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Mental Health

A Portrait of Youth: Masks, Mistakes, and Mental Illness, Part 5

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

What is it about being young that prompts us to pretend we are something we are not? What is it about youth that makes the allure of mistakes almost seductive?

It is in our youth that we discover the dark side of humanity. As children we are blissfully unaware of all the different forms of pain and suffering humanity is prone to losing themselves in; but past puberty and angst, we discover the worlds of depression and anxiety that envelop us into their bosom, as if they had been awaiting to embrace us. It is in these primal years of adulthood that for the first time we are aware of life’s most gruelling elements — and due to our naivete, we assume it will last forever. We do not have the wisdom of adults in their later years, and we no longer can cling to the innocence of our childhood. Thus we are left in a limbo, where things go wrong and all we want to do is hide, because we firmly believe that what breaks will be broken forever.

It is in this series that I will examine from hindsight what it feels like to be trapped in this narrow perception of youth, through six poems that I wrote when I was younger. I aim to explore their causes and implications, from the perspective of the (relative) lucidity that I have now, having grown away from the hurt that infuses their words. And perhaps, in doing so, I can provide closure to both my past, and the past of anyone who has suffered from the “disease” of being young.

This following poem I wrote in the summer of 2020 — out of all the poems in this series, this one has been written most recently. Thus, it is more retroactive than any other poem, viewing my younger years with whatever amount of distance and maturity I had acquired in between writing what I used to be and being it. There is a reason for this, however: this poem is actually a rewrite of the very first poem that I ever wrote. Going through my older poetry while gathering together my first poetry collection, I found my very first poem, entitled The Final Hours, and I was disappointed by it — less perhaps by its amateur style, and more because I found it to be such a naive perspective when viewed from the scope of what would be my future hardships. It felt binary, as if a future can either be miserable or wonderful, without the realization that there is a mutual dynamic connecting the two, and an everlasting motion pushing them together and apart, encouraging one and rejecting the other — my seventeen year old mind could not have thought this far ahead.

So what I chose to do last summer was rewrite the poem, and it flowed out of me like melted butter; it was as if the poem had been waiting for a long while to emerge and this desire for a rewrite was the catalyst. It in fact became a two-parter, and it was without a doubt the most brutally honest poem that I had ever written. It helped me realize parts of myself I had turned away from, denied or rejected in preference to the binary side of wonderful — but it was this poem that made me realize there is no binary life when progress is a spectrum. In that sense, perhaps I found new hues of progress through writing what I truly thought of myself in this poem, my past and my future, hues I was unwittingly willfully blind to. That is youth, in its essence: at least, it is the source of its ignorance. The spectrum toward growth can be warped and distorted enormous amounts, depending on how willing the youth is to deny what is holding them back from the wonderful, in order to satiate what tempts them to the miserable. For me, I finally found a catharsis, and with it all distortions cleared enough to show me the path forward — a path I’ve waited to discover for a long time. 

Below is the revised poem, and beneath that for reference the first poem I ever wrote: a seven year difference between the two.

The Final Hours

And it was then,

As an hour seemed to stretch into the length of a lifetime,

That I lived my life again in each hour

And it was at last revealed

I never reached the shores of what I was

Much less the skies of what I’d become— 

I was too busy rehearsing the act of drowning 

In the waters of what I could have been

I saw not double but millionfold 

And every path was rimmed with gold

My eyes unfocused, I was blurred to shimmer— 

Anything but to see ahead:

A road made out of the blood I’d bleed

Reflecting not me, nor a single seed 

But what scraps beyond my roadworthy reveries

With which I would someday recede 

I never was a prophet, nor a prophecy

Whatever ahead and whatever to better

Was lost in the hooks of my desire’s tethers—

But by their fraudulent kind I could abide:

Every step I could inflate into legends and myths

Every mirror I could morph into miraculous mirage

Illusions, illusions, my poison, my beauty

I picked them like petals night and day

to frame the ugly far and away

To camouflage my untouched skin

through the thickening thickets of thorns

That pricked like some fickle and infamous sin

It was no armor and I am far from steel

But wounds go forgotten

When red stains red

And unreal conquers real

Yes, there was pain

A symphony of sorrow and suffering

Etched into the burdened burrows

Of my drivel-driven footprints

Yet the visions still live

Of what never was nor now could be

And what’s untold can never die

So it is then that my delusions

Have set my soul free

I have been gifted with immortality

For dreams are dreams are dreams are life

And it’s in all that’s undreamed and all that’s unseen 

That makes the day all the bolder and the night that much brighter

And makes death minute like a minute

And only dark like a womb 

For freshly vision-veneered eyes

That have yet the world to discover

And know no such casket-confines

As time or demise

The Final Hours (original)

And it was there,

As I gazed back at the paths of my Past,

That I finally appreciated

It was never to be what I desired.

I strolled into the abyss of my Future,

Confident and prepared,

And I looked down,

Expecting marble pavement and golden handrails to appear before me,

But all that emerged was coarse, grimy cobblestone.

Albeit there were wondrous things waiting for me;

And yet I beheld naught but cobblestone,

For we paint a perfect picture,

And we pray the piece is prophetic,

When all we are truly doing

Is delving ourselves deeper into a doomed disappointment.

But as you walk into the abyss of your Future,

Save yourself:

Close your eyes,

And don’t look down.

Anthony Herman

Helsinki '23

I am a half American half Finnish student studying English in Helsinki University. I've always been a creative type, and my main passion in life is writing. I've been writing actively for seven years, and I write poetry, prose, and drama. I am also very active in theatre: I produce, direct, and act. My other hobbies include painting horribly and singing musical numbers in the shower.
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