a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
isn’t it funny how i was promised that paper memories were invincible, but yesterday they wilted in the summer heat? how promises made in youth don’t last? how grandma gave me origami cranes and simpler things, fairytales, metaphors, carved into asphalt & strung in intervals along the lining of my cranium—one, two, three—
Let the stone hear you. Let it wash away your apology and walk under the sands your beach used to love and want. Listen to the rumble, the music of the waves, and stand over the iron beams that glance into the concert that unfolds.
[content warning: anxiety, panic attack]
The world spun around me. It was swallowing me, burying me in a deep, murky hole. I couldn’t breathe. Wiggle your fingers
Count from 100, counts of three
No. None of it made sense. All the overwhelming thoughts jumbled around. I
needed air. 100. 97.. 94..9…
It’s been four years. I linger around the sweet shops we once used to call home and take a whiff of the cold, succulent air of warm bagels and decadent pastries.
Won’t we always have a life like this?
The dictionary definition of glossophobia says it’s a fear of public speaking. Any website might tell you that the symptoms are rapid heartbeat, trembling, sweating, nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness, and the urge to get away.
I lay on my bed, waiting for the textbook symptoms to set in. My stomach’s already in a knot, and I can’t help thinking about what would happen if I simply didn’t walk up to the lectern. Everyone would stare, that’s for sure. In a way, I understand. When someone important in your life dies, people expect you to say something about it.
[Content warning: suicidal thoughts]
If it all ends tomorrow, tell them I held a growing cavern inside of me and I played with life like a kid and his shiny new toy. Remind them that they ignored me though my voice echoed behind theirs and bounced around in their skulls like a despised song as I whispered for help. That there were two sides of me; a romance between the moth and the flame, between myself and the demons creeping in my shadow. The moth only follows the light, it doesn’t intend to kill itself.
[Content warning: medication usage, hallucinations]
The fog wraps around my head, pulling me away from reality and into a dull space of illusion and serenity. My limbs grow heavy and my breaths shallow. The thoughts I desperately held on to slip through my fingers, floating away into the unknown. I don’t care that my right arm is pinned between the bed and my side. I don’t care about anything anymore. All I can do is wait for the fog to take me into a deep sleep.
To Laurelin, the promise of the dawn held no promise at all.
She slowly opened her eyes, staring blankly at the golden orb rising up from the horizon. She did not blame the sun for performing its daily task. In a way, she envied the joyful way it radiated light out of its soul, uncaring of who looked, or what they felt.
The saltwater invades my nose and assaults my eyes. I let out a deep breath to blow the water out. I speed up my strokes, kicking and clawing desperately, wishing to approach the coastline. But I can’t see. I can’t breathe. A furious wave barrels towards me, crashes into me and throws my body underneath the waters again. My heart races and my chest tighten as the coldness from the water squeezes the breath out of me. I kick my legs again, trying to fight for another faint of hope. But my limbs are heavy and numb.
I’m scared. This is unfamiliar territory. It is the great plains that have not yet been discovered. I am Columbus, but I have no spine. I am Lewis or Clark, but I am not as brave. I am Armstrong, but the moon is menacing.
You wait for me in the water. I fiddle nervously for you are just out of reach. You smile at me and beckon me to join you. Shall I? Will I? I fiddle again. Your sly grin is irresistible, but the water makes it so. You do not leave me by myself. You wait patiently just beyond the seam where water meets land. You ask me again. I cannot refuse.
what’s in a cup of tea? is it the discolored mosaic of tea leaves that lay at the bottom? is it the sensational warmth you feel as the soothing liquid sails on your tongue? the ember that burns brightly on a cold, wintry day? is it your remedy? the herbal serum that heals your soul? no, my cup of tea is different.
[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.
shower by Erin Lee (16, North Carolina)*
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.
Sandbox by Caroline Shi (16, New York)
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.
Authoritarian by Clara Chai (16, Singapore)
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.
A Meeting With the Goddess Who Keeps Asking You to Save the World by Lara Eiffe (16, Ireland)*
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.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.