The Unspoken Epidemic
By Lulu Sha & Jenni Milton
Discussed: mental illness
We wanted to shine a light on mental health struggles that often go unnoticed and to dispel harmful stereotypes about mental illness. This piece is loosely based on real life events.
Sometimes I just wish I could evaporate.
I take this seriously. One of my exes got so bad that I ended up having to call the cops. Some people won’t, but I want you to know that I will call the cops if it comes to that.
I’m glad you understand it’s not a joke.
I was taking a walk when I saw the hedges in my yard. The leaves on the inside were turning black and leathery. The tender green leaves on the outside must’ve been blocking out the sunlight. As the plant grew, it cannibalized itself from the inside out.
My bed becomes crusty with sleep. Nothing feels right. I don’t even feel right in my own body.
Why can’t you just be normal?
I got on my knees and crawled to her room. This will be the last time. She’ll finally apologize. But it ends the same way as always. I’m your mother. I raised you. How dare you disrespect me like that?
My brain scares me sometimes.
You are in charge of your thoughts, even when you don’t feel like you are.
The shrub was probably sick. Some kind of bug got into it. But even as it dies on the inside, new leaves are beginning to sprout in the outer layers. Now it’s my turn to stand up, get out of the corner and step into the sunlight.
Nothing is forever. Except maybe this hollow nothingness. Maybe this is forever.
Feelings have a beginning, a middle and an end. Make space to move through the sadness, the anger, whatever it is.
The demons will always be there. While I can’t accept them, I can try to understand them, and make peace with them.
Remember when you’d spend hours locked inside of a soundproof room with your violin, going over the same tricky two bars of music? You’d dissect the music into its distinct elements, practice a whole series of scales, arpeggios and double-stops, forgetting rhythm and time to focus on intonation, then tapping out the rhythm on your chest until it pulses through you like a second heartbeat. When you’d stumble, play it backwards from the last note to the first, swing the rhythm, syncopate it. You’re tricking your brain, making it think it’s learning something new so that by the time you take the stage, it will look effortless.
Practice self-love like your life depends on it, because it does.
Lulu and Jenni began writing collaborative poems and stories together, which culminated in this final pair project. For the past few months, we’ve been waking up early almost every morning to write together via Zoom. We both put ourselves on mute and wrote for an hour or so, and then we each shared something positive about what we wrote before signing off. This piece was inspired in part by some of our own personal journal entries and reflections on our experiences with mental health. Together, we created a safe, vulnerable space where we could share our unique struggles with one another and practice healthy coping mechanisms.
Lulu Sha uses sci-fi and fantasy to explore modern issues, in particular colonialism, socialism and national liberation movements. She believes in having strong leadership for Asian American youth and incorporating Asian American history into high school curriculums. In her free time she loves to sing rock covers and figure skate.
Jenni Milton studied at Connecticut College, Oxford University and the Columbia Publishing Course. She has worked at One Story, Oxford University Press and Grove Atlantic. She earned her MFA at the Programs in Writing at UC Irvine and was the Fiction Editor of the Pushcart Prize-winning journal Faultline. Now, she’s back in her beloved Brooklyn, working in pharmaceutical advertising to pay the bills and carving out as much time as she can to work on her fiction. She's currently seeking representation for her first novel while hard at work on her second.