I used to dread the days when the darkness overpowered the light and the chilly air stole my breath. For so long, this time of year became my measuring stick for sickness.

Allow me to take you back to my first year of illness.

In the lunchroom, some of us are dressed in robes and socks with grippers, while others are sporting three-day-old clothes. Some got to shower with a nurse watching, oh la la. As for me, I’m sitting in black corduroy pants and a black-and-white striped shirt, wearing dress shoes and full makeup. I decided not to wear red lipstick because, well, I don’t want to look crazy.

The nurse told me earlier that I could wear a jogging suit. I furrowed my brow and said, “No, thank you, “as I nicknamed her nurse tracksuit in my head.

She told me I was in hospital and I’m here to get better. I told her I was quite aware I was in the hospital, and this is what the better me looks like. She walks away, and I hope a tracksuit will be optional, unlike the pills, bedtime, and mealtimes.

On my first morning in confinement, Nurse Tracksuit instructed another nurse to seat me with a gentle, older man. I wore the uniform I had just arrived in: a hospital gown and red socks with grippers.

The older man asked me if I had a family, and I nodded. He then shared that his wife had passed away. He pushed my tray closer to me and told me to eat so I could get better and return to my loved ones. However, I hung my head and hugged myself as tears collected in the corners of my mouth.

Now, the older man and I make small talk as I peck at my food tray, trying to make tangible reasons for wanting to eat while not wanting to live.

As I take a bite of a muffin and smoosh up the rest to look like I ate, I look at the young man with dark, greasy hair. He is gazing at the sky by the big, unopenable lunchroom window.

A few days ago, he asked if he could sit with me as I drew, and I said yes but would not talk back. In my silence, he told me story after story of the magic he saw in his life. I listened and nodded as I created my world on paper. As the timber of his voice raised in the good parts, I looked up. I saw him gazing up into his mind and all its wonders. I wasn’t there to judge how someone sees the world; I lost that right when the hospital bracelet hit my arm.

Before admission, I rag-dolled alongside my husband through the lobby to the emergency department. The floors sparkled like endless diamonds; it was magnificent! I could feel each sparkle, like wishes trapped in my body. I imagine my face, in that moment, was lit up like his in the good parts of his stories.

I shared with the psychiatrist how the floor downstairs sparkled. He responded that there were no such floors that sparkle. Then he asked me If I believed I had magical abilities. I felt the question was absurd, but I still answered “yes” and wiggled my fingers. Unfortunately, he didn’t find it amusing. He sat there stoic while I hung my head, feeling as deflated as a party balloon that never got to be used.


Over the week, I told the doctor I knew I wasn’t magic, but I insisted the floors sparkled. He disagreed and suggested I could see for myself. He informed the nurses that my husband, Miguel, could accompany me downstairs. Finally, after almost two weeks of confinement, I walked out of the locked doors and stepped onto the elevator that I had been longing to ride to freedom.

I clenched Miguel’s hand as I watched the numbers count down: 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, then Lobby. The doors opened, and I stepped into the hospital’s hustle and bustle.

I gazed around with wide eyes, taking in my dull surroundings.

“Maybe we went a different way?”

Miguel shook his head, no, and the air escaped my lungs; the last breath of my former self.

“I can’t breathe, I can’t…”

Miguel hurried me to a corner to inhale and exhale as I watched the world going on like normal. I felt the division between myself and who I used to be. I wanted the freedom of being back in the ward, safe with meds, mealtimes, and bedtimes.

We walked across the dull floors as he ordered hot chocolate. I looked around and began questioning every “magic moment. Miguel put his arm around me as my chin quivered and said, “It will be alright. You will see the world sparkle again. But first, we have to get you better. As my extra whip deflated, I sat in a world I no longer recognized. A world I would never fit into.

In the lunchroom, a few days after Dr.Oz proved his point and showed me behind the curtain of my mind, it snowed. The snow was that white, puffy, perfect kind.

I remembered my children’s first snow—their wonderment and awe. I would hold their hands out as unique flakes fell on their wee palms. I wanted to be back home with them. I wanted to watch the snow from our window. I wanted to drink hot chocolate with them, thick with whipped cream that stuck to their faces.

As the snow picked up speed, I looked around the room and felt like I was trapped in the most ridiculous snow globe ever.

It was in the mists of this snow globe; the magic boy leaped up and ran over to the window.

“Look, He said, look! The snow is going up! Nurse tracksuit told him to sit.

“But look, come see! He gestured with an enormous smile and menacing eyebrows.

Some patients abandoned their meals and rushed to the window.

Awe poured out. “Yes, it is! One said, then another and another.

“The snow is going up!”

The nurses tried to get everyone to sit back down. The magic boy looked at me, smiled, and winked as Nurse Tracksuit spoke to him.

The old man with a calm demeanor looked over at everyone and sighed, “Ah, there are all nuts in here. “I smiled at him, and he smiled back.

I watched the patients’ faces light up in the middle of an acute psych ward as perfect-on-your-tongue snowflakes swirled in the boundless sky. In my most profound depression, it was the first time I saw what a belief in something more could do.

It has been over a decade since that day. Now, as the days grow shorter, I don’t need that measuring stick; I’ve outgrown it.

Over those years, I received more treatment in a place more conducive to healing. There, I gained a healthy perspective. I understand I was unwell long before that first hospitalization. I also appreciate Nurse Tracksuit, Dr. Oz, and other realists who grounded me and gave me this magical gift of survival.

As I walked today, the sunlight hit my eyes, and the cold air paused my breath. I thought about those who had their lives cut short by illness and those who are still struggling. I thought about the ones who put me down and how I replaced them with the ones who picked me up. But mostly, I thought about that broken version of me, relentless in her efforts that she could be more than an illness.

Throughout these years, I have changed. I’ve replaced my hot chocolate with coffee. I’ve also replaced my secluded life as an artist with teaching mental well-being art. I take my pills. I have a bedtime, and you may even catch me in a tracksuit, but with lipstick, of course.

 I’ve witnessed a certain kind of magic that has the power to transform people. I saw it sparkle in places where sadness knew no limits. I saw people who were at their worst trying to help others. I saw staff who rose every day to help us live. I saw it through the eyes of my loved ones. And finally, I realized that the magic was also within me. I could see the world in a new light, with a sense of wonder and amazement, much like my children’s first snowfall experience.

As I gaze at the snow falling down outside my teaching studio, I am reminded of my snow globe world and my journey to break free from it. I realized that I didn’t need to conform to fit in. Instead, me and my wiggling magic fingers made our own damn place in this world. I teach art but more so the importance of healing, striving, and surviving despite your obstacles. And if you feel different or left out, well, you are always welcome at my art table.

We often believe we must do something extraordinary to make a difference, but that’s not true. All we need to do is be our best, authentic, and sparkly selves. We need to show up to our lives, even when our minds tell us not to, so we can begin to heal. So wiggle those fingers, even though the tears, because we all possess that crazy little magic, which can also be called by another name—hope.