These days, I am discovering my poet voice once more. I’ll sit at the computer, and type a sentence that occurs in my mind, and then another follows, and another. The topic is undetermined when I start, but it sculpts itself as I write, and then I have a finished product that is as perfectly formed as… hamster droppings, I don’t know. The process is painless, but perhaps this is because I am a newish writer.
It wasn’t always this way though.
I started writing poetry in February of 2011, when I was hospitalized at NYU Langone Medical Center for psychosis. At the time, I was wrestling with thoughts that I was the reincarnation of Beethoven. The poetry allowed for me to release so much that I kept bottled up within me. And when I left the hospital a couple of weeks later, I lost my job and had to quit grad school. All the work I had done to foster a career as a classroom music teacher… gone. Wiped clean. Back to square one.
All I had was my poetry.
I was instantly inspired to share it with whomever. I filmed numerous micro-videos of me, reciting my poetry, and then put them on YouTube. The words were abstract, but not in the “right” way, perhaps. Parents of the school where I taught, friends of mine on Facebook… they saw these videos and immediately knew that I was not well. I was overweight, my eyes had a frightening-stare quality to them, and at times I spoke in a baby voice. One poem was about a child looking at his wee-wee in the bathtub. While this sort of creativity was good for my soul, it embarrassed my reputation.
And yet I didn’t care. My wellness and freedom of expression trumped all.
Fast forward to November of 2012. This psychotic break was worse than the previous one. Although I still thought I was Beethoven again, I also thought that I was a soulless person with the spirit of a Satanic dragon, destined to one day break open like Pandora’s box and instigate global apocalypse. It was frightening. A couple of days before being hospitalized, I sustained a blunt hit to my head, which then caused me to have then-permanent British accent. During the 4-week hospitalization that followed, I walked around like a little genius, always with a pen and notebook in my hand, scrawling down poetry at every whim.
The doctors thought I was clever. My accent, the studiousness, my sudden extroversion… they bought my act. But that is another story.
I had the strangest methods of writing though, perhaps reflectant of my mental torture? Or perhaps it was simple creativity. While reading a biography of Lord Byron, I would intuitive select perhaps 5 or 8 words from a paragraph, and then write them at the top of the page. I’d then spontaneously write a poem using these words, and deem the poem finished when all of them were used. I suppose I could adopt this strategy again now. But back then, it seemed VITAL. Like it was a spiritual calling to select each word… each word spoke to me “PICK ME: I AM ETERNAL WISDOM.”
So many people complain that medications stifle creativity, and that they must be off of their medications to harness their God-given creative gift. A birthright. I used to think this way. I went off my meds dangerously, cold turkey, with no supervision. Whatever creative freedom I achieved due to this, was soon dwarfed by my incapacity to function and interact with the real world. My mind invented its own reality, which became too distracting for me to even allow me to wield a pen. At my very worst, I was afraid to write with a pen, period. Because whenever I read my handwriting, I thought it was the handwriting of Satan.
Looking back, I realize that heavy medications are the answer for me. Because when I am NOT medicated, my brain runs at a million miles a minute. I have frightening paranoia and delusions non-stop, similar to a bad acid trip that never ends. It is paralyzingly creative. With the medications, it slows this stuff down and allows me to actually function in the real world. Now, my delusions become my creative well-spring. I am lucky to have such a “gift.”
I am thankful to my lucky stars every day for the societal stability of New York City. If ever there was a disaster that shattered my life as I know it, and I lost access to my medications… my life would be over. If it became an apocalyptic scenario, I’d run straight to the pharmacy and ransack all the Clozapine, Effexor and Lamictal in the place, and then send my family out to go to other pharmacies to do the same. I am an addict, and there is no getting around it.
I remember that scene in one of the X-Men movies, where Jean Grey-turned-Dark Phoenix has a last word as Jean Grey where she tells Wolverine to kill her. “Kill me…” she pleas. And then he stabs his three talons into her chest, murdering the axis of evil. Well that’s me. Because when I am ill, I get commands, telling me to move my body here, grip that piece of metal there. One time, I blacked out while attacking people. Humorously, I started screaming about being an X-Man once I came to, still writhing under the grip of seven or so people.
Perhaps we, the mentally ill, are indeed X-Men. But there is nothing glamorous about what we experience. Whatever “powers” we may have, they are often not something harness-able. Instead, they simply destroy us. It might be that we need to have a Professor X to emerge to teach people how to utilize what they have, but nothing yet has been devised. It might be that such a leader would have mental illness him/herself.
This is why the career of being a mental health peer specialist excites me. I am at the forefront of mental health care. And since I’ve been through a shitstorm, I really can offer compassion and support even to some of the most broken people.
That is why mental illness is so isolating. We suffer more than society is capable of understanding. Society cannot console us. Why? Too many niceties. What is the answer?
Or simply, education?
“Hail, poetry, thou heav’n born maid!” – Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance