Everything fell apart in my second year of university.

    I was 20 years old, learning how to take care of my body and coming to terms with a traumatic teenage relationship. It was just as I was starting to figure myself out that shit started to hit the proverbial fan. My boyfriend of almost a year decided to completely ignore me instead of actually breaking up with me; I began to develop an intense anxiety over school; and because the universe works in awful, awful ways, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. All of this hurtled towards me in a matter of weeks.

    In a fight-or-flight situation, I am, hands down, a flight person. Needless to say, I handled all of this news terribly. I became emotionally and physically distant, and completely withdrew into myself. Almost every day, I would curl up petrified in the morning, jumping out of bed at the last possible second to catch the train to school. Sometimes, I wouldn’t get up at all. Instead, I would make some sort of bullshit excuse to miss rehearsals and avoid my intimidating professors. I had no reason to avoid them because everyone at school was very positive, but I was terrified of being found out that I was a liar. I would hide, shedding out in a practice room, avoiding my teachers, staying out as late as I possibly could, barely catching the last train uptown. Then I would get home, often drunk from a night out with my parents’ money, filled to the brim with exhaustion and guilt. I hated that I couldn’t be a better daughter and a stronger woman. My mother explicitly told me that she wanted me to focus on school, so she never asked me to be with her during her treatment – I’m still ashamed to say that I knew little about what she went through that year. Because of this, I hated that I didn’t have the courage to take the year off and be there for my mom, and that I couldn’t hold her, look her in the eyes and say, “It’s okay. I love you and I’m going to take care of you. School can wait.” Every day I would go to bed bearing this shame, and I would wake up the next day in the same petrified way and go about the rest of the day as if everything was okay.

    It wasn’t just that I felt useless. It was that I had always seen myself as a righteous person, but when things went awry, I wasn’t able to step up. Instead, I became the one who needed help. It was that my parents had provided for me, and that I couldn’t do the same. It was that I was supposed to be one of the lucky ones—my mom could afford her healthcare and I could continue my studies regularly—but that none of this was enough for me to be strong for her. The world was my oyster, and all I could do was sit there and cry and complain. I felt like an ingrate, and I continued to withdraw into myself, and away from my problems.

    I found myself living a double life, something that I had done during my tumultuous teenage affair. It turned into the same familiar trauma of helplessness, shame, and unworthiness. I stayed out late drinking, partying, waking up in strange beds.The only way I knew to stay sane that year was by writing. Sure, I unhealthily obsessed over every space, every metaphor, every alternate spelling, and every comma. But while I ran away from my problems, writing was the only way I could deal with my life head on. At least this way, I could try to make sense of things without having a complete meltdown.

    Eventually, I wanted to turn it into a part of my artistic career. I had always only written sporadically, intuitively and on a whim. I felt held back by my inability to write on command, so when I turned 21, I started a blog and attempted to write a “poem” a day. The rule was to write anything once a day and post it on Tumblr. I passed no judgment onto myself. No poem was too short or too long, or too crude or too eloquent. If it felt creative, it was good enough. Artistically speaking, that year was a revelation. I was writing imagery and thematic word play that I never dreamed I could do. I really did improve, and all I needed to do was get in touch with my feelings once a day and put it on paper. I was more organized, yes. But on a personal level though? I was still the same messed up human.

    I want to say that I know why I was writing, and that poetry is cathartic, beautiful, and that it saved me. But I can’t.
    That would be a lie.
    It would be far too simple to sum up all those dark, lonely nights as some sort of wonderful unicorn answer to all our depressed problems. The truth is, it was often very painful, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that what I was experiencing was just a new manifestation of my fleeing habit. In fact I can definitely say that my art didn’t help me become a better person, but at least now I can live with myself.

    At least now, I can survive long enough to find out if I am capable of change.



    some nights, I would sit
    in my midnight room,
    eyes crossed, alcohol and
    sour on my breath
    a burning laptop
    searing through my
    as I worked on my
    next genius haiku, the kind
    I could giggle at

    and then there were some nights
    I would
    stay up until 4:00am
    because my mother

    was breathing black dye into her
    cancered veins

    because I hated myself

    and so did he
    and he
    and he as well

    because my splintered heart

    was still aching
    and I was still piercing my chest
    new pins
    through my arteries

    because I was tired of running

    but going home
    would hurt even more
    with all the thumbtack lies
    I’d left in my trail

    most of all, I wrote
    because some nights
    there are no answers
    only questions
    and the only way to shorten the list
    is to see it scribbled in ink
    instead of swimming in my head
    I wrote because
    it was easier than
    spilling the blood in my heart
    so that my chest didn’t feel so tight anymore
    at least for a few minutes
    I could feel like
    my problems
    were small
    just small enough that
    I could still
    carry them
    with nothing more than
    a papercut
    or two

    – laura yiu

    Laura Yiu is a singer-songwriter from Scarborough, ON, and is one of the two lead vocalists in the up and coming alternative band These Lights. Laura is currently in her 4th year of studies in the jazz voice performance program at the University of Toronto. You can find her on Facebook at fb.com/theonetrueLIA .