Background: I wrote this poem today because I had recently watched a bunch of spoken word videos on Youtube that tackled mental illness but none of them reflected my personal experience. I’m working now at a job where I am doing work I believe in, that inspires me. I am given a large degree of flexibility and autonomy and several projects to sustain my attention at once. Basically, I am happy here and I am grateful. This poem reflects more my past than my present–but I will say that the sentiments expressed here haunt me today. I am still constantly worried that I am not good enough or that I’ll make a monumental mistake and everyone will realize I wasn’t supposed to be here after all. These fears are irrational, but they’re a part of what I have to deal with as I heal the wounds caused by my diagnoses.
If I don’t take my pills you tell me I’ve been stupid,
Irresponsible, proud, too proud to take my medicine.
If I tell you I am sorry I was distracted by the
Infinite beauty that surrounds us at all times
And I forgot about that appointment
You tell me not to use my diagnosis as an excuse.
I say it’s not an excuse it was an explanation.
But still I feel guilty so guilty so next time I’ll take
Double the amount of my prescribed medication.
Sometimes I don’t feel as though I have ownership of my disorder.
Like somebody else gets to decide when it is or is not okay
For me to acknowledge my thought patterns might be different
Than the rest of y’alls.
The thing is I’d be proud, honestly, I’d be proud
of how much living I’ve managed to do
in such a short time because of how fast
My mind is moving.
But I worry constantly that I am not measuring up to…
to “my full potential?”
Because I don’t think right, act right.
Focus, focus, focus– I CAN’T!
force attention even when I really want to–
I have to pretend like I was listening
and ask round-about pointed questions so that I can
reconstruct some of our conversations
so that you don’t think I didn’t care
about what you were saying!
I want my life to matter.
I don’t just want it to be a bundle of
unfinished projects that never got off the ground.
But you know Da Vinci only painted
17 pictures in 67 Years?
He was jumping around from this to that
and they still call him a genius artist.
I’m constantly feeling guilty,
because I forgot
To call you on your birthday,
to send out that final email.
Because I stayed up til 3 in the morning
reading articles about different kinds of
Tropical birds and so
I slept through my alarm clock
And was not able to make that meeting.
That I was such an inconvenience.
that I wasn’t able to contain
My curiosity and my joy for life within
the hours of 5 pm to midnight.
I feel like every industry in our society requires
a certain degree of
Willingness to not talk back, to stay on task,
to make the deadline and reach the bottom line and
if you can’t do that, then you just don’t fit in this system.
“Sorry. We’re gonna have to let you go.
The children love you.
But we find your attitude to be…lackadaisical.”
I’ll work more hours, if it’s taking me too long!
I’m sorry I didn’t do it right!
“No, we’re sorry.
It just wasn’t a good fit.”
I don’t want to be the reason that something
didn’t happen fast enough
And somebody didn’t get
whatever it was my services were designed to produce.
I guess I’m just not fit to be a cog in a machine—
but who says cogs are the only kinds of pieces we need?
Don’t we need relays, and information transporters, and microprocessors too?
And I’m not convinced this
machine-like way of categorizing
worth and degree of contribution
is really the best way to go about this whole business anyhow.
Seems like a lot of these systems make the simple tasks
of loving each other
of feeling amazed
of feeling connected to something–anything really,
A lot more complicated.
And maybe that’s just because
I’ve never been able to do things “the right way”
And so I’m biased.
But I gotta say
There’s a lot people today
who think they’re crazy.
And those people are hurting but even more so because
They can’t hold a job.
And they “don’t deserve entitlements”.
They aren’t entitled to live.
And live with dignity.
I’m not trying to make trouble.
I’m SORRY I’m TALKING so LOUDLY.
I’m just excited.
I was just really happy for a second
cuz I forgot I was supposed to be feeling guilty.
Of who I am.
But you know, maybe,
if I can’t do it your way
Then maybe that isn’t the right way
for me to contribute, after all.
And hey, though, did we ever collectively decide
that the value of a human being was to be determined
solely from their ability to contribute in some
clearly defined and pre-measurable way?
Like I think you’ll find that
my life has not been
a complete waste of time.
I think my life has already been significant
to some people,
Maybe I just don’t “apply myself.”
But when I do manage to will myself to
force some approximation of long-term,
single-focused, sustained attention,
that was not occurring in me naturally,
I feel like I’m trapped.
Like part of me has been deadened.
And this is true whether or not I take my medication.
And when I cross things off my to-do list,
yeah – I feel good about it –
But honestly, it’s just because then I can stop hating myself for
Not having done it already.
If there wasn’t some voice inside my head saying,
you’re a promise-breaker—”
maybe I would do less of what I said I’d do in advance.
But I was just not made for following linear plans.
I do circle back.
It all gets done.
I keep my promises.
It just doesn’t happen in the way you might expect it to.
And I’d do more,
if I wasn’t held down.
I’d just keep chasing rabbits
until eventually I stumbled
into a project I could focus on for
just long enough
to make something beautiful.
And then I’d put that down
And I’d go chase another rabbit,
But I’d leave behind in my wake,
I don’t think,
merely unfinished pieces of something
that could have been beautiful—
I think I’d leave behind things that were
in their own way.
And since when was anything ever really finished?
Why is your standard of output for me
as a piece of human capital
the sole means by which I should be
deciding my worth as a person?
And I don’t think my way is the best way
or that everyone should think like me,
but since I DO think like me
I gotta think that the way I think isn’t broken.
I’ll always be just a faulty mechanism
if I’m forced to stay a part of an assembly line.
I still think that I have
A pretty fucking beautiful mind.