Scholar Spotlight – Maya
This month’s Scholar Spotlight is a little different, it’s in Maya’s own words. I think she can tell her story better than anyone!
I have wanted to be a writer forever. Even as a kid, I had so many ideas for the future that I answered the question of what do you want to be when you grow up differently each time depending on my mood (usually something along the lines of teacher or zookeeper at the time). I had this idea that I was going to be the next J.K. Rowling someday pretty soon. I promptly took down publishing company numbers I saw advertised on billboards on the side of the road and filled up binders with stories about the elaborate family lives of my toy horses. Granted, I had troubles with commitment, as 9-year-olds sometimes do, and never finished a single notebook without abandoning the story to pursue another grand idea, but no one could ever make the mistake of calling me unambitious: In every bookstore I walked into, I delighted in pushing MacHale and Milne apart from each other, pointing, and saying, “That’s where I’ll be.”
At some point when I wasn’t looking, depression stole that unbridled ambition from me, and my belief that a future could be wonderful, or could even exist for me, went with it. Battling a bizarre cocktail of genetics and unresolved anxiety and low self-esteem issues carried over from high school years, I found myself on January I0, 2018 feeling that I had reached the end of all stories. Unable to cope with everyday obstacles that felt like more proof that I was a failure, I had been thinking about suicide as a way out almost every day. But sitting on a bench in front of the school on January I0, my fingers rebelled, and dialed 911.
At the hospital, my roommate smuggled dull pencils into our room for me, and I wrote and wrote.
My healing is neither linear nor complete. Nor is it completely my own. I share it with everyone who stuck with me through the dark times: My mentor, who taught me how to “breathe in the light”; my mom, who sent a humor book for me to read in the psych ward and later passed down to me the rock that gave her hope when she was struggling with the suicidal ideation; my friend, who ate lunch in the rain with me just because. While the choice to stay was ultimately my own, I stayed because the future seemed a little bit brighter with that kind of love in it. My treatment protocol includes utilizing that support system, working with the Director of Accommodations at my school to make sure the workflow stays manageable, and seeing my therapist every Monday.
Teacher and zookeeper did not pan out; as my social consciousness grew and grew and after one fateful interview between Jon Stewart and the bold and brave New York Times photojournalist Lynsey Addario left me speechless for days, I chose journalism. I have reported and led at VOX ATL, a nonprofit and uncensored teen-led publication which brings together a diverse range of teens from across metro Atlanta, for two and a half years now. Starting out as a wee 15-year-old learning to edit video at summer camp, I quickly discovered my passion for politics and how it affects the Muslim community with a viral article published on November 9 entitled “Why a Trump Presidency Will Never Silence My Voice.” In the summer, I returned as a summer intern passing down the skills I had learned as a camper. I have always been on the shy side, choosing the written word over the spoken, but that experience taught me that facilitation could be fun: I facilitated several expression workshops and dialogues with teens in high schools across metro Atlanta that fall, received the VOX Spirit Award, and managed to struggle through an internship as Atlanta Teen Voices editor the same spring of a traumatic hospitalization. As a college student and now one of the older teens at VOX, I have led workshops with hundreds of teens and trained about 20 VOX teens to be prepared to go out and facilitate themselves. Yet out of all this, I am most proud of a day in March getting in front of a crowd of my community to spit a poem listing 13 reasons why I wanted to live.
I took a much-needed break from school in the fall semester of 2018, but realized while writing by a lake in December that I was ready to start planning for the future again. I chose to go back to college. Depression had shaken my confidence in my ability to succeed on campus. I was scared that if I took risks, I could get triggered again. But mostly I worried about that bench. Could I ever walk by it again without getting taken back to that dark place? To address this, I decided to do what I have been doing since I was 9: Tell a story. With my own voice this time. VOX had just acquired a new podcast studio, so I recorded a raw podcast about depression and college and semicolons. You can find it on voxatl.org as “Yes, I Struggle with Depression. But I’m a Survivor, Not a Victim.” I love stories because this is what they allow: For you to define yourself and your struggle the way you want to.
If I can make myself feel better about a bench or make someone else feel seen, I am all the writer, all the story I have ever wanted to be. And I am a story that deserves to keep being told.
Maya is indeed a story teller. Her powerful pen will change the world and I am humbled to have a small part in her journey. #LiveYourNextChapter #ShareYourStory #YouAreNotAlone
Are you ready to #LiveYourNextChapter? We are accepting applications right now! Apply Here
Scholar Spotlight – Maya
This month’s Scholar Spotlight is a little different, it’s in Maya’s own words. I think she can tell her story better than anyone! I have wanted to be a writer forever. Even as a kid, I had so many ideas for the future that I answered the question of what do you want to be […]