I've been writing a lot more poetry these past few years; almost everything I write revolves around my mental health and its effects on me. In 2015, after I finished the final draft of The Commodious Life of Cecily Charn, I reached a patch of at least a year where I couldn't write. I was so, so sick. I didn't have any concentration. People would look at me, be speaking to me, and their words seemed like a foreign language. My brain wasn't processing the world correctly, and even if I finally reached a place of understanding, it was such a delayed response that it hardly mattered anymore. I was also so tired I could hardly stand up most days. I felt faint all the time; I would become very dizzy and blackout for twenty seconds at a time. I wasn't (mentally especially, but also physically) in any shape to write.
As I've mentioned before, my body had extremely adverse reactions to antidepressants (it still does), which, combined with malnourishment and stress, caused these symptoms. Once I went off the antidepressants that were putting my life in danger and stopped losing weight so rapidly, I would have very brief bursts of clarity and the energy needed to quickly write down my thoughts. I wrote my first poem because I was frustrated, and emotional, and I needed to type it all out. I couldn't write something long, though, so the thoughts wove themselves into a poem. From then, I was hooked. It felt so nice to be able to write, even if I was also plagued with guilt for not doing something "more productive." (As I've mentioned before, I have some issues with the fine line between productivity and overworking oneself.)
I stopped writing again for a long time after, when even poems were too much. Just recently, I started writing again. All the time, I get these ideas. I have thoughts for when I finally start editing the book I finished the first draft of in October of 2016. I catch snippets of lines that would be perfect for a new book, or a certain scene, or a new idea for a poem. I always get them at the most random times, which means I now have a pile of index cards and sticky notes all over the place. As I was typing some of these completed works into my laptop for safekeeping, I couldn't help but look back at my old poems—it had been so long since I'd read any of them.
It was strange. I couldn't necessarily remember when I wrote each piece, because many of them were written late at night during a short burst of semi-clear thinking before the brain fog settled back down like a heavy curtain over my mind. I felt torn, though, like half of me was transported back to those dark nights while the rest of me was in the present, sitting in the summer sun of my backyard. The poems were dark. They weren't necessarily scary, because I always knew that no matter what kinds of thoughts I had, no matter how much I wanted to simply stop existing, I would never take my own life.
I have the thought that suicide doesn't end suffering—it simply transfers it. And the thought of passing on my pain to my mom, or my brother, or my dad, or anyone near me who would wonder if they missed something, if things could have been different... That thought is scarier than reliving my worst day over and over. And trust me, just thinking of living like that makes my throat close up and my skin turn red and my heart speed up. It seems unthinkable. It seems impossible. It seems like Hell on Earth. And sometimes, just living feels that scary. Another one of my thoughts, though, is that we can always keep going. People often say that they can't do something. The thing is, though, that they probably can. We can keep moving and keep conquering the "impossible" until we meet the thing that kills us, as blunt as that may sound. And seeing as I've no idea what will eventually kill me, my philosophy is that God will always give me the strength to do the things I am far to weak to do on my own. All I have to do is push through and come face-to-face with them, even if I'm trembling as I confront my worst fears.
If you just read my poems, though, and you didn't know that, you would be worried. My first thought was fear that someone would find them one day and think that they were recent, and that I was suicidal, because I don't want to scare someone like that. The world has tried everything it can to get rid of me, but I'm still here, and I plan on sticking around as long as God intends me to.
As I read the poems, it was almost like a gothic rainbow. Mainly, they started out as the darkest color known to man. As they progressed, though, they slowly became lighter, even if they're yet to near anything resembling a bright hue. It was nice be reminded that even if things aren't good, they aren't at their worst, and that's something. I'm usually hesitant to share that I've improved from whatever my past predicament was, because we're used to a world of black and white, healthy and sick, and I live in a world of chronic illness and the terms "healthier" and "regression." I wrote a poem about it, and I wanted to share it, because it explains a bit of what it's like for me, though I truly do enjoy and appreciate people's kind words, when those around me underestimate what I'm still going through just because I'm better than I previously was. I titled the poem "Relatively."
They beam when they see me.
“You’re so healthy!”
“You’re doing so great!”
“I’m so glad you’re better!”
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the comments;
It’s not that there isn’t a bit of truth in their words.
I’m healthier than I was, relatively speaking.
I’m doing better than I was, relatively speaking.
But I’m not healthy. I’m not better.
I never will be, in all likeliness,
Unless I'm granted a miracle.
People don’t like it when I say that,
That I won’t get better.
The thought makes them uncomfortable;
It’s not a situation they’re used to dealing with.
In a world full of “Get Well Soon!” cards
And fast-acting treatments,
They think I’ve given up hope, sometimes.
It’s hard for them to realize that I’m okay with
Just being okay,
Because it’s all I know.
I don’t know what it’s like to be healthy,
And feel vibrant—to feel alive.
I don’t know what a true childhood is like,
What a healthy one would be like,
Even in a world where no one goes without adversary.
I’m okay with a life of ups and downs,
And I’m thankful I’m having an “up” right now.
It hurts when people diminish the health problems I still face
Every single day, though.
It still hurts when people pretend I haven’t
Gone through a single tough experience in my life.
It hurts when I have to hide every day,
When I have to put on an act daily.
That was the hardest part about leaving the hospital,
Even though being there was far harder.
I still pretended there, sometimes.
I didn’t always show how upset I was.
I could openly talk about my feelings, though,
And my symptoms,
And things I was facing,
If I needed.
Even if the responses weren’t always what I wanted them to be,
I at least knew they were coming from an educated place,
Even if my case isn’t always textbook.
In the real world, no one knows,
And no one cares.
They want me to just be better already,
Or put on a smiling face so they can pretend I am.
Relative to where I was,
I’m better. I’m healthier.
But I still live with pain and anguish every day,
And I never know what the next day will bring.
Will it be better, relatively?
Will it be worse, relatively?
It’s a game of comparisons, but
The world sees it as black and white.
I don't know if that helps clarify or condense my feelings at all; it does to me, but they're my thoughts, so I'm a bit too familiar with them to truly tell :) . I changed the poem a bit from its first draft; I added in the part about a miracle later on. Not all prayers are answered, because not all prayers are God's will. Some people don't quite understand that, and they pushed me to pray for a miracle with my whole heart (which I feel no resentment for, as they had good intentions). And when I've listened and prayed for miracles in the past, truly believed in what I was praying for, I've been met with heartbreak. It hurts. It hurts so badly to pour yourself into the belief of something only for it to fall through. That hurt more than thinking about life continuing as it's proceeded thus far for me, and it was hard on my relationship with God. I know now that though I shouldn't condone myself to a life of illness, I'm not wrong for being okay with it, and I will always be thankful for God's support and love, no matter what His plan for my life. I don't always get a whole lot of support from those outside of my family and my God, but their never-ending love and compassion are a gift I'm so very thankful for, and it makes me even more thankful when I receive sweet words from more unexpected sources.