The Electric Journal (David Stavanger)

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.

Last night
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.

Note: This poem was a finalist in the 2016 Newcastle Poetry Prize and was previously published in print as part of Hunter Writers Centre 2016 Anthology.

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.