the thing about mental illness

it’s a riptide

on a moonless night

stealthy and inexorable


out to a pounding


you grab

for his hand

but he “will drag you under, too”

it’s without logic

the ghastly ripples


across generations of pain

you dive in


to save

try again

it’s no good

you can’t reach

the rope’s too short and the sea too rough

if only they would get help

but they don’t, won’t

and so it’s intractable

this persistent murmur, glacial masquerade, madness

a sibling to genius, sure

yet right here, right now?

it’s a scourge–

now hush!

we won’t speak of it

it’s pretending

that the rip’s not there

and maybe that’s the worst

Photo: Essennelle Studios

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35 Responses to the thing about mental illness

  1. In the Stillness of Willow Hill says:

    Profound words. The secret little lie called avoidance.

  2. kanzensakura says:

    Very profound. Silence = denial. My husband has had to take some time but he has learned to deal with accept my chronic depression, which at times can be crippling, even with medication. He’s learned how to calm when I have anxiety attacks for truly, no discernible reason. He’s learned about lot about mental illness: it isn’t his fault, it isn’t my fault, it isn’t shameful, it is real and isn’t in my head ( 🙂 ) that sometimes I need encouragement and other times, I need to be left alone and silent. He’s learned we love each other dearly and in spite of it, have a good, healthy happy marriage. he admires my courage when taking on something new, or pushing through. I admire his patience and courtesy. Silence and avoidance is worse than the illness itself. Thank you for these words. xoxoxoxo

    • SirenaTales says:

      My dear Kanzen, good morning. And thank you from the bottom of my heart for being here with your honest and inspiring story and courageous, generous, talented and charming self. Obviously, I am sad to hear of your suffering and my heart goes out to you, but I am shouting “Yowzer!” at my Yankee kitchen table for your formidable spirit! Yay you for grabbing onto life with both hands and living to the fullest. I am so happy that your husband and you have each other and your palpable love for each other. And I am so grateful for inspiring you in my life. Rock out, baby. Love and hugs

      • SirenaTales says:

        p.s. Indeed, silence and avoidance are absolutely worse….and within our power

      • kanzensakura says:

        Thank you. Like I said, I try to keep my eyes on the blue sky, the tiny flowers in the grass at my feet, and above all, to dance in the sudden summer storms. It is hard sometimes but those of us with this illness, for the most part, keep forging ahead. We try to be brave even when we are most frightened and down. I’m sure many, besides myself can and will relate to these incredible words of yours. Love and hugs.

  3. The elephant in the room syndrome. If no one acknowledges the fact that it’s there…it’s not there.

  4. F.G.M. says:

    Un poème très dur Chloé; sur la dépression et son irrésistible force… j’aime le mot “riptide” qui indique, d’emblée, cette force terrible…
    “the rope’s too short and the sea too rough”

    “this persistent murmur, glacial masquerade, madness
    a sibling to genius, sure”
    beautiful… and a bit frightening!!! But I get the antidote – see my last poem “Amour amour”, yes, the perfect antidote 🙂 Merci pour ce poème Chloé – et je pense que c’est un poème “à danser”, I mean it is a very inspiring “danceable” poem… un mot comme “riptide” est certainement très intéressant à “traduire en mouvements”… much love to you Chloé!

    • SirenaTales says:

      Merci pour tes mots sensibles et généreux, gentil Frédéric. And also for your heartening and truly lovely poem “Amour amour.” Such a splendid idea to dance this–yes, I understood your French!–but, also am drawn to something more healing like dancing beauty right now. The riptide piece may be down the road :). I treasure your companionship, my friend. love to you….

  5. Mélanie says:

    impressive and emotional, Sirena… ❤ most depressed people are not properly diagnosed and what we ironically call in French "les pilules du bonheur" are never its "cure", as their side-effects may worsen the illness or even more…
    * * *
    my very best and keep on dancing LIFE… 🙂

    • SirenaTales says:

      “…keep on dancing LIFE….” What a lovely and inspiring encouragement, Mélanie! You betcha! Thank you so much for your insights and support here–I am deeply grateful. Rock on, lovely lady. xoxo

  6. fictionfitz says:

    Reblogged this on Writing Out Loud and commented:
    Sirena, feels very close.

  7. Rachael Charmley says:

    The images you generate with your beautiful words leaves me speechless, Chloe. Really. I am numbed by this. Anyone who has experience of depression will understand your words, and to write that knowledge into a poem requires immense skill and sensitivity. You have these in spades ❤ . Your words are like murmurs, like sighs – yet they keep their power somehow (I don't know how) – perhaps it is that lightness of touch you use with such skill. I want to ask you if this poem has come to life because of your experience, but I think I will not. But if it has, then I have some understanding.
    This is epic, Chloe, and should be published 🙂

    • SirenaTales says:

      Well, how can I thank you enough for your amazing understanding and encouragement, Rachael? I am not usually dumbfounded :). Methinks I will hang up my pen and rest on your most welcome laurel that I am now printing out! In the meantime, thank you more than I can say–for your cherished companionship on the rough seas and the calm, sunnier ones. As you have conveyed, this was a tough, cathartic write, but creativity has worked her magic again and I feel a wee bit lighter. Oceans of love to you….

  8. t h i n g s + f l e s h says:

    Chloe, there’s so much heart, so much generous observation in your verse. your water wisdom is deep and invigorating. tony

  9. diahannreyes says:

    I’ve never heard mental illness described just so- I felt all of it in your evocative descriptions and metaphors.. the darkness, the pull, the inability to get out from under it. I hope a lot of people read this beautiful, piercing piece, Chloe. xo

  10. seanmirza says:

    So profound and beautiful.

  11. Miranda Stone says:

    Wow, this is so incredibly powerful, Chloe, and I know it will resonate with many people who feel unheard and unacknowledged in their suffering. I LOVE this line: this persistent murmur, glacial masquerade, madness. Thank you for sharing this, my friend. Love and hugs.

    • SirenaTales says:

      Your words are music to my ears, Miranda. In fact, I have already heard from several folks for whom this poem resonated–I am so glad I went ahead and pressed publish. That line you mention kind of came out of nowhere–often a good sign–and felt really right. So pleased it worked for your discerning eye. What your companionship means to me on this blogging adventure simply cannot be adequately expressed, by me anyway. Love to you, my dear friend….

  12. stacilys says:

    Wow Chloe. How do you do it? Write such deep and poignant material such as this? I know all too well this riptide that is inexorable. I used to think that I was of bad character. I would pray and pray for God to change me. And I’m sure my hubby did as well. That is, until I finally went to the doctor and got some help. Now if the in-laws could just be a little more understanding of what I go through.

    • SirenaTales says:

      Oh, Staci, I am sorry to hear of your suffering, but so happy for you that you have received help. I wish I could wave my wand in the direction of your in-laws and so many other folks :). I really appreciate your observations and insights–thank you for taking the time to read and contribute here. xoxo

  13. Very eloquently put – objective, but hugly personal too.

  14. luggagelady says:

    You had me with: “it’s a riptide on a moonless night…”
    Such powerfully heartbreaking imagery — the unprovoked punch coming from left field — causing my soul to ache. Hard not to feel helpless being the recipient of such illogical pain, swept beneath the rug — unacknowledged — yet again…

    Sending you positive thoughts, strength, and much love!! ♥♥♥

  15. SirenaTales says:

    Oh, LL, you always lift my spirits so! Thank you so much for your enormous heart and sensitivity, my lovely friend. How terrific it is just to know you are out there, jetting your goodness all over the world! I am deeply grateful for your support, now and always. Love to you….

  16. Powerful work, Chloe. You make us get it so completely! Well done. x

  17. SirenaTales says:

    Reblogged this on Sirena Tales and commented:

    My sly old friend depression has slithered and stomped into so many conversations and settings lately, I decided to run this piece again…because what we do know is that depression loses its power when brought out of the shadows of the unspoken, of aloneness and into the light of recognition and LOVE….

  18. maskednative says:

    Dear ST, I don’t know what it’s like to be in the grip of ‘real’ depression, the kind that must certainly be so defeating that medication, or worse, seems to be the only way, but I know some who have suffered and therefore feel I ought to not say ‘hush’, I won’t speak of it, instead offer my sincere hope that those in the grip of this insidious, creeping, illness, will find relief. My own occasional mood of being depressed is not often, and cannot be anything like the same, but still I can’t shake it until perhaps the next day when everything seems normal again, this was in fact just a couple of days ago but while I listened to music, nothing special, just something from spotify, one or two songs gave me such a lift, coming from a time in my life when i was younger and in that happy place., I was amazed at the difference in my mood. Music does heal, I hope it helps your situation too.

    • SirenaTales says:

      Dear Teri, Thanks so much for joining me in refusing to say “hush.” And also for the terrific reminder of the healing–and accessible–power of music! I am also convinced of the healing power of dance and all creative endeavors. Tragically, as I’ve been discussing with several different folks recently, so often people who are very depressed can’t seem to get themselves to obtain or generate even these sources of healing. I am so glad to hear your low day has passed, eased on by the magic of music. I wish I could get some folks I know to have their own bad spells move on, and join you in your eloquently stated “…sincere hope that those in the grip of this insidious, creeping, illness, will find relief….”

      My deep gratitude for your graceful, generous presence here. xoxo

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