How Friendship Works for Me and My Mental Illness: A Poem


I feel like I don’t feel.
I am safe inside my head.
I have a hard shell you can’t crack.
I have armor of steel.

But then you say hello
And I say hello back,
And I need to remove my metal glove
So I can shake your hand.
We talk and I sweat beneath my steel plates.
I slowly take off pieces of armor
As I learn you can be trusted.
Suddenly I realize I have taken it all off.
I am exposed.
I look in your eyes with sudden terror
As I realize you see me.
I look away.
My heart leaps within me.
I want to run.

Then I look in your eyes again,
Soft brown eyes that look inside me
With no judgment,
Only honest compassion
And a heart that wants to know me
Simply for the sake of knowing
And no other end.

My heart settles within me.
You extend me a chair.
We sit at a table.
We laugh,
Honest laughter that shows we are friends.

Before we leave you take my hand
And thank me for sharing myself with you.
I am startled again.
I didn’t think I was someone worth knowing.
We stand apart from each other.
You study me one last time.
You smile, satisfied.
I see that I am acceptable to you.
I see that you like me, but more importantly,
I see you believe I am someone worthwhile.
I see myself through your eyes and have hope in myself again.

As you walk away
I thank you for your kindness,
For showing me that sometimes it is safe to leave the armor behind,
That my true self is worth something
And there are kind people who might appreciate me.

Still, just to be safe,
After you leave I put on my armor again.

dot drawing of woman

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