A Shade of Tempest

Poetry by Annie Joan Dimyan
Text by Jane Dimyan Ehrenfeld

“Annie. Annie! Annie…”

But it is no use – Annie is gone again. Huddled in a ball in her bed, on the sofa, on the floor, she has descended into some fathomless place I cannot reach. She is nine, but in these moments she resides in a world that doesn’t care how old she is, or what she is equipped to handle. In the Dark Deep, as she once described it in a song she wrote, everything is ugly and dark and solitary. And I can only wait beside her, rub her back, murmur comfort, until she returns.

The Cycle

I am a boat leaking with worry water
     I am the sea that carries it far beyond the sunset
           I am the fish that feasts on the worry water
               I am the eagle that feasts on the worry fish
I am the girl who reads this poem
     I am her mind that breathes in the worry
         I am the body that meditates the worry boat
            To worry island.

What are the shapes and contours, the moods and breezes, of parenting a child like Annie? A wild light since she was tiny, diagnosed with childhood mental illness at age eight, exploding with life but wishing for death – I have worked with children since college and still was unprepared. But naturally my readiness, my perspective, how this lands for me, all matter far less than what Annie is living through every day.

Harmony is a song in perfect pitch no mistakes just like them not like me to everyone I am a dust bunny who ruins everything they are the ballet en pointe I am the storm that blows away the stage they are the birds who sing babies to dreams and I am the crow who scares people to nightmares.

Yet among the ruins of what was supposed to be an easy, uncomplicated childhood (which privilege would have us think is a birthright), there are treasures. Each gold coin has pain stamped on one side, but the flip side! Such beautiful empathy. Her lovely extroversion; how countless times she has introduced a child she met only minutes before as “my best friend” (often, amusingly, it’s “my best friend…what’s your name?”). Her preternatural ability to observe and talk about her thoughts and feelings. The way she has been a naturalist since her little years, imbued certainly with the spirit of the ecologist grandma she was named for, who died ten months before Annie was born. And her poetry – her poetry! – which flows through her like molten gold. “Why don’t you write a poem?” I said to Annie one night this winter. And down she sat, and wrote this:


I dip the storm brush in
the stormish paint
and paint the whole world
a shade of tempest.
A silvery glimpse
in every horizon,
darkness in every
window. Every eye
facing the midnight
sky. As far as the eye
can see, everything
is ash. Not one speck
of light can paint the
world back to its
original form.

I know from deep experience that we all have the capacity for manic and depressive states, and that Annie just lives the peaks and valleys at a rare intensity. I also have my own vivid highs and lows, even if they are the Alps to Annie’s Himalayas, and so I feel that I have a kinship with her that allows me a window into her experience. Some of my favorite times are when we are walking together in some beautiful place, or snuggled up together, talking, just talking. Annie flows then, she sparkles, and her thoughts tumble-jump out of her, often culminating in an exclamation: “I have a poem to write!”


but no
I am
a humming
bird unperturbed
but then the
pinch flutter
no not flap
flutter away

I do not mean to suggest that the sum of Annie’s parts is her illness/gift. She loves sloths and art and music and soccer, she has a natural (and wild) sense of style that makes me green with envy, she has friendships and friend dramas, she does well in school and is happiest outdoors and adores visiting her grandpa. It is just that when she stops to write the world as she sees it, it comes out like this:

This Trip

This trip
is longer than
the Connecticut
Road and
shorter than
the Silk Road
we carried more
supplies than
burdens there
were more clouds
than people
and fewer
mountains than
trees and more
songs than talks

Even when she was tiny, Annie lived at the emotional poles. Every day was either THE BEST DAY EVER! or THE WORST DAY EVER! There was no middle, no happyish medium. Then, beginning in kindergarten, she started complaining of stomachaches and other physical ailments, all of which seemed to be materializing out of various sadnesses and stressors. But it was not until spring of 2020 – just when COVID clamped down – that Annie began to come undone in a scary way, and we realized that what had seemed before like just the facets of an outsized personality, were actually the early manifestations of mental illness.

Crazy and Weird

crazy they call me
hazy it seems to me
weird in loud tones
a knife in my bones
nope nope nope
hope is still hope.

So now Annie lives on an ice floe – sometimes wedged in a dark place, sometimes skimming over calm waters, but always at the mercy of the weather and the tides. She is learning to balance, my little girl on her precarious perch, and it is a powerful thing to see her pull herself back to standing after a fall. Best of all though, is that she understands more and more with each day that her illness is Janus-faced, chiaroscuro, and that the other side of curse is blessing.

I Am But I Am Not

The edge of the world is
all around me but
I am standing in the middle.

I am walking on
yet it is soft as grass.

I am flying in
the air but my feet
are on the ground.

I am sad but
I am jumping for joy.

Jane Ehrenfeld is a lawyer, educator, writer, mediator, and single mom to three daughters, among other things. Her publications include nonfiction essays in The Washington Post, Quartz, and The Huffington Post; satirical essays in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and Slackjaw; and poetry in Prometheus Dreaming, Beyond Words, The Dillydoun Review, and The Feminine Collective. Her writing can be found at https://whimsyandpique.substack.com/.

Annie Dimyan turned ten on April 6, 2022. She goes to Pine Crest Elementary School and her favorite subject is math. She is growing up in Silver Spring, Maryland, and is fascinated by watching her neighborhood change. She loves poetry and soccer, and being outdoors.


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  1. I feel blessed to know Annie…her mom, and sisters.

  2. This is truly extraordinary – so powerful, so transcendent.

  3. I don’t really have the words to describe how beautiful/sad/hopeful/inspiring/frightening reading this is Jane. I’m watching, hopefully helping, my sister and her 18 year old daughter deal with her current mental illness challenges. My own daughter fought help and found her own long painful way to serenity. I am full of gratitude for my niece Ellie’s (and I think your Annie’s) self awareness and and ability to express these tumultuous feelings. Thank you

  4. As I read about your struggles with finding help for your daughter, my stomach clenched and my muscles tightened. I thought about everything we’ve been through with our daughter, who is now 13. (Born March 23rd, 2010) We never expected that we would be unable to find medical help for her. She’s our miracle baby. We believed we would be unable to have children together. When we gave up, she appeared! Mental illness has affected both sides of our family. Now, we are still, after 2 full years, looking for help. The schools couldn’t help us. Doctors haven’t helped. Medicine hasn’t helped. We are swimming in a sea of sludge. Just when we think we’ve found someone or someplace that can help her, we are let down. I know, and as I type this, I want you to know that I mean this completely and entirely, I KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GOING THROUGH. There are so many similarities between our families and struggles. I keep telling myself that one day she will feel better, no suicide ideation, no medication that doesn’t work, no anxiety, no trepidation, no OCD… I feel her pain. I want desperately for her to feel joy, just sometimes, it doesn’t have to be everyday. Even once a week, just anything other than the sadness, anger, hopelessness. I wish the same for your baby… and you and her father. She is so gifted, like my Bell. So intelligent. Maybe that is a part of the problem. They are SO aware at a young age, its so difficult to process their thoughts and feelings. I will be reading your blog and cheering you all on. <3

  5. As a writer and poet I can only say that the words and poetry of this young girl is extraordinary. Artistic expression may be her greatest outlet. Her poetry is beautiful.

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