Student Feature: Demons of the Mind by Tayyaba Masood

Tayyaba Masood, a pre-med student majoring in biotechnology, was born in Pakistan and raised in Houston, TX. Her passion for medicine is as strong as her passion for writing. Since a child, Tayyaba has had a great admiration for words and their artistic power to allow for a variety of expressions. This particular story reflects upon a dark and personal time for both her and her family, and through the power of words she hopes to share this experience with you.

Demons of the Mind

The year 2012 kicked off as my family planned an extravagant wedding for my twenty-
four-year-old brother, Yasir. As the youngest and the only daughter of the household, my
sixteen-year-old self obviously couldn’t wait to welcome his fiancé, another female, into the
family. I couldn’t believe that the carefree brother I had spent my afternoons playing soccer and
video games with would soon have a family of his own.

Yasir had spent the past year in San Antonio working in business informatics in hopes of
building his career. With his strong-minded, clever, even charmingly manipulative persona, he
was the kind of person companies chose to negotiate their business deals. He had returned a few days earlier, but I hadn’t had much of a conversation with him, which wasn’t unusual lately. Unlike the rest of the family, he preferred to keep to himself. However, it wasn’t just the growing detachment that took my notice. Peculiarity lingered in his actions. Fidgeting. Constantly looking over his shoulder. The most evident change was his new-found attraction to windows, specifically those facing the streets of our quintessential suburban neighborhood. He would routinely spend time looking out of them, occasionally for hours. It wasn’t until a sunny Saturday in April that I truly began to question his odd behavior.

Early in the afternoon, the house flooded with light as the relentless Texas heat took its
hold. I sat at my desk painting (a very temporary passion, I might add) from where I had a clear
view of Yasir’s room. “Hey, Tayyaba! Come here!” His voice broke me out of my attempt at
perfecting the shadows of a wilting rose. As I walked into his messy bedroom, I saw him sitting
on his bed, eyes draped with lack of sleep yet his rapid movements indicating otherwise. He held up a blue BIC ballpoint pen and asked if I had placed it on his bed, claiming it was being used to “spy” on him, pointing to its various indentions and marks. To me, this was a joke. I laughed, sarcastically agreeing with his absurdity. He then took me to his window, where the satin, faded green curtains were pushed opened and the blinds hung shut except for where they had bent from constantly being pulled apart to look through. “These cars keep coming back and it’s the exact same ones! They’re after me. Just look. Look!” He continued to point at random passing cars, which were just that, random cars. I brushed it off, never considering the fact that this, to him, was real and that this peculiar sunny afternoon in April was just the start of a ravaging storm.

I soon came to learn that Yasir had been falling behind in his work and that the stress was
swallowing him from within. His behavior grew significantly erratic and frighteningly
aggressive. Was it really just stress doing this to him? A month or so had passed when one day,
he entered the house yelling, “Can’t you all just leave me alone! I know you send those cars after
me!” My mother scuttled out of the kitchen and calmly tried explaining that we were in no way
scheming against him, but that was not what Yasir heard. Sitting on the sofa in the living room, I
watched as he paced back and forth. Nostrils flaring. Hands fisted. He suddenly pulled back his
hand and landed a punch into the frail wall leaving quite an evident hole before storming out the door. I felt my heart drop. It was from that day on that the walls slowly grew in their wounds and a few too many vases met their end. He grew increasingly suspicious of his surroundings, finding little things tampered with from the food that he ate to the stitching of his clothes. His driving became reckless fueled by his misplaced anger and frustration. In simple terms, Yasir was losing control.

I found unexpected solace within the walls of my high school, away from the chaos awaiting me at home. On the inside, fear of my brother’s behavior built within the pit of my stomach, eating away at my mind; however, I hid away the prying monster behind smiles carrying on as normally as I could. The wedding arrangements were put aside and his fiancé worried for nothing more than his betterment. She would visit often and at one point became the only voice he remotely listened to. Oblivious to the rest of the world, our lives were taking a turn towards the dark unknown.

Yasir’s downfall continued into the summer of 2012 and the simple accusations and punching of walls escalated quite rapidly. His now violent actions, including a few car wrecks, and thoughts of self-harm demanded serious attention. This resulted in the ever-familiar presence of ambulances, police cars, and sirens, which, at first, my parents hoped to be a source of help but that was not the case, as we soon came to learn.

It neared the end of the second week of June. The house filled with the mouthwatering smell of my mother’s cooking as we prepared for supper. Yasir, who hadn’t been home all day, slammed open the front door bringing an air of palpable tension with him. He went straight to my father, demanding to “put an end to it all” or threatening to end his own life. The look on his distraught yet confident face showed no hesitance. With Yasir’s anger peaking, my father dialed for help. However, when the authorities came and my father explained the past few months to them, Yasir managed to bury his aggression, acting his normal charming self, claiming to be perfectly fine and that we were absurd. He was adamant to not let them know the reality of his problem because, much like us, they were out to get him. Get him how? Even he was unsure and that uncertainty only fueled his anger towards us. We began realizing that the torment raging within Yasir stemmed from his mind. He passed the psych evaluation, which was simply asking him his name and the year. The authorities ignored our embarrassingly desperate pleas, as we tried explaining what clearly was not obvious to them, and wrote it off as a domestic issue. At this point, I questioned my own sanity.

However, on June 26th, Yasir became a fatal threat to himself. It started off with the usual arguing between Yasir and my father, who had taken away his keys in an attempt to keep him off the roads for his protection as well others’. The argument soon ended but the calm lasted only a few minutes. My brother stormed out of his room and stood in the shadows at the top of the stairs, barely visible from the living room below. His eyes anxious and nervous; his hair disheveled. Yasir wore ripped shorts and a t-shirt pulled inside out, afraid his clothes were tampered with. He wailed about how if we cared for his life, we would just give him the car. Unlike before, Yasir’s voice carried a tone of distinct anger and desperation. Gripped by absolute terror, I caught sight of the knife he held behind him, as did my parents. The hammering of my heart mixed in with the broken cries of my parents. Yasir leaned against the wall of the staircase, shaking, repeatedly driving the knife into the wall behind him threatening to pierce it through himself if we didn’t stop plotting against him.

Without a moment’s thought I forced my frozen legs to carry me out of sight and towards the little study near the front of the house, taking out the phone in my pocket. My body raked with tremors as I dialed the three digits that could save my brother’s life. The lady on the other end, whose name I never caught, asked me endless questions keeping me on the line, but I could no longer hold myself together. The phone slipped out of my hand as I heard the front door barge open. I did not have the courage to face my brother and chose to hide myself behind the closed door of the study and let my emotions consume me finding comfort in heaving tears.

The paramedics reached my brother in time and transferred him to Bellaire Behavioral Health facility. They concluded that the combination of excessive stress, lack of sleep, depression, and the abuse of synthetic drugs resulted in severe paranoia and bipolar disorder. The news of “drug use” was absolutely shocking to us yet it explained the severity of his state. To Yasir, the drugs were not the problem; they were what “made them go away.” The doctors began treatment but because he had enough mental capacity to tell them his name and the year, the decision of continuing treatment was left in his own hands. A few weeks later, he left against medical advice. Upon his return home in July, the house slowly returned to its terrifying state.

My father sought help and consulted psychiatric specialists, who simply said he needed both rehab and treatment, something he was incapable of realizing. Unfortunately, Yasir’s age and mental stability let that decision lie in his own hands. He made several trips to various psych facilities never truly being able to control himself. His cleverness in hiding his symptoms and drug addiction left the doctors with little medical evidence, forcing his release each time.

The endless cycle continued through winter and brought us into 2013. Yasir’s condition entrenched itself within our lives. With the end of junior year nearing, as my friends worried about SATs and college, I worried about my brother’s deteriorating state and the chaos that ensued at home. To my surprise, Yasir’s fiancé continuously came around to offer her support. Family friends who learned about our situation offered advice and the more appreciated prayers. While some suggested jinn (spirit) or demonic possession and to have Yasir visit the best imam (priest) to rectify the case, others recommended restraining orders and “letting my brother go”. Surrounded by darkness with seemingly no way out, my family held on to the hope and sanctity found in our daily prayers entrusting ourselves to God.

In the summer of 2013, my father pursued legal help to strengthen the medical arrest warrant attempted by the many psych facilities Yasir visited. Around the same time, Yasir had managed to get a hold of his car and resumed his careless driving, this time with a suspended license. One morning, around 6 a.m., we received a phone call from the Fort Bend Police Department informing us that Yasir had been brought in for “aggressive driving”, and my father immediately took the opportunity to contact the lawyer he had been consulting. She managed to get Yasir’s medical arrest warrant through, as he now became a “public threat”. On the orders of the judge, by the end of July 2013, Yasir was placed in a 6-month rehab and treatment facility in Austin where he underwent intensive therapy consisting primarily of medications. My parents had gone to visit him often, however, as a seventeen year old, I was not allowed and hadn’t seen him since the night before the phone call.

In August 2013, we decided to leave the past within the haunting walls of this house and find ourselves the lost comfort of home under a new roof. The day we left, I grazed my fingers over the rough paint along the stairs where the scars left by the knife now hid beneath fresh paint. Taking one last glance at the bent blinds, I knew that this was not an attempt to run from our past or our fears but a means of conquering them and coming out stronger.

As 2014 dawned upon us, my brother returned home, fairly recovered. He now stands at a much better place, one of understanding and moving forward. Yasir acknowledges the mistakes he made but instead of allowing them to hinder his life, he now wakes up for work every morning aware that each day is a blessing and an accomplishment and for that I truly admire him. For me, the two years left their own lasting scar. Still today I close my eyes and often relive the rattling fear and screams in nightmares, often jolting awake unable to breathe, but instead of letting it take control, I force my eyes open and appreciate where I am now. I appreciate that in this moment my only fear is college midterms. I appreciate that the smile I now carry no longer hides a prying monster and that my brother is conquering his demons.

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Student Feature: Meal By Caroline Cao

Caroline Cao was born in Florida, but always felt as if she were born in Houston. In her spare time, she conjures ideas, documents them, and processes them into narratives, or else she combats writers block through the relaxing vocation of staring at the ceiling.

Meal

Relaxing against the public trash can. He stares into his Styrofoam cup to count his wages of a few cents and a peppermint candy. A piece of mocking benevolence from a passing child. He drops his coins into the inner pocket of a 10-year-old coat. A bite sized breakfast, later. He unravels the wrapper to catch the candy on his palm and scoops dinner into his mouth.

He imagines crimson stripes swirling on his tongue. He massages the specks of scars where he used to jab needles. The sugar crusts his throat and tongue so he sucks the candy harder. It melts into a smaller relic of itself. And he remembers the mint cough drops his mother shoved down his throat.  Who was now sealed in an urn in some other state, somewhere. “Cure the coughs for a while.”

His needle scars itch. He chomps down the candy. His teeth shatter the small swirling glass into tiny shards that poke his gums. Like when his bare hands first scraped the pavement, forever ago. He sucks on his bleeding tongue. He licks the shards, smooths the sharp edges like he did when rubbing his bruises, forever ago.

Snow sprinkles down from the sky. He opens his mouth to catch the frozen water. He shuts his mouth after a few drops. It washed out the mint.  He laps up the residue on his palm.

For the first time in a long time, he is grateful to breathe.

-Edited by Derrick Rice

Dionysia 2015

For this year’s Dionysia, held at the Honors College, the Aletheia is seeking readers, performers and artists to showcase their work on the theme of conflict. Each year the Dionysia is based around an updated version of a Greek tragedy or comedy , which is performed by students. The festival also includes a range of artistic events, panel conversations, etc.

We would love to showcase your work dealing with conflict! Details listed below- or feel free to send us questions at thealetheiasubmissions@gmail.com

 

DIONYSIA POSTER

Feature: Wade Meadors

Wade Meadors is currently a student at the University of Houston’s College of Architecture. The Aletheia sat down with Wade to discuss his experiences as a student of architecture and past projects. Some of these include a joint project based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the LA River YMCA, and Architecture as Theater.

 

You can view Wade’s animation for Architecture of Theater here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CMABaOvndc

 Wade’s portfolio can be viewed at:

http://issuu.com/wademeadors/docs/portfolio_713f04a171d9eb

Interview and video conducted by Diamante Reyes

Call for submissions and editors!

The Aletheia Journal is currently seeking undergraduates from the University of Houston to submit work for our upcoming journal and to apply for editor positions!

Every semester we publish a print journal, along with online content, featuring undergraduates from the University of Houston working in a variety of media. We are currently accepting submissions through December 21. We accept all forms of art including poetry, fiction, theater, visual art, music, and more! Full submission guidelines here: https://thealetheiajournal.wordpress.com/submission-guidelines/

We are also seeking new editors. The journal maintains 3-5 associate editors at any given time, and the position is open to any University of Houston undergraduate. Editorial duties include reviewing submissions, designing print content, conducting interviews, and marketing the journal. Please send a cover letter (including graduation date) and resume to thealetheiasubmissions@gmail.com

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