The psychologist’s supposed competence is proudly displayed in frames on his wall.
I am on his couch, legs crossed like a good girl.
He rolls his desk chair in front of me and rests his elbows on his knees,
Awaiting my gaze to lift and meet his own,
When I do, he delivers his first question:
“Have you been considering suicide?”
I am at the brink of desperation, yes, but I am not dishonest.
I answer in the affirmative.
“You know what suicide is?” he ventures but does not wait for my response.
Instead, he thrusts two middle fingers toward the ceiling and pushes them toward my face.
“Suicide is this to your family.”
As if with those two accusatory digits, he could exorcise the demon of depression from my soul,
But he did nothing but intensify the shame and self-blame
That is reserved for people whose chemical deficits are in their brain,
Not their pancreas or liver or flowing through their veins.
But I did not know this yet, the part about chemical deficits,
I still believed that I had committed some unpardonable sin
And therefore deserved to have the nonverbal symbol for fuck you flashed in my face
By a board certified clinical neuropsychologist
While you were in school, did they teach you that igniting fear and dousing your patients with dripping condescension heals the brain?
What happened to you to make you unable to muster one ounce of compassion for someone who was hurting and placed in your care?
I will never know, but I do know this—
I have definitive proof that depression is not my fault,
That rather, the fault is in my genes, which dictate the complex biochemical ballet in my brain.
Yes, serotonin, the key chemical that keeps us sane,
Is not produced in quantities sufficient enough,
So no, I am not weak and my character is not flawed
No, now that I know its limits my mind is more tough
I know this because I spent a year, debilitated, hospitalized, medicated
I tried ECT, but nothing lifted me out of my persistent mental misery
Until I met one psychiatrist who offered a sliver of hope
That might help me from thinking so often of knives and ropes,
A new technology most doctors have not yet adopted
But I had no other option, so I opted
To get my cheek swabbed for a sample of cells
That were sent off to a lab where my DNA would be analyzed
And then the doctor would be advised by a team of psychopharmacists
Whose job it is to assist
With finding the specific psychotropic medications
That could alleviate my desperation
The genetic test results were quite revealing
As they explained the mental anguish I’d been feeling
Yes, the lack of serotonin—only about 20 percent of the average brain
Is what my brain can produce,
Which had resulted in that endless litany of self-abuse
And what’s more, in my brain there is an inverse relation
Between two key chemicals, such that the cessation
Of serotonin results when I am stressed out and cortisol increases
My peace of mind ceases and my mind is in pieces
But the new medications my psychiatrist prescribed
Based on these results,
Renewed my desire to stay alive
This gave me the stability I needed to rebuild my life
Within weeks, I stopped thinking about ropes and knives
And instead thought about classes I could take toward a new degree,
So I started planning to move to a new city.
To ensure that horrific year stays in the past
My daily medication regime is steadfast
I got lucky; most people suffering don’t get that kind of compassionate care
Millions of lives wither under the weight of despair
If I could go back and sit across from that psychologist in his chair
I’d look him in the eye and I’d declare:
I do not deserve your judgment, your unresolved anger, your spite
Perhaps if you actually read a neuroscience textbook or at least listened to your patients, you might
Learn something—that life is hard enough without having to fight your own mind
And as for me, I’m not resigned
To accept the stigma placed on us by society
With this poem, I might be breaking the rules of propriety
But more doctors need to start using the genetic testing
And the only way they’ll do it is with frequent requesting
Coming from their patients who demand practices with the most up-to-date science
Instead of just throwing random pills at people, that reliance
On chance, which takes more time and effort than most people can afford
This issue’s important and should not be ignored.
Whenever I open up and tell someone my story,
Not once has someone told me this subject is unfamiliar territory
Effective mental health care should be a present-day fact, not fiction
For those who are depressive, bipolar, have all kinds of addictions
For anyone who suffers, you might need a prescription
These illnesses are manageable, not permanent afflictions.
I always wondered why my perspective compared to others seemed a more dull gray
I slogged through the darkness, just got through the day
But now all those years of suffering are redeemed through my consistent persisting
So today I am living, fully, not merely existing.
I have performed this spoken word piece at Busboys & Poets in DC several times. I wrote it during my second semester in graduate school. Writing and presenting it helped me process and communicate some of the discrimination I faced from mental health professionals during my crisis period. I am incredibly thankful to my graduate school classmates who watched me present this poem and were nothing but supportive when I told them about what I had been through.