Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Poem: "Half-Belief;" Brief History of the Illness

As I was blogging yesterday I came to a space to pray; it may have been inspired by that Gaelic prayer anonymous posted in yesterday's comments. But as soon as I tried to pray I began to weep; as I've said, faith is a sore point with me. So I tried to jot the experience down, resulting in this raw poem below.


Thank you for this
disease, O Lord,
that has ravaged my life
like a bulldozer making
and destroying mountains,
or a savage volcano destroying
the very mountain it was
in a cutting rage of lava.

Thank you
for the humility
of never knowing
how I will be--
whether low
as a nematode
or the radiant
king of the universe,
your chosen one.

I only wish the uncertainty
of these shifting states
didn’t undermine
my belief in the future,
my ability to plan.
I am a homeless soul,
a faithless soul.
What I build
I don’t believe in;
what I lose
I never deserved;
what I love
will be taken from me.

But faith declares
I should praise you;
it feels unnatural,
but isn’t that the point?
As a “new creation” in Christ
what was unnatural before
should be natural now.

Little did I know
how hard it would be
to live out this religion.
When I was young
bursting with adrenaline,
hypomanic without knowledge of it,
it seemed easy—but I fear
I was a fake buoyed up by feelings,
by the steam of my imagination.

Past the middle of my life now
how would I know
if my prayer were genuine?
The half-belief
my sickness grants me
is no belief.
(You may disregard
this prayer or not.)

I can't even begin to describe the depth of grief that fills me upon any attempt to practice Christianity. I still believe that it's true, but it's toxic to me. It has always been toxic to me in depressions, sometimes even in manias, when I felt specially chosen and empowered (as Jesus' younger brother--Laugh with me on this because it is funny).

That a man of my intellectual capacities and strength of endurance could become a plaything for a capricious, biochemical disease is an antidote to pride, at the least, besides the obvious irony. Yet as a child and later on, in high school, my chief fear was losing my mind. I must have known something about myself before I ever knew it. My first major depression came at the age of 13, but naturally was dismissed as adolescent weirdness. My second came at 16, while a foreign exchange student to Germany. I had a mild mania at 18, when I became engaged to an unsuitable mate, followed by a deep depression that I endured so as not to break my promise to the woman. Things just tumble on after that until the present day, though the frequency of the extreme moods has decreased with medication. Nevertheless, my first two major adult decisions, marriage and career, resulted from psychotic revelations. I was ill-suited, by temperament, to medicine as well.

All that time I thought it was God's will to marry this woman, God's will to become a doctor, and I feared not doing God's Will. How sick to have the foundations of one's life based on psychosis and fear of displeasing the Almighty.

I suppose by way of background I want everyone to know how sick I've been in the past, and that I'm not that bad now. Experience has taught me much about enduring depression, not that it dampens the pain much, but it does improve the outlook. I know I'll get better someday, I always have before.

So a raw confessional poem and a little history.


Dr. Chaffin


  1. CE, can you recommend two or three books from the huge number available about your illness? Preferably one novel, perhaps also a memoir as well as a nonfictional introduction.

  2. An Unquiet Mind, Darkness Visible, Noonday Demon.

    They are the best I've read.

  3. Oh, how aggravating is that...I looked you up in order to explain something in my poetry blog (never have gotten on with you) and low and behold you use the same blasted template...

    BTW I never trust anybody whose faith doesn't have doubts and insecurities in it...people who think they have all the answers are dangerous and surely wrong.

  4. Anonymous6:35 PM PST

    In 1973, Trashman of Seward, Alaska, blew himself away. I recruited one of your colleagues from Natter to help me write the following. Je suis Monsieur La Terre.

    What do the gentlemen aver?
    They say this kid whose name was made
    almost entirely of trash because
    they got giant cornucopias for pickin
    would back his pickup truck up to them:
    nenashnyesh neshnyetdahwaman tesh
    neltwoodtesh etesortesh etesor kordesh
    roentgen eshtalormetesor kanor demi
    el dawaman et lebi mieldemanyen
    You think that's funny.
    You laugh until you hear from Seward
    there’s been a most inordinately
    unfunny unfolding of events
    tic tac tktk tktktkt tk tak tiktik
    tack dic dook
    let me be more susinked
    raising the children erasing racing chasing
    singing and hymnering

  5. Thank you for your writings. I hope that, someday, I can share my eerily similar struggles for others who would benefit -- and that I can surpass the fear of the opinions of those who can never understand. A friend pointed me to your site ... I'll be back.

  6. Dear Clarissa,

    I'm sorry you suffer from a mood disorder, even if you have not been diagnosed yet. If you identify with my symptoms, I urge you to see a competent psychiatrist and get on medication. Depression and manic-depression are first diseases of the brain. If you balance the brain, the rest of your life will follow. Good luck!


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