WHEN MY ILLNESS WAS MY LIFE

I was the bipolar poster boy
When my illness was my life:
Super Consumer
Drop-In Center
Support Group
NAMI Organization
Seminar presentations
Academic publications
Consumer community
High functioning.
The eyes of all consumers waited upon me
—We understand one another—
I was my psychiatrist’s favorite
When my illness was my life
And the textbooks labeled me mentally ill, label me
A chapter now closed on the fulness of my life
I can hardly recollect in my life now
Realize that the textbooks still label me mentally ill
My life then, when my illness was my life

My 12-Step community was my life
About which I must keep anonymity
At the level of press, radio, film, and poetry
My only friends
My social life
My whole life
Salvific meetings
Salve
Salvation
Save
And healing persists in the 12-Steps
And I live the principles in all my affairs
But all my affairs are not only in and of
The meeting rooms I attend
All my affairs are not only the 12-Step community

Life does not launch me into recovery
Not as failed life once did
Recovery launches me into life
I must live with, but not by, my illnesses
My illnesses walk with me, will ever walk with me
While I walk this mortal coil
I embrace the whole world that walks among life outside meeting rooms
Life that finds fulfilment among hypergoods that thrive outside meeting rooms
Outside the Consumer Drop-In Center
Recovery, sanity, serenity, meetings, pills
Launch
Launch me
Launch me into fulness of life
This, my life of
Music
Verse
Friends
Amusements
Work
Study
Love
Spirituality
Fulness of life
Life outside the drop-in center, meeting rooms
The illnesses that no longer make me who I am
No longer make life what life is
The chapter closed
Poem concluded
I compose new stories in the fulness of life I live
Write new poetry

EXPECTATIONS

A whole community of us; a whole culture

A drop-in center, network, support groups, community clinic

Psychiatric symptoms so severe; we understand one another

We all knew each other when I was there

Yet, since we aren’t raving, regular people who see us expect

We function as if our symptoms are not severe

Who don’t understand us as we do one another

Grudge against government hand-outs

Which I barely function well enough

To be denied

Barely function

Function well enough

Just well enough

To be shamed by my co-workers’ expectations

That I function better

As if I didn’t have an illness

Not understand

That it is my best and I do have an illness

And so the whole community of us who understand

One another, our culture, our community, our symptoms

“You have an illness;” she said, “You shouldn’t be working.”