I have a new poem up on Rattle. It’s a bit personal, about a time when I went crazy, when I lived in Portland for a summer in my 20s. The poem isn’t totally autobiographical but does capture how I felt, and the confusion and also the comfort of leaving your “real” mind behind and escaping into an alternative space.
Here’s the beginning:
CRAZY, THEY SAID
they hurried off and called the cops.
You can read the rest here.
Most people probably don’t realize that I suffer from depression, that I’ve been hospitalized twice (yeah, I was locked up on psych wards, I’ve been there, done that) and that for years I took anti-depressants. In fact, I was hooked on Valium but didn’t know it, and when my prescription ran out in Portland and I quit taking my rather high daily dose, I went crazy. I became manic. I went a week without sleeping. It got so bad that I literally didn’t know who I was. I ended up in the psych ward, put on lithium, which bloated me and did horrible things to my mind. But I eventually made it through.
What I remember from that time is how the medications messed up my system and how there was nothing to do but wait it out and see if this pill worked, or that one, and during this time I would wander the hallways in my hospital-issued robe (it was ugly, trust me), pacing back and forth, back and forth. One night when I couldn’t sleep, another patient sat down beside me. He was older, a chronic alcoholic picked up on the street and locked up because he had threatened to kill himself. I had nothing in common with him. In fact, I might have passed him on the street while he was panhandling and not even glanced his way.
Yet this man, also in hospital-issued pajamas, also fighting a hell of his own, sat down beside me and started talking. He told me stories. I can’t remember any of them, only that his voice was soothing. At one point, during the worst part of the night, when I feared it would never end, when I was sure I’d never feel like myself again, he took my hand, held it between us, and we sat there like that, two people from different worlds yet still somehow connected.
I finally went off to bed. I didn’t think to thank him. I slept heavy and deep and when I woke the next morning, he was gone. No one would tell me where he went, if he had been discharged or sent somewhere else. I still wonder who he is and where he went. I still wish I would have had taken the time to thank him, to tell him how much that night, and his company, meant to me.
After that, my medications kicked in. My depression and anxiety lifted, and I was released a week later. I packed up my things, took a Trailways bus down to New Mexico to meet up with an old lover, and during that long bus ride one of the bus drivers developed a crush on me, asked me to stay with him, to come home with him. I stood beside him, the hot Utah wind through my hair, and wondered what kind of life I would have if I followed him.
I didn’t, of course, but later, I wrote a poem about him and that moment of indecision and the possibility of my life veering in a different direction. It was a quiet poem, and simple; it was also the first poem I ever had published.
There’s a saying in ultra-running community: Embrace the suck, and I also use it in my writing because, trust me, I’ve had more than my share of suck in my life.
I think we should all embrace the suck, write about the messy areas of our lives, the places where we fell or stumbled, our moments of indecision and doubt, our bad choices and bad behaviors. Because those are the real moments, the honest moments, the places where we have the opportunity to connect with others in a real and authentic way.
And here are some moody Alaska pics to go along with this moody post. It’s been cloudy here most of the summer, and rainy, so we’ve had a lot of moody weather, a lot of moody yet glorious moments.