This past week has been a week of reflection on my experience with mental illness. I’ve garnered all my strength, hope and determination to be vocal about this issue in order to help others struggling with their inner demons, crippling fear and inexplicable numbness that accompanies individuals with mood disorders. It’s time to get loud in the only way I know how: through the written word.
No talkin’ shit about a pretty sunset. I can now enjoy the beauty that life has to offer
Throughout the years that I suffered with depression, pharmaceutical-induced psychosis* and a hodgepodge of other symptoms, my life and my poetry has made a miraculous transformation. In these following poems, I was in the grips of my darkest days, my persona was like a dark horse; galloping through the cold, numb tundra of a life that kept expanding with a never ending landscape of despair and pain. I’m happy to say I climbed off that horse long ago to reclaim my life and my happiness.
“Black is back”
Her bones just
she’s coming back
She is coming back
it has no slack
up a latter
she is no hatter
black is leaving
it is quick
waxing like a
Once it had left
grabbed the keys
this was theft
Gone for notion
do not stare
she is bare
Young serpent, I swear
once you coil
you are now there
down off that
into my nest
Ahh, so much rhyming! It must have been all the antidepressants I was on. I wrote this in a vigorous creative fury in study hall in 10th grade while suffering from another episode or “relapse” of the depression. Depression is very much like the waves of an ocean. For awhile, you’re up and content and then you suffer another traumatic episode and your meds are tinkered with. In poetic terms, the serpent will curl inside you once again. The calm is gone and you’re also hit with a storm of side effects from an increase in the medication. In my experience, the side effects of the medication were almost as bad as the depression. Wellbrutin, traditionally used by doctors to help with aggressive behaviour actually made me aggressive.
I feel like whipping out the red pen on this one as I read it again after so many years. One day I’ll take the time to make some overdue revisions on it. Although this is a classic in my collection and was in fact published in Teen Ink magazine in January 2005. The “young serpent” will always be immortalized as a metaphor for my depression.
“A breed apart”
Stuck together, but not apart
Two breeds are one without a start
The lesser of two evils.
the greater of one skill
Once more for the kill
Float along now, float as you say
Break apart the skin
The dangers are only within
Flew off like the hat of a doll
as ink spurts from the pen
Catch it, before it slips
On the verge of becoming one
These are no birches, these are no trees
beyond the fogness as they are
Let them split
before they dwell
send me, please, into
my silent hell
Written sometime in 2007 or 2008, I wrote this a few years after I went off my medications for good but was still suffering from mild bouts of depression and dealing with the pressures of university life. I no longer had the wave-like symptoms of depression that I was stricken with as a teen on antidepressants but I still suffered and the dangers of it were always lurking nearby. Yes, i’m saying I was in a MUCH worse condition on the medication than I was off. Isn’t that ironic?
In this poem, I envisioned myself as splitting into two parts as a way to get rid of the depression: One half is depressed and the other is happy. I was fighting to get those two halves to merge and I think that they finally have. The stanza that reads “Let them split/before they dwell/send me please/into my silent hell” is a desperate cry for triumph over my illness.
”A fearless Desertion”
You woke up early the day you died,
face down in the dreaded dust,
drinking from the potholes like black coffee,
this could have been your grave,
now you slobber with
the drool from your mouth is the only liquid in this place
I saved you from the crows that morning,
allowing myself to become a shield as they pecked viciously at my back
your earnest protector,
I dropped you off here as your guardian
unlike any stray cat
Forgotten is the importance of sincerity,
with your own garden as a rare duality
tending to the roses like lies,
Georgia O’Keefe’s flowers
their endless petals
stretching out for eternity,
this is the trellis for which you build your power,
the vicious cacti underneath
it was in the sky that morning,
a lone cattle skull in the twilight,
a brilliant silhouette
singled out in its featureless interior,
a slice of death for
your fiercest competitor
you were locked down like a fearless mortal
Then they came for you,
crouching over you like a four-legged ghost,
protecting your leftovers
the bones cracking in the heat like old porcelain
an abstraction that is scant
I never buried you anyway.
I admit this work is an unusual choice to showcase my depression-related material, as I was doing a lot of experimenting with punctuation, line breaks and huge gaps of space. I had just gotten back into O’Keefe’s work and had almost a whole year of studying the Canadian long poems of the 70’s and 80’s so of course my own work was informed by that.
Although the subject, setting, tone and imagery all are experimental, this poem does indeed signify the beautiful death of my depression ( “the vicious cacti underneath”) personified as my abandonment of one of my close friends in the desert. I was both expressing the end of a tumultuous friendship and the destruction of my mental illness in the most ferocious and ruthless way possible.
Flower or vagina? You decide.
In the stanza, “like Georgia O’Keefe’s flowers/their endless petals/stretching out for eternity/this is the trellis for which you build your power/the vicious cacti underneath” I am acknowledging the undeniable influence that both this friend and depression has over me and the ongoing pain it has inflicted on me. I am almost murderous in my desire to leave him, and it, behind in the dry, hot wasteland of the desert for the vultures to devour the body. I’m done protecting and nurturing its existence and mortality.
Although O’Keefe’s work has been referenced in recent memory on Breaking Bad while Jesse and his girlfriend Jane are viewing O’Keefe’s painting, ”My Last Door,” and Jane mentions that she thought some of her paintings resembled vaginas. To me, the sharp contrast of the cattle skulls and flowers in the desert setting in her work express a desire to embrace life as we’re faced with the reality of death.
*Author’s note. When I say I experienced pharmaceutical-induced psychosis, I am referring to an instance when I was misdiagnosed with Bipolar Disoder and prescribed a mood stabilizer drug called Depakote. I was also prescribed Topamax (also used for migraines and seizures), Limictal and Risperdal which are used for the treatment of Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and was not even being treated for my depression by this “licensed medical professional.” After a week in the mental health unit in the hospital, the managing physician said just before my discharge that she believed that those medications and my depression being untreated for so long caused the psychosis, this is known as psychotic depression.
As a survivor it is my duty to speak up and tell you about your rights as a patient. If you believe your doctor is misdiagnosing you, prescribing the wrong medication and overmedicating you, you have the right to refuse treatment. I didn’t know this when I was young, and I was incredibly weak and vulnerable to the influence of my psychiatrist. Find another psychiatrist who can treat you properly or let your general practitioner/family doctor treat you in the meantime. Don’t let them take advantage of you, you are a person, not a lab rat for them to do experiments on! They went to school to become a doctor in the psychiatric field in order to help people like you, not abuse and demean you.
That’s my rant for the day.
Happy Mental Health Week everyone!