If I’m Being Honest…

I wrote the first draft of this poem 6 months ago, at the beginning of my first semester of college, when I decided I wanted to start seeing a therapist for my reoccurring anxiety and depression. I made the “final” (i.e., might come back to it in another 6 months) edit a couple weeks ago in preparation to represent Rowan University at the 2015 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI). Truthfully, nothing much has changed since the first draft of this poem, except I was finally able to see a therapist on my campus. I am also working on being more honest with myself and my loved ones. It is okay to not feel good or fine and it is okay to be unsure of how to talk about your emotions, but it is never okay to feel like you cannot talk about them.

Mental illness is one of the most stigmatized problems in society (think of how many times you say something like “Wow how OCD of me!” or “Is that crazy or what?”) and as a self-proclaimed activist, I am constantly trying to break down barriers and educate others. One way I can do that is being more honest about my OWN issues. So in the spirit of the truth, here is a poem about how hard it is for me to be honest about my mental health. I hope you find some comfort in knowing you are not alone.  

i am a good storyteller
i am a good liar.

there’s this story i tell, about
the time i accidentally went to an AA meeting,
but what really happened is this:

the people at the AA meeting
told my fuck buddy and i
that our hands down each
others’ pants in the church of
my second baptism
was a breach of their privacy;
that was not the first time
the boy i lost my virginity to
put my hands down his pants
when i didn’t feel like it—

i almost always
felt like it, but what i
mean by “almost” is:

i was barely a teenager the first time
my body opened itself like a ripped seam,
but i guess it still counts, because that’s what
i’ve been telling therapists—the first who
told me he couldn’t have possibly hit me
if we were in love, the second who told me
she’d call me back to give me some
gentle poison for the earthquake of my
hands, but that was two months ago,
and the health center at my university
tells me they’ll get to me eventually, so
it’s still hard to hold myself together—

when i tell you i am
a good storyteller, what
i’m really saying is:

i’m better at writing poems
about my girlfriend
than i am at talking to her
because my relationship
is an ongoing conversation
i am sometimes too
active volcano to initiate,
and she is some kind of
holy ground i keep
pretending cultivation of;

my tongue keeps forgetting
the lines i’ve given it to just keep
pretending that my chronic
suppression is healthier than
another story headstanding
its way out of my mouth—

it is easier to tell my mother
i am “worried” instead of
“depressed,” because

you’d think, as a poet,
i’d be good at roasting myself
rare skillet over the snapped jaws of
the audience, but when the audience
is people i love, i turn into a fist—

clenched so hard in life
it had to be broken in death,
the bottom of a barrel scraped
raw, too hollow to bare sound;
i bury myself under metaphor,
so i don’t actually have to talk
about my feelings, because

this lie is too familiar a lover,
too dog-eared a story,
but if i’m being honest…

sometimes when i’m
driving on the highway,
i close my eyes,
just to see if i’m still
alive when i
open them.


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