WHEN MY ILLNESS WASN’T MY LIFE

My illness once was my life, when I was the bipolar poster boy

When I needed, I needed to know, needed help, needed support, community
My illness was all bewildering—new to a shattered world, my world
When the fulness of my life sunk into my illness
My identity reposed in the drop-in center
When the eyes of all consumers waited upon me
My category slotted me High Functioning: the drop-in center super consumer
When my illness was my life and I befriended NAMI’s salve
My life and acquired competences sent me all across the US
When my story lectured at local, state, national, and international conferences
My recovery article published me in university journal and recovery workbook
When my illness was my life and I was a textbook label, the bipolar poster boy

My illness echoes in my every life outside the doors of the drop-in center
My recovery calls me to thriving stories outside psychiatric textbooks
My illness recurs but ritual chant in archaic language of quaque hora somni pills
My recovery fashions me in the image and likeness of a wholeness I always was
My illness wrapped me in clouds, warped self-image flashing fragments past self
My recovery closes the textbook identifiers written upon a terrible chapter
My illness fades in the clarity now illuminating the mind it once dominated
My recovery lives as a poem, a song, a choir of friends, a cathedral of love
My illness shadows my awareness as a backward glance into the dark
My recovery belies the stigmata that would mark me as unholy, unwhole, ill
My recovery nearly makes me an unbeliever, that there ever was a time

My illness was my life, when I was the bipolar poster boy

DIATONIC DISORDER

It was such a kick, I couldn’t contain myself
“I’m going to quit school and go back into music!”
My girlfriend thought I was serious and it scared her
We had rendezvoused at The Backyard Bar in Newton Center
Subsequent to my performance on guitar at a Harvard variety night
I stayed in school and gigged through it in a couple bands
Playing way into the night at home, too, alone in my basement, most nights
My drive collapsed; my confidence broke subsequent to
My first bipolar disorder episode
“I’ve got you covered,” my partner assured my broken nerves
Subsequent to him asking me to sit in, and I got through Johnny B. Goode
We played in a band before my confidence was
Crushed, bravado broken
Before my psychotic episode eroded
The self we both knew
Bold, brash, commanding
Years subsequent, we talked, over a few days, about good times on my visit
Performed a couple simple songs we used to play at an open mike
He noticed me shaking, heard me fumble a few notes
Didn’t want to hear my narrative
The tragic episode bipolar wrote for me
Doesn’t want to hear about me weak,
Subsequent to the visit I was on jazz keyboard back home at an open mike
“How did it feel to be back onstage?” Brett asked
“Terrible!” I exploded and surprised Brett
“It was clean!” Brett protested to my collapse
But also said that he noticed me shake, subsequent to my asking him about it

Almost convulsing onstage at the keyboard
Did the audience notice?
As I started the song, I desperately wanted to stop
Run
Interruptus
But the song had to go on
The song I was in the middle of
The song I shook all the way through
All the interminable way through
Shaking
Agony

“I wanted you to solo some more,” my teacher said,
Subsequent to my performance
He didn’t know, didn’t notice.
I don’t play way into the night, anymore, alone, at home
Don’t feel like it
Don’t perform—can’t perform, looks like
Subsequent to diatonic disorder

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

COMING TO TERMS

It’s dawning on me that I will not be able

To reclaim 27 years lost,

The development I could have experienced,

When pills and depression

Robbed me

Of a competence I once had,

Which could have flourished into greater form

No, I can’t reclaim those years

Nor the increased competence I would have gained in those 27 years

I must accept the limitations on

My ability

Sad, or philosophical

I cannot reclaim those years

I may never recover even what I once was

Let alone what I could have become

With 27 years of practice, application, learning

Tragic, the waste, those lost 27 years

Coming to terms with what I am, where I am

The competences I do have, not

Those I don’t have, I could have had

THAT STRANGE SADNESS

My mind returns to the sharpness

I used to have

My will returns to a strength

I used to feel

Subsequent to a med adjustment

And relief from soporific side effects

I feel a strange sadness

As I contemplate the former competence

I used to enjoy

And wonder, at my mature age, whether

To attempt to recapture

My former competence

Or to rest in the memory

Of what I used to be

In that strange sadness