If my brain was a physical place, it would be the Astral Plane from the Pixar animated film Soul. The Astral Plane is where the lost souls reside. Lost souls are essentially people who are so wrapped up in something that is disconnecting them from life. Wrapped up in what? you may ask. Feeling stuck, uninspired, unproductive, and maybe even worthless.
I have felt all these things and more. I got so deep in depression that I lived in my head. I bottled up my emotions and traumatic experiences. I simply lived in silence, drowning in my own thoughts. This caused me to live for distractions and temporary highs. I constantly tried to escape my mind, but when the night took over, it seemed inevitable, impossible to avoid.
If my brain was a physical place, it would look gloomy and unwelcoming. It would be like a never-ending road of darkness because I could never see the light at the end of the tunnel. As I walked down that road, I might have seen unwanted memories that replay back-to-back, like a broken record, or things I regretted being part of just floating around. There were empty spaces, areas of confusion, hard rain that felt like fire when it touched my skin, and things I started but never finished. All the things I used to be interested in faded away, goals I set for myself were no longer my goals, and good memories were hard to remember because they were overpowered by the bad. It was like being stuck in a black mist I couldn’t break out of. A great feeling of hopelessness.
I compare bottling up emotions to filling a balloon with air; if I fill the balloon with too much air, it will explode. Eventually when I couldn’t bear the feelings overflowing my heart or mind, I too exploded. I couldn’t handle the dark thoughts in my mind, let alone add more to them. So I admitted myself to the hospital and told them I felt I had no purpose in life, like I was a lost soul.
They eventually sent me to a psychiatric ward, where I was evaluated and diagnosed with depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder, and, last but not least, panic disorder. I was prescribed medication and encouraged to join groups that would hopefully give me a different perspective on life. The hospital offered art therapy, group therapy, and even one-on-one therapy with a doctor. During my stay there, I met good people who became good friends and were great with emotional support. I joined all the groups, which also helped distract me from problems and inspired me to try new activities in the outside world that are deemed therapeutic, such as arts and crafts, reading, writing, and talking to a therapist. That is not where my story ends, but where it begins.
If my brain was a physical place, it would be a garden of flowers waiting to bloom, with black mist clearing away, making room for the sun. It would be inviting, hardworking, and full of positivity. I feel a weight lifted off my shoulders just by simply expressing myself and trying new things. I set new goals for myself, two short-term and one long-term. I’m getting rid of the roots and planting new flowers. With the help of my new friends and generous teacher, I’m able to return to and finish school.
One short-term goal is to get my High School Equivalency diploma, and the other is to continue to try new things until I find a hobby. My long-term goal is to maintain my mental health and hopefully become a grade-school guidance counselor. I hope to always water my plants and never let them die, feeding my brain with education and positivity.
I want this for myself and for you.
Caitlyn Antonellis was born and raised in Brooklyn and currently lives in Forest Hills, Queens. She is enrolled in the High School Equivalency program of CommonPoint Queens–The HUB. John Kefalas is her teacher, and Denia Tavarez is the site supervisor. One day, Caitlyn Antonellis would like to visit Puerto Rico and Italy, her ancestors’ homelands.