RECOVERY FROM WHAT PEOPLE CALL MENTAL ILLNESS

I’ll always remember; I have to remember
That month behind locked psych wing doors
I also remember the grandiose ideation
When I saw my doctoral dissertation recovering
A spirituality in this dead, secular age beyond recovery
Signifiers of the bipolar diagnosis I will always have
And I am mentally ill, will be thought mentally ill
If anyone finds out, like the job application that asked what meds I’m on
Or the dentist who took a couple steps backward
And asked me when my last episode was when I disclosed bipolar meds
With sadness, I think of 27 years embracing the mental health sub-culture
Believing it was a life—king of the Drop-In Center
Devoting what drive depression and sedating meds hadn’t sapped
What intelligence still shone through medicated fog
Devoting what was left in me to behavioral health sciences;
Publishing my story in a university press; bespeaking me
At international national conferences; brought in year after year to talk
To student nurses; until one year I narrated my accomplishments, asked
“Does it make sense to call me mentally ill?” and was never asked back
Actively sought out by psychiatric treatment teams to represent us

I emerge into the ordinary world

That community which doesn’t require chronic professional helpers
Which doesn’t slouch all endeavor staring at the TV
Vacuously not really watching, when I could be practicing
Scales, arpeggios, chord voicings, playing through old standards
Like the other musicians my age who did for 27 years and they grew
While my sapped drive, called avolition in textbooks, sapped
Year after year my technique 27 years of which I envy in others
And probably will never recapture and make my own like mental illness
All manner of healing techniques and med adjustments
Release the electronic locks and I laboriously push open the doors
Into the ordinary world out of the psych wing
My will strengthens, stronger, strong as it used to be
And when you have the will, you accomplish, can accomplish anything
Not cave before thinking about rising out of bed to do
No, but to rise up from a 27-year bedridden psyche
To strive at overcoming mental lethargy, technical atrophy

Re-enter the atmosphere we call chronically normal

Like the hospital bus dropped me off on the street corner
To fend for myself when I was deemed well enough for release,
Find out what it means to be mentally ill and quarrel
Over the $50,000 bill, which I wasn’t well enough to do
With my student loan money bloating my savings account
Over indigent status and the money I owed the student loan officer
Meant I owed the hospital.  Alone on the street-corner with a $50,000

Broken mind.

It’s not as much bitterness as it is the cost of recovery
The work-out to build up a flaccid psyche, rising
Up out of sedating meds, sedated desires, to take on a world
Even Rip Van Winkle might give up trying in
And sleep another 27 years, or the rest of my life
In the Drop-In Center, where I am king
And there’s nothing you really have to do
If you don’t want