a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
Do not look at me. That is how I feel every time people look too close. No, I’m not ashamed of my face or physique any more than the average American, but there's an additional curse I am bound with. It is a lifelong medical condition people still believe is made up. I am transgender.
How many times can you recall being actively happy in the past two months?
When I was a junior in high school, I discovered the concept of small joy. How it was the same as big joy. Though my memory’s played a game of telephone with this story over the years, it was something about an author sharing an orange with her husband. How it brought her the same joy as a trip to New York.
Recently I undertook my latest housework endeavor, which included going through and sorting my old writing. Of course, by "old," I wasn't expecting this—a letter I wrote to myself when I was sixteen and wrestling with near-constant feelings of apathy, anger, and confusion, and all of that amidst my regular struggle with existential hopelessness and vicious mental illness.
What does makeup mean to the average person? Perhaps a swipe of mascara on the eyelashes and a coat of lip gloss. Maybe a bit of concealer to hide acne or red lipstick for formal events. Its use has evolved throughout history, from the ancient Egyptians' use of kohl to the Elizabethan lead powder for bone-white skin to modern cosmetics. Makeup can enhance appearance and confidence, but it can just as well deplete self-esteem levels when comparing oneself to others. Whether one uses it or not, it is undeniable that makeup plays a large part in outer image and society.
An Open Letter to my (ADHD, OCD, and Dyslexic) Brother about Grades by Luca Bernardini (17, California)
You are easily one of the smartest people I know. You annoy the hell out of me most of the time, but it’s not because you’re stupid. I have never met anyone who’s brain works the way yours does. Remember the other night when you helped me with my math homework? You had a strange method of solving the equation, but, somehow, you got it right. Somehow, without showing any work at all, in your brain, you put the pieces together to find out the value of x.
I do not have anxiety. I don’t. I swear. Anyone who knows me will surely admit that I am just an average teenager. At least, I think they would. Well, so what if they think I’m weird? I guess maybe that would mean they secretly hate me. And that they’ve been lying to me this whole time about what they think of me. And that I would have no friends left. And… am I overthinking this? It’s probably apparent now, but what I said earlier was a slight lie. I might have anxiety. But what exactly does that mean? The word “anxiety” can have many different meanings depending on who is saying it and the situation.
“And who’s this?” my friend’s friend inquired shortly after chatting with my friend. “This is my friend! Introduce yourself, Daniel,” my friend responded, gesturing his hand to me.
The simple sentence “Hello, my name is Daniel Son,” was a jumble of gibberish in my cloudy thoughts.
In today’s progressive climate, mental health is increasingly emerging as a prevalent issue among America’s youth. Now more than ever, teenagers are encouraged to express their emotions regularly and are finding mental health care and support at an exceptional rate.
That is, white teenagers are. Minority groups, specifically Asian Americans, are three less times as likely to seek mental health services than white Americans according to the National Latino and Asian American Study.
“Get ready for some of the best years of your life!” The microphone echoed in the humid auditorium, the large crowd applauding and cheering as the Principal stepped down from the podium. The last words spoken at my eighth-grade graduation fluttered in the golden air, filling each student with a glowing hope for the next four years: years of new friendships and opportunities. But that hope, and happiness, would not last long.
The painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, by Georges Seurat is comprised of microscopic paint-dots; instead of blending hues, Seurat relies on optical illusion. Dots which stand separate on the canvas, are blended at a distance from a given person’s point of view. The painting resonates with me—not just because of its subject, or common interpretations of the piece. The art style, pointillism, articulates aspects of my world view and experiences. I’ve even attempted a few pointillism paintings myself, although the extent to which I succeed in those paintings’ executions is debatable. Regardless, I’m compelled to express my appreciation of Seurat’s well-known piece through my painting experience, my interpretation of the art style, and my interpretation of the pop-culture representation of Seurat’s painting.
In high school, the first day of school always made me nervous. Would any of my friends be in my classes? Where would I end up sitting? In my imagination, confident, popular students glided into the classroom and straight to a desk surrounded by admiring friends. Then there was me, standing by the doorway looking stupid as I searched desperately for anyone that I knew. It seemed that where you sat on the first day and who you knew set the course of the whole semester in stone.
A half-finished crochet blanket lays on the floor, its frayed ends fully submerged in last night’s pasta alfredo. My dead pointe shoes (three months overdue for replacement) are strewn against the cheap faux-leather ottoman I bought on Amazon with a gift card from last Christmas. My friend, Alec, surveys the mess and laughs. ‘You have a hot girl LA apartment, you know,’ he says.
After a few internet searches, I find an article that describes the stereotype of women with messy bedrooms, taking selfies in a mirror, fully unaware of the hurricane behind them.
About 75% of all mental health issues begin in the years of adolescence. It can feel like stepping on eggshells when trying to encourage anyone who may be struggling with mental health, but it is incredibly important to be there for them. Teenagers and their moods can be scary, so it’s understandable to worry you might be doing the wrong thing when trying to help someone with mental illness, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Doing research on the proper ways to provide support to those struggling with their mental health is not only exceedingly important, but also a massive display of how much you care.
When I was younger, I used to play dress-up. I would throw on my slightly outgrown Cinderella princess costume—a hand-me down from cousins—over my pajamas first thing in the morning, completed with a moth-white headband that would gently pinch my ears at the sides. And I clomped around the house with my low heels letting everyone know tacitly when I made an entrance. In retrospect, I distanced myself from traditional attire because I wanted to wear what I felt comfortable in—something that gave me a sheltered and secure feeling.
My parents immigrated to the United States back in the 2000s. They originally grew up in the large city of Guangzhou. Every other summer, I would go visit for a couple months. My mother’s side lived in the rural areas, with breakfast carts on sidewalks and college students rushing to the local university my grandparents used to teach at. My father’s side, however, lived in the city and resided in one of the tallest buildings in Guangzhou. I would always love switching back and forth because the differences were so marvelous to me.
My dad moved here to the U.S. to attend University of Cincinnati and then Stanford University, and my mom followed. I spent my first birthday at Stanford with all my dad’s graduate classmates, and I watched him get his masters’ degree there. My mother, a very outspoken and passionate woman, stayed committal. She took care of me the entire time my dad was working on getting his education, and we soon moved to a city in Arizona after he got his degree.
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.
[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.
As the theater lights fade, the audience quiets and cast members begin walking across the stage. They hurry in random directions, sporadically entering and exiting the stage. The music grows louder, and projections of social media apps flash across the set. But the silence, which comes suddenly, shocks the audience even more. Evan Hansen snaps open his laptop, and its screen illuminates his face so the audience can see his hesitation as he leans forward to type. “Dear Evan Hansen: today is going to be an amazing day and here’s why. Because all you have to do is just be yourself,” he writes. There’s a pause, and the theater sits still for a moment. Resuming abruptly, Evan says, “But also confident. That’s important. And interesting. Easy to talk to. Approachable. But mostly yourself. That’s the big, the number one.”
It's taken twenty springs and autumns, and I've only now come to accept it. I am an absent-minded pessimist who lets sadness seep in every now and then, but actively tries not to bring it up in conversation. The walk we took after our evening class, I don't recall the name of your new basketball team or what I said when you told me your dog was sick. I remember the crackle of leaves underneath our boots, the out-of-ordinary red of your nose, and the shock of your frost-bitten fingertips touching my forehead to release the stress creases. I won't remember the road we need to take but I remember the sequence of songs we need to play along a car ride. I can lie still beneath the open sky and engage in hour long games of pareidolia - a candy floss machine that poofs up a high necked poodle or a distorted pineapple formed of panicky clouds. Nothing cancels pessimism like escapism.
Hi everyone. My name is Lina Chokrane.
That’s CHOKE like the verb, RAIN like the noun.
I get it: to someone who doesn’t speak Arabic, you may not recognize the proper pronunciation. I’ve gotten “cockrane,” “shockran," and once someone just gave up. A substitute was going through attendance, reading out names like “David Smith” and “Isabelle Sanderson” and when they got to mine, they just said “Lina” — their head tilted to the right because it was better to say nothing, then to just say the wrong thing.
A. Apples- There’s a fresh bag of apples in the fridge. She only grabs one to enjoy the sour and tarty flavor of the green fruit. When she finishes one, the overwhelming feeling of needing more consumes her as she goes back for another. One apple after another; she can’t help herself. Soon she goes back only to stick her hand in an empty bag. Now she is left feeling sick to her stomach and everyone mad at her for eating all the apples.
B. Bottomless Pit- They call her stomach a bottomless pit from her nonstop eating and never getting full. It’s as if her stomach holds no food as she chows down, not even stopping to breathe. When everyone is out for the count and can eat no more, she still lingers around for something else. Her stomach is a bottomless pit; she needs more.
A few years ago, I saw a Ted Talk by John Green. I didn't know much about him at the time, but his message of how learning is the meaning of life resonated with me. He talked about how YouTube is a good platform for learning things, if you know where to look. This brought out the excitement for learning new things that I had felt as a child when I watched movies and TV and absorbed things from them.
It’s unfortunate that blessings and curses are often indistinguishable at face value. We find ourselves chasing ideas or hopes that only seek to make our lives harder and often ignore that which could easily make us happy. That’s really what it means to be a human, I guess. We’re idealists living in an imperfect world and while we strive for perfection, while we pine after symmetry, the universe continues to overpower us with confusion and meaninglessness. We constantly look for the black and white in the world. Our binary perceptions are so deeply ingrained into the societies we have built. Good and evil, right and wrong, moral and immoral, X and Y. We attempt to weave the fabric of reality with only 2 strings of opposing colors.
Anxiety. What does it mean? What even is it?
The definition of it is “an overcoming feeling of worry or nervousness." In some circumstances I can relate to that; it is worry. It is nervousness. However, it is so much more that that feeling.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.