(Clozapine Clinic: edited by Tim Heffernan & Alise Blayney)
When she sees people working, she feels like an asshole. She thinks of the construction workers and how hard their job is, but she doesn’t like it when they make sexist remarks from high above, extra-terrestrial in their towers. She is worse than Gogol’s Akaky Akakievich. She doesn’t even copy things. She is a serf, an underclass. She finds it hard to move from place to place.
Even though she doesn’t have enough money for tram fare she still catches the tram. She has done this in the past when she stopped taking her medication. But then she had listened to an old-school Walkman with ‘Never Mind the Bollocks‘ by The Sex Pistols blaring out. She had sung, I am an anti-christ, I am an anarchist. Don’t know what I want but I know where to get it. I want to destroy the passer-by. She had bleach-blonde hair shaved to number one. And she wore a thick, black-studded dog collar bought at a sex shop.
But that was the past.
Now guards get on the tram to check Mykis. She panics and runs to get off. But the guards follow and ask to see her Myki.
‘Did you forget?’
‘Yes I forgot.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘I’m going to a job club at Disability Employment Services.’
‘OK. I don’t usually do this but I’ll let you off this time.’
She is so relieved. She walks the rest of the way to Disability Employment Services. It is an unremarkable office. Once she gets there, Glenda, one of the workers from the service, informs her that she has to come to the job club dressed in job interview clothes.
‘I don’t have the credit card to take you shopping.’
‘It’s ok, my advance payment comes in tomorrow. I can buy some clothes.’
‘We can reimburse you if you keep the receipt.’
The next day she follows a hot trail down Burke St to Myers. ‘Your clothes don’t hide your shape,’ her psychiatrist once said. She knows she has a double chin. When she puts on liquid eyeliner one eye is always smudged at the bottom lid. This gives her the appearance of Alex from A Clockwork Orange. She finds a black suit and wonders if she can still afford to pay the rent if she buys the suit. When she is getting changed, she looks into the dressing room mirror and sees a naked Donald Trump. She imagines being exposed on street corners in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland or New York.
The following night, Glenda rings her about an information session for call centre work at Serco. She goes dressed in her suit.
‘Don’t you look lovely,’ says Glenda. ‘You know you can’t apply for this job if you have a criminal record.’ She doesn’t have a criminal record but she feels like a criminal.
The job is in Box Hill — sounds like Pox Hell. She thinks of Garth Daniels, an involuntary mental patient at Box Hill Hospital. He had been given shock treatment ninety-seven times, sometimes without a general anaesthetic or muscle relaxant. She thinks that instead of going to the happy land of Serco she will be transported to the Box Hill Hospital and given shock treatment.
‘You cannot apply for this position if you are not available to do full time job training for six weeks.’
‘What if you are studying part time?’
‘Then you can’t apply for the job.’
University saves me from shock treatment, she thinks.
She walks the grounds of the University singing The Sex Pistols —
Cheap holiday in other people’s misery. I don’t wanna holiday in the sun. I wanna go to the new Belsen. I wanna see some of history. Cause now I got a reasonable economy. Now I got a reason. Now I got a reason. . .
She lights cigarettes outside. It is a non-smoking university. Security guards loiter around her.
When she gets home to her flat she finds an eviction notice under the door. The neighbours have complained about the singing and she has to move out on her birthday. With only two weeks to find somewhere to live, she throws all her belongings into a bin, including her dirty dishes, and emails student housing.
They have a flat she can shift into. It has white brick walls and is across the road from the University, so she can study in the library. One day she takes off her shoes, mutters to herself and laughs out loud. A librarian approaches.
‘This is serious. This is a noise free level of the library. You have to stop talking to yourself. You won’t like what they will do to you.’
But she loses her shoes and the next day panhandles shoeless outside the University café. A University mental health worker notes on his laptop, ‘Overweight woman in forties asking for money without shoes’. He approaches her and asks her to come with him.
When she gets back to her flat she realises all she has to eat is a can of pea and ham soup left over from the Salvo, so she decides to go to student services for a food voucher. The mental health worker is summoned. He leads her into a darkened room.
‘I can get a psychiatrist for you.’
‘This is very 1984.’
She knows he is going to take her to a mental hospital, so she runs to the shopping centre and tries to call her mum on a pay phone. A police officer approaches her. She runs again. The police officer chases her and she gives up. She gets into the police car and two officers sit on either side of her. On arrival she sits quietly outside the nurses’ station determined not to be any trouble. Patients crowd outside the window of the station like baby birds waiting for their mother.
‘I’m feeling stressed,’ she says to a mother nurse.
In the green relaxation room people watch her from behind computer screens. A toothless patient smiles at her.
‘Look what Risperidone has done to me.’
‘Will they put me on medication?’
‘Yes. They will definitely do that.’
While ripping the metal spine from her lecture pad and confiscating her bra, Mother Nurse asks, ‘Aren’t you ashamed to be here while you are doing your PhD?’
‘I don’t feel ashamed.’
Outside, a group of Aboriginal patients are singing and dancing to the radio. ‘Go!’ one woman says to her. And she starts to dance.
Finally discharged on Risperdal injections, she visits the mental health clinic. The community nurse says, ‘The other nurse told me that when you got your last injection you weren’t wearing any underwear’.
‘I ran out of clean underwear.’
‘We were worried about you, we thought it was a sign you were becoming unwell.’
‘No. I just ran out of clean underwear.’
She tells the nurse it is her last injection before moving on to oral medication.
‘Then I better give you something to remember me by.’ The clumsy needle prick hurts a lot.
At her next appointment with Disability Employment Services Glenda is wearing the same purple jumper she always wears. Her arm is in a sling.
‘So, how are you? Are you ok?’
‘How are you feeling inside yourself?’
‘Did you get reimbursed for your suit?’
‘Then I’ll have to inquire at a higher level. Have you seen any job vacancies?’
‘No, sorry. I haven’t.’
‘Then I’ll look on the internet for you. What about part-time admin work?’
‘Here’s one working in a primary school.’
She thinks of the cries of children playing and how much that would disturb her. ‘No. I don’t feel comfortable working at a primary school.’
‘That’s ok, of course. There is that other issue of how you need your free time to study.’
‘Yes, that’s right, we have to do reading and write lecture notes.’
‘In that case, you should exit the system.’
She leaves the system.
Gabrielle Everall completed her PhD in creative writing at The University of Western Australia. While doing the PhD she wrote her second book of poetry, Les Belles Lettres. Her first book of poetry is called Dona Juanita and the love of boys. She has been published in numerous anthologies including The Penguin Anthology of Australian Poetry, The Turnrow Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Performance Poets and The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry edited by John Kinsella and Tracy Ryan. She has performed her poetry at the BDO, Overload, NYWF, Emerging Writer’s Festival and Putting on an Act. She has also performed at The Bowery Poetry Club in New York and The Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She currently studies at Melbourne University.
(Clozapine Clinic: edited by Tim Heffernan & Alise Blayney)
My world is controlled
I see them everywhere
Like some numerologist
Or lost mathematician
Descartes with his planar thought
I’m on the z-axis
But I have no scene for to play
Just an axiom of rhetorical
And you are doing
But I could
Be a better 1
If you could 2, only 3 is the number
I plead 4 less 5 is the 6-note and the 7
Isn’t 8 it’s 9
Sell the Kids for Food
Order the next anti-psychotic
I’m not a danger to myself
I’m not a danger to you
But you better put me away
Cos my knife is to your throat
You cut me with your DSM
My veins are blue
But my hands are read-
Y for your kiss of death.
Take this pill and you will feel more yourself
More than who you really are
More than who you know
More than you can believe is right.
Get ready for a fight
Get ready for some control
As they steady your ass
For the jab
The short upper-cut
Stare at the walls
Stripped of your emperor’s
De-robed, dismissed, dis-armed.
Nominate me for life
Open the door for laughter
Close it again, when finished with me
Do not know it
But do it too when I see you here
Looking at my words like they are poetry
But really they are new to me
As they all are.
I want to be a poet
But I cannot
So I will be then and there
The free writing agent of the passable
Use of words.
Bruce Saunders is a funky dove in a hip-swinger kind of thing called the rejuvenated part of South Africa in England where he lives with Madiba in his house called the Bat. It is not for you to see but for you to hear as he goes from one to another trying different things in order to get attention for his plight in the Mental Health Industry here where he is empowered by his desire to do the harm he can to the psychiatry that wounded his try at the politics of the day, and he would be grateful if you can read his work and see if you go to the home of the woods without seeing it all as he does. Called the Big B by some, he is the first to know it is found not in the Heart but in the Wrist Action. To read more of Bruce’s work, visit his blog, Too Lonely To Make Sense.
I become ‘treatment-resistant’ to drugs.
They advise me I would be better served with other recreational pursuits.
They are talking up the effectiveness of brain damage.
I recall a child I knew in my street who could nose bleed on the spot.
I see the colour red.
Two of them sit in the room with me, the door is on the other side of their intentions.
They are common, persistent, and significant people
that I will see for the rest of my life.
I am considered ‘an excellent candidate for ECT.’ I am thrilled.
My arts degree has come to something after all.
I hold off calling my mother and friends.
The drip is your arm. You watch the way even water can be taken from rain.
When faced with the truth it is better to focus on symptoms.
A tiny prick then a hot blooded war.
I state that I was not harmed. This is part of the process.
I keep repeating this as I walk round the house trying to find where I live.
The next day I feel like a seedless watermelon.
Opponents claim that this apparent improvement is an example of post-concussion euphoria. The effects are short-lived, soon dark seeds return to the pink fruit.
Remission rates are encouraging.
I sit in the waiting room with my name on my wrist in case I forget what names are for.
Your name is not yours once it’s in their mouth.
There is a growing body of survivors. I hear them shake during the threat of summer storms, in the sudden lightning that strikes the least resistant tree.
They administer the Mini Mental Status Exam before treatment.
No one shows you what you score, or what rich rewards high scores will bring.
The nurse in front of me tells me they rarely find ‘significant and persistent deficits’
in memory for autobiographical events. Later, I rewrite this woman out of the scene.
Asking for help does a good deal of damage.
Any diagnosis has the trappings of science. When I say efficacy they say efficiency.
I am told that there are people out there who are unscientific deniers.
They tell me that the earth is flat. I act shocked that my earth is now flat.
Then they shock me too.
Looking at the night sky, I believe that a rotating and revolving rock is not merely a fiction of faith. I stop crying.
I kiss you and my lips tingle. The slight but significant risk of death.
I will not dismiss the rigorous evidence. I know I am not okay, even if it is inconvenient. If I let them take me to their quarters, who will wake up?
Cherry picks her evidence. Cherry is a fictional character.
Our love is a moral and spiritual document. I study it while you sleep, knowing I can catch up. The nature of her physical universe demands it.
I cling tenaciously to the belief that I am wrong in the right hands.
I am relieved to be informed that the memory loss was all in my head.
It works the same way any assault works. You shouldn’t have worn that dress.
I write down a report for their superiority.
Given another antipsychotic. Unsteady decline.
Treated aggressively with five new drugs.
Reporting side and/or adverse effects are solid proof of my escalating mental illness.
I stand still once the blood is spinning.
My partner is told by the team I am considered ‘high risk’. She stays with me as she knew that when we met. When I become ‘low risk’ she will leave, and I will go to bed on their terms.
Too many labels to be listed here. It’s like shopping for milk.
Someone wakes me. I am informed of the requirement for maintenance ECT for the rest of my life and drugs for the rest of my life. Every time they say life, I say “file”.
Feeling old. Not making old memories.
Continue to have tremors in my legs. The dog walks by, unsettled.
The nurse tells me that my compliance justifies the use of force.
Follow-up periods after the end of treatment will be determined by how fast I run.
I am relieved to find they will only target existing (consolidated) memory. I think of all of my favourite scenes from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Can’t remember if I’ve seen it but it’s a great film.
Last night the dream. Then I wake. Boys hanging, dead.
There is another doctor looming over my bed. He/she is holding a clipboard.
They loom further, the clipboard is now in my/their hand.
“Are you consenting or should we force you?” I consent to be forced.
I go to my doctor and tell him I want to be beaten over the head until I collapse.
The doctor sends me to another doctor who tells me I am very unwell in the head,
at the point of mental collapse. They prescribe regular doses of closed head trauma behind closed doors. I no longer want to be beaten over the head until I collapse.
Anaesthesia is poison. We are rats in a nursery, sleeping while they gnaw at our head.
The chemical imbalance lie.
If you can walk along the line, it doesn’t mean the line is there.
DIY. One day I will buy a Taser and do it myself.
I function with a wall of sticky-note reminders.
One of the notes helps me recall there is a wall.
I stay up all night, trying to lift my spirits out of the drink.
I saw the doctor who prescribed me drugs. He was high, reminiscing about the good old
days, when staff used the phrase ‘old is gold’ when using a 30-year-old machine mended with sticking plaster. I stick a bandaid on my ear.
When I open my eyes they tell my I have beautiful eyes.
I can’t see anything, just the white wash, and their black stones.
I don’t remember my grandmother’s funeral. I wasn’t there.
Since my family prefers me damaged, I commence psychiatric treatment.
I invoke the conspiracy argument that all doctors are failed dentists.
The Committee of Truth gathers round and concludes my teeth won’t come out.
‘The fracture or dislocation of the long bones’ is long behind us.
Head to head comparisons. Mine is still on their shoulders.
I have days where I feel I am in my own body.
Then it passes, and I am back in this body.
Pancakes. I flip words a lot. To see what people are really saying.
I am an assistant in my assisted suicide. I put on the gown willingly and ascend the
throne. My blood pressure is taken. They ask me why am I here and I say “Because I
am not there”. The trolley bed is pushed uneasily through hall after hall after hall, tight
corners and all. Then we are there, and they surround me with their theatre.
A lot of people blame it for Hemingway’s suicide. To shoot yourself in the temple with a double-barrelled twelve-gauge shotgun, the same gun your father used. I know he begged his wife not to send him back again. If you cheat too many times, your boxing ring will become a concrete swimming pool, and you will be sent back into the toaster. He wrote his weight daily on the bathroom wall. We are heavy on their scales. Every time he got a divorce, he left for another country. The doctors hold our passports in case they need to identify a body, having never seen our face.
I wake up on the roof. By the time I got down, I was asleep.
I am released into the care of the one person who cares.
He’s much happier they say. They smile when they say it.
Not that they see him these days.
Some people have cats. Some people have dogs.
Some people have their own unique brain injury, which strays.
I was told it was my only hope. People around me crossed my fingers.
My unmasked bipolar disorder becomes unmasked.
They give me multiple-choice. Am I:
1. an option that a person might want to be
2. there remains no such option
This one is paternalistic, warm hands, assuring me I won’t mess myself.
I try my hardest to shit the bed but instead I smile and tell him I love my son.
I tried very hard to answer them, doubly incontinent.
To improve the body. A gangrenous thought may be removed to save a life.
I get ghost pains where my ghosts once roamed free.
In 1938 Cerletti visited the Rome abattoir where electric shocks were used to render pigs comatose prior to slaughter. Inspired by the fact that the pigs were not actually killed by a voltage of 125 volts driving an electric current through the head for a few tenths of a second.
Inspired, I give up bacon as a precursor.
I’m in danger of having a pretty thin time of it.
I spontaneously and miraculously recover from all diagnoses and labels.
They tell me this is a sure sign of relapse. The new label sticks.
Mood collapses again, like a bridge taking cars down into the water.
Case notes. You have the right to apply for access to information held in your health
records. Having watched them writing several first drafts I tell them
I know a good editor. Characterisation is hard if you don’t study people.
Certifiable. The admin nurse tells me I will need to provide a certified copy of all documents. If they smile at you at the front desk they know less than you.
Headaches are not caused by trauma to one’s head.
Long-term effects have been reported by the deceased.
I continue this love affair with pills.
No further improvement is noted in the notes.
David Stavanger is a poet, performer and cultural producer. In 2013 he won the Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize, resulting in the release of The Special (UQP), his first full-length collection of poetry which was also awarded the 2015 Wesley Michel Wright Poetry Prize. David is the Co-Director of the Queensland Poetry Festival. His recent prose-poem ‘The Electric Journal’ was a finalist of the 2016 Newcastle Poetry prize. At the 2014 Queensland Literary Awards he received a Queensland Writing Fellowship. He is also sometimes known as pioneering Green Room-nominated ‘spoken weird’ artist Ghostboy, winning the 2005 Nimbin Performance Poetry World Cup and establishing poetry slam in QLD via his work with the State Library and Woodford Folk Festival.
Verity La are proud to publish the three winning entries from the 2016 Wollongong Writers Festival Mad Poets Workshop. These poems are the first to be published as part of Clozapine Clinic, a new ongoing project established to honour the work and life of poet Benjamin Frater. Project editors Alise Blayney & Tim Heffernan aim to support writers with mental health issues wanting to howl!!! Check it out & listen up.
Spinning (Kyra Thomsen)
I spin myself into a frenzy
legs lurching in and out like a spider building a web
unravelling my inner-silk
exposing my underbelly.
The tea is too hot to drink but thank you and
I don’t take sugar
You used to help me sweep the old cobwebs
the ones still held together with pride
after all this time.
Incisors and molars gnash in a bony crush.
You wake me at midnight
to tell me I’ve been tossing
Dissatisfactions (Andrea Rashbrook)
I’m not happy with my body.
With the muscle tone I lost in childbirth.
The scars that I got in childbirth
The fear that I felt in childbirth
I’m not happy with my clenching jaw
With stress spasm shoulders
With my broiling acid gut
That all this comes from my head.
I’m not happy with the pain I’ve caused
Speaking up, lashing out, unremembered outbursts.
Casting off smothering attention
To cry terrified, alone and shaking.
I’m not happy with the perfect life I have created, seeking happiness.
Working so damn hard for happiness.
Labouring, screaming, fighting for happiness
Never reaching a calm at the centre of the storm.
Grief for hire (Alise Blayney)
I AM grief for hire, a Poetess – not PTSDs marauded Duchess, nor the Black Dog’s mistress. I used to be the clinical Countess of Distress!
I HAVE a broken aorta, when under hypnosis ticks with postmodern tacky-cardia.
I HEAR absinthe’s green fairy whirlpool crash like car smash glass into community houso’s observation hole.
I SEE invisible cloaked entities dressed as spiritual emergencies, infecting those whose senses are not anaesthetised. They incubi and succubi my white hospital gown like a djinn and tonic lullaby.
I WOULD drop vowels for Rhett Butler, do post traumatic time behind the fishbowl for Scarlett O’Hara.
I WANT soft asylum, 33 inch vinyl and spinning Roy Orbison.
I AM Rimbaud’s THIEF of FIRE, a Poetess. Not PTSDs marauded Duchess, nor the Black Dog’s mistress. I used to be the clinical Countess of Distress.
I PRETEND that 9 years ago, I wasn’t a sensory deprived TANKED mess.
I FEEL ambidextrous with the crookedness, and RAGE over the cuckoo clock’s rooftops.
I TELL Blake his RINTRAH has gone too far – knockout pills and acute amnesia wrack with wrath, a reprobate wrecking ball.
I TOUCH marriage of perception through chemical incarceration and sink into delirium – the quack tells me I look like the spokesperson for vandalism!
I WORRY that the rough of the dialogue does your head in and that the curse of the coarse is coercion of sin.
I CRY because Mr Disney never told me the looking glass felt so like sheer fucking fear.
I SMILE when you spit delirious “the road of HER excess leads you to the palace of resilience.”
I AM the serrated jaw of Dante’s grand larceny circle. I lurk between the 5th of anger, the 7th of murder.
I UNDERSTAND when God gives you a gift, the angel of shibboleth gives you a whip.
I SAY drink the sweet elixir and watch your syntax sizzle off my rapid cycling tongue, to a beat that just belts on and on and on.
I DREAM of astral travel and meeting you in the ether, lucid and tender, where
I TRY to exalt this zyprexa stupor into the stars / release my pressure points into the ooh la la stars.
I HOPE to enter your white wonderland chamber, but your syntactical activist tongue SHIPWRECKS my lips, until I’m trembling and sick.
I LOVE that you said poetry is both confession and exorcism – so we should Houdini out of the syntax straight jacket by sticking it to big pharma!
I am GRIEF FOR HIRE. Tell seclusion and restraint I want ceasefire.
Want more Mad Poets? Go to the Wollongong Writers Festival website for details on the Ben Frater Retrospective and Mad Poets Readings and Tea Party, to take place on Sunday 27 November.
Kyra Thomsen is a writer and editor from Wollongong who currently works full-time as a content manager and is deputy editor of Writer’s Edit. Her work has been previously published in print and online for several publications including Tide, Kindling, Mascara Literary Review and Seizure, and her short story ‘Buzzing’ was recently published in Spineless Wonders’ Slinkies e-series.
Andrea Rashbrook is returning to Australia and creative writing after a long hiatus in Italy. She hopes to have a longer bio before too long.
Alise Blayney graduated as a Creative Writing student at the University of Wollongong in 2007. She is intrigued by the relationship between mental and emotional distress, and creativity.
Her chosen medium to explore this is through poetry, by exploring break-down and moving towards break-through. She is interested in the different explanatory frameworks of how people make sense of what has happened to them, and how the power of language can shape, transform and rebuild identity. She is deeply moved by seeing people become the director of their own recovery journey.