Category: Mental Illness


 

A group is something
one joins.  No choices here:
joined forcibly with strangers,
sharing nothing but pain.

 

Even that we may not share;
quiet tears, perhaps; not more.

 

No sharing horror.  No sharing
pain that rips itself from minds
and mouths in messy gobbets.

 

The Group Norms poster says so:
“Such sharing may distress
other group members; please maintain
these norms for the benefit of all.”

 

Far better pretend we are fine.
Making progress.  Discharge beckons.
A normal life.
Therapists make Notes, discreetly.

 

Meanwhile we wail within,
gobbets well concealed.

 

Such things are for
secluded soundproof rooms.
Notes are made, of course.

 

No, it would not be therapeutic
for ‘the group’ to know
we suffer as they.

 

Our horror is as theirs;
we too long to scream.

 

Acknowledgement, acceptance, respect:
too much to ask?

 

For those unable to fulfill group norms:
alternatives.

 

Occupational Therapy:
fill endless mindless minutes
with puzzles, trivia, guessing games.
Attempts to still the raging mind,
the surging seethe of thoughts.
Notes are cursory in OT.

 

Art Therapy is good.
Torment becomes … acceptable.
In poster paint on butchers’ paper,
or charcoal scrawls
on stiff cheap coloured card,
pain is distanced, horror allowed,
officially encouraged. But Noted.

 

The thin, thin girl with the naso-gastric tube
Draws endless stylised vaginas
in wax crayon.  They gape
in wordless yowls.
She calls them flowers.
The Therapist nods approvingly,
and makes a Note.

 

A man spends an age cutting card
into ever smaller pieces.
The scissors are quite blunt;
bandaged wrists say
he knows too much of sharpness.
Another Note is made.

 

Me? I don’t do art. I’m a musician.
But there’s no more Music Therapy.
Not since the anguished boy
garrotted himself
with a steel guitar string.
That Therapist no longer makes Notes.

 

And nor do I.

 

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Group Therapy Notes

 

I always thought a group was something
one chose to join.  No choice here:
assigned to a multitude of strangers,
sharing nothing but our pain.
And even that we may not share;
quiet tears, perhaps, but not more.

 

No sharing the horror.  No sharing
the pain that rips itself from minds
and mouths in bloody gobbets.

 

The Group Norms poster says so:
“Such sharing may distress
other group members; please maintain
these norms for the benefit of all.”

 

Far better to pretend we are fine.
Making progress.  Discharge beckons.
A normal life.
Staff make Notes, discreetly.

 

Meanwhile we scream internally;
the gobbets well concealed.
Such things are for private consultations
with nurses, registrars, consultants,
in secluded soundproof rooms.
Notes are made, of course.

 

No, it would not be ‘therapeutic’
for our fellow-patients to know
we suffer just as they do.
That we too long to scream our horror.
Acknowledgement, acceptance, mutual recognition:
is that too much to ask?

 

For those of us unable to restrain ourselves
there are alternatives. Occupational Therapy,
where we fill blank mindless hours
with puzzles, trivia, and guessing games.
All to still the raging mind,
the seething thoughts.

 

Art Therapy is good.
Somehow a scream of pain
becomes acceptable when it’s
in poster paint on butchers’ paper.
Or charcoal doodles
on stiff cheap coloured card.
Pain is distanced, allowed,
Even encouraged.

 

The thin, thin girl with the naso-gastric tube
Draws endless stylised vaginas
in wax crayon.  They gape
as if in wordless screams.
When asked she says they are flowers.
The therapist nods approvingly,
and makes a Note.

 

A man spends an hour cutting card
into ever smaller pieces.
The scissors are quite blunt;
the bandages on his wrists say
he is over-familiar with sharp objects.
Another Note is made.

 

And me? I don’t do art. I’m a musician.
But they don’t have Music Therapy any more.
Not since the tortured boy
garrotted himself
with a steel guitar string.
That therapist no longer makes Notes.

 

And nor do I.

 

********************************************************************************************

Icarus Falling

When he flew too high
the wax that held
the feathers in his wings
melted, and he fell
from glory to tragedy
in a long slow arc
of terror and regret.

I have flown too high
on chemical wings.
The wax is melting,
feathers loosen.
The arc begins:
already I can feel
the grasp of gravity.

*******************************************************************************************************************************

Icarus flying to close to the sun and falling as the wax that holds his feathers melts

Icarus falling – from a children’s book illustration by Fiona Sansom

Source: Fiona Sansom

 

Do you remember your first drink?

I do.

Oh, not the sip of froth off Dad’s beer,

or the little glass of watered wine on special occasions:

Christmas, birthdays, wedding anniversaries.

I remember my first drink like it was yesterday,

40 years ago, or near enough.

We stole a bottle of Beenleigh Rum

from Greg’s Dad’s liquor cabinet.

He never even noticed it was gone.

Plenty more bottles in the walnut veneer bar,

with its padded leatherette stools and bullfight posters.

And we sat in the little Bondwood caravan

at the back of my house,

and drank it neat from plastic cups.  Mine was orange.

And we choked it down and felt like men,

12 years old and desperate to be older.

And as it hit, it was as if some great God

had entered me, and flaming fiercely

raised me to the sky.

For the first time to feel as others must surely always do –

or so it seemed.  I felt I was a human being.

The feeling of fellowship; of commonality: of normality.

The thoughts that crucified me vanished.

They fell from me like a feather weighing tons.

Gone the fears,

the constant thoughts,

the ceaseless shame,

the secret guilt

– hidden, always hidden –

for things I knew I had not done,

could not have done.

For that brief moment I was free,

I knew them for delusions:

the glowing God incinerated all.

Too soon the God departed.

Draped limp around a lamppost, I vomited him up.

And some Samaritan brought me home

and took me to my Mother,

who murmured “my sweet baby” as she sponged my brow;

gently held my head over the bucket as I retched

until all that was left was bitter slime drooling from slack lips.

And even as I heaved and shivered,

even as she laid me down,

even as she watched over me that night,

I knew that I would seek the God again

and steal the coruscating fire that seared my fears,

and held me pure, perfect, whole: blazing in the sky.

The Veteran

Smoking in the clinic’s courtyard,
he stiffened, rigid at the sound of shelling.

Not shelling.  Fireworks.
Fireworks.  Not shelling, fireworks.

Fireworks.  Christ, they’re shelling;
he flinched as each shell burst.

Sweat slid slickly down his chest,
his dog-tags swinging gently as he shook.

Not his dog-tags.  They’re vapour;
vanished with his commission.

No.  Carefully crafted replicas:
something to hold onto when the shelling starts.

Not shelling.  Fireworks.
Distant mortars rumbled in his head.

Remember what the nurses taught you.  Breathe.
In … two … three.  Pause.  Out … two … three.

Pause.  In … two … three … oh what’s the fucking use?
He whispered, anguished, “Jesus – make it stop.”

Cigarette forgotten in his hand,
He turned to me, a silent witness:

“Alec, can you get a nurse?  Please?”