Slashing Through Silence
Catherine Trinh, Division 3, College freshman #ws16e-s3d3

For my former self, being speechless was not just an emotion—it was an obstacle. If I was a wallflower, then my thoughts remained as unnoticed as the wall behind the wallflower. However, it was not until a time of great struggle that I realized the impact I could make on the world to make it a better place.

In March 2015, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and depression. As a full-time scoffer at dramatized sob stories, I grappled with the obstacle that was now placed in front of me. The balancing act between being a functioning student and being affected by my mom's illnesses caused a massive rift in my life, especially at school amongst friends. Speaking about my tumultuous home life only garnered a horrified hush from everyone else and a hasty retreat back to safer conversation topics. I felt more disconnected from my peers than ever and regressed again into muteness, unable to help either my mom or myself. When I realized that my burden of silence was negatively affecting my academic performance and emotional health, I searched for any way to release my pent up feelings. I decided to start writing and directed my emotions at my mom's headscarf, which was vibrantly colored—ironically so, since my mom was not comfortable speaking about her condition and kept a low profile. Yet studying that colorful headscarf, which was hiding what needed to be spoken about, I felt an urge to speak up.

Initially, whenever I had tried to talk about my mom's illnesses, I was tongue-tied, tripping over words instead of talking—but not when I began to write. Heart racing, I trusted my pen to lead the way, wielding my writing and fine-tuning my long-suppressed feelings in ink. My heart had been caught in my throat this entire time, and only now was I allowing it to spill onto the page.

With singleminded determination, I finished the article about my mom's battle and titled it ""Headscarf–ed, but Happy"" before submitting it for publication. I had written my liberation from the stocks of silence. My teacher wrote back, applauding me on my ""beautifully written"" article. Suddenly, cancer became something understandable for everyone and, for me, something to be shared. After receiving support on social media, a chance to speak about my article at the LA Times Book Festival, and publication in several magazines, nothing moved me more than seeing my mom's eyes well with tears as she whispered ""thank you"" after reading my article, for giving her the words she had struggled to find.

Through my experience, I had found my voice and given voices to those who could not find their own. My goal is to make the world a brighter place for these voiceless people who are battling specifically mental illness. As a psychobiology major, I will be able to help patients by understanding humans from both a psychological and a biological perspective, which will give me more knowledge in medical school to become a clinical psychiatrist. Making the world a better place by helping people is the greatest gift of all, and I intend to use my experience to do so.
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