Starting a Conversation on World Mental Health Day

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The reflections of Hoyt Lake, one of the places that bring me peace

In his brilliant TED Talk, writer Andrew Solomon explains that the opposite of depression isn’t happiness, but vitality. I can’t think of a better description.

In my case, I have manic depression. You might know it as bipolar disorder, but I prefer manic depression. For me, the term bipolar conjures up images of an alien with two poles jutting out from her head. It also implies that mania and depression somehow cannot overlap. I can assure you that during those times when I was traveling at the speed of light in my most manic stage, I was still deeply depressed. (To understand this point better, check out Dr. …

How a week in West Virginia with a group of Gen Z students changed my life

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A few minutes before beginning our trip. Photo courtesy of Canisius College Campus Ministry.

I work at a small Jesuit college in Western New York. This past January I served as the co-lead mentor for a service-immersion trip to Appalachia. For one week, 11 undergraduate students, a colleague, and I ate, slept, worked, wept, and laughed together as we learned about poverty, addiction, mental illness, food insecurity, sustainable agriculture, and extractive industries in Wheeling, West Virginia.

Our hosts and teachers were staff from the House of Hagar, a Catholic Worker home led by Kate (a modern-day Dorothy Day), and AmeriCorps members from Grow Ohio Valley. …

On snowballs, names, and paper cranes

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Photo by Carolina Garcia Tavizon on Unsplash

“That’s for Pearl Harbor!”

I was hit hard with a thwack, right in the back of my head. I turned around. Next to a snowbank a few feet away, two blonde-haired boys were grinning triumphantly. These were the same boys who had been teasing me during the daily bus ride home over the past several weeks.

I kept walking and turned the corner, expecting them to go the other way. But they stayed right behind me and I quickened my pace. I could hear the clomp, clomp of their boots in the crunchy white snow. My breathing became harder and harder, as I fought off the bitter chill of the December air. I heard the boys shouting and laughing, calling me by my new nickname. “Mini Jap! Mini Jap!” When I finally reached home, I felt brave enough to turn my head. There they were — just a few steps away and flashing a glinty smile. They passed by me and kept walking, and soon all I could see was the back of their heads getting smaller and smaller in the distance. …

Lessons from a five-year-old

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Photo by Solstice Hannan on Unsplash

My five-year-old daughter is in denial. She can’t accept the fact that her current object of affection and admiration, the venerable dinosaur, is extinct. During a recent visit to the science museum, she gives full expression to her indignation. Looking up at the enormous replica of the triceratops, she places her hands squarely on her hips and shouts: “Wake UP!”

But isn’t that the magic of childhood curiosity? Being passionate about something that we adults have long since forgotten, or take for granted?

“No, the Tyrannosaurus Rex is from the Cretaceous period, Mom, not the Jurassic!” My daughter corrects me as I comment on another creature’s distinctive jaw and reference the Spielberg blockbuster. Seeing another parent chuckle from a few feet away, I’m humbled not merely by the fact that my precocious child has just set me straight on my science facts, but more importantly, by the realization that with a few spontaneous remarks, she’s putting my existence into perspective. Long before all the cars and buildings and cell phones, these big amazing animals walked the earth. Their brains might have been pea-sized in comparison to their mighty bodies, but they managed to survive for quite a while. …

How a stranger’s offhand remark took me back in time

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Me in the 1960s

Over the summer my 87-year-old mother and I attended a family reunion on my late father’s side. We stayed at a charming two-story hotel called the Flagship Inn in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. One of the highlights was the complimentary breakfast, served in a small building on the other side of the parking lot with a sign that read Restaurant over the two front doors. It was the ideal place to reminisce over a cup of coffee.

On the last morning my mom and I got there early, so we sat down at one of the long tables to save seats for cousins Cherie, Bob, Ruth, and Al. Within a few minutes an older gentleman in his 70s and a woman (his wife, I’m assuming) sat down across from us. …

How tidying up compelled me to confront much more than my sweater collection

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

If you’re Carrie Bradshaw or Imelda Marcos, you love shoes. My fashion obsession has always been sweaters. By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I had already amassed quite a collection — everything from sporty crew-neck pullovers to classic cardigans. Most of my sweaters were thick pullovers in solid black, grey, white, or hues of blue.

I remember going to an outlet mall with my boyfriend a few months after we started dating in the early ’90s. He encouraged me to expand my horizons and pointed to a fuzzy yellow sweater with a loud pattern that was hanging on a nearby display rack in a Benetton store. We compromised. …

Remembering the days of communal TV watching

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The cast of M*A*S*H. Via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

I grew up on a steady diet of sitcoms, westerns, and police dramas, with a dash of science fiction for good measure. After-school indulgences included half-hour reruns like Gilligan’s Island, The Munsters, The Rifleman, and The Brady Bunch. Star Trek came on each weekday at 5.

Mom would usually have dinner ready by the time Dad got home from work — just after 5:30 — so I often missed the last 20 minutes of the episode. …

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Photo by insung yoon on Unsplash

I close my eyes and I remember
how we once made each other laugh.
I lived for your smile, which signaled
another moment of our life together, forever,
for a while.

Our youthful dreams intertwined
as we practiced being one.

Then she came.
A bundle of unspeakable pride, utter ecstasy,
and daunting obligation.

Trying to be my mother, I watched as you
learned to become your father.
With a baby to raise
we found ourselves drowning
in images from the past.

Her crying was relentless.
I was weary — you, impatient
the two of us struggling, together
yet growing apart and living each day
in our increasingly
separate worlds. …

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The trees along Chapin Parkway in my hometown

Why I had to stop imitating Richard Nixon

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Richard M. Nixon. Via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

As a child, what I lacked in peer social skills I more than made up for with my ability to entertain the adults around me. Who needs whiffle ball or hopscotch when you can try out your latest celebrity impersonation in front of your parents’ doting dinner guests? My subjects included Cher, Lucille Ball, and Arte Johnson from “Laugh-In.” By the time I was ten, I was mimicking the idiosyncratic gestures and speech patterns of Richard Milhous Nixon.

Why, at such a tender age, was I somewhat obsessed with the 37th president of the United States? Blame the two strong-willed patriarchs in my family: my paternal grandfather, a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, and his son, a liberal academic. …


Gwen Ito

Writer and editor. Just here for the happy medium.

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