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The Poem I Wrote in the Inpatient Psych Unit About My Recurring Mental Illness

It’s a week before finals during my first full-time college semester in 7 years. I feel the darkness creeping in, encroaching on the piece of my brain that had actually begun to feel less burdened since starting electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) the previous fall. I start to feel guilty about letting myself believe, once again, that I’m capable of lasting recovery.

The difficulty of living with recurring mental illness does not surface solely in times of its viscous presence. It is my belief that most people without personal experience cannot understand the two-sided nature of early recovery, where its presence can be as much of a tease as a relief.

Having lived with depression for the last fourteen years, I have found that as jaded as it may seem, a certain amount of anticipatory caution can be more protective than harmful. I agree that a status quo born from realism isn’t particularly encouraging, yet it is much less painful

than watching a carefully molded hopefulness shatter beneath the eager foot of crushing despair for the umpteenth time.

Now it’s Monday of finals week and I’m sitting on my bed in an inpatient psych unit berating myself for not sitting at my desk solving a statistics problem on the final exam; feeling foolish for allowing myself to cradle the fickle belief that I wouldn’t end up back here. In these moments, it’s hard not to let the unrelenting nature of this illness morph into suicidal ideation. Hence the hospital. I pull out my journal, knowing that poetry is the safest home for my deepest, visceral feelings. As I write, it feels as though the words flow directly from soul to pen. Soon, I have the draft of a poem clearly founded in inspired honesty. I hope it creates a bridge that inspires a journey toward genuine open-mindedness and empathic support for those repeatedly interrupted by returning darkness.

“You’ve Arrived” — my honest perspective on living with recurring mental illness:  

You’ve arrived

uninvited —

slipping through the decrepit side door

of a consciousness

that has spent years

soothing itself

with the notion

of your extinction.

You’ve arrived

with vigorous haste —

I’d like to say I’m prepared,

anticipating such a costly intrusion,

but I have been too busy

preparing myself for the lesson

that a life anticipating your return

is no life at all.

You arrive

with such pretentious affect –

a presumption of welcome

you know

does not exist.

A presumption

that a brief interlude

of entertaining hope

would force time

to plant flowers

over your extensive path

of callous destruction.

We’ve been engaged

in a battle

whose vicious,

invisible nature

provides you

immeasurable advantage.

Whose complexity

rips my intellect

from the pages of a book,

only to engage it in discussion

that sears thoughts,

once encouraged and passionate,

on the stoked embers

of benign anxiety.

This flight of my fight

has not been

solely to banish you

from a mind

yearning for release.

It’s a slow, strenuous reemergence

defined by letting go

of a past defined

by the constant reminders

of your virulent havoc.

I have been trying

to overcome

the fear of your return

without first overcoming

the embedded belief

that you are

never really gone.

A belief utterly indulged

when you barge through

my skull cage



Your abrupt entrance

is in vivid contrast

to the lengthy, explicit effort

I have put forth —

to banish

your suffocating darkness.

to repair a

self-perspective burdened by hate,

to believe

hope is not a master of deceit,

to know

starvation is neither solution nor friend,

to find compassion

for shame based sensitivity,

to say,

confidently from my soul

that I want to live.

I watch in astonishment

as the structure I have built

out of fresh pursuit,

a structure vigorously affirming

the strength

of decade long progress,

is threatened with collapse

so swiftly and violently

it feeds the confidence

of a doubt

newly subdued.

I do not wish to watch

as you reaffirm my hope

an inflammable fallacy

as it survives the fire

of foundational skepticism

by hiding within the nuance

between belief

and concept

and reality

obliterating the last

of my optimism

with emptiness.

You’ve arrived —






until I become

vastly unsure

of how to hold your presence

without extinguishing mine.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Lead image via contributor