Congratulations to Cierra! – 2024 Scholarship Recipient

Join us in congratulating Cierra!

Cierra has been kind enough to allow us to share her essay on our website for others to see. You can read her essay below:

Cierra (Cici) Henderson

In the quiet corners of existence, where shadows linger like unwelcome guests, there resides a soul roped in a tango of afflictions. Every day, she navigates the labyrinthine corridors of her broken psyche, juggling the weight of her existence that bears down on her like an unseen anvil pressing upon her shoulders. She sees the world outside her window existing only in grayscale, devoid of the colors and vitality it once held. Days turn into endless nights, and nights into endless days, as she grapples with the shadows that cling to her soul. Loneliness is her only companion; the ache in her heart is a reminder of the hollowness within. And in her solitude, she seeks solace in the written word, pouring her thoughts onto pages like an offering to the void. Each word, evidence of her gloom, is etched in ink as if to validate the existence of the chaos raging within.

She is constantly a puppet of her own mind. A frenetic surge of euphoria propels her to reckless heights. Time continues to blur, embraced by endless insomnia. Her laughter echoes through empty space, one devoid of joy. It is maniacal, haunting, a sound that sends shivers down her own spine. She speaks of grand plans and wild ambitions, her words a torrential downpour of enthusiasm that leaves those who listen bewildered and concerned. But soon, the exhilaration takes its toll, and the exhaustion begins to claw at her. The manic flames that had burned so fiercely now flicker and wane. She is drained, vulnerable. And as the world outside her window continues with steady rhythm, she knows that the next chapter of her bipolar narrative will inevitably return. These mental health battles are formidable, but she is used to managing them through many years of experience.

This constitutes her reality, or at least it used to.

Suddenly, a relentless intruder silently weaves its cruel web around her life, ensnaring her in a slow, agonizing descent into its unforgiving grip. What was once a manageable existence soon becomes a somber symphony of suffering. Systemic Sclerosis makes its unwelcome entrance into her life, as if the fracture of her psyche wasn’t burdensome enough. The disease tightens its noose, and her body begins to betray. The skin that once knew softness and elasticity transforms into an unyielding prison, constricting her every movement. She can only but watch in helpless anguish as her fingers, once nimble and dexterous, curl into painful claws, rendering even the simplest tasks a herculean effort. Pain, a constant companion, sears through her body like molten lava, a reminder of her own vulnerability. Each step becomes an act of defiance against the mounting physical pain, and every breath feels like a struggle against the tightening vice around her chest.

Daily routine becomes more of a grueling ordeal. She is overwhelmed by medications, doctor visits, and therapies. Medical appointments blur into an endless procession of tests, scans, and treatments. Each new medication is meant to bring hope, but it’s always fleeting. The side effects and the realization that she is forever trapped in this decaying body is an inescapable torment. Expectations begin to wane, drowned out by the reality of a condition that seems intent on stealing every ounce of motivation and vitality. Once more, the days dissolve into a monotonous gray, a familiar sensation, and hope recedes into a distant memory. It’s a battle she fights in silence, concealing her inner turmoil behind a façade of happiness in the company of others.

Though she embraces her destiny, a deep-seated fear lingers for the day when a mirror reflects not herself, but a stranger’s face, distorted by the grotesque effects of this disease. Her once-smooth skin will evidently bear the scars of her campaign, marked by patches of sclerosis. The external transformation will mimic her internal turmoil, as she knows her organs will bear the brunt of the assault. Her mind is already a battleground, a cacophony of self-loathing, doubt, and despair that she believes will soon reflect her physical form. She often questions her worth, purpose, and whether she has any place in this world. Relationships fray at the edges, strained by the unpredictable nature of her emotions. Friends or family offer little support, but how can they understand the storm that rages within when it’s isolated in a corked bottle?

Some days, she wonders if surrender is the only way out, a reprieve from the ceaseless misery.

Yet, in the darkest of nights, when sleep eludes her and despair hangs heavy in the air, she stands at the intersection of her two worlds as a reluctant observer of the human experience. She tastes the bitter dregs of suffering and the intoxicating heights of mania, and in this tragic juxtaposition, she realizes that she has come to understand that life is but a grim duality. It’s a pendulum that swings between the agony of the flesh and the ecstasy of the mind. It’s the fusion of these afflictions that gives her the dubious gift of seeing life from two starkly contrasting perspectives.

On one side, she is keenly aware of the decay and fragility of her own existence. She watches her body harden, her dreams shatter, and her loved ones withdraw. The world appears as a desolate, unforgiving landscape, and her future seems like a journey through a never-ending night. On the other side, there’s a peculiar clarity that emerges from the chasm of hopelessness. It’s in the moments when the storm of bipolar depression subsides, and she finds herself on the precipice of mania. In these fleeting instances, she perceives life with a fervor and intensity that few can fathom. Colors are brighter, sounds are sharper, and the world becomes a notebook on which she can engrave her wildest imaginations. The euphoria is intoxicating, providing a faint ember of optimism. It’s a feeble light, but it’s there. Perhaps, amidst the torment of systemic sclerosis, she can find solace in the small moments. A warm sunbeam streaming through the window, the sound of a pen scratching against paper, or the feeling of a gentle touch on her hand. These moments of comfort provide a small interlude from the darkness that engulfs her life. While her journey is undeniably steeped in sorrow, perhaps she can learn to endure, to exist as a shadow of her former self and embrace her grim fate as a twisted, bittersweet gift.

And so, she stands at the intersection of these two worlds, jotting down her experiences, as the march of time has not been kind. Systemic sclerosis gnaws at her physical form, while bipolar depression tears at the fragile fabric of her sanity. Her perspective, once an intricate mosaic of adversity and elation, is dim. In the end, there’s a certain tragic beauty in experiencing life from such divergent vantage points. But beauty is a fleeting notion, and as she confronts the abyss of her own mortality, she still longs for release from this dual existence.

This is my story, and it’s one I’ll continue to write, even when the ink runs bleak.