“Frankly, I’m Not Doing Well” By Daniel Crocker

 

Frankly, I’m Not Doing Well

By Daniel Crocker

 

    A week ago, a little after 3am,  I stood up from my laptop, pulled off my robe, took off my shirt, grabbed the scissors that had been calling to me from my desk for weeks, and  I cut my upper left arm exactly twenty times. It was the first time I’d cut in years, and as far as self-harm goes, it wasn’t so bad. In my early twenties,  I would cut myself over 100 times—arms, legs, torso. This time I got away with twenty. Not my best work by any means. Nothing that would leave a scar. Not really.

    A week ago, cutting was an orgasm. The keen edge of a blade brought me back to the here and now. It’s private. That’s why I cut in places no one can see—until they do.

   Early in our marriage, Margaret found my stash of bloody paper towels.

   What is this? She wanted to know.  What could I say? I rolled up my sleeves and showed her. She cried, and I didn’t cut again for years.

    A week ago, I told Margaret that I thought I needed to go to the hospital. I was shaking and on the verge of tears. I’m not much of a crier. It got her attention. I was standing in my bathrobe and Pikachu hat that tends to reduce my anxiety by a minuscule amount.

    I think I need to go to the hospital, I said. Margaret stood there a moment, taking me in. Thinking.

    All they’ll do, she said, is keep you full of drugs for three days and let you out. She had a point.

    Maybe you start back on your meds and call your shrink on Monday.

    Okay, I said. Later that night, I went through rapid, severe mood swings—mania, rage, euphoria, depression and back again. That night, I cut myself twenty times on my upper left arm. Continue reading

“The Misery of Fun” By Nathan Graziano

 

The Misery of Fun

 

I was holed up, purposefully, in my basement—the place where I hermit when I’m not obligated by work or another adult responsibility to leave and confront the outside world—when my wife came down the stairs, her heels clacking against the hardwood. She was holding her phone, staring at the screen. “So,” she said.

I knew that “so” and something was coming that I wasn’t going to enjoy hearing. “What is it?”

So my dad texted me, and they’re planning a trip for next April and inviting us and the kids,” she said.

“Tell me it’s not Disney World.”

“Disney World isn’t that bad,” she said with a lilt in her voice. “It’ll be fun.”

My head dropped into my hands. My wife was going to use the kids, who are now teenagers, to try to convince me into willfully entering the lost circle of Dante’s Hell.

And all of this would be done in the name of “prescribed fun.”    

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon—-which I probably am—-the idea of Disney World…hell, state of Florida alone, is enough to induce an anxiety attack. I’d rather be strung up by my toes and beaten with a broomstick than to stand in a 45 minute line next to a family of sunburned and overstuffed Midwesterners. There will be thousands of people with the same expectation: to have “fun” on the boat trip through It’s a Small World. Hop on, everybody, it will be a blast, everything you’ve waited to experience, so much fucking fun that you’ll pop like a fun-sucking tick.

“I’m not going,” I told my wife. “I don’t have enough Ativan to make it through a week there.” Continue reading

“Before Evening Med Pass” By Ryan Quinn Flanagan

 

Before Evening Med Pass

My wife has come to visit me.
On the unit at the Sudbury madhouse.
We are seated on the end of the bed.

Does he always play that horrible music?
The nurses give him one hour each day
with his guitar,
I tell her.
He plays the same thing all the time.

That’s awful, she says.
I shrug my shoulders.
Before she leaves, she meets my roommate Don
who thinks there are listening devices
everywhere.

After she leaves, I hear Don
through the yellow privacy curtain.
Your wife seems nice, do you trust her?

I tell him I do.
Then I hear him roll over in bed
and exhale once
loudly.

 

About the Author: Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a Canadian-born author residing in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada with his wife and many mounds of snow.  His work can be found both in print and online in such places as: Evergreen Review, The New York Quarterly, Cultural Weekly, In Between Hangovers, Red Fez, and The Oklahoma Review.

 

More By Ryan Quinn Flanagan:

“Robbie the Owl”

“He Brought His Canvases Over”

 

Image Credit: Arthur S. Siegel “Parke, Davis and Company, manufacturing chemists, Detroit, Michigan. Packaging pills in the finishing department” (1943) from The Library of Congress

“Mania Makes Me A Better Poet” By Daniel Crocker

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Mania Makes Me A Better Poet

By Daniel Crocker

 

I paced up and down the front porch on a rare, cool Missouri night.

“The government wants me to take pills,” I told my wife. She asked why, but I didn’t have an answer. Part of me knew it wasn’t true. Part of me wasn’t convinced. My thoughts shifted rapidly.

“Do you ever wonder about that guy from the Oak Ridge Boys? You know, the one with the big beard?”  I had also suddenly become obsessed by William Lee Golden. I was worried about him.

“Do you think he feels trapped? Like, he wishes he could shave off that scraggly damned beard and be free of if.”

 I wondered if he’d ever regretted growing that beard, probably sometime in his early twenties, and regretted it.

“He has to think his fans just won’t get the real Oak Ridge Boys experience without it? And what about John Berryman? Did he have the same problem? Is that why he jumped off that bridge?”

This was just a few days before I broke down, went to a clinic, and got help for bipolar 1 disorder. The symptoms had been ramping up for months—compulsive intrusive thoughts and rituals—I’m going to kill myself tomorrow was a favorite of mine, running on a loop in my mind.  I was trucking along on little to no sleep or food. My speech was pressured.  The mania had started out fun. I was creative. I felt unstoppable. I had the energy to do some work.  In the end it always gets scary. It devolves into anxiety, paranoia and the occasional mild delusion.  In the end, however, I got a hell of a poem about William Lee Golden out of it.

The truth is, mania makes me a better poet, although it’s taboo to say so. Not among other bipolar people. We’ll readily admit to each other that we love parts of our mania. We usually just don’t tell the sane people in our lives. They look at us shocked, or sad, or worse. Sometimes they look at us with anger. Our loved ones have seen the wake of destruction left behind by mania. I’ve hurt plenty of people myself while manic, including my significant other. I swear by my medications now. They keep me stable, if not fully content. Sometimes something is missing.

Unless you’ve been through it, you just can’t understand how mania feels. It’s like being on speed and booze at the same time—except better. Your mind, at least for a while, is laser-focused. You actually have the desire and energy to want to create—or do whatever it is that you do. Depression, on the other hand, is a creativity killer. It can be hard to get out of bed, much less write a poem. Mania, when it hits just right, calls for hours of steady work. Continue reading

The Incredible Bipolar Hulk: A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

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The Incredible Bipolar Hulk:

A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

By Chase Dimock

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The genius of The Incredible Hulk is that everyone can identify with him. All people have a reservoir of anger inside them, and we all know the painful discipline of managing anger, lest it erupt into senseless rage. The Hulk Smash is the fantasy of acting on our anger with a violent ferocity that mirrors the inner, emotional experience of pain.

In his latest chapbook, Gamma Rays, Daniel Crocker identifies with the Hulk as a metaphor for the experience of bipolar disorder. As It Ought To Be debuted Crocker’s Hulk poem “The Incredible Hulk Tries to Write a Poem” last January. For Crocker, the Hulk is more than just a momentary outburst; he is an enduring persona who embodies the manic energy of bipolar disorder. Crocker’s poems humanize the Hulk, and in turn, provide insight into the mind of the bipolar person as they navigate the impulses within them. I had a chance to ask Crocker about the Hulk and how he personifies the bipolar experience in his poetry.

 

Chase Dimock:  The first question on anyone’s mind when they first look at your cover is going to be “Why the Hulk?” In the past, you’ve written poems in which you take on the personas of Cookie Monster, Skeletor, and George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life among others. What is it about the Hulk that made him worthy of an entire collection of poetry? What does taking on his persona uniquely achieve among your pantheon of pop culture icons?

 

Daniel Crocker: The simple answer is, I love the Hulk. I wrote one Hulk poem, the one where he goes shopping after taking klonopin, and then I couldn’t stop for awhile. I was filtering everything through the Hulk. I originally thought I might end up with a full length, but after about 20 poems I realized I was kind of done with the story I wanted to tell. But, he’s a great metaphor. Any negative aspect of your personality, especially those that center around losing control, that’s basically the Hulk. He’s the things you bury deep. In a lot of ways this books is about coming to terms with that.

So I used it as a metaphor for my bipolar disorder because you never know when you’re going to have another episode. You just try to keep them at bay with medication. Then I started thinking about what it means to navigate love and a relationship when you have this hanging over your head–when you’re not always sure you’re going to wake up okay. Unlike Shit House Rat, however, this is more about coming to terms with it. It is, I think, a happy book with a happy ending.

 

Chase Dimock: The Hulk has been incarnated as a comic, a cartoon, a TV show, and several movies. I know the TV show version of the Hulk the best because I grew up watching reruns. In that version, he’s somewhat of a loner who tries to manage his rage alone and channel it toward productive ways to help the people he runs into. The show always ends with “The Lonely Man Theme.” It seems like your Hulk is more like the Hulk from the comics, which places him in a romantic relationship with Betty. Why was it important to focus so many of your poems on the Hulk in a relationship?

 

Daniel Crocker: In the end, it’s a book about navigating a relationship while having a mental illness. In my favorite runs of the Hulk, Bruce was always afraid of his anger coming out. He would do anything to keep the Hulk away–even though it’s a part of him. He was so obsessed with finding a cure that his relationship with Betty would be strained. When I was diagnosed with bipolar, I read up everything I could on it. So, I understand that level of obsession. I also, of course, worry that my symptoms could come back at any time—even while on medication.  So, I hope it shows the impact of bipolar disorder on one’s immediate family as well as just the person who has it. In the end, though, it’s just coming to terms with the monster inside of you–whatever that may be.

Continue reading

“Mental Health Portraits” By Margaret Crocker

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MENTAL HEALTH-PORTRAIT 1

Offices are silent
and locked at night.

And bland doors upon doors
and myself,
white and nervous against the glass
broken with chickenwire.

The pads of my shoes are quiet.
The elevator’s shaky hum is quiet.
The shadows of the dining hall are quiet and long.
The dust on the carcass of a water beetle,
the saw that does not move,
the razor behind the lock,
the fingers,
stained with marker,
the fingers clenched in state blankets.

The voices
are silent
while a reflection of me
smokes in the yard.

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MENTAL HEALTH-PORTRAIT 2

Cee Cee
smiling in the hall.
She rubs her forehead back and forth,
her fingers back and forth,
the air twisting
her knuckles back and forth,
flies rubbing.

Cee Cee
taking a shower.
Her tshirt is hung
empty on the door.

Cee Cee in line
waiting for that Red Cross tshirt,
a souvenir of another life
of outside
and pursuits she sleeps away here,
of a time she had something to give.

Cee Cee in line
with a Dixie cup of orange juice
and that crazy, crazy blood
pumping a hole through the universe,
her head
bumping softly at the wall
again
again
as she stares past the door.
A sticker, a lollipop and a smiley-face on the board,
this is what she has now.

Cee Cee
carrying a cheap comb in a paper bag.
Cee Cee watches the bored nurse
and today’s discussion
“To Cope or Not To Cope.”

That is the question.

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About the Author: Margaret Crocker is an artist, writer, wife, mother, daughter, sister and thief. She collects stray animals and has this weird fantasy of being on The Great British Baking Show, despite the fact she uses a bread machine. She knows little but proclaims much. There is much we don’t know about her.

 

Image Credit: Portrait of Stephy Langui By Rene Magritte (1961)