a space in which i am no longer myself, sitting in a corner with a cardboard box of trinkets that were once so precious and are now just a reminder of time.
Alone by Ananya Nigam (13, India)
A single raindrop perched on the windowsill, solitary and serene.
I was lonely for a long time before you joined me. I walked alone in the night, letting the stars lead my way, never believing that my solitary journey would ever come to an end.
The drop was pristine and pure. It was clear and transparent. It sat silently, glistening in the sunlight. The perfect picture of tranquil.
You crept up on me quietly as if I wouldn’t notice, as if I would miss your skulking figure in the darkness of the night. You stayed in the shadows, letting them mask you and protect you. You watched me from afar as I continued on my endless journey. For so long you remained in the safety of the shadows, refusing to venture out and for so long I remained oblivious of your presence.
Soft yet sturdy
Smooth to the touch
A blue leather notebook
My grandfather gifted it to me
Right before he left for home
He held me in his arms
Gently and warmly as usual
He said that this journal would soon become
The Moon by Drishti Reddy (15, India)
I remember when I first saw him. Never had I seen a man look so beautiful. In the dimly-lit tent, where all the village drunkards sat for an hour or two, he was the main attraction. All the clinking mugs and raucous laughter came to a standstill as soon as he entered the tent.
I remember how I had forgotten to rub my hands in the chilly December air when I saw him twirl. Shivers which would have made me uncomfortable were left forgotten, like everything else except him.
He was a tall man, and so fair that I wondered if he had come from the moon. Just like how people must’ve wondered when they looked at me, the only fair man in the village. Not anymore. He was just like me, perhaps even fairer.
I will search for a poem –
a poem amidst the layers of night
that twists and turns with such grace
it buckles the belt of Orion
and sits on the fragile shoulders
of a shooting star, striking up a conversation
with the wishes that it brings
from the earth below
I will search for a poem –
a poem that scrunches and squirms
and becomes as small as it can, to fit
in the wet, shadowy imprints of the kisses
that the wind plants upon the blades of grass
against the black of night, the world looks so dirty and grey
a sickly off-white, speckled with dust and broken hearts,
there's no one left to save us. there's nothing left but the
nostalgia that lingers in the corners of dark rooms, among
the broken eggshells and cloths stained with the dusk.
yet somehow you still make me
raise my head to the sky. in the looming silence, your voice
echoes, the sun still rises.
I’m afraid you might have
just twisted your pen in the wrong direction
causing it to swerve, skid, stop
and perhaps be laughed and mocked at
like a reckless driver, who’d skip
the clarity of roundabouts and speed breakers
just to feel the wind leaving frosty footprints
on the flushed warmth of rosy cheeks
I used to wonder--I always have, about how people lose again and again and still don't stop trying. On my own path, I'd never attempt the struggle again. I was used to being held back by dejection and thus, eventually became a weakling.
"What if I fail again;" "What if my efforts become useless in the end;" "What if someone else gets the chance and I don't." These were the thoughts that fed on my courage and birthed cowardice.
The mere idea of losing wouldn't let me try and that is what made me a loser.
Upon opening my eyes and shedding the darkness away I witnessed myself getting lost in the azure.
[Content warning: strong language]
let me start off by saying, i don’t know jack shit about heaven
on the first day of dying, you will be sifted
you are debris
from the wreckage
of your past life and your mind was the captain. i assume,
with a smile larger than jupiter with your eyelids barely able to close
because you can’t stop staring at her, and all the things she is made of
heaven you are here. ground yourself on the bed of flowers of this construct
pull my eyelashes up, tilt my head to the rising sun and
the silhouette of every one of my dreams, dissolving into mist
and as i turn to you, using all of the energy left in my broken bones
tell me that it never mattered anyways, that i never mattered
and everything i thought i was was built upon a fault line
you're an earthquake and i'm falling, head-first into the ground,
with my eyes still glued to the stars that mock me, remind me
that this is all inside my mind, and i still can't see through
the darkness wrapping me tighter and tighter, threading its cold fingers
through my skin--i simply watch as i'm turned inside out, all my empathy
lying empty on the floor. is this what i asked for?
[Note: everyone's experience with mental health & anxiety is different; the concept of reverse psychology is not a strategy that will work for everyone nor are we necessarily advocating for it. This is simply one story of a person's journey with anxiety.]
Every person may feel anxious or worried at some point in their life. But in my case, I was exceptionally susceptible to it, and it had been making my life relatively difficult and agonizing. Anything slightly worrisome or exciting would cause my anxiety to peak, in turn causing my physical and cognitive abilities to sharply decline—which would make me unable to properly deal with any issues present in that situation.
Between millions and billions.
Four legs, eight arms.
Gills, fins, tentacles, and pseudopodia.
Life scattered in the troposphere,
Somewhere in an unknown address, I breathe.
In the attic, I lie,
The melanin cells in my hair follicles have died.
Covered in grime.
Amidst broken furniture,
Old books and lab manuals.
Engulfed by chaos,
[Content warning: anxiety, depression, self-harm]
I’m finally purposeless.
The inhabitants in my head decided to extend their trip and move in.
Fear came first, as quiet as a mouse. He treated me as if I would break, and when I did, he was there, ready to cradle me.
He took me by the hand and led me to his brother, Anger. Anger’s a little different; he didn’t ask to be invited. He took my silence as an invitation. I should have known he would not leave once I saw his bags.
She would wake up from the sound of her mother grinding coffee with sycamore mortar and pestle, her father already donning his twenty-year-old leather boots, tying its thick brown laces stained from mud, with his rough hands like the walls of the coal mine. He stands up high and big, his back straightened stiff like the redwoods. Her mother hands him his coffee in an old rustic metal bottle, crushed on the sides by small meteors from the mine. As he goes, she stares at his back, wider than a door. The smell of loam remains after he leaves as she stands there imagining herself in the mine. That is all she remembers of him. When the sun blows orange-pink at the sky, she sits on his muscular lap, as he whispers the story of the mothman she has already heard many times before. Sometimes they just stare at each other’s eyes and feel the air pass their breathing tunnels. The warm smell of brunswick stew runs down through the dining room to the living room. He doesn’t talk that much except when he whispers. That is all she remembers about him. He wanted to be an astronomer, tracing lurking stars behind the clouds of darkness and admiring the jaboticaba swallowing the sky, always taking her out to the fields of grass. But now, the golden sun foams on the grass as dandelions shiver from the wind, their fuzz scattering, some falling on his boots by the porch.
i’d love to think that the words
will become black water and
He sends me a letter saying “I hope you’re doing better than you were.” I'm surprised he still remembers I’ve been cold since last December. Feeling like a feral dog, feeling stuck in Florida sun, it’s warm here in October, but I’d rather travel up the valley with you. I know you're drifting and I’m kicking at the sand, you may not love me anymore but God, you don’t have to be so mean. Sitting sad in Margaritaville, singing to Jimmy Buffet while he’s getting high and laughing like he’s alright, I cannot compete. Miss him touching on me. He sends me a letter, it’s kind and it’s moral, I could never write so sane. But I can tell this love is not the same. And maybe it’d be easier if he was vicious like my father, but he is soft and hollow bone. He is beautiful and I am grief and ache.
you can tell there is a storm coming
from the way she stays awake,
sleepless until the house empties
and there's no one but her and the dark.
you can tell there is a storm coming
from the way she does not cry at all;
everything is silent, rainless,
a haunting imminence.
child, speak no evil. grandmother teaches silence as she rips weeds from flower beds. your throat is rooted in disobedience. discarded greenery will be disposed of with the butcher scraps. bleeding cow heart. rotting chicken intestines. goat tongue. tread lightly. mistakes are not permitted to complain of a calloused voice or splintered skin.
child, see no evil. look down, only
[**Content warning: self-harm, suicide. If you, or anyone you know, are struggling with self-harm or suicidal thoughts, help is available. Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255. Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741.**]
“Perhaps the greatest risk any of us will ever take is to be seen as we really are." - Cinderella.
The prettiest people are the most pretentious.
That’s the difference between me and them. I know I’m broken. I know I need fixing. But the world isn’t a wish-granting fountain. We don’t wish for things and they magically happen. That’s the difference between fairy tales and the real world. Most people’s lives are fairy tales. I wished I had parents who would fight over me and a best friend that didn’t burn. A best friend that wasn’t burning in my mind. I don’t wish anything. Not anymore. I only have three lessons.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.