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By Jess M - High School Senior, NJ 

How to Cope

I’ve been asked to write about myself for the first time since the sixth grade. As a senior in high school, I’m taking a class on Writing Creative NonFiction. Writing about your experiences in life doesn't seem very difficult on the surface. It’s definitely not the same as writing an academic essay. There’s no research to do, everything is through your own perspective, and no one would know if you're fibbing (the true beauty of it). But there’s a catch.

When writing a CNF essay, you’ll get hit by the one question: How do I convey to my readers what I felt in this exact moment? I lived through it, I experienced it, I felt it. I know what this experience felt like to me, but how do I express that to you? I know what my emotions were, but now I want you to feel it--and I’m struggling to figure out how. Then as I start writing, I realize I never allowed myself to register the emotions in the first place.

Our amygdala, the emotion-processing center of the brain, contributes a lot towards our memorization. Our most vivid memories are the most emotional; for most people, they’re the most traumatic. But how much of that trauma do I want to share? I don’t want your pity, that’s not why I’m writing. I’m writing because these experiences are trapped in my possession, like hostages struggling for freedom. These burdens on my shoulders will never be free if I have to censor my stories. My next question: To what extent am I comfortable enough to set them free?

I’m not here to complain, or be difficult about the subject of CNF. But what people don’t understand is the difficulty you face to write a story about the hardships in your life. With some of the pieces I’ve written, I’ve had tears drip down to my laptop as my fingers struggle to continue typing. It takes a lot of strength to put a life’s story on paper for others to read, especially when they’re secrets you’ve always kept. I’ve been traumatized by a lot of experiences in my life, even if they were minor. I have a lot of stories to share. You do too.

The moral of my story: Write. Write about your life. Write about the joyful times you’ve been a part of to remind yourself that darkness doesn’t last. Write about your feelings. Write to somebody--but don’t feel obligated to give it to them. I don’t care if it’s good, I don’t care if it even makes any sense at all. I care about whether you’re letting your emotions be known. You’re not allowed to bottle up your feelings when you write about the experiences you’ve faced. If you don’t share your emotions for what they are, you’re not sharing your story. Write about your emotions as if you’re trying to get someone else to feel the exact same way. It’s hard, but it will only help you process them. 

Our Blog

An ongoing series of informational entries

By Jess M. High School Senior in New Jersey

March 15, 2020

I Hate This Feeling

I could feel the ground, but I couldn’t. I could hear voices, but I couldn’t. I could see my hands, but I couldn’t. I could sense countless people staring at me, but I couldn’t. I could move my body, but I couldn’t. I could remember my name, but I couldn’t. I could breathe, but I couldn’t. I could stop crying, but I couldn’t. I could’ve asked for help, but I didn’t. I hate this feeling.

Five years old. I begged my mother not to take me to school. “But Mom! I just threw up in the bathroom!” Liar. I cried. My knees buckled. I sat paralyzed on the kitchen floor. My mother started to get frustrated. “You better be in the car in five minutes.” My legs wouldn’t move. My arms had no strength. My vision was blurred. I was completely numb. I could feel the ground, but I couldn’t. I hate this feeling.

Six years old. My first dance recital. It was too dark backstage. I have a fear of the unknown. We’re getting lined up for our first performance. I can’t catch my breath. I don’t know where I am. What time is it? I want to go home. Don’t cry, your mascara will run. I want to wipe this makeup off. Is my name being called? There’s chaos in the audience. Applause. What is the applause for? Did the performance already end? Am I supposed to be onstage? Is someone calling my name? I could hear voices, but I couldn’t. I hate this feeling.

Seven years old. Art class. We’re painting with warm colors today. I don’t like the color red. Red means danger. I’m in danger. My art teacher’s coming. She’s always mad at me. “Why aren’t you working?” He’s working. She’s working. They’re working. Are they in danger? They’re painting with red. Why are they calm? Danger! My face is wet. I taste salt. Is his vision blurry, too? This is dangerous. Get up. The red paint spills. I try to clean it. I could see my hands, but I couldn’t. I hate this feeling.

Eight years old. It’s my turn to present. I grab my notecards. I’m shaking. Nobody else is cold. I walk to the front of the classroom. Don’t turn around. Twenty people means twenty different judgements. The teacher smiles. Everyone’s waiting. You need to speak. No, don’t speak. I look at my project. I want to shred it apart. Don’t take credit for it. Why aren’t you speaking? Speak. Don’t speak. No one wants to listen to you. Is anyone listening? I could sense countless people staring at me, but I couldn’t. I hate this feeling.

Nine years old. I’m sweating. My skin is itching. I feel trapped. I dig my nails deep into my thighs. I sit completely still in the corner of the living room. My grandmother calls for dinner. I despise eating, but I must. I dart my eyes towards the bathroom. I feel the need to vomit. Grandma calls for dinner again. My throat tightens. My skin is shrinking. Help. Get me out of here. Grandma’s coming to get me. I could move my body, but I couldn’t. I hate this feeling.

Ten years old. Walt Disney World. A child’s favorite place on Earth. Masses of people. The smells of greasy foods. Costumed mascots. I lost my mother. Mom, where are you? I’m running. I don’t know where to go. This place is foreign to me. I’m crying. A man with a red vest grabs my arm. “Are you lost?” I scream. More red vests flock around me. “Who are you looking for?” I don’t remember. “What’s your name?” My name. Who am I? Where am I? I could remember my name, but I couldn’t. I hate this feeling.

Eleven years old. I’m restless. I don’t want to fall asleep. I can’t. I’m defenseless in my dreams. My demons taunt me. A figure lurks in the corner of my room. My muscles are frozen. There’s nowhere to go. A deadlock is on my bedroom door. The figure approaches my bed. He’s gonna take me. There’s no more oxygen in here. My eyes dart in every direction. The windows vanish. The room turns cold. The black mass hovers over me. Darkness fills my room. Scream! Mom opens the door. “What is it this time?” I gasp for air. I could breathe, but I couldn’t. I hate this feeling.

Twelve years old. Dad has lymphoma. Is he going to die? I’m going to be without a father. I can’t believe this is happening. What will my mother do without my father? I have no siblings. He’s one-half of all I have. Dad’s going to die. Is it hereditary? You’re going to die, too. Dad’s starting chemotherapy. It’s going to kill him. He’s being poisoned. Don’t trust the nurses. He’s losing his hair. Dad’s dying. Why is he so pale? I’m losing him. Dad? Dad, are you still with me? I could stop crying, but I couldn’t. I hate this feeling.

Thirteen years old. I don’t want this anymore. I tried to live with this. I don’t understand why I feel this way. I don’t know how to help myself. There’s nothing more I can do. The last day of school before Christmas break. 8 AM. I don’t want this anymore. I wonder what types of pills Mom has. I found something. I hope she doesn’t need these. I don’t care enough to read the label. Maybe they’re lethal. So what if they are? I don’t want this anymore. I hear my mother coming. You can’t let Mom know. Chug them fast. Mom’s coming! “Are you ready for school?” “Of course, Mom.” I made it to school. I don’t remember getting here. It’s already second period. I don’t feel good. We’re working in groups. I feel dizzy. Did someone ask me a question? Who are these people? Why is the ceiling on the floor? Uh-oh. I could’ve asked for help, but I didn’t. I hate this feeling.

Today. I asked for help. I survived and I am grateful. Anxiety is not a choice. Anxiety doesn’t listen. But anxiety has no business controlling my life. I missed out on so many experiences throughout my childhood because I let my fears lead the way. I refuse to allow my inner demons to strip me from living a fulfilling life. I wish I could say that my irrationality is no longer present, but I can’t. My disorder is chronic, and always will be, but I learned how to be in charge of my own resilience. You can’t control your anxiety, but you can control whether it controls you. 

By Jess M High School Senior in New Jersey

April 2, 2020

My Letter to You

I’ve known you for the past seventeen years of my life. You’ve raised me, fed me, held me, protected me. But these days, I feel the need to question whether I love you as much as I say I do.

You never gave me siblings. I’ve had no one to look up to or be a mentor for. I understand that, since you were older than most when you had me, you were afraid of having a child with cognitive deficiencies. Now that I am grown, it makes more sense to me. Back then, I heavily resented you for it. I used to believe that I was a mistake, that you never wanted me in the first place. For the longest time, I thought I was an interruption to your life—like you only loved me because you felt you had to. Now, it seems the positions are switched.

Every month, you were somewhere else in the world. Don’t worry, I still have all of your souvenirs. I am very grateful for each and every one of them—thank you. I remember staying up until the latest hours of the night to watch you come through the garage door. I would hug you tightly before running to your suitcase, waiting for you to open it up. From South Africa, you brought me a stuffed jaguar. From Tokyo, you brought me a porcelain doll. From the Netherlands, you brought me a cuckoo clock. I appreciate the gifts, but they mean nothing compared to the amount of time we lost together.

Once you stopped traveling, you started working in the city. From four in the morning to eight at night, you spent your life in New York. Yes, I fully understand how an attorney’s job is demanding. During the oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico and Hurricane Katrina, I lost you again. You were never here. Absent from the family you created. More involved in the environment than the events in your daughter’s life. Who does that?

Whenever you had the miracle of a day off, we always did things that you wanted to do. You taught me how to golf, you brought me go-kart racing, we went to NASCAR races. I wasn’t interested in any of that, but I pretended to be. I wanted to spend time with you, but you never asked me what I liked to do. You didn’t really know me. You didn’t put in the effort to care. I’m sorry that you didn’t get a son, but do not try to turn me into one.

You wanted me to try softball. I enjoyed playing, although I wasn’t very good. My softball games were the only activities of mine that you made a strenuous attempt to attend. You would yell at me from the sidelines that I wasn’t hitting correctly. If I didn’t take a far enough lead from the base, you would get frustrated. You disrupted every game and humiliated me in front of my teammates. It was difficult to create bonds with them because of you. After every game you could attend, you would go through a list of everything I did wrong. I quit because of you, and you resented me for it.

When you got sick, I was there for you. I asked you every day how you were feeling. I made the effort to take care of you however I could. I cried countless nights over the thought of losing you. It tore me apart. You expected me to keep it a secret from everybody I knew. You expected me to cope with it by myself, as if there was nothing wrong. When I reached out to my friends for emotional support, you gave me the silent treatment for a week. You wouldn’t let me flush your PICC line and then tried to do it yourself, almost ripping out your port because I needed to talk to someone other than you about your illness. I understand that your cancer is your business, but I am your family and that makes your cancer mine.

Since you’ve been in remission, you’ve been a crank. You’ve always been addicted to cigarettes, a habit that didn’t change during cancer. The chemotherapy left you with neuropathy in your feet. You always complain about how it feels like a chronic sensation of pins and needles that never goes away. You got a prescription for opioids. Now you’re addicted. You say that opioids don’t help the pain, so you turned to alcohol. Now you’re addicted. You have been for the past five years. You don’t talk to me anymore. That’s okay, I don’t want to talk to you.

Now you have alcohol-related dementia. Now I have to deal with it. Now I have trouble creating relationships. Now I have to go to therapy. Now I have to avoid you for the sake of my own mental health. Now I have to tell myself that I would be upset if you died tomorrow. You’re going to die soon, and you don’t care. When you had your gallbladder removed, the surgeon told you that your liver is cirrhotic. Your surgeon told you that if you don’t stop drinking, you won’t see me graduate from college. What did you do when you came home from the hospital? You drank. I see how much I mean to you. You always talk about how I’ll take care of you when you’re older. Yeah, right.

You have been no less than a father to me, but I hesitate to call you my dad. I tell you I love you because it’s the right thing to do. If you were anyone other than my father, I would want nothing to do with you. I wish Mom divorced you years ago. I wish Mom and I moved out. I wish you weren’t who you are today. I wish I felt comfortable talking to you. You are my father and I have to convince myself that I love you in order to believe it. Lord only knows how much I wish I didn't have to deal with you. Lord only knows how much I wish I didn’t hate you.

Love, Sincerely,

Your Only Child