A Cage With Hooks: My Week In a Mental Health Care Facility

By Kat Freydl

They put him in a cage with hooks and brought him to the king of Babylon; they brought him in hunting nets so that his voice would be heard no more on the mountains of Israel.
— Ezekiel 19:9

I was 15 when I almost died, and that isn't the cheeky hyperbole I wish it was. My eyeliner was still jagged and uneven, my lipstick stoplight red and feathered around the edges. I had never kissed or gone on a date; I hadn't graduated, applied to college, or taken drivers’ ed. I was still claiming to be a Bible-believing Christian and, perhaps most laughably now, heterosexual. I was 15 and ready to die, because I had already seen enough of the world to know that existing as a mentally ill person is a radical act, and I didn't have the energy to be a radical anymore.

America has a health care problem, and that is not a shocking statement. Mental health care, however, suffers from societal stigma, which in turn means that the availability of mental health care facilities is limited and knowledge of where to acquire resources is even more so. It is not private information that prisons, homeless shelters, and emergency rooms--all places responsible for the care of a large number of individuals--struggle with providing mentally ill people with proper or even adequate care, partially due to the fact that this kind of care has notoriously low reimbursements. In facilities that struggle with providing for physical needs, mental health is seldom made a priority, and many people fall through the cracks until some widespread tragedy; a mass shooting or a public display of violence, thrusts mental illness into the limelight again. When this happens, mentally ill individuals are often portrayed  as volatile, menaces to society or charity cases. This is simply not the truth.

I wish I could write this with the luxury of objectivity.  Unfortunately, I digress: it was a chilly night in April when I almost died. I wasn’t trying to die, which no one seemed to understand. I just wanted to sleep. So I took my fluoxetine and my bupropion and mixed them in the same pill bottle so that they would be easier to stomach, and then I tossed the whole business back with a few gulps of Diet Coke. I pulled the sleeves of my sweater over my trembling fists and then got into bed, craning my neck so that I could still see the stars, thinking, pretentiously, that it was about time that I joined them.

I reached out to touch the cool glass,  then rolled over and went to sleep. The portrait of a man with three hands that I got at a vintage store some time before looked on in disappointment.    

I don’t really remember waking up in the hospital, just being there, maybe like how the first animal felt when it crawled out of a puddle of evolutionary slop, a rotating battalion of nurses at my bedside at all times. I was in a hospital gown, the kind that is inexplicably assless, and they put me in fuzzy grey hospital socks. I wasn’t wearing anything underneath the gown. Someone undressed me.

I felt shame.

There was a tube in my nose. It sort of burned when I moved my head. Every once in awhile, a woman with cat-eye glasses and scrubs with smiley faces on them poured a clear liquid down the tube, and whatever it was left my stomach in knots. I couldn’t taste it, which I suppose was a small blessing, but it still felt like I needed to swallow. They told me that it was called Go Lightly, and the hope was that at some point I would excrete clear liquid. That it would make me pure, purge the mood stabilizers from my system.

I swallowed down the Go Lightly like I was supposed to, but I kept my guts firmly inside through willpower alone. This, at least, I could control. I didn’t want to be “pure.” Not that way.

Simon and Lydia, two good friends from school, came to visit, their faces a mixture of pity and fascination. The bespectacled nurse took the tube out of my nose—it hurt when she did, like sandpaper scraping up my throat—but I still had the IVs and the heart monitors and the fuzzy grey socks, hospital sheet stretched tightly across me, like if it wasn’t I’d twist it into a noose. I was sure my hair was matted down and disgusting, and my eyes burned so I knew that they were red and puffy and unimpressive. Lydia immediately leaned forward to hug me, smelling like home, and her hair tickled my face. She gave me a small blue book and a card with smudged orange flowers on it.

“I’m sorry for the lame card,” she said with her lilting Brazilian accent. “I’ve been saving the Renoir one for someone special, though. Take consolation in that.”

It wasn’t the first time I’d been hospitalized, or the first time I’d been suicidal. An abrupt move from North Carolina with my mother to Michigan with my father had left me blissfully free of the religion that had been forced on me for a while, but also free of any sort of parental guidance. My father allowed me to run wild, which for me, a mousy sophomore, meant staying up until all hours watching documentaries online.  In January, my father got a call from the school counselor. Some friends of mine had seen scars on my arms and gotten concerned.

My father, a practical man, decided that the reasonable solution was to take me to a friend of his, a woman who had previously been the PA of a pediatric psychiatrist. After five minutes of speaking to me, she diagnosed me as bipolar and prescribed Wellbutrin and Prozac, each at 150 milligrams. The issue with SSRIs is that they can increase suicidal ideation. This is one of many reasons that they aren’t generally prescribed to adolescents, especially after a mere five minutes of conference with an unlicensed psychiatrist. I, at 15, knew these things, or the gist of them—I was taking AP Psych, after all. I knew what I was doing.

In late February, a friend called 911 and police were dispatched to my home. I was expressing suicidal urges, and she was (rightfully) concerned. I still recall the vaguely panicked look on my father’s face as he grabbed my medicine bottles and counted the pills to make sure I hadn’t taken any yet (I hadn’t). The police officers, rotund men in ill-fitting uniforms, relegated me to the stairs, giving me cursory glances and muttering things into their walkie-talkies. An ambulance had pulled up outside. Later, I would find out that Simon was driving up and down the street to make sure I was being taken care of; Mary, the friend who had called in my suicidal ideation, had gotten my address from our other friend, AJ, who had in turn contacted Simon. Where my father was absent, my friends were omnipresent. I owe much to that.

“So what’s the story?” One of the officers asked. I remember his sneering, unshaven face and the way he was smacking his gum. “Did your boyfriend break up with you?”       

I think that was the moment that any hope I had of receiving help from authorities curled up at the bottom of my pill jars to never again see the light of day. I didn’t respond, instead giving him a hard look, the sentiment damaged by my involuntary sniveling.

“She didn’t take any,” my father finally reported.       

That week, I was committed to a day hospital. I went back to school the following Monday.

I digress: the state of Michigan mandated a lengthier sentence for this more brazen attempt on my own life, a bona fide overdose.  My father bought me Panera when it was time to go. I was able to take a shower before I left, put on jeans and a hoodie, but they told me I would have to take them off when I got to the institution, where things like buttons and shoestrings were prohibited. For now, I spooned up broccoli cheese soup in between text messages, making jokes about a jacket that tied in the back because it’s what I was supposed to do.        

My last meal would have been spaghetti. My last words to my father would have been good, but I can’t stand the taste of lamb. Thinking of that, I looked down at my sandwich and it turned my stomach.           

I was expecting the place to look like a castle, maybe a dusty manor, but it just looked like a prison, an ugly grey building with few windows and no flowers in the flowerbed. I left my cell phone in the cup holder and kept my folded pile of clothing close to my chest. On the top were several pairs of socks, because no shoes were allowed.

           “Tell…tell Simon and Lydia they can’t visit me here.” I swallowed hard. “And tell…”

           “Everyone knows,” my father said.

           See, I was afraid.

I learned the rules pretty quickly. The entire setup was disturbingly like prison, or what I’d heard of prisons. There were the regular rules, the ones made by psychiatrists and the state, but then there were rules made by the patients. For instance, once you claimed a chair, it was yours for the rest of the time you were there. New kids got the armchair with the spring that stuck out of the seat until they wised up and dashed to group before everyone else to claim something better. You made your own bed and you stripped it every morning, but if you were smart you didn’t bother with sheets because they were all disgusting anyway. The shower was bitterly cold in the morning, and you were better off washing your hair in the sink and applying deodorant generously. You were never to eat the eggs that they served, because they paid little attention to expiration dates here. When your parents came on visiting day, you should ask them to buy you snacks from the vending machine and store them in your pants pockets for later. If you got your sharps privileges taken away, pencils made surprisingly okay combs, so it was best to hide them in your fists and sleep with them under your pillow. Aim to get the slot of phone time that comes right after Fedora, because Fedora talked to her boyfriend for 20 minutes and the orderlies resigned themselves to it and it was easier to get away with extra phone time when you were following up an act like that.

Most of all, it was like this: the orderlies were not there to be our friends. They were there to line us up in the hallways for meal times and morning roll call. They were there to make sure that only lactose intolerant kids got soy milk. The psychiatrists had 20, maybe 30 patients at a time. We were there for quickly-perscibed medication, observation, and isolation. There were no windows. I’ve seen movies about 20th-century asylums with better lighting. Group therapy was not for talking. Group therapy was for quiet reading and coloring. Suicidal or homicidal, drug-addicted or otherwise “troubled.” We were all lumped together. Across the corridor, we would catch glimpses of the adult ward in the morning. The only separations made were gender-based. I’m not sure at what point I realized that none of this was designed to help.

They gave me new medicine. It made me tired, and I slept through the night without dreaming. When I glanced in the mirror now and then, my skin was grey and I looked like a ghost. Perhaps melodramatically, I thought that that’s just what being there did to you. I was never superstitious before, but now, I carry the ghosts of that place with me. Maybe that’s the point of places like that one. Maybe they’re supposed to remind you that you’re not as badly off as you could be.

America has a mental health care problem--perhaps that problem doesn’t care about borders. Maybe the world has a mental health care problem. All I know is that a week in a mental health facility gave me nothing but a tranquilizer and nightmares that I will carry with me forever.

It’s been years, and I can look back with the luxury of hindsight and appreciate the people who were kind to me throughout that horrible time in my life. More vividly, however, I remember people like that police officer--people who downplay mental illness or characterize it as something it isn’t.

We aren’t statistics. We aren’t horror movie figures or misguided martyrs. We are people doing the best we can within a system designed to push us through and nothing more.

For the Ones Who Were Told to be Extraordinary

By Kat Freydl

The first time someone asked me about my college plans, I was 10 years old. I was a member of the Duke TIP program and every single honors program my school (about 400 students strong, a private school nestled in the moderately deep south). The instructor of my advanced reading and writing class, Great Books, used my essay introductions as examples, declaring them better than her own. My book reports were always kept as student samples. I had a picture of the Savannah College of Art and Design taped to the inside of my binder and a Harvard Sweatshirt that I wore like a security blanket.

“I’m not sure yet,” I said after some moments of deep, ten-year-old pondering. “But I really think I’d like to try for an Ivy.”

And that was that. I was a bright kid (by some strange alchemy, that was the term they always used, too--a bright kid), and there were big expectations for me, expectations that I never once doubted I would meet.

Time passed, as it does. In sixth grade, my history teacher mistakenly administered me an eighth grade U.S. history test rather than my own age-appropriate makeup test, and I scored a 100% even though I’d never studied the material. In seventh grade, I tried to start up a school newspaper. It failed, but at the end of the year, I still got the “aspiring graphic designer” award. I placed in all of the spelling bees and math competitions and art shows I was thrust into. The thing is, I was raised to believe that I was exceptional.

The thing is, I’m not.

The summer before ninth grade, I moved to Michigan to live with my father, vacating the Christian school nest for the big bad world of common core and underpaid teachers and arts as required electives. My first report card came back with three Cs, three Bs, and one A (in English. And it wasn’t an A, it was an A-), and I cried. It wasn’t the first time I had ever cut myself, but it was the first time I did it with feeling. I threw away my notebooks and signed up for tutoring at Sylvan. I stopped wearing the Harvard sweatshirt.

This place became normal to me. It was a public school, but it was one of the top public schools in the country, the kind where the University of Michigan was a safety school, and if you wanted some Adderall you just had to walk up to any kid and shake them a little. This school had seven lunch lines and a salad bar. This school had customized napkins. Instead of shoving me into a locker or calling me a faggot, kids sent me off to be friends with girls who would try to frame me for shoplifting at CVS. When I tried to kill myself, this school had a plan in place for it, a well-oiled machine from common use. This school. When I left it, it felt like I was breathing for the first time in two years. I came back here, to the moderately deep south, but stayed in public school, a system that puts more emphasis on getting by than excelling. And I’m here. I’m at that moment that my elementary school teachers and church ladies and distant relatives have been waiting for with bated breath since I was 10, the precipice of the rest of my life...and I don’t want it. I don’t want the gowns or the class rings or the flying graduation caps, the pomp and circumstance, the girls hugging me like they never gossipped about me in the cafeteria or over bathroom stalls, the photos and the smiles and the glossy, passive-aggressive graduation party invitations. I don’t want it. I don’t want to cross the threshold, walking over some metaphorical bridge off of this metaphorical precipice to the next one. In fact, more often than not, I want to fling myself off of this precipice and take the fall laughing. At least then the wind would tear the laughter from my throat and the reflexive tears from my eyes so I wouldn’t have to put in the effort of holding them back.

I’m not a bright kid, and possibly never was. If anything, I was born too old for my body, and that stopped being impressive once my physical age caught up with my witty one-liners and knitting hobby. Soon, the other things--the local newspaper articles, the poetry books, the writing gigs, the jokes and the jokes and the jokes--will stop being impressive too, and I’ll just be left with this (bathtub-pruned fingers and dead hair from one too many bleaches and tears and tears and tears). I suppose that’s why now, at the less-than-a-semester left mark, I’m spending large amounts of time crying and watching reruns of bad Nickelodeon shows and reading teen novels rather than the dense philosophical literature that has come to be expected of me. I’m horrible at making choices, is the thing, and grey has never worked for me--I eat too much or not at all, I sleep all day or don’t sleep for a week, I wait until approximately one day ago to paint over the garish neon pink and lime green of my bedroom walls from age 13. I can’t compromise with the simplest of objects, like my mother’s clawfooted bathtub, which instead of filling up like a normal person I lay in, stark naked, turning on the spigots in turns, scalding hot water as long as I can stand it followed by freezing cold until the tub is full and my nervous system is well and truly overwhelmed. And I suppose that’s why, after 7 years of prepping for the Ivy Leagues, I’m not settling for community college, but actually want it, even though everyone I tell makes a face like they’ve just eaten something sour, waiting a few beats too late to respond with a fake-enthusiastic “Oh.” It’s the want they don’t get. Bright kids don’t take a year or two to go to community college in the town they’ve spent their whole lives scraping the walls of. And yeah, sour-faced-downers, I guess you’re right. Bright kids don’t.

I am not a bright kid. I want it. I want the weird credit hours and the familiarity of routine, picking up hours at Smithfield’s Chicken and Barbecue or Olive Garden or whatever other mundane job will take me, refilling sweet tea for people I’ve known in this same old town for my whole life, spending the excess time writing and reading and making art and living and laughing and watching my baby sister and baby underclassmen friends grow up and, yeah, it’s true, saving money so that that same baby sister can go to the university of her dreams. It was a decision made out of obligation but solidified by choice. I choose the sour faces and the puckered brows and the southern-fried, gossipy whispers. I defer my acceptance letter and honors college enrollment to the unversity of my dreams, put it on the back burner for later and take the closest thing to a gap year a person like me can manage. I’m not a bright kid. I’m a kid, said derisively by a bitter woman as she looks at my dyed hair and dubious clothing choices disapprovingly. I am poser trips to record stores and iced coffee with too much cream and sugar.I am writing this at my desk in my freshly repainted room with Christmas lights draped over paintings and drawings and photos of my friends that plaster the walls, clad in a bathrobe and sipping a Vitamin Water.

I am not going to an Ivy League. I am not bright. I am, maybe for the first time, letting myself be average.

I’ve never been happier. 

Something Wicked

By Kat Freydl

“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes...”
— William Shakespeare
Art by  Olivia Rogers

 

Here is what I know about Halloween: it began as an act of fear, please, spirits, leave us alone, please let the ghosts stay away from me tonight, the veil is thin and I feel the ache of it in my bones, please, take this offering and leave. Medieval Christians went from door to door begging for soul cakes in exchange for a prayer to the dead, and Celts left food offerings on their doorsteps to placate wandering spirits. In a desperate attempt to make sure the sun would return after winter, people lit bonfires, Druid priests tossing in bones of cattle to ensure that there would be both a successful harvest and a plentiful spring. There were no fake-fanged Draculas or bedsheet ghosts here. Instead, there was raw, guttural, fear, and the prickling feeling that maybe anything is a ghost if you are desperate enough.

I digress: Halloween--the commercialized, corporate-sponsored version of it--is something of a tradition in my family, and when you come from a family like mine, you take anything even faintly resembling a tradition and you hold onto it with both fists. You hold on so tightly you leave claw marks. You carve all the pumpkins and dip all the apples and wear all of the costumes and traumatize all of the siblings in haunted corn mazes and hayrides and  listen to “Monster Mash” 600 consecutive times. You spend twelve hours helping your father hang fake cobwebs and skeletons and spiders on your porch and two more setting up the fog machine and strobe lights. You do these things, and you learn to love them.

There is, of course, the costume to consider, then. Yeah. When you come from a family like mine, the costume is important.

I have never come face to face with a ghost in the traditional sense. I’ve only ever carved jack-o’-lanterns for fun, and I beg not for souls on Halloween but for candy, let’s go to North Green I hear they have full size candy bars, trade me your Junior Mints for this Snickers, come on, don’t be selfish, but I can say free of guilt that I have felt the bone-grinding fear, the sensation of being watched, the eerie manifestation of everything I’ve ever been scared is crawling in the dark. I felt it when I was seven and dressed up as Scooby Doo, eight dressed up as a ladybug, nine dressed up as a horribly appropriative Geisha that I would spend the rest of my life regretting, ten dressed up as ‘evil’ while my friend dressed as ‘good,’ eleven dressed as ‘black and white and red all over’--the list goes on, but the message remains. I’ve felt the fear in the leering of men who should be too old to look at me that way, boys leaping out of the shrubbery in Michael Myers masks and holding half-drunk Bud Lights, cackling as they hooked their fingers in the elastic of my tutu, in the murmuring and the side-eyeing, is she really wearing that? I was objectified before I knew what objectification was. (I was objectified before I realized that people could actually be viewed as objects.)

This is what I’m getting at, here: the costume is important, and for how many years did I put off being Cat Woman and all the pun potential it held for me because I was terrified of what people would say about my legs, my arms, my face? How long did I spend in the bathroom debating whether or not one sweater was enough to layer under my short-sleeved costume, or if maybe I should add a second one for protection from more than the cold? How many invitations to Halloween parties did I turn down, and how many years did I spend passing out candy on the porch rather than lingering in the streets with my friends because I was afraid?

Go find a Halloween catalogue. Go find any Halloween catalogue. You will find the costumes inexplicably gendered, and you will begin to see a pattern. If a woman wants to be Spiderman for Halloween, she will not be Spiderman. She will be Sexy Spidergirl With Only Faintly Recognizable Attributes of Spiderman. At least once that night, she will be hazed by a man. Maybe he’ll be dressed as Spiderman, too, except his legs will be fully covered and his costume will actually leave him with a full range of motion. At no point during the night will he be quietly called a slut, and at no point at that Halloween party will he be expected to put out because he’s wearing a costume.

For women, Halloween is frightening not because of the cheesy, the time-tested, the corn syrup blood and the prosthetic wounds. It is frightening--it is positively terrifying--because despite warnings to wear a jacket, to dress modestly so we don’t accidentally look like we’re “asking for it,” we are encouraged to dress sexily, to entertain. And if we dare embrace that--if we dare take advantage of the one night we can wear miniskirts and thigh highs, lipstick and fake eyelashes--we are sluts. We are asking for it. Like everything else about being a woman, it is contradictory and damaging. Most of all, it is impossible to adhere to.

So this is what I’ve learned about Halloween: we take the fear, a fear that’s been bred into us by years of burned witches and ghost stories and bumps in the night, and we celebrate it. As women, we put on miniskirts and thigh highs and we call it what it is: a risk. That is the world in which we live. We do not go around begging for souls on people’s doorsteps. We go around with mace in our pockets and we keep our heads down. Halloween is no longer penance, something done to keep us safe from ghouls. It is an acknowledgement of fear and the celebration of it. The ghouls exist, but we are not afraid to go out on the streets anymore.

This Halloween, I will be going to a haunted house. I will have mace in my pocket, and I will be with at least one other person at all times. The ghosts I’m trying to avoid won’t be scared off by jack-o’-lanterns. That’s not what they’re haunting me for. Elvis croons that I’m the devil in disguise, and he is not wrong. Call me the devil. Call me Lucifer, an angel who fell a rather long way down. Call me fearless. Call me jailbait. Call me something that could spit fire if I wanted.

Call me tired.

Art by  Olivia Rogers

Home Is A Fragile Thing

By Kat Freydl

She sleeps in your old bedroom, lavender with polka dots. It smells like candy apples when you leave it, but once she’s been staying there for a while, it starts to smell like baby powder and decay. This is how you wash her hair. This is how you look at her wig without staring. This is how you empty out her pot in the morning—in the morning, every morning, or it will start to smell. This is how you reassure her this is real, Mama Jean, this is real. This is how you help her walk. Stand on your tiptoes, tall as you can manage. She needs to lean on you. She needs to lean on you, now. This is the TV channel she likes. Her favorite is The Barefoot Contessa. She’ll see a recipe for lobster and ask you to make it. She never liked lobster before. She’s forgotten that you can’t cook. This is how you plan a birthday party; you won’t have to work too hard to make it a surprise. For her, waking up is a surprise. This is how you smile.  This is how you sight read hymns on the piano. This is how you hold hands with a cousin you never spoke to before while your uncle grinds out a desperate prayer, like 80 years old with a glioblastoma (a glioblastoma? Multiple gliobastomas? You’re no expert. You don’t know this territory, you just know that she’s dying) isn’t a sign from God already. This is how you put on your Easter dress. Smile for the photo, Katelyn. You’re only taking a photo because it’s the last one. This is how it starts to feel normal.

This is how you escape, hop a plane to Michigan to visit your father. This is how you miss the worst. This is how your phone calls start to purposefully omit her, oh, Mama Jean? She’s doing alright. No, best not talk to her tonight. She’s awful tired, now. This is how your vacation starts to feel suffocating. This is how your lungs rattle, feel like they’re clogged by the dirt they’re going to bury her in. This is how it’s July. It’s July, and you’re 13, and you’re writing her a eulogy. Mama Jean was like summer, you write, as though she’s not still alive in some way, atrophied muscles and that lopsided wig and eyes gone all faraway and dusky. This is how your mother reads it to her, changing all the past tense verbs to present tense ones with a voice that doesn’t shake, because everyone that isn’t you seems to be over this by now.

This is how it’s your birthday, and Paulette is coming to you and saying I’m sorry, Katelyn, Mama Jean in in heaven with Jesus, and you deflate a little because you’ll admit it, you will, you’d forgotten about the woman in your lavender bedroom with the polka dots for a moment and were thinking about birthday cake and candles. This is how for years, maybe forever, you won’t be able to eat cake because it will make you sick. This is how it’s the biggest funeral in the world—in the whole universe, even. This is how the pastor asks you to read the eulogy. Mama Jean was like summer, you say, and you mean it like you’ve never meant anything in your life. This is how your voice shakes until it doesn’t. This is how you refuse to cry.

This is how you grow up.

 

Dear Pope Francis

The Creation of Adam  by Michelangelo

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo

"The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." -Albert Camus

By Kat Freydl

Dear Pope Francis, 

Let me start by saying this: I would not be a good protagonist. I am not beautiful or particularly brave. I’m weak and dependent and I lack a hook. I don’t have a good voice for reading poetry, which is especially unfortunate because my heart reaches for it. When I speak, my voice often shakes. I suppose that’s the beauty of the written word. Either you are reading this or you are not, and either way my voice isn’t shaking for you.

 I’m part of Generation Y. Sometimes I am proud of this, and other times I want to hide my face in a pillow. We are known for our indifference and our self-centeredness, and I would like to say this: if we do not care about us, who will? Certainly not the generation that calls us lazy but whose only obstacle was deciding which bank to put their life savings in. The generation chanting that Mike Brown deserved his demise. Don’t think I’m brave for being topical. There will always be a controversy to write an essay about.

(If I sound melodramatic, know that it is because I am angry. Teenagers always are. I think it’s because this is the age in which we starting realizing that nothing is fair and everything is permitted. Mazel tov.)

In 1982, Your Holiness, a student could work 9 hours per week, full time during school breaks, receiving minimum wage, and pay their college tuition in full with $3,500 to spare. Today, if a student worked for the same amount of time, they would come up $11,000 short. In addition to this, college admissions are more competitive than they’ve ever been; a 4.0 is no longer impressive. We must be book smart and altruistic and well-rounded and globally-minded. If taking a string of selfies makes a teenager feel better about their inevitable debt and crippling inadequacy in the eyes of college admissions boards, then so be it, I say. Please correct me if I say this in error.

I am not here to lament the comparative ease of being part of generations past compared to my own. Being a human comes with a set of struggles that aren’t bound by time. You will experience loss and disappointment and heartbreak. You will cry—oh, will you cry. This transcends generational barriers.  My point here is that sometimes I’m a little in love with my generation. We are impossible and dissatisfied and full of rage, but we make art. Boys kissing boys is more of a crime than shooting black teenagers in the streets, but we make art. We remind each other not to forget these things that are happening. On social media platforms that started as blogging websites, teenagers are posting pictures and links and information that you have to work for to scrounge from news networks. From my peers I’ve learned that there are more than two genders, that I am not lesser because I am a woman, that I am not lesser for who and what I love. Let me riddle you this:

 I’m sure you know all about oracle bones. In ancient China, they would carve Chinese characters into tortoiseshells or animal bones—questions—and heat them until they cracked, then interpret these cracks as the answers. I’m no oracle. I don’t know everything. I don’t know a fourth of everything. I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve told you plenty of times in this essay all of the reasons why I’m not here, so let me tell you why I am: on Thursday afternoons, I used to go to philosophy club, a circle of teenagers on the floor talking about the universe, asking questions not deemed important enough to be in our school curricula. On Mondays, I went to GSA, and we’d talk with fire in our eyes about how great it was to be alive in a time on the cusp of revolution. To be part of the demographic that will make that revolution happen.

Know this: we are listening, Pope Francis. We are courageous. We are going forward. We are making noise.

 I think I’d like to be an anthropologist.

Most Sincerely Yours,

Katelyn J. Freydl

This Isn't An Article About Following Your Heart

Girls from the south are named after great-grandmothers and the months they were born in, scraped knees and calloused hands, with honeysuckle straight from the vine.

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 1.29.30 AM.png

By Kat Freydl

My name is Katelyn, and that’s only because my father rejected my mother’s desire to name me Jade, which he deemed “too new age” for any respectable daughter of his (or so the story goes). Unfortunately for both of them, I go by Kat and I am in no way respectable; also unfortunately for them (or perhaps more so for me), their divorce was finalized several months after my birth--as it turned out, baby names weren’t the only things they couldn’t agree on. I digress: while I enjoy sweet tea, barefootedness, and banjo ditties, sweeping landscapes and tobacco fields and kudzu dominating any half-living thing, the South and I have always had a relationship that precludes complete satisfaction. It is doubtful that this would be any different if I was named August or Pearl or Elspeth, but you get the idea: I’ve never been to a debutante ball in my life, I don’t even particularly like fried chicken, the idea of “going mudding” sort of makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry, printed wikipedia articles about ringworms clutched in my tiny fists, and my drawl peters out when I cross the Mason-Dixon. I am not, for all intents and purposes, properly Southern.

As aware of this as present Kat is, past Kat was even more aware, and found the discrepancy between who I was and who I felt I should be staggering. To me, it felt like I was well and truly the only outlier on the east coast. I went to a small school, a Christian one, and was exposed to a small sliver of my peers--an exceedingly wealthy sliver that often represented each and every stereotypically Southern trait you can imagine. At the all-boys lunch table I was always relegated to, the jokes were racist, the stenches were foul, and more than a few jibes were thrown towards both my gender and my weight. It was a fairly standard middle school experience, looking back, but as a fairly pretentious child, I felt duty-bound to find something better for myself. I didn’t feel academically challenged in the least by the school, and my mother forbid me from going to public school; I was in eighth grade when I mustered all of my 13-year-old defiance and decided that I was going to move to Michigan to live with my father.

I very specifically remember the heat waves, because they made the blacktop look excited to see me go. It was August. My life, packed into two boxes (just two) rattled in the trunk of my mother’s minivan, one of my best school friends at the time pressed against my side, the two of us crammed into the back seat, my little sister in the row in front of us watching The Incredibles on the portable DVD player. Over the crackling speakers of the minivan, my mother was playing a book on tape about the Iraq War, a whiskey-roughened narrator’s lilt interspersed with gunshots and grenade detonations. We were driving from North Carolina to Michigan. Somehow, eight consecutive hours of war sounds seemed an appropriate soundtrack for the drive.

I don’t know what girls from the North are named after, and there’s very little to romanticize about suburbia, particularly because my freshman year was spent largely in solitude. Suffice to say, moving from a tiny private school with a 30-person class to a gargantuan public one with a 700-person class was quite the experience. Being steeped in liberalism and academia? That part was nice. Being pulled aside after an English class and handed a sticky note with information about submitting writing to the school’s literary magazine? That part was nicer, especially since I spent all of my seminars huddled in the library, stacks of that very literary magazine at my feet, enraptured by the notion that student writing could be published and valued in any capacity. I was enraptured further still when I finally worked up the courage to submit a poem and found it nestled in the selective “editor’s choice” section.

What followed was a poetry slam hosted by the literary magazine that I attended, face-to-face compliments from staff members of it, and pleas to apply to be on the literary magazine’s staff my sophomore year. I landed a position as secretary. Consequently, I met several of the people that I hold as my dearest friends, caught wind of philosophy club and discovered a passion I never would have suspected in myself, developed my voice as a writer, and ultimately found a love for poetry that I’d ignored for years, dismissing it by thinking I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t good enough, I couldn’t possibly be good enough, how could I ever be good enough. As it  happened, I was, and I am. I’ll be eternally grateful for those people, for that sticky note, for the poem that got me editor’s choice. For poetry slams and Panera meetings and people that gave me second looks when I couldn’t stomach first ones.

I wish this was an article about how following your heart will always lead you in the right direction, or that success is just around the corner if you push for it. It won’t, and it isn’t. While sophomore year held some of the most formative incidents of my adolescence thus far, it was also the year my depression became excruciating. It is the year that I tried to end my own life. This is the flip side of going solo: with staggering success can come staggering loneliness so brutal it can crush you if you let it. I did.

This is how it came to pass that I was sent back to the South, back to the land of dirt roads and camouflage prom dresses. It felt like my life was ending. This is the novelty of being 15--at the time, it was quite literally the worst thing that had ever happened to me. I would not be returning to my old Christian school, but would instead be attending my district public school. The thing was, I missed my friends. I missed the literary magazine and the curious feeling of finally belonging.

It was the week school started that I had the idea.

After a bit of research, I found that my new school did not have a literary magazine. This was all that I needed to hear before I was emailing a former editor-in-chief of my old school’s lit mag, asking for advice on how to start one up. The email was daunting and had about ten steps, eight of which I had no idea if I could ever do, but I set out with grim determination on my first day. Even if I had to do it all on my own, I was going to start a literary magazine.

My first day was fairly standard for a first day, no one to eat with at lunch and asking for directions from the least scary-looking teachers and a series of awkward interactions with my peers. There was one that stood out; I had several buttons pinned to my backpack, sayings such as “feminist killjoy” and “trans misogyny is still misogyny” among them, and a boy behind me called out to compliment me on them. There’s really no interesting way to tell this story. I could tell you about how my English teacher became my first friend at this new school, and she helped me start getting the word out about this idea I had; I could tell you about how that boy invited me to stand with him in the mornings before the bell rang and to sit with him in the one class we shared; I could tell you that he and his friend (and later, mine) became the first two staff members of the literary magazine. I could tell you about how months later, after bonfires and picnics in cemeteries and musicals and sleepovers and bookstore rendezvous, this boy had become my best friend, and it was he who stood next to me as I cut open the first box of the first ever print edition of the school literary magazine that I had created. I could tell you about how soon after, I published my first book of poetry and cried for days. I could tell you all of this, but as revolutionary as the experience was for me, it would make quite a dull read.

My point here is this. I am not named after great grandmothers or the month I was born in. I’m more parsley than honeysuckle, and the only callouses I have come from holding a pen and knitting a tad too vigorously. And it was in the South that I carved a niche for myself. Sometimes it felt less like carving and more like brutally forcing with a hacksaw, but it happened, and I’m here, and this is my life. That boy graduated last year, and I stand by myself in the mornings. In June, I will graduate with a class full of acquaintances. I am both happy and sad. Most of all, I have a literary magazine to run.

So no, this article isn’t about following your heart or success directly around the corner. The success is buried underneath a haunted house infected with necrotizing fasciitis built on a field of landmines. This is about using your heart like a sword, and when the sword breaks, using it like a walking stick. This is about being the bullet and the gun that shoots it.

This is about being very, very brave.