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Mental Health

A Portrait of Youth: Masks, Mistakes, and Mental Illness, Pt. 2

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.

I wrote this following poem during Christmas of 2016. All I can recall when thinking back to writing it is bus stops and the stifling dark days of Finnish winter.  It was a very difficult time in my life: I suffered from an apathetic and indecisive present and a crushingly vague idea for the future. I did not know who I was, much less who I wanted to be, and every obstacle, no matter how unobstructive, at that time felt colossal. The quiet, much too easily accepted despair that led me to write this poem derived from the observation that what I was feeling in that gruelling time was to be expected from life, was something to be gotten used to. I felt enveloped: there was no belief in me that I could get better, much less the will to strive for a better life. 

It is in our first flirtations with the concept of giving up that letting go of everything is the most tempting. As we grow older, we come to see life’s hardships at face value, understanding with logic how to process them and move past them; but when those hardships first slither into a young adult’s life, their towering shadows trick our emotions into believing in their invincibility. It is not rational, but that is only what makes the experience all the more gripping and insidious. As I mentioned before, the resulting despair is much too easily accepted, as if it is the new normal. That is why for me this following poem was less a confession of my depression and more an attempt to save the ones I love from being exposed to it. I made my torment a presupposition of every word I wrote, as if it was intrinsically trapped in them with no way of dissecting it out. 

Of course, as the years rolled on, I slowly came to see how imprisoned I was by my own nihilism: but I cannot blame myself, for at the time, it was all I could trust in. With the hindsight I have now, I could easily say that I’d have worked through my problems with the clarity and decisiveness I utilize now in my daily life; I wouldn’t have let myself believe in oversized shadows, and I would have simply looked my pain in the eye to see how I could make it better. But it’s so easy to say what you would have done better after having practiced what was then completely unheard of stability. So I stand by tbe motto that I have lived with for a long time now: I wouldn’t change a thing in my life, because it has led me to be the person I am today. But if there’s one thing I have learned after all these years, it’s not to ignore what I fear I cannot handle, and not to silence the laments I’m afraid to hear.  


Silent Lament


Life is a warped prism, 

A coarse prison of rebellious design, 

Fragmenting the light that blinds 

Into visible mistruths, 

Fractions of the whole we crave, 

The honesty we seek 

In this false bloom of reality. 

There is a wish that goes unheard, 

There is a hope that comes undone, 

In this waking nightmare of anxious awareness. 


I used to beg of my blanket to swallow me whole, 

So I wasn’t forced to face the startled and functioning eyes 

Of my loved ones looking down at me with unbearable sincerity. 

I understood things they didn’t, whether they be truth or lies, 

And it made me homesick, how alienated I’d become… 

I just wanted to feel like I was next to someone, 

That for even a moment I wasn’t gone, 

Faded in thought and snatched from the present. 

So I chose the hole in my bed, 

To pick and scratch at the hole in my head, 

Searching for my soul I tucked away one night

In some nook so tight, nestled in a mighty memory

Of who I used to be when I was me

And not this hollow vestige I’d become. 

I plastered the cracks of empathy

In my murky blind bubble of isolation 

With nescience and denial, 

Muffling the myriad of worried words and cries 

From darlings I longed to reassure. 

If only no one knew I was stuck in a stalemate, 

A snowman in summer…  

We’d all be better for it. 


My mind always jumps 

From attempted action to abstraction, 

And I lose my footing 

As the floors of logic refuse to level me, 

As my minds soars through levels 

Of ascending disintegration, 

My surroundings melting down 

Into shapes, colors, vibrations, 

Energy, light, and finally, 


Until I float in emptiness, 

Senseless space


Of choice, of travel, of destination. 

And I’m ashamed of the relief that overcomes me. 


I understand things they don’t, 

Whether they be helpful or hurtful. 

And it leads to a derailing detachment 

From the train of thought I imagined 

Sharing with the ones closest to me, 

The only strings of intangible connection 

And mutual resonance cut loose, 

Entangled by my ensnaring confusion. 

I know the inevitable conclusion of this affliction 

Won’t spare me from drowning in the devouring tar 

That has seeped from my lungs to my heart. 

But before I’m forced to sink into the hell of my making, 

All I want is closure, for those around me to believe 

That the delusional empathy they think they feel 

Is real, and it helps. 

Lies are the only cure to insatiable worry, 

And their use numbs the inevitable collision, 

Makes enduring it all a little easier. 


There was a time I dreamt of contentment, 

But now all I hope for is a protean soul, 

Elastic enough to stretch away from this misty mess

And snap it all out of my body like a slingshot snaps a rock; 

I beg of you, let it reach far enough so as to never find me again.

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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