Fight to Flight

In one of my earliest memories of my mother, I lay with my head on her lap. It is a child’s memory, distorted by time, but I think she is singing me a lullaby. Gazing into the glowing stars and galaxies that adorn the walls of my room, I know of all that could be. This memory was precious to me growing up, as my relationship with my mother was strained. Her fits of rage would plummet the house into disarray. She would leave, and we wouldn’t see her for days. Once, she didn’t come back for three and a half years. This made a boy of ten question if he was good enough. I told my friends she was away, working in another city, because that was what I wanted to believe. She was my mother. I could never give up on her.

When I began high school, I discovered that my mother was afflicted with severe paranoid schizophrenia. Knowing that my mother’s heart wasn’t to blame made all the difference. I didn’t feel helpless during her episodes anymore. They weren’t frequent when she was taking the proper medication, but I knew that the side effects were painful. I went out with her more often, showing her my favorite places in the city. We would admire the sunset, shop at the mall, and I would take her to my favorite café in town, although she didn’t really like coffee that much. She would wear a smile that reached her eyes as she told me about her day. Looking at her, I knew that life didn’t have to be perfect for us to be happy. I felt like the child with his head on her lap again, knowing that anything is possible, and the world is a good place. My mother called me from the train station one evening and told me that she was going to visit my grandparents. Little did I know that a week later, she would kill herself.

Her death brought waves of guilt and hopelessness that battered my spirit. I became an aloof and pessimistic person, which I knew I wasn’t. I hoped that I wouldn’t let the circumstances define me. Remembering my mother smile through the anguish of her illness, I knew I would have to act on the happiness within me, no matter how fragmented it felt. With renewed resolve, I immersed myself in bringing to life an old film script on mental health. My memories of her resurfaced ever so often during filming. Every step I took henceforth was a tribute to her strength, and a test of mine. The short film went on to be voted “Best Film” and “Best Cause” at Harmony – a national film festival – where it was screened to around three hundred people. I felt reinvigorated with purpose as I realized that I could make a difference in the world around me, and within myself.

Exactly a year after my mother died, I was admitted into the Pennsylvania School for Global Entrepreneurship where I worked with brilliant and passionate young minds from around the world. I developed deep bonds with my peers and mentors. Going into the final week, I trusted them with my film and story at the talent show. That evening, my mentor revealed to me how his friend had killed himself after suffering from depression. He said that watching my film made him feel understood, and that seeing me happy gave him hope for his own happiness. In that moment, all of the pain, despair, and heartbreak I had endured was worth it. I remembered the child sleeping on his mother’s lap, dreaming of all that could be. The memory was no longer painful, but instead vitalized me. Today, I feel powerful beyond measure, as I see purpose in a world that holds infinite possibilities for me.

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