Fall 2017: “Standing Up for Our Neighbors” Powerful Voice Winner Aly Terry

Read Aly's essay, "Highs and Lows," about how everyone can support people with bipolar disorder by helping them see not just the ups and downs, but all things beautiful in-between.

Aly Terry, an eleventh grade student of Adam Rowland at Kirkwood High School in St. Louis, Missouri, read and responded to the online YES! Magazine article, “What Japanese Internment Taught Us About Standing Up for Our Neighbors,” by Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz.  

Tracy is part of the Japanese American community on Bainbridge Island, Washington—the first community in the nation to be rounded up and sent to concentration camps during World War II. In this story, she reflects on the meaning of the Japanese saying, nidoto nai yoni: “Let it not happen again,” and wonders what communities might do differently today to protect the civil liberties of our vulnerable neighbors.

Writing Prompt: Think about someone in your school or community who is vulnerable and may need protection or support. This person may be a neighbor or a classmate—it may even be you. Are you willing and brave enough to stand up against injustice? Describe what you would do, and how your actions might make a difference.

Highs and Lows 

There’s this thing my brain has. This thing that controls my moods, my thoughts, my behavior, my everything. I guess you could say my brain is this thing that gives me highs greater than any drug and lows deeper than craters. This thing plants mountains and valleys in my mind so that I can only see one step in front of me. So I can only act with its permission. This thing is bipolar. My brain is bipolar. I am bipolar.

Bipolar: a mental illness that brings severe high and low moods and changes in sleep, energy, thinking, and behavior.

Bipolar, also known as manic depression, conquers my world. Throughout my sixteen years of existence, I have had twice the amount of bipolar episodes than birthdays. And the only presents I have received from my friends and family is fear. Fear that my bipolar gets me too caught up in my own head. Fear that my bipolar will bring them down. Fears of my ups and downs.

Mania (“the ups”): excessive happiness, changing suddenly from being joyful to irritability, restlessness, poor concentration, showing poor judgement, or being impulsive.

My most immense “up” came when I was with my little sister. After weeks of seemingly normal behavior, I received some amazing news and was ready to take over the world: my dad wanted back into my life. This meant the world to my nine-year-old heart. I was happy. Elated. Couldn’t keep my feet on the ground. So I decided I would drive to him. I stole the keys to our van, with my little sister in the front seat, and started to drive the twenty miles to see him. Almost two minutes later, the wind rustling through my curls, we got in a car accident. I hit my head on the dashboard and now I have seizures.

Depressive periods (“the downs”): sadness, not enjoying things you once enjoyed, loss of energy, trouble concentrating, uncontrollable crying, insomnia, thoughts of death, attempts of suicide.

My most immense down came when I was by myself. Again, after seemingly normal behavior, I received some life-altering news and couldn’t handle this world. My best friend, Sen, killed himself. And it broke my heart. My brain decided the only way my heart would stop breaking is if I were with him. So I tried. I came home from school, blade in hand, and cut so deep in my skin that my bones felt it. I needed to let my blood make love with the floor so my spirit could escape to be with my best friend. I didn’t succeed. The ambulance was faster than my hands. In another five minutes, I would have been dead. What my family saw as grief was actually a bipolar episode that I could not control. Bipolar is this thing that my brain can’t control.

I may not be able to control much, but I can control the words that I write and why I write them. I’m writing this for awareness. Like those innocent Japanese individuals in Tracy Loeffelholz’s article, “What Japanese Internment Taught Us About Standing Up for Our Neighbors,” I am vulnerable. My disease makes me vulnerable. Bipolar disorder makes 5.7 million Americans vulnerable; and sometimes we can’t protect ourselves. We can’t stand up for ourselves because our brains will make a morgue of our mouths. This loud disease will make us silent.

So I come to you, everybody reading this. When our heads are louder than our mouths, you are our only hope. Although everyone’s highs and lows may not be as disastrous as mine, they are still there with dangerous potential. Please, help protect us. Talk to us. Offer support and patience. Be understanding and encourage us to get help because we can get better. We can learn to see not just the ups and downs but everything in-between. Help us see that the middle isn’t hurtful, but beautiful.

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