Artist’s statement: This 8-page sequence, “Shards,” is part of a longer graphic memoir (in progress) titled InQuest. The memoir documents my own experience in a psychiatric hospital during a particularly intense mental health crisis, and my slow reentry to life routines after returning home.

I can still feel those experiences in my muscle memory. I vividly recall the sensations of fear, confusion, desperation, and dissociation. I could tell I was not making sense to those around me, but did not know how to change that. I was flooded with perception and realization, but could not find a coherent way to express what was happening in my mind.

One image that has stayed with me ever since this time is that of a sharp squiggly shape, like a shard of glass. When I imagine this shard shape, it represents fragmentation of thought and of self – which is what that experience felt like to me. My thoughts were not missing or meaningless simply because they did not make sense to those around me. My thoughts were there and they had meaning, they were just splintered. It would take time to reassemble them – and myself – after that splintering.

What I hope comes across in this work is the message that all parts of ourselves are valid and meaningful – even the shards and splinters. It may be tempting to dismiss or discard the sharper, more painful pieces of ourselves, seeing them as dangerous by nature. But if we discard these pieces, we are discarding pieces of our full selves. If we deem those shards as “dangerous” by nature, then what are we saying about ourselves?

Instead of dismissing people during their most difficult times, we must strive to accept and support folks for precisely who and how they are in the moment. Mental health is not an end goal. It is fluid and messy and unpredictable. It is not contingent on everything going as expected. Acceptance and support, then, shouldn’t be contingent on that either.


To see the author discussing the work in context with the larger project, click below:


Image Descriptions

I have 31,639 photos saved on my phone. I am a hoarder of many things: pictures, videos, trinkets, birthday cards, dead flowers, and most significantly, memory.




The Cloud has allotted me a dangerous ability to hold on to and reflect on moments more than one should be able to. My photo album eats up a large chunk of the phone’s storage. I feed it continuously with the promise of deleting, although I rarely do: what would I lose if I were to rid my phone of the thousands of images I likely don’t need? It’s a question I’ve considered but have been afraid to answer.


There are pictures of me in all different stages of adulthood saved to my phone. There are some from my first years of college and some from the last. Ones from graduate school and after. There are pictures of exes, friends, and family. My dog, other people’s dogs, random insects with which I’ve had portrait-mode photoshoots. There are photos of people I’ve loved and people I currently love. There are photos of people who are dead. I hold onto them as though keeping them will stop the years without those people from expanding.


I can look at a photo, just about any that I’ve taken or been in, and know exactly what I was feeling at the time.

See: a picture of me smiling in a bird store, a blue-and-yellow macaw perched on my arm. I see that and I remember how it feels to have been loved in all of the wrong ways. Not pictured: a man who only phones after dark; my face pressed into the carpet of his bedroom floor; a chronic stomach ache; ten months and the more I will let him take from me. The bird is a shining gold and royal blue. I am the smallest version of myself I have ever been. I keep the picture on my phone for days when I need to remember whom I have survived.




I keep the pictures I took in my yellow-lighted bathroom of my stomach flexing in the mirror, daring abs into view. Not pictured: a fear of rice; a fear of bread; a fear of pasta; a fear of carbs; protein bars that made me sick; a near empty refrigerator; the day I ate nothing but broccoli; the urge to cry at every restaurant; crying when the toast came out buttered; heat exhaustion; dehydration; a boyfriend with an Instagram feed full of women who are not me; a boyfriend who does not love me and never will; an image of health that is anything but.


A picture of my best friend from college and me: a selfie we took with soft smiles, another where we are squeezed together in a hug in front of a street sign in somebody’s backyard. Not pictured: the drugs in our system, prescribed and recreational; the many midnight trips to In-N-Out via Uber; laughing so hard one of us pees; me getting cursed out for not sharing someone else’s cocaine; Saturdays at the mall; Sundays at the beach; the years to come and her last; a tweet that sounds like a suicide note; months of therapy; a lifetime of regret.




A picture of my father and I on a trip to California from when I was in high school, both of us smiling, his head bald. Not pictured: the two years of uncertainty; the chemo that was supposed to be radiation; coming back from summer camp to find him without hair; fear of what if and a possible recurrence looming on every horizon.


A picture of an ex and me on vacation in Mexico. I’m wearing a long black dress with embroidered flowers. He is kissing my cheek. Not pictured: a very public elevator fight; the weeklong trip without any sex; our blatant incompatibility.




A picture of a wall with blue-potted flowers that I took on a trip to Spain with my dad. Not pictured: me hyperventilating the entire plane ride, in the hotel room, outside of the hotel room; the realization that nothing is real; the realization that I am not real; an overwhelming sense of impending doom; the desire to throw myself off of the tallest building; panic attacks that feel like death; wanting to be anywhere else but on Earth.




A picture of me at the county fair, smiling between two friends, stuffed unicorn prize and bag of cotton candy in hand. Behind us, the Ferris wheel rotates. Not pictured: the longest summer of my life; the third psychiatric medication in two months, the first making me unbearably dizzy; the fear that this feeling may never end; psychiatrist appointments; doctor’s appointments; therapy appointments; seventeen hours of sleep a day; taking thirty minutes just to pee because this body didn’t feel like it was mine; Xanax to keep me from crawling out of my flesh; Wellbutrin that makes me manic; the fear that I will be this way for the rest of my life; the knowledge that I will be, cyclically.


Ferris wheel


A picture of a sunset on the beach I took from my apartment window, the sky settling into an amalgam of blue and pink and orange. Not pictured: two nights before this one; a man who does not warn me before he is on top of me; a man who takes and then leaves; his remnants on my face; three showers in a row; cowardice of keeping quiet; memory that will haunt and disrupt.




A picture of me and friends at a sorority formal circa 2015. Not pictured: the excessive drinking beforehand; a shortage of chicken wings and fried macaroni balls at the event; a mediocre DJ; a bus ride full of vomit and no plastic bags in sight.


Thousands of pictures of my dog. Not pictured: constant crying due to the realization that someday my dog will die.




A picture of my hand with a ring on it. Not pictured: my hand shaking with twice the speed it usually does as it is slipped on my finger; his hands also shaking; a love I have always wanted and now have.




My grandparents’ wedding photo. My father in college. A picture I took of a picture of my mother at sixteen. Random farm animals I’ve pet. My birthday cake from four years ago. A meal that changed my life. An incredible croissant I consumed in under 20 seconds. Places I’ve been. Memes that have made me smile. Memes that have made me laugh. Poems that have made me cry, or pause, or have left me with an open mouth. Places I have lived. Things that have made me say, “I need to take a picture of that.” It is both a blessing and a curse to be able to capture, to keep, to review. I hold on to both the bad and the good. I want to remember feeling of any kind. Not pictured: all of the things I wish I had taken more footage of. Not pictured: all of the life that existed before I held a camera phone. Not pictured: the life I have [yet] to experience.




The Little Engine: Four Takes