I am surviving (a poem)

shadorma that I feel better about. Earlier this week, a woman named Deborah Danner was killed by New York police responding to a 911 call from her neighbors. Ms. Danner had schizophrenia; it seems likely she was having some sort of episode related to her illness. Yesterday, the New York Times ran an editorial about her, in which they linked to an essay (shared by her lawyer) that she wrote four years ago. Many of the things she wrote about in the essay are familiar to me—I have lived with anxiety and panic attacks since 1989.

The stanzas in this poem roughly correspond to the paragraphs in Ms. Danner’s essay, but they also reflect my own experience.

I don’t know
until the blue funk
comes around
that I am
perhaps starting to tumble
back into the depths

I know when
I’m feeling okay
that I am
Otherwise
I have to keep standing guard
against its return

What I know
is not a defense
No matter
what I do
I cannot trust my disease
to leave me alone

Memories
sneak back when they want
when I am
unguarded
too many of them to purge
too many to leave

I can be
doing something
quite ‘normal’
that is when
my forgotten shame returns
to suck me back in

It was late
when it all began
I was met
with stigma
and isolation born of
misunderstanding

The damage
was invisible
the mold set
Without blood
visible around the wound
I could be ignored

They could not
take fragility
they never
stopped to think
‘There but for the grace of God…’
So I withdrew

Because they
treat you differently
when they know
I invent
explanations they won’t doubt
and keep to myself

Even so
I am not broken
I am not weak
I have worth
Though you may not see it
I am surviving

(21 October 2016)

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