This Poem is a Story About What Goes On
in My Brain
I tremble as I hold the list of questions in my hands. Inside my purse rests a giant package. I do not remove it from the folder. Instead, I hold a small notebook and ask my doctor what to reveal in order to make the case. We are creating a story, we are, out of my suffering. The story must leave out my gifts and abilities, whittling them down to insignificance, while we focus solely on my deficiencies. It isn't that hard to find something flawed to put on paper. I am unable to work, after all. And it's true I break easily these days. I must be kept in a special container, or I begin to come apart. My fragility mostly a nuisance, sometimes a gateway to the extraordinary. I follow it into a world of intricate connections, sparkling wires that touch the delicate dance of light and shadow. But today my words are useful for something else. I read her the poem about being smashed open in the middle of the street, the one about the knives that slice into my hands, and the noise that shakes and pounds and smashes. She says this poem is a story we can use to demonstrate what goes on in your brain. I nod. My shaking fingers hand over the story. She circles something on the page and writes in a date. She closes the folder. My poetry now a demonstration of helplessness, my spinning words pointing out what I lack. I decide I will include the not being able to speak poem and the jamming with terror poem. I think they will believe me. It's hard to lie in poetry. The words always catch up. I put the notebook in my bag, feeling thoroughly powerless. In a few months a person I will never meet will open my file and read my poems. But rather than assess their literary merit, they will assess my degree of disability. And if I am lucky, this stranger will pronounce me legally disabled. And they will drop my carefully crafted words into a giant cabinet. My poetry hidden away in a government office, having offered itself altruistically to the task of declaring my brokenness. My poetry nothing but proof of what I am not able to become.
Statement of Patient's Condition
When the appointment is over, I clasp the paper in my trembling hands. I stare at the summary of my predicament. Listening closely to what’s unsaid, I attempt to unscramble the words she wrote about how my-brain-affects-my-thinking-affects-my-actions-affects-my-suitability-for-the-world. After carefully considering her remarks, I write out my answer to her assessment. I tuck it carefully into my pocket, not needing to share my secrets just yet.
Official Statement of Patient’s Condition: patient-suffers-from-over-exposure. patient-has-trouble-walking-on-busy-streets. she-can’t-seem-to-manage-to-stay-solid-on-the-subway. patient’s-hearing-is-ramped-up. sensory-wires-crossed. cognition-slow-and-strained. she-has-trouble-with-basic-tasks. patient-often-gets-confused. she-sees-and-hears-things-that-are-not-there. patient-thinks-people-out-to-get-her. patient-must-be-kept-at-cool-temperatures. care-must-be-taken-or-she-will-erupt.
Unofficial Statement of Patient’s Condition: patient-keenly-aware-of-her-senses. fox-hearing-ramped-up. patient-feels-connected-to-the-natural-world-and-prefers-trees-to-machines. patient-sees-poetry-everywhere. patient-senses-how-everything-is-connected. she-can-live-with-oneness-and-multiplicity. patient-has-insight-into-when-she-needs-help-with-basic-tasks. she-is-skilled-at-asking-for-help. patient-is-sensitive-and-needs-to-be-surrounded-by-trustworthy-people. patient-exhibits-wonder-and-allows-space-for-mystery. patient-has-otherworldly-perceptions. she-demonstrates-unusual-intensity. patient-has-capacity-to-expand-and-transform-into-the-fire-element. handle-patient-with-care.
“Anne” is a poet who writes about making meaning from unusual mind states and disability. She is aware of the risks of publishing this writing under her real name at the moment: as someone who is seeking financial support from the government, her life is open to scrutiny. These words are an attempt to define her experience as something altogether larger than the person diagnosed with a psychotic disorder profiled in her application.