Category Archives: Voices: Mental Health Awareness Month 2011 Poem Series

Voices: “Better”

This is the final post from the series! Thank you for reading this past Mental Health Month. I’m honored to enter your lives through poetry and even more honored to hear your stories and comments in return.

This last poem is brand new, just written a few days ago. I wanted to write something looking back from the other side of mental illness; what it feels like to be better. “Better” means different things to different people, I think mostly because the course of each person’s life and illness is so different. For some people, it means 100% recovery. For others, it’s just managing symptoms. For some, just staying out of the hospital for extended periods is a really big accomplishment. Celebrate those successes in whatever form they come, and try not to berate yourself for the times you fall down. Never stop advocating for yourself, not just as a patient but as a person too; you are more than your symptoms. Choose the people in your life carefully and try to have a good support system. Mental illness is a part of our lives but it does not have to be our whole lives.

My hope is for everyone with mental illness to have access to the resources they need to get “better”- whatever that means to them.



There is a place that’s in between

It’s hard to find and rarely seen

But if you work and search it’s there

You only find it through self-care

For some that includes therapy

For others it means meals times three

For some it means ten pills a day

We do self-care in many ways

I know it’s isn’t always fun

But it’s a task that must be done

To stay here and to really live

Remember the alternative

Remember self-destructive nights

Terror and internal fights

Dissolving into fits of panic

Acting out when things turned manic

Diving into dark depression

Binge and purge in quick succession

Starving to make up for it

Cut to make it all just quit

Round and round and round it went

Never pausing to relent

Revisit what this felt like so

You’ll have the good sense to let go

To keep on caring for yourself

To keep on trying and getting help

And knowing that there is always hope

And support out there to help you cope

© Sarah Henderson 2011

Voices: “Flawless”

Thank you for joining me for the final week of our “Voices” series. This week I want to focus on the recovery side of mental illness- at least, the journey towards recovery. This short poem was written in a little burst of self-awareness I had about five years ago. I was still extremely ill, and just a couple of months away from entering inpatient care. But every now and then something would break through my denial and it would occur to me that eventually this shit would have to stop if I was going to survive. This was one of those moments.




What does it mean to be perfect?

I have searched my whole life but don’t know

I have tried and have lied and I’ve nearly died

And I’ve put on a grand little show

But the truth, I’ve discovered, is that there’s no magic

There’s no way to opt out of yourself

There’s only this life, and if you choose to stay

You must play the hand you’ve been dealt

There are rules in this life by which you must abide

And you can be pissed and that’s fine

But you will have to eat, take your pills, and take care

Of the body that houses your mind

You will learn to accept things that you used to hate

You will learn that perfection can’t be

You will learn that your so-called flaws make you you

And that self-respect will set you free

If you want to move on then you will have to grieve

And you’ll have to fight like all hell

But when it’s all over, the pain will subside

And you’ll be able to say “I am well”

© Sarah Henderson 2006

Voices: “Places to Hide”

So here we are at the end of our third week in our series. So far I’ve mostly discussed the experience of mental illness, particularly depression. I haven’t so much mentioned the often self-defeating, self-destructive ways that most of us cope with mental illness and the factors in our lives that have contributed to it.

The vast majority of mental illness stems from a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental triggers; most commonly addiction, abuse, and/or trauma. Those experiences along with unstable families don’t allow for the development of self-esteem or healthy coping mechanisms, so a lot of us turn to things like drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, and self-harm to deal with unmanageable feelings. This was certainly what I did. In order to cope with growing up in a violent household, years of sexual and physical trauma via my father, a stranger rape at 16, my undiagnosed bipolar, and posttraumatic stress disorder, I did all of the above. I nearly died of anorexia and bulimia several times during my 16-year ordeal with the disease; I have scars in every place imaginable from all the cutting; I broke my own bones at times because I beat myself so hard with a ceramic curling iron; I abused vicodin, valium, klonipin, ambien, and other pills. Through most of the years I was doing these things, I really believed I could never live without them.

Thank God I was wrong.

I had a therapist who used to tell me, before you can give these behaviors up, you have to honor what they’ve done for you. Don’t get me wrong, they’re killing your body. But these behaviors are protecting your mind. Respect that, and thank them for that. And then let them go.  


Places to Hide


Between the lines I carve in my skin

At the edge of a blade that gently glides in

Afloat on the streams of blood that will follow

Once filling me up, now leaving me hollow

I trace the path of my freshly split vein

Twining up to my heart, the center of pain

And just below there, my eternal friend

The stomach that’s empty, shriveled, sunken

The best place to rest and perhaps disappear

A place that I’ve turned to for so many years

One among many places I’ve found

To be safe on my constantly turbulent ground

And then there’s the throat, bloodied and bruised

From the battering in-and-out cycle of food

And my pill bottles carefully lined in a row

A disturbingly fun pharmaceutical show

So many places I created to hide

From a self that I simply cannot abide

© Sarah Henderson 2003

Voices: “Battle Fatigue”

Here we are in the third week of the “Voices” series honoring Mental Health Month. This fifth poem is about a feeling I think many of those with mental illness can relate to. Sometimes when you’re waiting for something to happen with your treatment- the chance to go to inpatient hospitalization, for instance, or for a new medication to begin working, or for your insurance to approve a new therapy- you sit there and you’re just barely hanging on. It’s an excruciating feeling, being miserable, wondering if you’re going to feel better anytime soon, not knowing what’s going to happen or if what you’re trying is going to help. It’s frustrating and it’s not like you were full of hope to begin with. This poem is about that lag time between now and “better”- whatever that means for you.


Battle Fatigue

Oh my God, the exhaustion

I can’t tolerate this for much longer

I’m wearing down to my limit

When right now I need to be stronger

It’s so hard to hang on through this time

I’m just here by the skin of my teeth

I feel Death’s presence with such a force

With Life buried so far beneath

How can I feel so alone

When deep down I know that I’m not?

Why can’t I take in this love,

This warmth, and this requiescat?

When will I finally feel worthy?

Will there be an end to this grief?

Will I soon find a place I can heal?

Will I finally find some relief?

I know that there’s hope in the future

But right now I’m blinded by pain

I cannot see through my depression,

My rage at the stress and the strain

That’s been unduly placed upon me

By my family and my disease

I’m struggling for some way to cope

I’m turning to God to say Please


Just let me push through my doubt

Strengthen my faith against fear

For if I become dead set on dying

Then I won’t have the strength to stay here

© Sarah Henderson 2006

Voices: “Once More, Into the Breach”

Thank you for joining me once again! The fourth poem in this series describes the process of psychotherapy. It describes my process, anyway. I had the benefit of excellent therapy from excellent providers, including social workers, psychiatrists, and trauma specialists. I was able to really work through everything that happened to me, and get to a point where I no longer experience any PTSD symptoms whatsoever. It took almost twelve years to get there; the work was intense, at times brutal, but I stuck with it. I never lost the feeling that there was going to be a pay off in the end. And I never felt alone in my pain. I do not regret a single moment I spent in therapy; I only wish everyone who needs it could receive the extraordinary level care that I did.

To everyone who helped me over the years, I am forever grateful.


Once More, Into the Breach

I come here week after week

We talk about present and past

I try to open my mind

Find answers to questions we ask

I pause at the door to this room

Where memories lay raw and exposed

To enter’s to fall back in time

To analyze all I’ve disclosed

We trouble the waters of Self

And stretch the boundaries of my mind

I stumble through tunnels of grief

Then out of the depths I must climb

Touching in, then pulling back

Is the only way I can survive

The images flooding so fierce

The emotions that I have revived

This process is a long, winding path

Which only the brave will travel

It’s the path that leads me out of darkness

So I may let my future unravel

© Sarah Henderson 2004

Voices: “Maintenance”

Welcome to the second week of Mental Health Month! The third poem in our series describes a situation that will probably sound very familiar to those who have suffered with chronic mental illness. During treatment, at some point you reach a stage in which you feel like you’re just treading water. Therapy and meds are just effective enough to keep you out of the hospital, but are not effective enough to allow you to live a real live and feel like a person. You may not like the doctors you’re working with or you haven’t quite found the magic cocktail of medications yet;whatever the case, you are miserable. People see you and praise you for doing better- at least you’re not slitting your wrists- but you want to laugh in their faces and say are you kidding me? This is not a life!

But time marches on. And if you are fortunate, as I have been, you will eventually find the right meds, the right doctors, the right circumstances in which to begin a real life again. You will feel human, and describe yourself as more than a cluster of symptoms. You’ll recover.



I hear people say, “You’re doing so well”

But this happens to be my personal hell

So lonely and meager, this tedious rut

And each door I turn to promptly slams shut

No school to attend, no papers to write

Life’s at a standstill, nothing is right

A job that I hate, that doesn’t pay shit

But somehow I don’t have the guts to just quit

At my mother’s apartment, no space of my own

I come back to this place that I can’t quite call home

There’s only this canvas on which I paint words

Though even this seems to be slightly absurd

Twenty-two pills day, just to stay sane

To keep me from drowning in anguish again

To stave off the thoughts of ending my life

To keep me away from razors and knives

I torture myself in pursuit of my past

Hoping that somehow I can outlast

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll come to a place

Where I can close my eyes without seeing his face

© Sarah Henderson 2004

Voices: “Close”

Here is the second poem in this month’s series. It’s closely related to the first; an intimate description of major depression, though this piece actually brings it to the point of suicidality. This describes a time when I was so desperately despondent, so hopeless and alone, that I was almost detached from reality. Cutting was the only thing that reminded me I was still alive, jolted me back to the present moment. I wanted someone to notice those screaming red wounds, but at the same time I just wanted to be left alone to die. You get to a point where it really doesn’t matter either way; save me or don’t, I don’t care. It’s difficult to imagine this kind of depression if you’ve never experienced it. I hope this poem goes a little way toward explaining it.




Inside these walls, a perpetual night

I live in the darkness to stay out of sight

I flinch around others, can’t handle the light

It’s all so intrusive, too loud and too bright

At the threshold of hell I hover so close

Deeply disturbed, tormented, morose

Spiraling down, to this pain I succumb

Breaking the point at which I will turn numb

Chillingly silent, nightmarishly black

Blood’s the one thing to which I react

I use the cool blades to keep me alive

The physical sting on which I thrive

By turns sobbing wildly, then hardening to stone

In mercurial madness I suffer alone

Planning the moment at which all this will end

Towards my departure I slowly descend

Time starts to melt, twist in on itself

I’m beginning to think that I might need some help

They’ll get one last chance to see I’m still here

Though dwindling faster than they ever feared

I step out at the close, my last chance to survive

I dare someone to notice that I’m still alive

For if no one does, then I’ll know what to do

The shadow will fall, and I will be through

© Sarah Ann Henderson