Reach for the Shiny Pink Stars: Commencement Speech To the Hollowbrook Hills Intensive Outpatient Mental Health Program Upon My Graduation From Said Program, by Marisa Carroll
Good afternoon fellow patients, esteemed counselors, Nancy from the front desk.
First of all, I would like to say “thank you.” It is an incredible privilege for me to stand before you today — or, should I say, amongst you in this circular arrangement of fold-out chairs — and reflect on the past six weeks I have spent learning from and growing with you. This coin, emblazoned with “Life is about the journey, not the destination” on one side and the Walmart smiley face on the other, is burning joy-holes in my palm and heart. Soon we will go around the circle and each of you will speak on how I have changed before your eyes. I will experience some shame and anxiety but also appreciate this. For now, though, Rick says you are required to listen to me because it is my important day, remember? Look again at this coin, see?
I will now share my gratitude and guidance with you all.
To my counselors: By letting me call you by your first names, I have come to know you as more than graduates from local psych-certificate programs kept in furs by my $500 per session, non-insurance deductible patient fee; you, Trudy, Rick, and Misty, are my friends. Trudy and Misty, when you led our incense-rich, chanting-fueled meditations, dragging us into the spiritual realm while repeating It’s not your fault, It’s not your fault, I did not once think that you learned about psychology from taking a trip to Burning Man and catching Good Will Hunting on basic cable. When we split into groups by gender, you showed me and the other women that we didn’t need to use our bodies to find worth, to feel wanted. Again, I thank you. And Rick, those nights you stayed in Group Room B with me after programs had ended, to really struggle and writhe and push through my demons, were incredible.
To my peers: When we drew pictures of our illnesses (mine was Whoopi Goldberg riding a chimera) I knew that you were special, and you were special, and you were especially special, Frank. Hey, don’t be so modest about your barracuda consuming a Dave & Buster’s Million Dollar Margarita. It was profound…have you considered a career in art therapy once your graduation arrives?
I have loved smoking cigarettes with you all inside Hollowbrook’s gates during break time. I would lose myself as you told me about your various divorces or arrests or previous treatment experiences, all the while turning my back towards the street to avoid being spotted by passers-by. Occasionally one of you would tell me not to worry so much, No one can see you. You all clearly misunderstand my life and what it is like to be followed constantly — the way my heart pounds when I walk down the street or stand on Hollowbrook’s cobblestone steps — but I still respect you. Thank you, Carla, for the menthols.
I have searched my mind and heart for what advice I should share with you now. I tried to determine what would have helped me when I was still in your shoes, for I used to be just another fearful and confused young woman looking for some answers. After sitting awake for two nights in a row, crying and contemplating and drawing diagrams on my floorboards, I found a two-fold answer.
First, imagine. Imagine your body is a bag filled with soup! Imagine your toe nails are made of sidewalk chalk…and you are dancing! Your dreams and visions will keep you afloat and you will never be alone. I know it might be scary, to be leaving a place where you are surrounded by strange but comforting faces. You are worried that as soon as you board the subway home, you will be consumed by an anxiety dragon, or a real dragon, or chased by a man with a dragon neck tattoo. Tell yourself that these fears are, as Trudy says, “irrational, unloving, and unsafe.” Surround yourself with bunny rabbits in police uniforms and James Spader security guards and other positive visions sent to protect you. Always imagine.
Second, reach. Reach for the stars, even if you might be hallucinating those stars and they are taunting you, and you are reaching for them just to destroy them like they want to destroy you — They will not destroy you! Do not limit yourself to this material world and your step-mom’s prophecy that you will never become an astronaut, let alone move out of your father’s basement. Show her that she is wrong. Cut out all the science articles from the daily paper. Buy new sheets for the pull out bed.
I wish you so much luck, my friends. I pray that you can someday feel like me, whole and healed and ready. Free from fear and anxiety. Cured. I know that I will be seeing you again soon, friends. I will not miss you for long, Hollowbrook Hills. I will be waiting for you all as I stand upon this new road, reaching and dreaming and dancing with the rising spirits…I can feel them rising! Do you feel them? Join me, join me! I am spinning, we are stirring.
Marisa Carroll won a poetry contest in third grade; now she writes jokes on the Internet. Follow her on Twitter here.
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