A Tether to This World
Stories & Poems About Recovery
ISBN: 978-1-59948-860-8, 204 pages, $17.95 (+ shipping)
Release/ship Date: May 12, 2021
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About the Editor:
Erika Nichols-Frazer is a Developmental Editor at New Degree Press and the Communications Manager at the Children’s Literacy Foundation. She has an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She won Noir Nation’s 2020 Golden Fedora Fiction Prize and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her work has appeared in HuffPost, Lunate, Red Tree Review, and elsewhere. She is a reader for Literary Orphans and a judge for NYC Midnight. She lives in Vermont with her husband, dogs, cat, and chickens, and can be found at www.nicholsfrazer.com.
Joanna Acevedo received her BA in Literary Studies from the New School in 2019. She currently studies Fiction at New York University, where she is working on her MFA. Her work has been seen in or is forthcoming in Track Four, Mikrokosmos, Not Very Quiet, and Pangyrus Magazine, among others. She is a Hospitalfield 2020 Interdisciplinary Resident, Goldwater Fellow, Prose Editor at Inklette Magazine and teaches creative writing at NYU.
Mike Alvarez is a Filipino writer who immigrated to the US at age ten. He is the author of the forthcoming book, The Paradox of Suicide and Creativity (Rowman & Littlefield, in press), and has completed a memoir, The Color of Dusk, recounting his past struggles with mental health. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College and his PhD in Communication from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Follow him on Twitter @mfalvarez121 and visit his website at mfalvarez.net.
Mel Anderson is a retired Army JAG officer. She earned her Juris Doctorate through St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, before earning a Masters in Fine Arts through Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. She won the 2017 Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-book award for her memoir, Eleven Regrets. Eleven Regrets also won second place for the Montaigne Medal through Eric Hoffer Book Awards. Her children’s book, The Big Fib, was published by Shadow Mountain Publishing. Mel now lives in Idaho with her husband and eight children.
Susan April lives in Myersville, Maryland. She holds an MFA from Vermont College and science degrees from the University of Chicago (MS) and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell (BS). Born in Lowell and raised in neighboring Dracut, she grew up in a large, French-Canadian-American family. Her poems and essays have been widely published, including by Loom Press (Lowell) and forthcoming in Writings on Domestic Verbal and Physical Abuse, to be published by McFarland & Company, Inc. A professional environmental scientist and activist, she works with communities to fight the aggressive tactics of pipeline companies and large industrial polluters.
Megan Barnes is an emerging creative, presently working on a debut podcast, a collection of creative nonfiction, and a first novel. By day, Megan works as a funeral planner and supports families in the aftermath of grief. She enjoys reading, writing, skiing, and playing with the loves of her life, husband Terrence and son Isaac, in Boise, Idaho.
Mark Brazaitis is the author of eight books, including The River of Lost Voices: Stories from Guatemala, winner of the 1998 Iowa Short Fiction Award, The Incurables: Stories, winner of the 2012 Richard Sullivan Prize and the 2013 Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award in Prose, and Julia & Rodrigo, winner of the 2012 Gival Press Novel Award. His latest book, The Rink Girl: Stories, won the 2018 Prize Americana (Hollywood Books). He wrote the script for the award-winning Peace Corps film How Far Are You Willing to Go to Make a Difference?
Richard Brea is a LGBTQ ally from Lynn, MA. He is a former Angelino who re-located back east to be closer to family. Richard is happily attending Bunker Hill Community College as a Psychology Major. Richard is presently employed at Lahey Behavioral Health as a Young Adult Peer Mentor where he uses his lived experience with anxiety and depression to provide support, counseling, and hope to youth. It is important for Richard to share his story because as a Dominican man, he knows his African-American and Hispanic peers seek help at significantly lower rates than white Americans do. Richard’s writing has been featured in This is My Brave, BPD Central, Across the Margin, NAMI, and Freud & Fashion.
Jessie Brown has two short collections, What We Don’t Know We Know (Finishing Line Press) and Lucky (Anabiosis Press), and has published poems in journals like the New Madrid, Comstock Review, Soundings East, Full Bleed, and Minerva Rising. A resident of Arlington, Massachusetts, she teaches in the Boston area, and collaborates on interdisciplinary projects with poetry and the visual arts. (www.JessieBrown.net)
Lissa Brown’s work appears in several anthologies. She is the award-winning author of the humorous memoir, Real Country: From the Fast Track to Appalachia (as Leslie Brunetsky), Family Secrets: Three Generations, a semi-finalist in the Amazon Emerging Novel Competition, Another F-Word, about the bullying of a gay boy, and its sequel, Family of Choice. Her latest book, her first mystery novel, Filthy Money, is due out in 2020. She lives in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains where she aspires to tap into her inner Heidi. She attempts to play bluegrass music on her banjo while her wife wears earplugs. www.lissabrownwrites.com
Tifara Brown was born and raised in the Deep South and has been writing original poetry about her experience as a Black female Southerner since 2013. She has shared her poetry on the TEDx stage and competed across the country in the art of spoken word. Tifara recently published a book of poems entitled Honeysuckle: Poems and Stories from a Black Southerner in memory of her ancestor who was a victim of racial violence. She is passionate about storytelling and uses her words as a vehicle for advocacy for POC and all oppressed communities.
Davis R. Callaway is a student of Gordon State College, Barnesville, GA, where he is working towards his BA in English. After completion of his master’s Davis intends to pursue a career in film and television as a writer. He has twice been winner of the Gordon State College Undergraduate Research Symposium. This work of nonfiction was completed for a class taught by Dr. Caroline Collins and submitted at her recommendation. Davis has no previous publication.
Misha Carlson is a Tufts University student training to be a clinical psychologist. She has long struggled with cycles of mental illness, but she finds poetry to be the place where she can be most honest with herself and others. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts with her partner Olivia and long-haired dachshund mix Luna, and is currently on a quest to discover how many different meals can be served on top of a frozen Trader Joe’s hash brown.
Lee Crockett Darcy has trained as a historian, can identify most birds in the eastern United States by their song alone, and make references to The Office (US) in just about any situation and, like many writers, loves coffee and books. She is not related to Davy, but she did marry a charming Mr. Darcy. When not writing, she is likely vacuuming the clouds of fur roaming freely behind her Norwegian Elkhound. Lee holds an MFA in Fiction from New England College. She lives in southwestern New Hampshire.
Cynthia Good is a 2019 graduate of NYU’s MFA poetry program. She has written six books including Vaccinating Your Child, which received the Author of the Year award from the Georgia Writers Association. She launched two magazines, Atlanta Woman and the nationally distributed PINK for women in business.
AE Hines is a gay poet living in Portland, Oregon. He is a recent Pushcart nominee and his work has appeared in numerous publications, including Atlanta Review, California Quarterly, The Briar Cliff Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, I-70 Review, the Crosswinds Poetry Journal, SLAB, and Pinyon. He was the 2020 winner of the Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Prize. He can be found at www.aehines.net.
David Icenogle is a writer and mental health advocate who writes about his own experiences dealing with mental illness. He his work has been published in Asylum magazine and TheBeautifulSpace.
Laura Ingram is a tiny girl with big glasses and bigger ideas. Her poetry and prose have been published in over seventy literary journals, among them The Cactus Heart Review, Gravel, Glass Kite Anthology and Voice of Eve. Her first collection, Junior Citizen’s Discount, was released with Desert Willow Press May 2018. Her second poetry collection, Mirabilis, is forthcoming for 2020 with Kelsay Books, and her third collection, The Ghost Gospels, recently took home first prize and publication in the Southern Collective Experience’s Women of Resilience contest. Her children’s book Stand Up was subsequently released with Nesting Tree books in August 2018.
Madison Jones is an Assistant Professor in the departments of Writing & Rhetoric and Natural Resources Science at the University of Rhode Island. He received his PhD in Writing Studies from the University of Florida in May 2020. His poetry collection Losing the Dog is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2022. His previous poetry collection is Reflections on the Dark Water (Solomon & George, 2016). His recent poems have appeared in North American Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Visit his website: madisonpjones.com.
Elizabeth Kirschner is a writer and Master Gardener. She’s published six volumes of poetry and an award-winning memoir, Waking the Bones. Her short story is from her forthcoming collection, Only the Dead Suffer Butter, due out from Atmosphere Press. She lives in Maine.
Kathryn Knudson started writing as a young girl, ignoring her farm chores to make up stories. Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have been published in numerous journals and anthologies, and she’s been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. One of her short stories won the 2020 Jackpine Writers’ Bloc Prize for fiction and will appear in Talking Stick, Volume 29. Her poetry was recently published in Upon Waking: 58 Voices Speak Out From the Shadows and her flash fiction in Blink-Ink. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and their sheep dog.
Marc Levy‘s work has appeared in New Millennium Writings, Cutthroat, Stone Canoe, KGB Bar Magazine, The Comstock Review, and elsewhere. It is forthcoming in Paterson Literary Review, and Revue LISA/LISA. He was an infantry medic with the First Cavalry Division in Vietnam/Cambodia in 1970. His website is Medic in the Green Time.com.
Chad W. Lutz is a non-binary writer born in Akron, Ohio, in 1986 and raised in the neighboring suburb of Stow. They graduated from Kent State University with their BA in English in 2008 and from Mills College in Oakland, California, with their MFA in Creative Writing in 2018. Their first book, For the Time Being, is currently available through J. New Books.
Kim MacQueen is the author of two novels, People Who Hate America and Out, Out. Most recently she has published fiction and nonfiction in The Southeast Review, Inquisitive Eater and Wisdom Daily. Come and visit at kimmacqueen.com.
Kelly McLees is an aspiring writer based in Manhattan. Born in Ohio, she has been in New York City for over twenty years and cannot imagine living anywhere else. After twenty-five years in print production, she is hoping to switch gears and move into production editing and proofreading. Kelly is currently working on an essay about a distant cousin who was a Catholic priest and active in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, with an eye toward expanding it into a book-length work. She lives contentedly in a small studio apartment with five houseplants and three neon tetras.
Raegan Miller lives in the small town of Ketchikan on Revillagigedo Island in Alaska, where she works at a daily newspaper as the arts and entertainment reporter. Aspiring to report on large scale national events, Raegan also has an interest in sharing experiences from her life through personal writing. Raegan graduated with the class of 2018 at the age of 16, after which she immediately began work at the newspaper where she is currently employed. She has lived in several locations around the state of Alaska, including Sitka, Prince of Wales Island. She hopes that writing truthfully about her family’s experiences with mental health and recovery will be of interest to those in similar situations.
Emilie Murphy is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She covers arts, culture, travel and lifestyle topics for publications such as Dance Magazine, Musée Magazine, Lonely Planet, Entropy, and more. She is also the writer of the blog Art for Real People. Emilie graduated cum laude from the College of William & Mary with degrees in art history & French and received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Kent.
Ashley Muskett is a psychology doctoral candidate in the Virginia Tech Clinical Psychology Program as well as a therapist at the Virginia Treatment Center for Children in Richmond, VA. This is her first literary publication, though she does have many publications in scientific journals such as The Journal of Child and Family Studies, Clinical Case Studies, Autism, and Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Xuan Nguyen is a writer and an artist who focuses on the intersections between transgender identity, divinity + monstrosity, and stigmatized mental and physical health. They consider the creative process to be one of making mirrors. They can be reached at email@example.com or through Twitter @feyxuan. When not writing or drawing, they can be found hanging out with their princess of a Siamese cat, drinking cold Viet coffee, or wondering what it would take to make a work like Revolutionary Girl Utena.
Jean Prokott has poetry published or forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Angel City Review, Anomaly, and Quarterly West, among other journals. She is a recipient of an AWP Intro Journals Award, a recipient of the Joan Ramseyer Poetry Award, a finalist for the RHINO Founder’s Prize, and a finalist for the Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Prize. She has an MFA from Minnesota State University Mankato and a Master’s of Science in Education, and she currently lives in Rochester, MN, and online at jeanprokott.com.
Judson Simmons is a graduate of the Sarah Lawrence College graduate writing program and holds a BA in English/Creative Writing from the University of Houston. He also holds an MSEd in Higher Education from Baruch College. The poems included are from a section of his manuscript which details his mental health struggles. Judson currently resides in Brooklyn and works as the Assistant Director at NYU’s Center for Publishing.
Ellen Stone was raised in the Appalachian Mountains in rural northeastern Pennsylvania. She taught special education for over thirty years in Kansas and Michigan public schools. Ellen advises a poetry club at Community High School and co-hosts a monthly poetry series in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her poems have appeared most recently in The Museum of Americana, Please See Me, Halfway Down the Stairs, The Citron Review, Dunes Review, Pretty Owl Poetry, Switchback, Mantis, and in the anthology, Choice Words: Writers on Abortion. Ellen is the author of What Is in the Blood (Mayapple Press, 2020) and The Solid Living World (Michigan Writers’ Cooperative Press, 2013). Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart prize and Best of the Net.
Johnny Townsend has published stories and essays in Newsday, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Salt Lake Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, The Humanist, The Progressive, in the anthologies The Kindness of Strangers, Queer Fish, Latter-Gay Saints, and in many other publications. His books include Mormon Underwear, Zombies for Jesus, Gayrabian Nights, and Human Compassion for Beginners. He was also an associate producer for the documentary Upstairs Inferno. His books have been named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best of 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Rosann Tung began writing creative nonfiction after a career conducting research and advocacy for racial justice in public education. She has published personal essays in the Boston Globe, “Who’s the Lucky One?” and in Sampan, “From China to America, A Family Finds Its Final Resting Place.”
Brian Phillip Whalen’s debut collection of fiction, Semiotic Love [Stories], will be released in November (Awst Press). His work appears or is forthcoming in The Southern Review, Creative Nonfiction, North American Review, Copper Nickel, The Los Angeles Review, Sonora Review, Flash Nonfiction Food (a Woodhall Press anthology), and elsewhere. Brian received his PhD from SUNY Albany and teaches at The University of Alabama.
Susan Willey Spalt lives in Carrboro, North Carolina. She retired after a long career in school health and has professional and personal experience with mental illness. Her poems have appeared in numerous anthologies, including Pinesong, published by the North Carolina Poetry Society. Longer If It’s Raining (Red Dashboard Press, 2016) is her first chapbook. Susan is a member of the Carrboro Poets Council which organizes and manages Carrboro’s West End Poetry Festival. She is the author of a memoir, Back When We Were Italian (Sable Books, 2019). and a collaborating author of Finding Hope, A Practical Guide for Families Affected by Mental Illness Drawn from the Experience of Families Like Yours (Sable Books, 2019).
Steve Wilson‘s poetry has appeared in journals and anthologies nationwide. He is the author of five collections, the most recent entitled The Reaches (2019). He lives in San Marcos, TX.
Dawn Woodall is a North Carolina author who has a career that spans more than 20 years in writing and publishing. Originally from a small town in the mountains, she now makes her home on the beautiful North Carolina coast.
Do you know why we have the sunflowers? It’s not because Vincent van Gogh suffered. It’s because Vincent van Gogh had a brother who loved him. Through all the pain, he had a tether, a connection to the world. And that is the focus of the story we need – connection. ~Hannah Gadsby, “Nanette,” Netflix (2018)
Nearly 47 million Americans live with a mental illness. Even if you haven’t experienced mental illness yourself, I promise you know someone who has. Mental illness impacts people from all walks of life. And yet, it remains highly stigmatized and can be uncomfortable to talk about. In this collection, thirty-eight brave writers share stories, essays, and poems that depict the human experience of mental illness and the process of finding connections to the world. While these are stories of suffering, they are also stories of surviving, of healing, of compassion.
Here are stories of those who have loved people who are struggling, those who have lost, those who have had to hide their own struggles, those who have been down on the ground, at their worst, and still, risen. These stories are heart-wrenching, raw, and real. It is my hope that you, reader, can see yourself in these pages and know that, whatever your pain, you are not alone.
Mental illness affects people across racial and economic demographics, though lower-income and rural people, particularly those without sufficient health insurance or transportation, may lack access to the treatment they need. Similarly, many low-wage jobs do not offer flexible schedules to allow employees to get regular psychiatric help. In rural communities, quality mental health care may be limited or nonexistent. And, even if care does exist, it may be unaffordable or inaccessible, even if you have health insurance.
In two periods of my adult life, I’ve had to pay out-of-pocket to receive treatment for bipolar disorder, despite having health insurance. I’m fortunate to have a flexible job that has allowed me to spend up to nine hours a week traveling to and engaging in professional care, a luxury most people don’t have.
Our society, increasingly chaotic and stressful, doesn’t prioritize mental health care. More than 47,000 Americans die by suicide each year, yet access to affordable quality mental health care remains out of reach for too many, and society stigmatizes that care, creating further barriers to help for those who need it. We need to advocate for this essential care, contact our elected officials to let them know that mental health care is a right, but before we can see positive change, we need to destigmatize mental health. We need to talk about it, as the authors in this collection so bravely and unapologetically do.
While both Black and white Americans experience mental illness at similar rates, Black Americans are far less likely to seek mental health care, as Richard Brea addresses in his essay. LGBTQ+ Americans experience mental illness at a much higher rate than cisgender, heterosexual Americans. According to Mental Health America, LGBTQ+ youth are six times more likely than their heterosexual peers to experience depression and are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide. A shocking 48 percent of transgender adults say they have considered suicide in the past year. It was important to me to represent those experiences, as well as the many varied experiences of people of color living with mental health issues, in this book.
Mental illness can look like a lot of things. As you’ll see in these pages, it can sometimes be ugly, confusing, overwhelming, desperate, or lonely. It can also manifest in popular, successful people who look like they’re doing fine. The pieces in this anthology vary as diversely as the experiences they recount. They remind us that mental illness is experienced on a spectrum and affects many high-achieving folks and the people you encounter every day. It isn’t always obvious. Anyone can be suffering, and so many are suffering in silence. The people in these pages have endured unimaginable traumas and overcome them. They are survivors, allies, and advocates.
These brilliant works of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction recount evocative personal narratives of mental health journeys and the discovery of tethers, of connections to the world, and ways to heal. They tell stories of a teacher hiding her depression, a schizophrenic finding a community online, and a veteran living with PTSD. They are stories of hospitalization, self-harm, and trauma, yet also stories of recovery.
It is my hope that those in pain can find comfort in these words, can see themselves in these poems, essays, and stories, can find connection. I want you, reader, to understand that you’re not alone, and that so many of us are struggling, too. We need only be open and listen.
In her Netflix special, “Nanette,” comedian Hannah Gadsby tells a story of a man confronting her after a show in which she mentioned being on antidepressants. He purportedly told her, “You shouldn’t take medication because you’re an artist. It’s important that you feel. If Vincent Van Gogh had taken medication, we wouldn’t have ‘The Sunflowers.’”
An art historian, she, as she says, “ripped him a college-debt sized new asshole,” explaining that Van Gogh did medicate, heavily, and that the beauty he captured was not because of his pain, but because of the love in his life. She emphasizes the need for human connection amidst suffering, the need for finding a tether and connection. I hope that these beautiful, harrowing stories of recovery can offer you a tether to the world, and to yourself. It is my hope that you can find something of yourself in these pieces, a tether, a connection.
Erika Nichols-Frazer, Editor
Panic Attack Protocol
By David Icenogle
You pull your hair hard, elbows like antlers.
You gasp through your teeth, chest stretching upward like a balloon being buried alive.
Your lungs are filling with hummingbirds and heat.
Your heart is a running boat propeller that has been pulled naked from the water.
You are on a carousel and can’t stop.
You are suffocating on the air you’re drowning in.
Breathe in. Through your nose.
Let that chilly wisp crawl through and caress the back of your tongue.
Let your chest fill like a fire hose being woken up by water.
Breathe out. Through your mouth.
Drop your jaw like a drawbridge.
Release that train of fog through the tunnel of your lips.
Breathe in. This has happened before. You have done this before.
Breathe out. You will make it. You always do.
Suffering in Silence
By Richard Brea
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI, 2015), one out of every five adults in America will experience a mental illness. Furthermore, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide (NIMH, 2015). The stigma of mental illness is something that causes many people to suffer in silence and not get the proper care and treatment to help them with their mental health problems. This is especially true for minorities. Statistics show that African-Americans and Hispanics seek help for mental health at significantly lower rates than whites do. Between 2008 and 2012, 32% of whites used mental health services. Hispanics used services at less than half of that rate with 14.7% while 16.9% of African-Americans used mental health services during that time.
The social stigma surrounding mental health is a major reason why many people suffer in silence and refuse to get treatment. We live in a society where you are considered weak if you ask for help and many people still don’t take mental illness as serious as something like cancer. Another reason why people of color stay silent is lack of representation in the media. Dior Vargas, a Latina feminist mental health activist, said, “I felt like I was alone. When people talk about mental illness, when it’s discussed or shown through the media, they never really show people of color. That’s why I felt alone (“Addressing Stigma, Disparities in Minority Mental Health”).” It is much easier to speak up and get help when you see someone who looks like you experience the same thing.
As a depressed and suicidal freshman in high school, I kept my emotions and feelings to myself. Although some people would say they were my friend, I felt alone. I couldn’t even talk to my own family about what I was going through. I bottled everything inside until I attempted suicide two years later after my first relationship ended. I spent the next nine months being hospitalized four different times, having my medication switched six different times, going to therapy, and having to start my first month as a senior in the hospital. When I opened up to my family and later to doctors, I was asked, “What made you get help?” My reply was simple. “I’m tired of being depressed. I want to be happy. I don’t want to be sad anymore.”
Although the two years I spent feeling depressed, crying every night in the bathroom, and physically hurting myself were tough, I wouldn’t change anything about that period of time. I know if I spoke up sooner and got treatment for my anxiety and depression I would have enjoyed my time in high school and that’s one thing to this day that I wish I could have changed. I know if I spoke up sooner I would have been able to go to prom, create lasting friendships, and enjoy my time in high school to the fullest. Most importantly, I know I could have saved myself the pain and agony of suffering in silence for those two years.
Mental illness is something that is rarely talked about in my culture. If you tell someone you are depressed or feeling anxious they will most likely tell you, “You’re crazy. It’s all in your head.” I’ll shake my head while thinking, “No shit, Sherlock. Tell me something I don’t know.” Even though many Dominicans brush off the seriousness of mental health challenges, I’m grateful all of my family here in America and the Dominican Republic were extremely supportive, understanding, and caring throughout my battles with mental health. I hope me being open and vulnerable about my struggles with my mental health showed them that there is nothing wrong with asking for help.
When I left Los Angeles and re-located to Lynn, Massachusetts to be closer to family, I took a NAMI Peer-to-Peer class and in that class I met Yuka Gordon, the woman who would later become my supervisor at Boston Medical Center. It was the first time I learned about being a Peer Specialist and I was immediately intrigued. When Yuka gave me her card, I instantly knew that would be my next job and I was grateful to finally be on my way to working in the mental health field. While my application was being processed I did some research and I couldn’t wait to share my story with others in recovery. I was excited to provide support, hope, and inspiration to my peers.
Working as a peer specialist has been rewarding and fulfilling on so many levels. I never imagined I would get paid to share my story. I never imagined the things I lived through as a teenager and young adult would later help me in my career. The gratitude I get from people I work with is as powerful as the love I get from my friends and family. I spent the past few years working with adults until last summer when I became the first Young Adult Peer Mentor at Lahey Behavioral Health Services. I was ecstatic to be living my life purpose of working with youth. Being able to share stories of my past battles with self-harm and hospitalizations is gratifying because it’s a daily reminder that I’m not defined by my past or my mental illness. It’s a reminder that I beat depression and not the other way around.
Growing up I never thought I would have the one thing I yearned for the most; Happiness. I currently live a fulfilling, healthy, and happy life and I attribute a lot of that to getting treatment, opening up, and sharing my story throughout my professional life as a Young Adult Peer Mentor. I love being a mental health advocate and doing my part to raise awareness for mental health by sharing my story with whomever I come across, whether it’s at work or in public. I have two nieces and two nephews and one of the things I want them to know is that they don’t have to suffer in silence like I did. I want everyone (especially people of color and the LGBTQ) to know that you can do anything and everything you want regardless of your diagnosis. I want my peers to know they can live the life they always dreamed of.
Having your mental illness untreated is seen all throughout society when you hear stories of people of color who take their own lives. Friends and family are caught by surprise while thinking, “I wish they spoke to me. I wish they opened up to me. I never knew what they were going through.” Nothing makes me happier than when my male friends come to me and tell me things like, “I got a therapist. I’m only telling you because I know you’ve had similar struggles,” or “I’ve been dealing with a lot of anxiety and panic attacks lately. Can you tell me what works for you?” I know me being open and vulnerable is allowing other people of color to think about their mental health. I’m so hopeful that when my nieces and nephews are adults, mental health will be openly discussed not only in society, but especially in Dominican culture.
To my colored brothers and sisters all over the world, there’s no reason to suffer in silence. Don’t be a statistic. Your lives matter. You, just like anyone else, are worthy of peace, love, and happiness. Take your life back. You have the power and strength within you.
Container of Souls
By Ellen Stone
Hospital said slowly is a soft hiss spitting, air whispered, thin & forced
from a filled container. We are falling into the darkened parking lot,
waiting room – from a long distance, it seems –although it is just
across town, over the empty train tracks & quiet river bridge. Time
drips differently here – thick & solitary. We all need somewhere to go
& some of us come here: teenage girl with deep scratches on her neck
who reminds me of someone. Slight man with braids – draped in white
cotton, leg tapping, a metronome, he could be the boy I taught
in kindergarten who did not want to grow up. My mother scrunches
her face up sour as June apples saying something is not right, a blue
cloud seeping into her brain. Bows her head as in prayer lacing her
veiny hands. The river of my mother’s life flows past us slumped
in these waiting room chairs. An east wind is coming up, she says.
Cold, it will be cold when we get back outside. How fluorescent our
faces, unreal in this vinyl ether world. Here, we say, we have come
here looking for a path. Give us back what we have lost – in the sanitary
chapel of the emergency room. Frost settles over the soccer field across
the highway. I am aware that all the young leave, but then they must find
their way. Here, my mother tells her story, and when I repeat it, she says
she does not know if what I say comes from the heart. She needs the doctor
from the ninth floor to sit with her. Confirm her sadness like a priest confirms
sin. Stillness settling over the white building as the patients move toward cars,
or beds. River calling across the night asphalt, rooks & owls folding into trees.
The Monkey Bars
By Kim MacQueen
This all happened around the time of the failed Y2K apocalypse, those last few weeks of 1999 when we all waited around for our PCs to explode. I worked at a university primate lab that was home to a family of bonobo apes, who are a sort of cousin to chimpanzees. Bonobos are smaller and darker, and they stand up straighter. They live in female-dominated societies and solve a lot of their problems through sex. Sex and food, and grooming. The bonobos in our lab were famous around the world, but not for the fact that they use sex to solve all their matriarchal society’s problems. They were famous because nearly all of them possessed the skills to communicate with researchers in English, using a specially designed computer keyboard.
I worked for researchers on a federal grant project that documented the apes’ ability to use English to communicate among themselves and with human beings. The lab itself was three cinderblock buildings, low to the ground, tucked into a leafy fifty-five acres by the river in a forgotten southern corner of metro Atlanta.
Each of the bonobos knew a few hundred English words. The ape would press a button marked “apple” and the disembodied male computer voice would cry out, “APPLE!” If Sue, the bonobo project’s principal investigator, asked one of the apes if they wanted to go outside, they always pressed the key for “YES!”
I came to the lab after a stint in the university’s public relations office. My job had been to cold-call science reporters at all of Atlanta’s local papers and tell them how great our physics and astronomy and biology programs were. I wasn’t particularly good at it and I didn’t super understand the science. On my breaks I shot the breeze with the English professors and shut my office door to furtively work on short stories.
Sometimes I heard tell of Sue and Duane, the strange married couple who ran a primate lab in the woods south of town, where 300-lb apes ran around on the loose and occasionally bit people. I heard that the apes played music and painted paintings and were stars on Japanese TV. I was not asked to call up the newspapers and tell them about the ape couple. People on campus seemed to think that was all just too weird.
I was in my late thirties. My husband and I had a gorgeous two-year-old, Claire, and a dog who was acting out her frustration over her newly diminished stature in the family by stealing food off the countertops. I kept talking myself out of being a writer. I didn’t know yet that I needed therapy.
My phone surprised me by ringing one Monday morning as I was sitting at my desk, putting off calling the Journal-Constitution for the second week in a row. I’d never met Sue before, but now she was on the other end of the line.
At first I thought I was talking to a child. Sue’s voice sounded like new sneakers on a basketball court. Before she’d introduced herself, she was telling me that that two reporters from the London Times had published a Sunday feature front story on the lab the day before, and that by midnight she’d logged calls from more than sixty news outlets from all over the world who wanted to come and film the apes doing whatever it was they did every day.
“These people can’t all just come down here,” Sue said, her voice hopping breathlessly from one tumble-down sentence to another. “It would be totally disruptive to the research. It would be completely disruptive to the apes’ lives! There is just no room around here for all of the TV people who want to come. I think there’s more than sixty, really. I think there might be a hundred. We could maybe have one TV team come, or two. There’s one I’d like to work with in Japan and one from Australia and they sound really neat, but that’s it. I don’t even have time to call the others back ….
“We really need your help!” she’d said, this woman I’d never talked to before. “Could you please come down here and help us?”
So I did. I left the PR office and went to work for Sue at the lab. I took the list of news organizations—she was right, there were at least sixty, maybe more—called them all back and set up one visit from the Australian TV company. But once that media crisis was over, the bulk of my work turned administrative. I’d never done anything like it before, but at least it didn’t involve PR pitching. I became an “Admin. Spec.,” keeping track of bills and receipts, reconciling credit card statements. The lab’s funding paid for the apes’ food, shelter, vet bills, and toys.
The toys were for the apes to play with and share. In providing them, Sue hoped to show the outside world that apes—not every ape in the world, mind you, but bonobo apes in particular—understood the abstract concept of play, and by extension the even fuzzier idea of culture.
This is what researchers I knew called “soft” science, which to me meant that I was able to understand it. And as a new mother, it made a certain amount of sense to me. Children learn through play. Why couldn’t apes learn through play too—and learn so much that they sometimes reminded researchers of human children?
I thought of Claire, my first child, a wildly intelligent force of nature at two years old. I thought of how she played on the monkey bars at the playground, how I’d realized just the other day that she’d discovered she could climb straight up to the top in about thirty seconds, but didn’t yet have what I thought of as her body awareness. She hadn’t had time yet in her young life to consider what might happen if she fell. So I went to the monkey bars and stood there, shadowing her as she climbed, so that if she lost her footing and pitched backward, I’d be there to break the fall with my body. She’d hung on the bar with one hand, leaned backward, swung her other arm behind her and wordlessly swatted me away.
This was when I was sure Claire wouldn’t live to see three years old. She was perfectly healthy, but the certainty that I’d lose her, and soon, was lodged in my head like an axe. The day after the playground, I drove to work with the radio off, debating silently how much time I’d have to wait after she was gone to kill myself.
It’s not like that was a one-time occurrence. Within a week of being home from the hospital after Claire’s birth, I’d started having had the same recurring daytime nightmare of her death. I didn’t recognize it as postpartum depression. I thought postpartum depression made you feel sad. I thought it made you not want to get off the couch to do anything for the baby. I was getting up and going to work and the grocery store and feeding the dog and absolutely overwhelmed by terror the whole time.
I couldn’t understand why my husband wasn’t terrified, too. I didn’t understand how everybody around me could be so happy. Didn’t they understand she’d be gone soon? Was I the only one who could tell the future? If she died, could I kill myself the same day or would I have to wait? I didn’t think I could stand that, the waiting.
~If you would like to read more of this collection–including the conclusion
to “The Monkey Bars”–order A Tether to This World at discount
today and have it arrive at your door in May 2021. ~