By: Langston Hughes
“Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.”
The theme for CPL this year is mental health, and I read the poem through that lens. In this context, a dream can refer to a reason for getting out of bed in the morning, whether it be to hang out with friends or to accomplish a goal you’ve been striving towards. Without purpose (a dream) life becomes restrictive, which can allude to getting stuck in a routine and days that seem to keep on repeating. This was a reality for me when I worked as an After-school teacher (for middle schoolers) for 5 years. Since I went to work right after school, I finally got back home at 6 pm but by then I was too exhausted to move and some days I would cry on my way home. The days were so long and emotionally/physically draining that I had no energy left to do anything but mindlessly scroll through TikTok or Instagram, which didn’t help my mental state. Since I was at that job for so long, I felt obligated to stay and didn’t look for any other jobs or positions because I became complacent with where I was. I was just thinking about that moment in time and forgot what I wanted for the future. My life was like it was moving in slow motion, the days felt longer but the time that I treasured was mere minutes.
This theme of being trapped/restricted is something that a lot of people with depression, anxiety, and ADHD/ADD struggle with in their day-to-day. A routine can help get someone moving but it may not always help with motivation. Living isn’t thriving, so instead of relying on the monotony of every day,: ”Life is a barren field, Frozen with snow.” (Hughes 7-8)
A question I never answer
Not seriously anyway
I didn’t think I would ever have to answer it anyway
My mind too foggy
My mind too dark
Still waiting for that train that passes by
Something would change
Maybe I would work up the nerve
Maybe the train would stop for me
Then I turned 16
Then I turned 18
Then I turned 21
All of a sudden
Staying alive wasn’t enough
They found themselves wanting more
Time doesn’t wait
Soon it’ll pass me by
In the blink of an eye
Pressure looms in my brain
It’s time for a graduation
Everyone wants a celebration
Still I don’t know
Still taking it one day at a time
Still I struggle with this uncertain future
But at night I dream
That I am happy
That I am content
Maybe just maybe
It can be enough for me
That’s the question that I have dreaded answering all the way since way back in Middle School. I know that a lot of adults want a direct answer, something that’s inspiring and innovative… but the only answer I could come up with is: “I don’t know.” It’s not an acceptable answer, it never has been. Ever since you are in Pre-School you are asked what you want to be when you grow up and you are even then expected to answer, even if your answer isn’t taken seriously. From a young age, you are discouraged from certain answers, or certain jobs because they’re not ambitious enough or they don’t make enough money. Those thoughts stay with you as you grow up and try to find an acceptable answer. Eventually, you do but now that you’re older you get asked “how are you going to accomplish this?” and you are expected to give a step-by-step explanation and even then you’re given a follow-up question of “What if that doesn’t work.” Only then to be asked, “Why are you doing this?” “What are you going to do with this?” Or to be told that it’s a waste of time or unrealistic. It’s exhausting.
As someone who has struggled with my mental health, I honestly didn’t think I would live past 16, so at a certain age I stopped thinking about the future and took things one day at a time. I was told that “it’s ok” but time doesn’t wait. I’m a Senior now, and as I prepare to graduate, I find myself unsure of the future or what I want to do. I found myself in a routine of just worrying about now so much that later became now, like a true procrastinator.
Now that I’m in a better place, it’s hard because I haven’t thought about it too much. I don’t have a set answer, all I have is an idea or vision, which some may even call a dream.
I’m in my apartment sitting by a window, I can see the city down below. I have a warm cup of tea and my laptop. My cat named Boots jumps on the windowsill and falls asleep. Everything is quiet and peaceful. There’s no noise, no fog, no doubt, no regret… just content. In this dream, I don’t know what I do for a living just that it makes me happy. Maybe I’m working on a novel or a poem. It’s never clear. Now that I’m free to, I can imagine so many different possibilities… how can I just choose one?
Change is something that is seen as “controversial”, something that is “taboo”. But I see change as something that sparks conversations/discussions, as something that inspires others to take action. When I refer back to the question, I become a little bit anxious because sometimes to inspire change it takes courage. As someone with anxiety, it can sometimes be hard to be brave and to take action. At first, I believed to inspire change you had to rock the boat, and be loud and present… but then I realized there are different ways to inspire change.
I am an after-school teacher at JHS 185, I teach different subjects such as Creative Writing, Webtoon 101, and Dungeons & Dragons. A lot of the classes I teach have an element where my students are able to express themselves through a creative outlet. But, as expected from middle schoolers, sometimes it is difficult to draw creativity from them. One of the main reasons why some of my students didn’t want to write or draw was because they continued to compare themselves to others, or because they didn’t think it was good enough. I taught my students to do art for themselves, and that everyone is feeling/thinking the same way they are. I told my students how I used to be like them and even read them one of my old drawings from Middle School, to show them that in order to get better at something you have to try it first. Even if their first try might not be subjectively good, as long as you have the courage to continue, you never know where you’ll end up.
I am teaching my students how to change their mindsets about themselves and their capabilities. In Middle School kids are going through a lot of changes both physically and mentally, and it’s hard and often belittled because they’re “just kids”. I want to offer them a safe place where they can express themselves without the worry of being judged. Change often comes with each new generation, who are inspired by the generation before them. I believe the job of an educator is to inspire the next generation to help to make the world a better place.
I guess I am an expert (that still has a lot to learn) at Improving. I have a lot of hobbies. That is just something that someone with ADHD might have since I’m constantly changing my interests based on what’s on my TikTok FYP or what I’m currently watching. Two hobbies that have been extremely consistent are art and writing. Some of my friends and family who have seen my work think that I’m an expert, but I can’t call myself an expert with confidence, because I find myself constantly comparing my work with others. It’s a ruthless case of Imposter Syndrome, that affects more people than I would’ve thought. Even knowing this, I still can’t say I’m an expert because there’s a lot that I don’t know and can’t yet do. I originally wanted to say that I’m an expert at learning but that wouldn’t be exactly right because most of the information I learn is locked away in the deep recesses of my brain, and I don’t always go out of my way to learn.
Something I am good at is improving. Recently I took a look at one of my first drawings and I cringed, remembering how good I thought it was, but then I looked at the work I do now, which isn’t perfect but looks so much closer to the art I want to produce. I did the same with my writing, I took an idea that I’ve been developing since High School and am fine-tuning that idea so that I can write a novel. When I first read through the old synopsis and sketches I almost died of embarrassment, but I knew there was a solid foundation for the idea and knew that I can build on that idea and make it into something I can be proud of. I compare the first first chapter and the current first chapter and character designs and see a huge improvement. The storyline is more coherent and the characters have so much more depth and diversity.
Improving also applies to my mental health as well, while I can’t say my depression and anxiety are cured, I can say that I’m in a better place mentally than I was four years ago. Something I always see myself doing is improving whether it’s: make-up, my sense of fashion, my art, my writing, my cooking, my gaming; it’s something that I can see, it’s something that doesn’t require skill or talent, it’s something that’s measured by myself. It’s something that I can say with confidence that I am an expert on.