This month is Mental Health Awareness Month. As a psychotherapist, themes of mental health often show up in my poetry. Even since I became a therapist almost 16 years ago, the way mental health is accepted has changed drastically. I have worked with you, elderly, adults in inpatient, outpatient, intensive outpatient, residential settings. I have seen the broad spectrum of what mental health encompasses and the tireless devotion the job takes. When I went into this field, I did not expect it to change me (positively and negatively) in the way that it has. You experience people’s lives in a way that typically is not accessible. You begin to know that everyone has a story and the story often explains a lot of behaviors that we as a society write off as ‘good or bad.’ You learn that there is this part of us that is so unique, loving, compassionate and you also see that we’re all just animals trying to get our basic needs met. When our safety is in jeopardy, we do almost anything to give ourselves a sense of safety or control. I wrote the following poem after running an inpatient group in a psychiatric ward years ago. We all struggle a bit with our mental health, some greatly more than others. If you do know someone who is struggling, show up, be there for them, try not to fix them, but validate them, help them find their sense of safety and place.
We scrub for our heartbeats,
for our holes in our childhood attachments,
for the embryos that left us, for the lover who touches us too well
and the one that wants to brand themselves into our skin.
We scrub for the rapes and deaths and the reasons.
We are like junkies for them “This is why I am the way I am.”
We wait for someone to dab the smeared mascara,
to offer to beat those who have hurt us up, with a smile,
for an affecting grimace that moves through the static in our brains. We rummage
through assholes and the bitches,
the passive and the aggressiveness in our natures.
We comb through the shame of being left alone
and bask in the glow of sharing a room with other black sheep.
We look for the plates that prove this is how those early years tasted,
the business of childhood is serious business
that never quite leaves our sides.
We beat ourselves up over or divorces and our misdemeanors.
We talk about the different men and women we became
when the music shifted, when the beat made life dance differently.
We fill our eyes fear, with resignation and torpor.
We take sledgehammers to ourselves trying to break through our grief,
but not all hurt is meant to be panned like gold.
“What you thinkin’ Maryanne?”
“I’m com in’ with you, John,”
“If you say so, Louise..”
“I just can’t do it today, so don’t expect me to really be here.’
“I feel my mood is anxious, I guess.’
We are made of flawed husbands,
tiny spiritual grannies,
girls who drink beers for breakfast,
and girls who want to be pretty,
and boys that want you not to know they invaded a school the other day with an arsenal of guns-
and we talk.
About what we’re drudging for. We talk
about what it’s going to feel like when we’re cleaned up
and made to look nice again for the world.