A bit over six years ago, my struggle with mental illness found its new level, a rock-bottom, resulting in my assaulting my then-girlfriend LR in the parking garage of our apartment complex in Austin, TX. I still have no memory, no words, no excuse for what she witnessed & suffered that day. Regardless of its relation to my later-diagnosed mental illness, I will never forgive myself for the pain I caused her & the traumatic legacy that endures.
As I’ve continued on this journey, I’ve learned much about the triggers, symptoms, & treatments for what has since been diagnosed bipolar disorder--with a good bit of psychosis to boot, possibly of the schizoaffective type--the mechanism that allowed that madness to occur. It is not justification, resolution, or even forgiveness that I seek. Within this contextualization & the passage of time, I aim to better position where poetry rests in life, as a tool for community, comfort, & rehabilitation. Maybe in that, we can find those other bits.
When that incident happened, poetry was not a part of my life, it was my whole life. I was about to start the MFA program at the University of Texas-Austin. I was publishing regularly, including my then-forthcoming debut collection of poems, MORE WRECK MORE WRECK. I was hosting a monthly reading series, working at a bookstore, & editing a literary magazine. The majority of my friends were poets. I was joyfully neck-deep in the poetry world.
With LR’s essay (since unpublished) about my struggles, the social pressure in response, & my continuing heightened psychological demands, I stepped away from the poetry community in 2016. The poetry circle I once ran within closed without me in its circumference. I say this, again, not as a pity party, but to contextualize the poet tip-tapping these words out right now. I was humbled by the necessity of stepping away, yet Poetry--the act, the spirit, the machine--wouldn’t leave me be.
My life has reached another great convergence--the era of COVID-19 combining with a life-threatening mental health crisis this spring--that has propelled me into another chapter of my journey with mental illness & its relationship to poetry. Struggling to get out of bed, to string more than a few good hours together, to convince myself to keep going, I was saved, yet again, by poetry, its ability to provide a safe space to place the wild, extra parts of myself, unfit & unfeathered for the modern world.
I have spent the past five months dealing with the worsening of my condition--more frequent episodes, longer depressions following, a dangerous mania--which has totally uprooted my life with a series of losses & changes that just adds weight to the worry. The escape into poetry, both as a reader & writer, unlocked a chamber of recovery that I had forgotten. Editing poems at the kitchen table, reading poems in my blue chair, talking to my friend BM about this or that new collection of verse literally gave me something to do besides be crazy & off myself, to put it bluntly.
With a renewed affection for Poetry & a better grasp on the self, I have decided to revisit an important part of my past life--submitting & (hopefully) publishing. I know this decision may upset a few folks, but I hope I’ll be heard. This next step is a crucial one towards me feeling whole again, an act my therapist & psychiatrist support. The act of editing, submitting, & (again, hopefully) publishing a poem gives self-worth to the process otherwise lacking; instead of the catastrophic cycles of my mental illness, it is a positive cycle of valuable effort, self-affirmation, & reciprocity.
I totally understand if someone doesn’t want to publish my poems because of what happened in that parking garage, because of how my actions have affected LR. I sympathize if there is a worry about backlash or a loss of reputation by associating with me. I especially support not publishing or reading my poems because you don’t enjoy them, don’t find a necessary oomph there. But if you do like my poems, I hope you’ll give them a nod, how I am giving them a chance again to hold myself up.