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A Portrait of Youth: Masks, Mistakes, and Mental Illness, Pt. 1

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 first poem was written back in the spring of 2018. I was going through rough times, the kind we all go through at some point in our early adulthood. I wasn’t getting enough sleep, I wasn’t exercising enough; I was drinking and smoking excessively and I was eating much too little. One day it struck me, as I was listening to the song My Body by Perfume Genius, just how destructive my behavior was, both physically and mentally. It inspired me to write this poem: it poured out of me, as if I’d known everything it says to be a possibility all along, an alternate reality my mind had already been aware of somewhere deep down — one that would come true if I didn’t change my ways.

It is an ironic fact that people often treat their bodies as disposable while they’re young, and overcompensate in their later years when realizing the inevitability of death. It is ironic because we, as humans, believe we are immortal when we aren’t blemished by the marks of mortality; and in believing so, we engage in dangerously mortal behaviour. One would hope that if we truly were immortal beings, we wouldn’t embrace such physically destructive habits — but we are never free of human folly, most especially in our younger years, so we fall into the errors and ignore our misgivings, relishing in a transience that feels like it will last forever. While some blind themselves with the facade that their actions don’t have consequences, others welcome the foolish notion that dying young is an ideal. More than anything, this poem is meant to awaken a fear: that reality is merciless in its laws of nature, and that if life is held as sacred in any way at all, adjustments must be implemented before it’s all too late.


Youth is Wasted (On the Young)


my lips are the rusty gates

my teeth are the marble pillars

my tongue is the snake that slithers—  


a guard to my mausoleum body.  


my ashy lungs and cobweb heart

my crooked liver and withering stomach

my hollow aura and shivering soul— 


the cold has come for a ghost still dressed in faded flesh

the waste i've brought at early dawn

awaits through day for set of sun—


i beckoned too soon the worms from the ground

to pick at the carcass that is still life-bound—  


my eyes like hindsight premonitions devise

the passages that led me to linger and lie

in burns and bruises and bleeding blues

until my veins filled with parasites 

and placid prototypes of pain

until death made its home in my dusty attic of a vessel—  


my bones are the caskets for any travel toward goodness

my brain is the coffin of desires that led to my kingdom's downfall

my skin is the stone that shields from harm

what's left of my memory before tombstone takes charge—  


i beg to reverse my path to implosion

to change my choice to waste my youth

on the succulent destruction that comes to all in time's truth;

my awareness sits in the depths of my core

wearing a crown that holds power no more— 

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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