In Plain Sight

I spend a great deal of effort trying to act normal.

Long before I had words to explain it, I desperately tried to hide my autism, and still do. The only person I’ve told about my autism doesn’t believe me because of how seemingly successful I am.

I find making conversation difficult and deeply anxiety inducing no matter how much I learn, and I have learned a few things, albeit slowly.

I learned that parroting the words I heard other people say during previous conversations does not bode well, especially when I am confronted about these hand-me-down statements that I am unable to defend because they are neither my actual opinion, nor facts I am able to cite the sources for. Whenever this happens I feel ashamed, like I gave an incorrect answer to a test question in front of my peers, all of whom knew the right thing to say.

Likewise, trying to learn how to have a conversation from watching movies or TV doesn’t translate over into the real world, which is not scripted by rom-com writers. Turns out Prince Charming is a rapist and the mail man lost my dreams after I shipped them off without a tracking number.

Although many people share my insecurities, I still experience imposter syndrome regardless of the circumstances: whether with family, friends, children or strangers, I feel my face blush, my palms sweat, and my heart palpitate simply at the thought of interacting with other humans, yet I push through and carry on, dancing through life as if my feet are not in excruciating pain with every step.

I’m too anxious to let anyone know about my anxiety, about how it feels like an invisible handicap that pervades every moment. All I can do is love the struggle.

Doc

My patients come to me and say, ‘Doc, I have pain’

All of life is pain and comfort, my powers are few in the face of this universal truth

We try all manner of pills, topical treatments, injections and various therapies, yet the pain persists

Soul pain lies beyond the reach of western medicine

My patients come to me and say, ‘Doc, I cannot sleep’

All of life is fear and relief, effort and rest, I’ll do my best

I send multiple prescriptions, adjust doses, fill out piles of disability paperwork

I work extremely hard so that my patients don’t have to work at all

Although we share the same afflictions; anxiety with panic attacks, depression, insomnia, PTSD, nightmares

Perhaps my patients are doing more for themselves than I will ever do for myself

They are allowing themselves to be helped, although nothing we’ve tried so far seems to help much

No cure in sight, just a lifetime of refills

I’ve yet to outwardly acknowledge the inner storm that rages below my placid surface

My family conditioned me not to feel my feelings, trained me to exist only in service of others, to live for their benefit

The few times during childhood that I made the mistake of showing that I was human, that I was hurting, I received swift and searing backlash

Perhaps my patients are healing me by showing me what it looks like to be vulnerable, by saying ‘I can’t do this’

Yet I fear that I am keeping them unwell, allowing them to accept the sick role without hope of cure by signing their disability forms, by saying ‘you don’t have to do anything’

How will they ever heal themselves if they don’t have to?

How will they gain meaning from their experiences if their feelings are dulled by the drugs I prescribe, if I enable them to spend their life alone and inside?

I show myself how strong I am by forcing myself to function full-throttle in the world despite my invisible disabilities

How will my patients know how strong they are if their strength is not tested?

Am I secretly as callous as my parents, though I act with compassion?

Should I be more like my patients; take it easy and ask for help, or should my patients be more like me and tow their own weight, accept the normalcy of adverse human experiences, work even though they haven’t slept in days, like I do?

I have PTSD, nightmares, insomnia, panic, crippling anxiety and depression, but I carry on because I have to, or so I believe

Maybe I don’t have to do this anymore

Even though I work like a dog and pay my own way through life, even as the taxes I pay in part to support my patients’ disability benefits bleed me dry, I prefer the freedom to create my own life to dependence on a system that provides too little too late to survivors of child abuse

I want to stop asking my patients what is wrong and start asking them what is strong

We are all warriors

May I be a warrior of peace

May I heal myself in order to light the way for others on their healing journey

Safe

Why are you hurting still?

Do you feel ill?

Why are you a bleeding heart when you could be a beating heart, and dancing

Why do we clutch our pain so tightly it dominates our brain

Why are you hurting so

You are loved more than you’ll ever know

Feel supported and safe

I’m here, you’re ok

You see everything as a knife pointed at you

A threat to your life

I should know, I’ve been pulled by that undertow

Feel the earth below your feet, stand tall and listen to me

You don’t have to feel bad, you are allowed to feel glad

You don’t have to build walls

It’s a long way up for you to fall

There is love all around you

If only you knew

How can I express ultimate truth to you, except through song

Panic

I’ve had panic attacks during sex

Panic with family, friends, colleagues, strangers. Panic while alone.

Panic in cars, on planes and on the phone

Panic during meals is hard to swallow

Panic eroded my life hollow

Reassure me that I’ll come out of this with my sanity and humanity intact

Gnashing of teeth and lashing of tongues. I had hoped to outgrow these abuses by the unabashedly manipulative when I was young.

Panic all through the night

Panic attacks in plain sight

Panic under masks and while performing tasks

Dear miserable people, please stop trying to put your misery on me, your energy is yours

To the ex-partners and patients who threaten suicide based on my actions, your decisions are your own.

What irks me most is how much I am like you even though I don’t say it, I give away my power, attribute my actions to others based on my imagined ideas of what they would want me to do, or what I think will be the path of least resistance.

Every cell in my body is screaming to walk away, yet I stay

Like a battered wife, chained to this archetype for life

I’ve had panic attacks while being interviewed and while interviewing others

Panic grips me as I toss and turn under the covers

I fool myself into thinking that I am clever and efficient, as I run backwards as fast as I can away from what I need, what my body demands

Racial slurs uttered on a death bed left a bitter taste in my mouth. You can keep your negativity, judgements and ignorance.

I should apologize to the men I’ve slept with for hurting myself through them by sleeping with them when I didn’t want to. Let me start by apologizing to myself.

When you try to break me it only makes me more unbreakable.

When you try to unload your drama onto me, I block it with a forcefield of positivity.

I’ve found that the meaning of life is not to be loved, but to be love

I may continue to surf waves of panic throughout my life.

This doesn’t mean that I will drown or fall ill, it simply means that I will gain more experience and skill.

Hunted

Do not make me feel afraid in my home, where I pay the bills with the earnings from my skills

Where I clean up the spills and cure the ills

Yet I still cannot prevent melt-downs

Despite my walking on eggshells, I set off landmines of drama from time to time

These very words have potential to cause damage, depending on whose eyes find them

My intolerance of conflict is impractical

The physiologic reaction that my body is under threat with every disagreement is not helpful anymore

I take my herbal sedatives and guide my body through relaxation yoga nidra style, yet the pounding in my chest won’t let me rest, even when I visualize it as a drumbeat of peace, rippling outward and keeping rhythm as I soften muscle away from bone, cell from cell and thought from thought

Still I feel hunted in my own home in my own bed in my own head

This is the time that if I had something stronger I’d take it for brief relief. I am curious to try the medications I prescribe for patients with ailments identical to my own.

Instead I write with a smile of gratitude for the fact that I don’t have a prescription because I’d miss out on the therapeutic bliss of this midnight poem if I did.

Be Still

Be still my heart

I whisper to the bleeding bird beating itself against the bars of my ribcage

Try as it might, the only escape is through death

When at last this panicked creature the size of my fist may rest

Many a long night has my heart bludgeoned itself through dark hours, sputtering through panic

In the certainty that the journey as we know it will one day end, may my heart know peace now, between systole and diastole

Heart, you fill yourself up only to empty yourself out again

Working tirelessly in service to every cell in my body

I know I have neglected you, as I have neglected the rest of me

Every beat is another opportunity to do better

I humbly dedicate this moment to you

Lotus

Anxieties and worries

Crowd around me in the dark

I dissolve them by sending breath to

My blossoming lotus heart

Each thought is another petal

Adorning a loving heart more precious than metal

Transformed by new perspective and watered by sacred tears

My lotus grows without limit, fertilized by fear

I invite anxiety in for tea

Faithful friend, you must be growing weary working all the time

Why settle for nettles when fruit is ripe on the vine

I thank you for your service and put you at ease with this rhyme

Off My Chest

I need to get you off my chest

I’ve never felt relaxed in my life because you raised me in the war zone of your wrath
Bombs of panic explode in my mind all day every day
Choking me with your smoke and mirrors even though you are far away
My ears ring with your shouting
You were the biggest little tyrant
Not even two years my senior
Yet always more needy
Mandating, yet begging
I didn’t realize the power I had over you, and still do
You were the one dependent on me for affirmation, not the other way around
I didn’t have a choice then, but I do now-
To live a life without your storms brewing on my horizon
I’ve never slept well in my life because I thought you were going to murder me in my sleep throughout our childhood and adolescence
I used lie in bed wearing a cross around my neck with a note attached to it asking you to think before acting, waiting for dawn to break, dreading another day with you, feeling trapped and hopeless with no end in sight
I never felt protected, respected, seen or heard by our parents
In moments of desperation, I wish you had killed me
Instead you continue to torture me passive aggressively, and I am passive passive aggressive
Silenced, as if buried alive
I toss and turn, tormented between insomnia and nightmares
I’m trying to think before I act
I am upset that I’m even thinking about you now
I am upset about how you get upset ‘at’ me: you throw your rage at me and have me clean up the mess, time and time again, left to calm your ass down as if your reactions were justifiable or somehow my fault
It was never my fault
I am not responsible for how you feel
Leave me alone you evil bitch
I want to scream at you with the force of 35 years of repressed anger and tears
At the same time, I am trying to let go of the hot coal which burns my palm
I am trying to let the rippling waters of my pond be still
I am trying to not be irritated, for only then will you no longer be irritating
I am trying to take responsibility for my thoughts and feelings
I am tired of trying so damn hard
I am ready for ease
I am ready for peace
I am ready to breathe
Please, get off my chest
I don’t need to ask- I am responsible for how I feel
I’m not sure what to do next
I’ll probably meditate and self-medicate with raw emo poetry
Like the note pinned to my cross-necklace, you will probably never read this
But maybe those who matter will
Those who feel they are suffering alone
May find healing in this onion peel
And breathe just one breath more freely
For this I humbly pray
Namaste

Corona

I wear my crown of martyrdom

On the front lines, yet still at the back of the testing line- haven’t been tested

I think of you, virus, though you do not think of me

Coronavirus, on the news
Coronavirus, in my body
Is the aching in my muscles and bones your calling card?
You desire to enter my cells, virus, as much as I long to keep you out
Together, yet separately, we hunger
You want to pick my lock, use my typewriter to transcribe your RNA, then mail your enveloped self-promoting propaganda air mail special to Hadestown.
Don’t bring me down on the way, I pray
Not like this, not today
My heart breaks to think of those who have lost their lives to you, and those who needlessly will still
My head is intoxicated with fear
You always seem too near
Perhaps we Americans deserve the repercussions of our recklessness
Though it is the innocent who pay, as usual
Another day deep
I march on with trembling hands and heavy feet
Tracking invisible mud out of the wards and onto the street
Ashamed to stay in the job I was fixing to quit anyway,
Ashamed to leave now and abandon my post
The war is on, dwarfing the existential crisis of living the life I want versus fulfilling my societal obligation
I am among the minority who have a medical education
Only in following my heart can I grow up at last, no longer a slave to the judgements of others who do not bear my burden
My mind’s liberation opens up like a blue sky
Back to here and now, overcast again
In clinic and in the hospital
I struggle to bring my heart into the mundane and mission-impossible tasks which overflow from one day to the next
Virus, I gaze at your storm clouds accumulating on the horizon, and feel small
I see your silver lining, as I am well practiced in finding positivity amidst disaster
You are rich in potential
Look at the way you are uniting humanity, virus
People are taking care of themselves and each other like never before
Practicing presence in hospital hallways and supermarket aisles, smiling shyly at each other from behind our suffocating masks
We are finally being mindful of our precious resources, thinking globally and acting locally for sustainable solutions
We are cultivating more community and camaraderie than we could ever quantify
Teamwork and solidarity are weaving our spirits more closely together even as the physical distance between our bodies grows
I take a step back to take in the beauty of the tapestry you wove, virus
You bring opportunity for innovation and flexibility, you demand it
Many of us no longer take life for granted
We are cleaning our hands as often as we always should have
People are being prioritized over profits as we focus on what is essential
We settle in, acknowledging at last that we are in the same boat
Living in unspoken gratitude for each day of health
Please don’t rock my boat too much, virus
Though you are armed with cunning skills
And you may bring about more positive change still
I plan to ride out this storm, though land is not in sight
Virus, perhaps you could rest tonight?
Virus, my type II pneumocytes are mine, my lungs are a celebration of life and you are not invited
I wind-down after another day on the front lines,
I give thanks to those who are doing their part in time
To those in the comfort of your own homes,
Please stay where you are, be satisfied
Coronavirus, we will destroy you with patience and ingenuity, with solidarity and community, with soap and water, and with love for one another