No Paper Ballerina- Thoughts on Mental Health
My friends on Read Cash, I hope all is well. Though I no longer write here as I have in the past for reasons I have outlined in my previous post, I have continued to visit and lend support, and I will continue to do so in the future. Nevertheless, I am breaking my resolve about writing simply to share this post about a personal experience and a message which may be valuable to someone who will read this.
The message is simple: Whatever life challenge you may face, do not give up. Keep going.
If you find that you are buffeted by life’s storms, do not give in, transform.
Sometime ago, I wrote a poem which at the time I called "Tin Soldier". I think the title "No Paper Ballerina" is more apt though. The poem is as follows:
I wear socks of ash.
Wherever I go,
I leave burnt chaff,
black stains on clean sofas,
and a charcoal outline
like a teenaged scribble
I was here.
I belch black smoke.
I don’t give a shit if you choke
after a whiff of my reality-
if you cough,
if you splutter,
if you wheeze,
if you sneeze,
if your eyes water
every time you draw breath to deny me.
I live, imperfect, in your smudges.
And you hate to see me,
I know it.
You hate the thought that I exist
Because I remind you
It’s interesting that I don’t remind you
I am the skipped thread in your pattern.
Missing a limb you could not see.
You think the only way to be strong
Is to stand steadfast and never fall,
March proudly and never call for help.
And I failed.
Standing on one leg, I fell.
I was buried.
Cast adrift in a paper boat.
The boat broke.
I almost drowned
But held on
to the teeth of a fish.
Sought refuge on the tongue of a fish.
Thought I was safe in the cavernous mouth of a fish.
Dressed in flames.
I AM Reshaped.
I am sharing this poem with you today, my friends, and this message, breaking my resolve not to write and sitting up in bed at 1:02 my time-
- to complete this post.
In a few short hours, my 12 year old son will graduate from primary school. It's a huge moment for him and for us as he transitions from one stage in his life to a next and from one school to a next. Yesterday, a few hours ago, was his final dress rehearsal, the last day he had actual school with his friends.
I accompanied my son on his final day to school, helped to decorate the hall for today's graduation, helped to train a group of his peers for a choral speaking piece they'll be presenting, and tried as much as I could to make the process an easier and less scary one for them all.
On the way back home my son was unusually quiet and reflective. I teased him a bit, tried to lighten the mood, and I think, in so doing, must have called attention to myself. A well-meaning elderly lady, a stranger, approached me inquiring about the 22 year old scars that I wear.
"It must be terrible for you to wear them," she observed. She's right, they are. They're terrible because 22 years after an incident that changed my life, my moment of weakness, my sin, I am still defined by it.
I smiled, nodded, stared off into the distance, hoping that my coolness would be enough to change the topic. The old lady, however, was not easily deterred.
"It's truly a terrible thing for a lady to be scarred," she said. "I remember once when..."
Though I acutely heard everything the elderly lady remembered and was conscious also of my son next to me hearing a stranger speak to my beauty or, from her perspective, lack thereof, I guess, I did not flinch. Blank faced, I continued to stare off into the distance, as I covered my sensitive parts with a rock hard shell of nonchalance. I've had 22 years of practice.
Of course, my friends, this is not an attempt to throw a pity party for I do not feel sorry for myself. It's annoying sometimes to have to fend off intrusive questions and 'well-meaning' comments from strangers, but this is my reality, and it's one that I have made peace with.
I have understood that I, and many like me, exist in a world that is not ready to make allowances for us, but that we do not need the world to carve a space for us, we do not need inclusion in normal spaces because we are not normal and that's perfectly okay.
As humans, we are all vessels on different voyages. Sometimes, on our respective journeys, we may encounter storms and our vessels may spring leaks. Sometimes these leaks may be easy to repair, sometimes they're not. Some vessels, for example, never make it out of a storm. I'm thankful that mine did.
22 years ago, my vessel broke. There were extenuating circumstances around that. I was suffering from severe and intense loss that threatened to break me in two, and for a brief moment, very nearly succeeded. The fallout wasn't pretty. And I remember asking once, how do you scoop yolk back into an egg after the shell is broken?
I carry scars today as a reminder of the day the feather I carried became too heavy, and in a world that is shaped by judgement, I guess I should probably feel badly about having broken my vessel, but I don't. Instead, I'm proud to have repaired mine, and I'm proud to continue to function with a vessel that's less than pristine, that might raise eyebrows every now and again, and that might invite the occasional intrusive, albeit well-meaning comments. I'm proud because my journey, stumbling along a path that's littered with obstacles, has helped me to develop a measure of resilience and adaptability I might not have been able to develop otherwise.
And so, this is my message to anyone who has struggled or struggles with mental illness- wherever you are on that spectrum, an illness does not define you, a breakdown does not define you, a scar does not define you, other people's opinions do not define you- your heart and your soul define you. Live in love, and be proud of every step forward you take.
In the meantime, my friends, I like stories like that of the tin soldier because I can relate to it. I am no paper ballerina.
Okay, friends. I'm off to bed. I've got a grad to celebrate with my baby in a few hours.
Stay safe, everyone! Continue making the awesome content you do on Read. I enjoy reading them.
That is the spirit, and the mentality that we should uphold. People would always have an opinion about whatever they see. Maybe in the sense that they 'understand' or have gone through something similar too. Alluding to the metaphorical voyage, no two person can go through the experience the same journey, so I can categorically say that no one can really understand. Good to read something by you Trifecta, I must admit that I miss doing so. In conclusion, happy graduation to your son, I wish him all the best in this new chapter he wants to start in his journey.