an open space for youth writing & mental health discussion
an open space for youth writing & mental health discussion
[Content warning: self-harm]
She’s fighting it. She’s fighting it as hard as she can, trying to slip back into sleep, dark, oblivion, any place where she’s not awake. But consciousness is a restless visitor and the daylight pressing against her eyelids is very real. She’s still very alive.
A sharp pain spikes in her arms, hot as fire, and then everything — along with a headache — cascades upon her. Blood is everywhere. Her sight flashes black and white. She’s done it again.
He strips himself completely and turns the shower up as high as he dares. Closing and locking the door behind him is almost an afterthought.
While he waits for the water to heat up, he taps his fingers on his bare thighs, looking anywhere but his body. He doesn’t notice that he’s digging his nails into his legs until it’s too late, until there are four red streaks running up and down his pale skin, and he just barely suppresses a sigh.
[Content warning: strong language, drug use, sexual reference]
It’s always winter there, but it feels like autumn, because it’s all slightly dead and slightly broken. It’s 2013 and you’re still young and skinny and your family can afford the trip. They use pounds there but the pounds look like big stamps and you forget it’s money and you start buying stuff only a teen would. It’s 7:30 not 4:20 but you’re smoking all the same. You don’t care, you have long, silver cigarettes (the cheapest, still too expensive) for breakfast. You drink Monster before classes, not coffee, because you know you’ll need it and because you pretend to care but don’t and that’s okay because you’re 16 and in love and there’s parks everywhere and people say hi and no one steals a thing because you’re in Europe and South America is far away.
I was on the rooftop when this happened. It was New Year’s Eve – this last one. Up there, looking up, the sky was poorly lit. The stars hid for the most part, faintly winking, coming back every now and again only to dissolve again, and everything, for a moment, wasn’t so bad. I don’t know why I was up there. I only ever go up when the net is gone, and it must have been so on that black, little night. It was quiet, simple, but it wasn’t quiet for long. I heard a whisper, another whisper, more whispers until I could hear music – music faint and at the back. It was the whispers that sounded and what made me, as I did without my realizing so, walk to the edge of my roof, where, looking down, I could see a group, lined up in a circle, half of them smiling and half of them nervous. I rested my elbows on the railing and leaned as far as I could. I watched and listened.
You lived in a house in Yeokchondong, at the outskirts of Seoul where corners of garments pinched on clotheslines ran across windows. There was a watch shop across your house, bold red, blue letters painted on its glass walls. Behind the counter, the cheap metal rims and faux gold straps of the watches glistened. This was the very house my father grew up in. The thin, crusty walls browned and yellowed from its decades, perhaps centuries. Faint, gray mold swelled from every corner, where the floor and the walls met. It reminded me of your blue-violet veins fanning across your wrists.
The playground in front of the church my summer camp is held in has a small sandbox near the back, plastic buckets and castle molds strewn across the surface. There is a layer of dark sand under the top layer that we are all fascinated by and pile high into our buckets alongside mounds of brown sand to form ‘marble cakes.’ We speak in broken English and Chinese because that’s all we can afford, waiting for our parents’ minivans to pick us up in the afternoon.
[Content warning: depression, suicide ideation]
i'm counting the ceiling lights of my therapist's waiting room until my eyes hurt.
37. who even puts an odd number of lights on the ceiling?
oh. 3 of them don't work anymore.
40 ceiling lights is too many.
it's as if they're there to pierce through the bodies of the clinically depressed 19 year old, the PTSD-struggling 10 year old who can't talk about anything but the evening someone set his house on fire, the 37 year old who just found out her husband of 10 years was cheating on her, the 14 year old with anger management issues who tears the catalogues about mental health to pieces in front of everyone, the 48 year old man who always sits there pretending he's there to pick someone up & not here to talk about his pattern of either loving weak women or weakening the women he loved & the 24 year old woman who was caught kissing someone & is here to be 'talked' into 'maintaining' her 'chastity'.
it was one of those family dinners hosted on humid summer nights, everyone gathered around the table; filling their plates with the chicken tikka & chicken seekh kebabs Baba drove 4kms to bring home, spilling some mint yoghurt chutney here, a little imli sauce there, aunty distributing quarters of naan around, the hiss of cola bottles opening, the air thick with the scent of barbecue & freshly sliced onions, everyone talking over each other, snippets of conversation floating above the nusrat fateh ali khan music playing from our old speakers. a stack of cassettes piled on top of it.
each cassette had two sides. A & B.
i've always noticed that side B was unexpected & completely different from side A. i don't know why that was, but it was intriguing. i always waited for side A to end so i could flip the cassette to a different side, one that had nothing to do with its former playlist.
It’s still dark outside when you step out onto the pavement and make your way towards the outskirts of the town. Snow blankets every roof and crackles under your feet with each step you take. The trees lining the road are sparse, black claws rising from the earth towards you, weighed down by clumps of white. It’s chilly this early in the year, and you’d much rather be nestling up in bed, but duty calls. They have taught you since young that defying the rules brings about major repercussions, and you’d like to keep your head safely upon your shoulders.
She Came Blustering Up to You in a Carpark Three Years Ago and Now You Can’t Get These Thoughts of Dying Out of Your Head by Lara Eiffe (16, Ireland)
She takes a look at your science notes, the messy ones that show how your mind is going a mile a minute and she gasps. It goes deep into her chest and you want to ask if she’s okay, but already she’s got your wrists in her hands.
“Tell me you dream of the stars,” she says, eyes alight with all those things she just can’t reach because her mind has never wrapped around numbers and calculations the way yours has, and it’s a plea. She needs this in the same way that the moon needs the sky and the same way that you need to hear her laugh.
she finds you in the empty movie theatre, the hazy one that’s left you stumbling more than once.
“you can be more than a story locked away,” she says, face ghosting before yours like a moth pressed up against the inside of a lightbulb. there’s a shroud between these worlds, some barrier dividing the slurry of magic in hers from the fresh air of yours. you hum a pathetic note, something, (anything) to get her off your back.
she always did turn to the heaven-scorched ones.
“you could meet the end of the world and look it in the eye and smile.”
[Content warning: obsessive-compulsive disorder, suicide]
My coworkers had become concerned about the number of times she would call me at work. Or maybe it was my strange replies that alarmed them.
“I’ll drive slow.”
“Yes, I’m okay.”
Our house was clean and bright — not too bright but not too dull — just right. Two couches beside four bookshelves with twelve books on each row arranged in alphabetical order. Walls were adorned with photographs and paintings hung vertically, four frames dangling side by side.
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.
Playing the piano. Millions of possible sound combinations echoing with each touch, the black and white keys envelop the tremors and delicacy of a relationship. Harmonies capture an elation, a development of happiness as the keys consequently tumble, like a person down a flight of stairs into a low, melancholic state on the cold concrete of the musical passage. The louder the notes become, as if a person were screaming at the top of their lungs, and then immediately descend into a soft, meek, whisper in attempt to make their voice heard. The gradual pressing of the damper pedal, slurring the sounds together, a slow, sluggish mixture of melodies in one melting pot as if they were one.
What does it mean to create? Why do I write? I am not a writer.
I steep myself into this existential despair, hoping that way I may extract some impressive idea to write on. But as time passes, I realise I am more a pathetic chicken breast dinner soaking in watery marinade than a Natalie Wynn bathing in a rose-lemongrass froth of expensive ideas. Still, here I am in the back of a fridge, slowly suffocating under cling film, thinking with delusional conviction that my ideas will taste better the longer I sit in it. I will never escape this.
Last of the moon arose under my nose. It crept through the sky, as I spun around the machine, breathing lint that hung in the air. I walked on my toes, for my feet no longer supported my weight.
My limbs yearned for the possibility of escape. I wanted to extend my hand out, let it soak the smell of grass, trees, bird dung, anything - as long as it smelt different. So, I could close my eyes, with my hand resting on my face, imagining a life that could not collapse under the weight of coal.
Helmet forgotten, raincoat unzipped, her dark hair streamed out behind her. Her scuffed boots pedaled loosely, and her bike, two sizes too small, sped across the empty parking lot. Back and forth. She ignored the burning in her thighs. She couldn't remember the last time she had felt this unburdened. An observer, had there been one, would have seen a happy girl. Her thoughts and worries left behind, no heavy memories weighing on her shoulders.
A noise jolted her out of her momentary bliss.
“We’re almost out of popsicles.” My daughter, Cassie, rooted languidly through the freezer.
I wiped sweat from my forehead and flipped through the mail, the paper going damp and soft in my hands. “I’ll get some the next time I go out.”
The crackle of a wrapper and the thud of her footstep responded for her.
She paused at the bottom of the stairs, gaze bored and diffuse. “What.”
“Any flavor you want?”
“Just get whatever.”
observe as the boys in your class bristle when you refuse to believe each and every one of their words. you are starting to have your own thoughts and opinions, as you understand the power of your voice; read their texts saying “not to publicly go against” what they say and think about playing hopscotch in the yard during recess. think about the goal as you remember the numbered squares in elementary school and the way you could just jump without falling. hesitate to have a different point of view and utter the words of dissent that they don’t want to hear. ponder the question of if you should speak or stay silent.
“Forget about it,” says the depressed husband to the wife, says the child to their parents, as they all sit at a kitchen table somewhere. The wood that composes that table probably witnessed more conversations, more lively happenings in its oak-tree form. But as the enormous tree becomes chopped down, polished, and refined into a smaller and more unnatural form, it becomes apparent that the reduction from gargantuan to miniscule these days is commonplace.
Another example of this aforementioned reduction: the gradual loss of genuine talking, and hearts being worn on the cardigan sleeve at supper. Instead of reverberations of white-teeth and tobacco-tinted laughter, the only thing one can hear are prongs screeching when they drag along the china plate. Even then, the person almost realizes their mistake, and brings the silverware back to their seasonless cut of steak.
Black locks of hair were knotted in a messy bun at the top of her head, and small, intricate earrings hung delicately from her earlobes. She bent over, collared shirt stretched across her back as she whispered to a child. She didn’t see the way their eyes shone with reverence, or how their hands had stopped fidgeting as though paralysed in awe. Her melodic voice was gentle and patient, and her cheeks glowed with pride when the child nodded slowly to show their understanding. She had soft milk chocolate skin, with deep black eyes that sparkled bright behind flamingo pink-rimmed glasses. Full lips smiled to reveal pearly teeth as she strode to me, and I could see her almost float away with happiness as she approached closer and closer, her small teachers badge softly glinting in the overhanging yellow light, painting her in a ethereal golden glow. Collapsing against me, she sighed, and I silently thanked the angels that they had sent one of their own for me.
His shadowed eyes revealed their sky-blue irises through slow blinks. He was so close to me, and yet I was still fighting for his attention. The smell of the smoke on his breath would have repulsed me if it were dancing on anyone else's skin. But in the moments he blew across my cheek in his playful way, I could not have approved of the scent more. I was drawn to him, finding myself by his side more times than I should have. My eyes traced his square face, his jawline as it moved with his words, my fingers flexing with an urge to caress it. When I found his eyes, I noticed his inspecting gaze on the girl across from him. She was beautiful. I had to walk away.
Rich, dark purple chords vibrated from the piano and into the open air of my practice room. My arms trembled from the constant force being strained upon them, as they unforgivingly played on the innocent white and black keys to constitute an angry melody. Bursts of color sprang together to form sound waves, each overpowering the latter. A mournful black downed by a blood red sea that clashed against impulsive white streaks. Over and over. Louder and louder. Until the last measure climaxed in a climbing arpeggio of bright orange dots to confront an unfinished seventh chord. My fingers hesitated over the final note for a sliver of a second, then gently satisfied the end of its melody.
The ballerina pirouettes, yearning for a curtsy.
An oboe croons the opening to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The ballerina’s lips arch in a painted smile as she completes her turn in the spotlight of a full moon. Her lithe body is almost airborne, but hours of practice keep her loyal to gravity. Still, the stage barely feels the kiss of her pointe slipper.
As soon as the oboe’s phrase resolves, it repeats itself. The tarlatan tutu whirls like a punctured parachute around her waist. Again, the oboe’s solo ends, but now it insists on another encore. The ballerina exists to entertain, so entertain she must, though her head spins at the mercy of a migraine.
The man stumbled into the newly renovated university library, contemplating the unfamiliar, abandoned campus that had greeted him cheerfully just hours ago. He looked for the newest edition of The Exo-Times, the school’s daily newspaper, hoping to gain insight into the school’s sudden emptiness. Around him he heard the whirring of industrial printers, and the clacking noise of typing. Eerily, he saw no movement, only students sitting at their desks. He went up to one of the students and shook them – “where can I find a copy of the paper?” But where there should have been eyes there were only glossy reflections of himself. “I’m sorry, there are no more copies available. I have to get back to work.” And with that, the student turned back and the sound of typing recommenced.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.