Discretion is advised: this real-life drama
is of mental, sexual, and religious trauma.
The brain, it seems to me, is like an eye
that sees the thoughts and feelings passing by
as though they were projected on a screen
inside the head like movies that we’ve seen.
And like we only see a narrow range
of things that look familiar or look strange,
it’s clear our brains have got their limits too
restricting thoughts and feelings we can ‘view.’
And brain disorders such as one I’ve had
may narrow sights, and this has made me sad,
at times so much that I have wished for death
when feeling stuck at some hellacious depth.
But like a flower breaking through cement,
I’ve struggled through the hardship, feeling meant
to reach for light the way a seedling does
though life has not been as I wish it was.
Now, looking back at childhood, I see
the first signs of a latent OCD
(though I dislike such clinical, cold terms):
some kids would lick their fingers, flashing germs
at my face since I had a reputation
for fearing germs and their contamination.
The fear’s severe in some ills of the mind,
but I would get one of a different kind.
My fear would be of tarnishing my soul,
as if it dropped from heaven to a hole.
I wished to live for soul and intellect,
devoted to what senses can’t detect
and feared my body as impediment
to living as I felt I had been meant.
The fear began as small, like an annoyance,
but if I’d seen the future with clairvoyance,
I maybe could have nipped it in the bud
before it turned to devastating flood.
That fear, as may be common, first was present
when I had reached the age of adolescent.
At that time, when my smaller head awoke,
and wordlessly, by standing straight up, spoke
about its needs for which it had been made,
my bigger head was very soon dismayed.
In school, while other boys were cracking jokes
considered funny by most other blokes,
with raunchy, sex-related punchlines, and
at ease with hormones, flowing from a gland,
I hid my body, buttoning my shirt
up to the topmost button though it hurt
or was uncomfortable for many hours
and, after gym, refrained from taking showers,
so I’d not have to do like every dude:
my face and hands were all that could be nude.
So, in a public, then a private school,
I often was a point of ridicule.
It didn’t help that I was awfully shy
and seemed to feel my body was a sty.
When time had come to speak of birds and bees,
dad asked if I had questions. Not at ease,
I said that I had none. I thought I knew
but didn’t know what would have helped me to
avoid much suffering in later years
by having me confront my body fears.
But while I felt that years would only wisen,
instead the rift from flesh to soul would widen
till that unhealthy and persistent split
had made it hard to think, or stand, or sit.
When I found what my second head could do,
at first it wasn’t something I’d eschew
but something private, wonderful, and new.
But soon I felt distaste combined with guilt
about the thing I did beneath a quilt
and didn’t understand how I was built,
the same as others, thinking it was me
who had this issue, cloaked in secrecy.
With my few friends, I never would discuss
what I would grow to think of with disgust,
and I would measure virtue by how much
I could avoid my privates—never touch.
While others teens were starting then to date,
I wouldn’t do that for a decade—late.
Because of shyness I could never rush
but took six months to say “hi” to my crush.
And that’s as far as I would get with her
though I had thought she somehow would infer
I liked her and—by miracle I guess—
from “hi” to other things love would progress.
In senior year of high school that crush was
not the only way the bees would buzz,
for birds and bees aren’t patient at that age
when rising hormone torrents start to rage.
But I was unaware—it made no sense—
when I broke then two years of abstinence
and thought that I had failed and misery
like I had never known came down on me
for spilling seeds, like many a growing lad,
with a picture of a woman, barely clad.
Depression that afflicted me back then
was short-lived but would rear its head again.
When birds and bees in me began to swarm,
my parents’ marriage was no longer warm:
they got divorced when I had turned fourteen,
and I remember being in between:
my mom defended me from how dad treated,
till, threatened with divorce, he had retreated.
I didn’t want, I think, to be like dad,
including having what he also had,
the thing which he’d regret in later life
with which he’d cheated on my mom, his wife.
But it is wrong, I feel, to make the claim
my dad’s mistakes in marriage are to blame
for how I failed to healthily adjust
to my anatomy or thoughts of lust,
for on the stage of life in which we’re actors
the plots which may unfold have many factors.
Some therapists I’ve had have speculated
Catholicism left me inundated
in guilt and shame toward sexuality,
as that is something that they often see.
But though I was raised Catholic and confirmed,
for years into adulthood I affirmed
that it was not related to my trouble.
But when my nerves had been reduced to rubble,
I saw that I had wished to be a saint,
obsessed with being pure without a taint,
and certain doctrines which pertain to sex
would aggravate my seeing it as hex.
At eighteen, when I finished Senior High,
I went to George Tech. Though not as shy,
and making several friends, I still could not
get up the nerve to speak to she who caught
my eye from in the very first semester,
and failure of a chance with her would pester
my dreams for years to come when I’d remember,
long after my crush flame had left no ember,
a day she passed beside me for a minute
and lingered as to let me talk within it,
because she seemed to notice I liked her.
A chance like that would never reoccur.
Now, looking back, I wish I had been bold.
The day was warm, but my feet had turned cold.
My crush would linger, though. I’d even sit
In Calculus I wasn’t in, since it
was on her class agenda, and I’d get
the chance to see this girl I never met.
I’ve never wished to punch someone, and yet
if I could go back to some time, I’d pick
to go to then and give myself a kick.
Though on the honor roll at Georgia Tech,
I gambled with my life like some card deck
and switched from engineering then to art.
That hit the bullseye like a well-aimed dart,
and that was something that I’d not regret
despite the lesser money that I’d get.
From Georgia Tech, I went to FIU
to learn of making art to put on view,
and it looked like I shed somewhat my shell
and made some friends that lasted for a spell.
But while I focused on photography,
I kept ignoring other parts of me,
especially my lower, smaller head
I treated as though nonexistent, dead.
Yet while I finished schooling that was formal,
I never felt such thinking wasn’t normal.
I still recalled how I had grown depressed
that time when urges hadn’t been repressed
and lived as if my tool did not exist.
Across the years that thinking would persist.
I got my BFA and graduated
at twenty two, still never having dated
and went to live in Boston where I stayed
as though I sunk deep roots and can’t be swayed
to move to elsewhere, since it feels like home,
and I’ve not had an itching wish to roam.
It’s to an older sister that I owe
the life-long home that I have come to know,
as when I finished school I followed her
to where she and her friendly black cat were.
Years later, she would leave, but I remained
through times that brought me joy or left me pained.
When I moved in from having studied art,
I’d barely worked and never played a part
in helping pay a mortgage or a rent.
A paper route I had could make no dent
in sums of which I never had a clue
before my plane from South to Boston flew.
It came as traumatizing, awful shock,
that stunk much more than any stinking sock,
to find I’d have to spend my days at jobs
as though a numb automaton that robs
delights of life and leaves you just the boring
machine-like tasks you spend your days deploring.
And what made that transition worse for me
was my first outbreak then of OCD.
I didn’t know it was that at the time.
I only know I felt as low as slime,
like Kafka’s character that turned to roach,
and no one whom I talked to then could coach
me back to feeling human, being well,
so my life swiftly spiralled into hell
as if some thing that spirals in a drain,
except the swirling all was in my brain.
It started with some pelvic muscle trouble
and ended with my mind reduced to rubble.
At that age, flesh, by which I’d been repelled
had taken all it could and then rebelled.
The tightened muscles of my groin would spasm
as if they wished I’d lunge across a chasm,
and though it brought depression then and grief,
I felt compelled to give them some relief.
And soon I felt that I had lost control,
and with it too had slipped away my soul.
I tried to tell my trouble to a priest
but beat around the bush so guilt increased,
because I felt I lied at some low level
which made me think I’d bargained with the devil.
When I rode then the subway underground
while it screamed with a screeching, rusted sound,
I looked at my reflection in the black,
and it felt like I never could go back
from where it seemed I was—the underworld—
to which I felt by evil I’d been hurled.
I ended up inside a liquor store
and saw a person scream outside the door
as if they were in some horrific pain,
although it seemed more like they were insane.
Throughout the year ahead I would recall
that moment as foreshadowing my fall
toward what felt would become insanity,
as prelude to hell for all eternity.
It wasn’t simply that I grew depressed
but thought I was demonically possessed.
Three decades would elapse before I learned
intrusive thoughts like those in which I burned
forever in hell’s flames were sparked in me
by my first burst of Scrupulosity.
Since puberty, I mostly had rejected
all thoughts of sex and had become dejected
at any slips when I had given in,
although I hadn’t thought of it as sin,
till then when I was sure I’d go to hell
for my dark secret that I couldn’t tell.
The girls which I for years had crushes on,
I’d put on pedestals but then were gone.
Besides hell thoughts I was tormented by
were others making me a tortured guy,
from books with words supposedly of sages
spilling over from their flipping pages.
I drank in gullibility of youth
their hellish “teachings” as if they were truth,
of life that led to immortality
so long as you lived it impeccably
which meant, for one, full sexual control
to store your energy to reach the goal
of lasting consciousness not swallowed by
an eagle that would eat it when you die.
Religions of the East distressed me too
with different kinds of hell in which I’d stew:
condemned to be reborn but not as person,
with every passing life my state would worsen.
I would remember who I once had been,
and thrown away from falling into sin.
Between such views and those of some infernal
hellacious place where torment was eternal,
my pelvic muscles spasmed, hormones raged,
and spilling seeds was all that then assuaged
the feelings that had gotten out of hand;
the needs of flesh I didn’t understand.
Dropped in a park, I found a magazine
that had a shot as I had never seen;
behind a veil and on a silken sheet
a woman in the nude from face to feet.
The shot looked beautiful though it was porn,
and I when finished with it felt forlorn
and doomed to hell as always I would feel
when spilling seeds with people who weren’t real
but photographs that I would often find
that haunted my tormented guilt-filled mind.
Not all the pictures were of women then:
I felt compelled at times to look at men
though many decades would roll slowly by
before I would admit to feeling bi,
not just to others, but myself as well:
I wouldn’t ask myself and wouldn’t tell.
But when I spilled my seeds, before they dried,
right afterward, I often cried and cried.
Behind some bushes, in a graveyard, I
wished to be like the buried then and die.
In a darkened room in Boston’s combat zone
I cried and felt abysmally alone
and felt that I deserved whatever fate
including hell that I would have to face.
I felt I’d lost my soul and caused a schism
between myself and God—an exorcism
seemed like what I should do back then for God.
I saw a preacher who, although a fraud,
had fooled his congregation into feeling
that he could work some miracles in healing.
Inside the church, he waved around his hand
and ordered demons out at his command,
but when I felt no different, he concealed,
by rushing me off stage. I wasn’t healed.
A Christian counselor, though not a fake,
inflamed my fear with thoughts that it would take
a thing like spilling too much seeds to lose
your soul, like that was something you could choose.
The mental health field in the nineteen-eighties,
back when I had a constant fear of Hades,
was primitive compared to nowadays
though even now in many or most ways,
ailments of the mind aren’t understood
like engines where you just can lift the hood
and find the trouble like a leaking cable.
We’ve tried to understand but aren’t yet able
and possibly will never be, because
there’s nothing in the world that is or was
more complicated than a human mind
of which there’s more to learn the more we find.
I saw a shrink that charged a hundred bucks
to listen to my story, and it sucks
that now it’s more unless you are insured.
But it left me not in the least assured
since sessions that I’d need were very many,
and I was broke and broken, sans a penny.
I talked then to a social worker, but
it didn’t help. I just felt like a nut,
as I could not describe what I was feeling,
the inner tumult with which I was dealing.
A counselor sent me to somewhere far:
I took a train and buses, with no car.
And there I told someone about the thoughts
that sprouted in my mind like plants from pots
and grew into a scary, twisted vine
that seemed to be demonic and not mine.
Had it been now, they would have classified
my case as OCD, but, fearing suicide,
the woman who had listened to my tale
decided, for my safety, they would jail
me there. And when I tried to get away
a cop ran to the door and blocked my way.
I’d spend in that facility a week,
guarded, even when I took a leak:
So I’d not try to cause my own demise,
they kept me always under watchful eyes.
Since in my brain had raged an awful battle,
I was corralled within a pen like cattle,
a bleak, concrete and windowless rectangle
where I saw life from desolation’s angle.
“I want a cigarette and want it now!!”
A woman screamed for what they’d not allow.
Another repeated, where she stood or sat,
over and over the phrase, “Try this. Try that.”
The doc asked me if I had friends, and I
said yes, though that was a stretch if not a lie.
I managed to convince the doctor, though,
I wouldn’t kill myself, and then he let me go.
They sent me on my way with medicine
that caused some frightful spasms to begin:
my head would move where I’d not want it to.
It seemed I’d swallowed some appalling brew.
My mom took what was given by the shrink
and, thankfully, she flushed it down the sink.
The jobs I had to get while in this state
would darken my already darkened fate:
in one I spent the whole day in the dark,
paid peanuts to print photos while the stark
condition I was in was echoed by
the dungeon setting, cut off from the sky.
My existential shock was magnified
then when I thought my soul was lost or died
as for the first time I felt cruelly hurled
in to what seemed a soulless working world.
No doubt it seemed that way especially
because of what was going on with me
but also since I lacked a useful skill
so awfully dull mind-numbing chores would fill
the days which might have otherwise been spent
on some engaging tasks that paid the rent.
What made me feel more insect-like and down
as someone raised within a little town,
was facing office towers I’d approach
for work while feeling small as Kafka’s roach.
But I have written of my work ordeals,
the things I did to cover rent and meals,
and for the record here will focus on
my ills like feeling that my soul was gone.
Intrusive thoughts filled me as if they bled
from in my mind: in one I ate, like bread,
the marble slabs of gravestones that I passed
convinced I’d soon be dead and couldn’t last.
As tangled thoughts derailed within my brain
I pictured jumping toward a moving train,
though I would never seriously consider
to throw my life away like soiled litter
as that seemed bound to make things even worse
and be a thing that I could not reverse.
Although I wasn’t yet beneath the clover,
I felt as though all hope for life was over.
My mother and my sisters were distressed
at how so swiftly I had grown depressed.
I tried but failed explaining what was wrong
and felt that I should leave, did not belong.
In those days, I would cry out on the street,
on corners as though homeless, in defeat,
and passersby would sometimes offer money,
as my mood seemed the opposite of sunny,
and I recall those offers then of aid
with hope that indirectly they’re repaid
ten thousand fold through my efforts to help
some others, each within a different hell.
When it seemed life could only disappoint
my life instead reached then a turning point:
As I cried outdoors as I’d often done
a woman turned a corner in her run,
and I recall as though just yesterday
her look of deep concern, the caring way
she stopped and talked with me and listened to
the tales of hell that I was going through.
She didn’t mention ailments of her own,
like one that would take her life when we had known
each other many years, becoming friends,
and when I see that day through time’s thick lens
I see she set aside her woes for mine.
Her care gave me a glimpse of what’s divine.
There was another whom I met that year
of desperation mixed with woe and fear,
a woman from Iran, an artist with whom
I shared my drawings in that time of gloom.
Though I was visibly a wreck, disturbed,
befriending me, she helped me, unperturbed
by my severely troubled mental state,
the bitter dishes on my psyche plate,
believing in me though I then could not.
Through her, I learned compassion, which she taught
not through a lecture but a fine example
of care that, far from meagerness, was ample.
Around the Fall, I glimpsed hope when I dreamed
of something most remarkable which seemed
to show that though I then felt lost and dead,
there still was something marvelous ahead:
within that dream, I watched my funeral,
a scene that seemed of joy and wonderful:
“We wish you a Merry Christmas!” the people sang
as though my death had lost its sting, its fang.
The dream suggested I’d be born anew
and not abandoned in a flaming stew.
In March of Eighty-Seven I wrote of
the sense my year of hell had shown me love:
the love of friends and of my family
reflected love I felt was heavenly.
That night I had a dream I would recall
as one that changed my life the most of all:
my hell was washed away when I awoke,
its flames not leaving any trace of smoke.
I’d visited my yard of childhood,
where my beloved brother beech tree stood,
and there the different people I had been;
the kid, the teen, the mess that I was in,
were gathered and rejoined becoming one,
and anguish dropped from infinite to none.
I felt two hands from outside time and space
surround me, like a flame, within that place,
kindling a subtle fire—of soul—
so I felt healed by miracle and whole.
My life was like a tree that had been sawed.
The hands I took to be the hands of God,
that put me back together, then I leapt
above the blissful dreamland while I slept,
flying from my home to a forest near it
sponsored by “The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
The dream to me meant Christmas in the spring,
Christ’s birth in me that suddenly would bring
a bliss to know in life that can be gory
that God is real not just a wishful story.
The morning was the happiest I’ve had,
of feeling God is real and is our dad.
My mental ailments went into remission,
and I was happy—someone on a mission
of bringing Love and beauty to the Earth.
It’s more than thirty years since that rebirth
that made a versifier out of me.
Since then, I’ve loved the art of poetry.
Besides the books I wrote about God then,
were others that flowed swiftly from my pen,
not just in English but in Spanish too,
a kind of writing which for me was new:
love poems by the hundreds for a woman who
I’d met in college. We had kept in touch,
and though I didn’t know her very much,
the letters she had written made me feel
a sudden love for her I would reveal
as I had never done before or since,
and words were something which I wouldn’t mince:
I’d spell it out as clear as glass in verse,
religious yet erotic—broke the curse
of thinking soul and flesh were split, at odds,
as both were glorious, and both were God’s.
Flesh wasn’t something that the spirit loathes,
in fear of stripped emotions and stripped clothes.
Adriana, whom I called Adrianalin,
as though a hormone, not Adrenaline,
secreted in a state of fear and stress
but whose release brought love and happiness,
lived far away, but out of love’s persistence
developed a relation from a distance,
and several years we took turns flying to
each other’s states for loving’s rendezvous.
But though my soul and flesh felt reconciled,
I harbored what I had since as a child
and still felt shame for spilling any seeds
when far from Adrianalin my needs
would rise as though an undesired dawn
and like a bulb I wished were not turned on.
I wanted to confess to her and did
about continued spilling that I hid.
She said that it was normal, and what’s sick
is when religions strike as with a stick
some with unhealthy notions of what’s pure,
desire some disease that needs a cure.
The priest that I confessed to had agreed
that it was normal. Still, I wasn’t freed
from that obsession, seeing it as failing,
a moral lapse from which I had been ailing.
In retrospect, it seems that OCD
regarding sex and thoughts of purity,
subsided drastically within that year,
but over decades it would reappear
without it being diagnosed as such
till I had suffered from it very much.
By way of dreams, my life had been rebooted,
but, reaching for the stars, I wasn’t rooted:
I had no thoughts of having then a wife,
as I was focused on the afterlife,
so love with Adriana slipped away,
and sometimes even now regret can weigh
as much as some gigantic glacial boulder
that’s gotten heavy as I’m so much older.
But at the time it seemed the way to go.
I had some heavy baggage still in tow,
though unbeknownst to me. I focused on
my books and friends as life elapsed past dawn.
There was a lot of happiness and fun
in those days, though existence weighed a ton
mere years before, but that looked all behind,
and beauty, Christ, and Love, absorbed my mind.
Though mildly depressed, I had less qualms
about relieving glands then writing psalms.
The split between my soul and flesh had morphed,
but Earth in its importance still was dwarfed
by what I felt were lofty soul pursuits.
A dream of trees that lacked their trunks and roots
and just had branches stretching toward the sky
showed later I’d not been a rooted guy.
I wrote a book called “Friendship Feathers” for
my Iranian friend, Azita. Unlike before
the love expressed was of a friend. Though it
appeared romantic, then I’d not admit
my avalanche of poems was inspired
at least a little bit since I desired
her as the love not only of my soul
but of my being’s entirety—the whole.
But, at the time, my view of friendship love
was that it was superior—above
romantic kinds, and as the planet twirled
I thought myself to be above the world,
though, at the same time, thought that I was under
as someone damaged by some early blunder.
As scrupulosity back then was latent
compared to how it later grew—more blatant—
I didn’t see a trace then of denial
about the realms I couldn’t reconcile:
I wanted soulful motives—all unmixed—
as though I were a mutt that had been fixed.
But what was then still needing some repair
was wishing that desire were not there,
except desire for a high realm,
regretting flesh could sometimes overwhelm.
In Nineteen-Ninety-Two I would succeed
for half the year not spilling any seed.
But Nineteen-Ninety-Three became a hell
when after one night breaking that dry spell,
my pelvic muscles and a swollen gland
gave me a trouble that I couldn’t stand,
much like they had before in Eighty-Six,
a trouble that I went to specialists to fix.
A camera that shot a video
was pushed into the tube where pee would go.
But specialists found nothing and one said
obliquely that the trouble was my head,
but not the lower one, the thinking one
averse to spilling seeds as I had done.
He said an able-bodied youthful man
like me would be unwise to seek a ban
on being active in a sexual sense,
but still I was averse, afraid, and tense.
So seeking different options, at this juncture
I turned for spasm pains to acupuncture.
The acupuncturist, from China, had
the notion that to spill one’s seeds is bad,
I guess since it can drain your energy
becoming a bad habit, rapidly.
His take made sense to me with my belief,
but many needles brought just short relief.
My troubles weren’t a secret then: I shared
with friends and family, by then not scared
of talking of the things afflicting me
though in the privates of anatomy.
I followed my urologists advice
returning to what I had seen as vice,
and soon when that activity resumed
my thoughts no longer were by it consumed.
Then in the year of Nineteen-Ninety-Five,
a year when it felt great to be alive,
I met the woman, Iris, whom I’d wed,
and then for years my procreative head
became an asset rather than a pest,
and through it with a daughter we’d be blessed.
Years later, when my obsession had returned,
and I forgot the lessons I had learned,
and pelvic muscle spasms tortured me,
I asked why I should treat as enemy
the thing that had made possible our daughter,
the thing which to this spinning had brought her.
But that was in the future—in those times
the soul and flesh were full of happy rhymes,
Because we were in love. Life’s rips were patched
and we, though opposites, felt sweetly matched.
But, as was customary, when we met
for me as someone who had only let
myself express romantic feelings once,
I tried to be just friends, but like a dunce,
because in fact I wished to be with her,
and after eighteen months that would occur
as we progressed from holding hands to kisses,
and she who had been “Miss” became a “Misses.”
But unlike lasting happiness of heaven,
the years of our togetherness were seven.
Though opposites attracted, in a while
they turned to things we couldn’t reconcile,
and in the year of Twenty-Zero-Three
we reached a point at which we could agree
to split. I then became a single dad,
but didn’t, though divorced, become too sad,
because our daughter mostly lived with me,
and she became my top priority.
In other writings, I delve in detail
on life with her and parts of life I fail
to speak of here so I can focus on
this tale I’d like to tell before I’m gone
of certain ailments with which I have coped
that made of life a mountain,steeply sloped.
It’s true that many others suffer more,
but there are lots for whom this tale is for
who suffer from a thing that can’t be seen
as though it were projected on a screen,
like silent suffering of chronic pain
or ailments that afflict from in a brain.
When I divorced, depression took a toll.
Some say a grave’s the only deeper hole
than what it feels like when you’re deeply in
where it can seem impossible to win.
My growing daughter, though, was lots of fun,
and shone into that darkness like a sun,
and other things in life were also bright,
my college job and learning how to write
in meter, through a site—Eratosphere.
Critiques from other writers helped make clear
the path I wished to tread, of verse and rhyme,
although it felt my life was past its prime.
There then were other websites that I browsed,
the kind designed to make one feel aroused,
the kind that made me wish I could unsee
some things I saw, burned in my memory.
But unlike in my youth, I didn’t feel
that spilling seeds was wrong or some big deal:
it was a part of life that I’d accept
as something I might do before I slept.
But I felt my romantic life was done,
though every few years I would go on one
or two dates with someone I met online,
and otherwise would dream about and pine
a woman whom at work I’d daily see,
with whom I’d live, but just in fantasy.
For many years then I had felt I was
above and yet below the world, because
one head was in the cloud and one in mud
and romance couldn’t bloom as from a bud,
as I was like a trunk that had been split,
a puzzle whose big pieces didn’t fit.
But though my being was split as with a knife,
I didn’t feel I led a double life.
I felt it was my mission and my duty
to write of things like God and Love and beauty
and keep my private struggles to my self,
as though a volume on a mental shelf.
Now, for the God of Love I glimpsed in youth,
I want to tell the whole, unvarnished truth
and leave no one who wants to know to guess
about the parts in which I’ve been a mess.
As years of single fatherhood rolled on,
I wished to strive to be a paragon
of virtue for my daughter, so I quit
consuming porn, glad to be rid of it.
It felt like physical necessity
to keep on spilling seeds, but I’d not see
a picture while I did so: I’d avoid
the images I formerly enjoyed.
When several years had passed, the ban evolved
so that with firm conviction I resolved
to banish spilling seeds, be celibate,
my body as God’s sacred temple, but
it looks like I forgot that I had learned
that not to play with fire left me burned
as if I shot myself with my own rifle
in thinking it was something I should stifle.
The year of Twenty Thirteen, I felt great,
renewed and writing at a rapid rate,
enthralled by lucid dreams and consciousness
and unaware that slowly anxiousness,
felt first as fierce fatigue, was leaking in,
with old concerns surrounding sex as sin.
I wished then to be free of thoughts of sex
and focus all my mind on life that’s next.
I didn’t know that I had OCD,
obsessive thinking with a grip on me.
My link to God felt like a fragile thread
and any thought of sex was seen as threat.
If I turned on the TV, and I saw
a sexy advertisement for a bra,
I’d quickly switch the channel so as not
to let that image trigger any thought.
In Twenty-Fourteen, my anxiety
became a frightening emergency,
when, after many days of lethargy,
a panic attack would make me feel as if
that day I would be dead, a corpse, and stiff.
My hands turned black, my throbbing heart felt pained,
and all but horror from my mind was drained.
But I did not put two and two together,
concluding that the fear for my God tether
had led to that and subsequent attacks.
I dug a deeper trench far from such facts.
Insomnia plagued me and was made much worse
because I saw my privates as a curse.
I feared erections would lead me to vice.
Before I went to bed, I would use ice,
and if the head between my legs arose,
I’d use some more for making sure it froze.
A time that failed to be a solid dam,
I knocked myself out with Lorazepam.
Unconsciously, it looks like I subscribed
to thoughts my body should be mortified.
Except to take a shower, I’d be clothed,
my flesh again a thing I feared and loathed.
That year I started singing in a choir
affirming I’d continue to aspire
toward God although at times anxiety
would make it hard to stand or sit for me.
And that combined with spasms that I felt
as countless sneezes right below the belt,
in which it seemed my organs would shoot out,
so while I sang, at times, I wished to shout.
With research, I discovered that this pain
was more than just conjured within my brain,
and there was treatment that I could obtain
that hadn’t been around in years gone by
when first this problem made me want to die.
A therapist who specialized in it
gave me some exercises that would fit
my wish to not spill seeds but also said
she thought the problem something I could shed
by thinking back to when I was a teen
when it began, and change the way I’d seen
the normal act that had filled me with shame.
She said she’d treated many with the same
affliction of the muscles that had tightened,
from clenching out of guilt and being frightened.
I liked her lots, regarding her as wise
but couldn’t follow then her sound advice.
My life became a chore tough to sustain,
anxiety each day an awful strain.
Sensations as of being just a blob
of tortured matter failing at the job
of living well, and being just a mess
would mix in with a sense of emptiness,
as if all joys of life went down a drain,
lost in the convolutions of my brain.
In Twenty-Sixteen, while I suffered from
those woes for which it seemed no end would come,
another one would strike electrically:
heart cells, while I was swimming in the sea,
got stuck in looping, making my heart flutter,
its beats so fast, four times the normal number.
The second time it happened, doctors shocked
my heart to break the looping that had locked.
Through awful weeks, I couldn’t fall asleep.
Each time I tried to fall, my heart would leap.
My eyes would spasm open, and it looked
like they might never shut. My goose seemed cooked.
The lack of sleep would soon make my brain snap,
but fortunately a heart doctor could zap
the ring of cells that caused that flutter loop.
My brain was boiling over like a soup
from years of anxiousness, and in
Twenty-Seventeen some medicine,
which I for years had struggled to avoid
became imperative—my days destroyed
as if it felt my brain was overloaded
with awful thoughts that suddenly exploded:
whatever thought stirred in me great aversion
erupted: thoughts of hell and of perversion.
It seemed as if the devil had got me.
The doctor, though, said I had OCD,
a type of it called Scrupulosity,
an ailment or disorder of the brain
that therapy could help me to retrain.
My brain, as my heart cells had been, was stuck
in fruitless awful thought loops that would suck
away the light of life like some black hole,
like thoughts, again, that I had lost my soul.
When I could hardly function at my work
because my mind had gone again berserk,
as it it had done in Nineteen-Eighty-Six,
it looked like there would be no way to fix
what happened that I felt was all my fault,
and on this stinging wound was sprinkled salt
that this was just a preview of the hell
of which evangelists in sermons tell.
While hellish thought erupted in my brain
then fell back down as though a scalding rain,
each minute seemed to drag on for a year
comprised of nothing but despair and fear.
As in this state it seemed I would just sink,
I called my sympathetic, calming shrink.
When I saw him, we talked of OCD.
He sent me to a pro of CBT.
What had for me been just an acronym
became life-saving help by way of him.
The year before, I’d seen a therapist
with whom I spoke of that with which I pissed,
that thing which in the night would sometimes stand
as though I’d greet it with a shaking hand
but which instead with ice I had subdued
so sex-related thoughts would not intrude
upon my mind which I feared would go bonkers
unless flesh were a thing my spirit conquers.
That way of thinking in which I was stuck
obsessed me to the point that it would suck
away life’s pie except for that one slice.
Like every war, it had an awful price.
Though I was like a nut that’s hard to crack,
and trains of thought were down to just one track,
the therapist I saw would chisel at
my way of thinking helping me see that
my notion that a drive should be just thwarted
was dangerously harmful and distorted.
My looping thoughts had tangled to a knot
comprised of just one loop of “Thou shall not…”
But therapy that centers on just talk
may only go so far when thought loops lock,
and it was CBT that gave me hope
when thoughts had tangled like a knotty rope.
In talking therapy, I’d called the shots
on what I’d talk about my life and thoughts,
but CBT was altogether new
with lots of homework that I had to do
and also things to learn to help untangle
thoughts to see things from a healing angle.
When treatment starts, with peace of mind elusive,
we hear about the thoughts known as “intrusive,”
the thoughts we wish so much we wouldn’t think,
the awful, ugly, violent, thoughts that stink,
and learn the more we battle them the more
they multiply, so sprinkles start to pour,
and so a little trickle turns to flood
as if we had a cut from which flowed blood
that never would, it seems, coagulate,
a wound that wouldn’t let us concentrate.
We learn most people have intrusive thoughts,
but they ignore them. Thus they won’t have lots,
but if the thoughts are feared or seen as threat,
the thoughts can string together like a thread
that thickens to a lasso, like a rope,
ensnaring attention so it’s hard to cope.
Thus, fear for what’s important to a person
becomes a way that suffering can worsen,
like if you are concerned with being good,
your mind may sound alarms for all that could
be threats to that, your utmost life concern.
Through CBT and ERP we learn
to face those thoughts and not with fear react,
so slowly they’re defused, and we can act
not with compulsions anxiousness can drive
but in a way the life we want can thrive.
Although there isn’t any magic bullet
for OCD that’s such a drag, we pull it
with help from all the people who have searched
for tools to help us cope and have researched
to further understanding of the mind
and help some suffering through what they find.
But when I started treatment, I felt sure
my failure to be good, angelic, pure,
had led to what appeared a fall from grace
and hope looked lost and gone without a trace.
But over time the therapist would help
with my obsessive thinking as of hell.
I saw that thinking in a different light,
and questioning of thoughts would ease the plight.
I saw that lots aren’t clear because of bias
as when obsessive thoughts of being pious
discolored my perception like a lens
stained with the notion I was meant to cleanse
myself of anything I deemed a bad emotion,
so nothing would get in the way of motion
toward heaven. Everything was wrong or right,
no in between or color, black and white.
It seems I thought that one outburst of semen
would doom me to possession by a demon.
I wished to be angelic, fully lofty,
but when I crashed it surely wasn’t softly,
but more like Icarus whose wings would burn.
I had, as still I do, a lot to learn.
As OCD had wrapped around religion,
I found my views in need of much revision,
as if some teachings left me feeling slapped
each time I tried to get up and adapt
and forge a life despite a tough disorder,
defying if need be, religious orders
for holding on to life, not make it harder
and making for its sake myself a martyr.
For those who are obsessed with cleanliness
the suffering is different though not less,
but in their case no institution paints
their portraits of exalted holy saints
as being those who kept themselves most clean,
as wholesome models on whom they can lean,
as paragons of cleanliness and soap
to whom they pray and emulate with hope.
But my obsession, on the other hand,
appeared to be a thing God would demand,
as spilling seeds was called a mortal sin,
and like a fish told not to use its fin,
I felt that if I gave in to its whim,
then in a lake of fire I would swim.
The God of love I felt I met in youth
was not at all like what I felt as tooth
of dogmas and obsessions biting me,
as of a lake of fire or a sea.
Because religious imagery would trigger
my mental turbulence and make it bigger,
I stopped attending church but wished to serve
God in a way that wouldn’t harm my nerves,
the God whom I had met once in a dream,
that smoothed life’s roughness like a healing cream,
but not the God that breeds anxiety
with tales of hell that burns eternally,
and not the God I had of full control
who knows whom he will torture or console.
On Sunday mornings, I began to play
the piano in an old folks home—that way
I could enact what I sang of in a choir
with God not just beneath a church’s spire
but somewhere else where I could bring some cheer
although my mind was troubled and not clear.
A friend whom I had asked for what I could
do in the world that might be helpful, good,
suggested sandwiches for homeless people,
so that became a way, beyond a steeple,
that I felt I could do as Jesus said
and help me turn toward others’ needs instead
of going round and round in my own head.
With my mind in a state of helter-skelter,
I worked at somewhere like a homeless shelter,
a place where homeless people could recover
from things like surgeries. I would discover
what in my sheltered life I’d rarely seen,
a staunch resilience and how obscene
it is a wealthy country in the world will let
so many people with no safety net
fall through the cracks. How if somehow they fail,
they’re destitute though they be old and frail.
I saw how fortunate and privileged I’d been,
although disordered and obsessed with sin.
They often told of lives that had gone well
till something suddenly dragged them to hell,
some alteration in their state of health,
or medication that was meant to help
but which instead became a harmful drug.
From underneath their feet, life pulled the rug
and left them on a concrete floor or dirt,
with little else besides a tattered shirt.
With genes that made them prone to drinking trouble,
some struggled to build life as if from rubble,
while people who from comfort zones won’t budge
may think it’s all their fault and poorly judge.
In lives of patients, I could play a part
unlocking some supplies for making art
and talking while engaged in art we’d do.
As someone in some ways afflicted too,
I felt I was a sympathetic ear
and offered some encouragement to steer
their lives to where they wanted them to go
as toward sobriety and lesser woe.
Christianity had boiled down to this,
not focused on an afterlife of bliss
but trying where fate seems a roll of dice
to make Earth less like hell, more paradise.
What I had failed to see when I was well
was that the snapping of some neural cell
or fragile cells in other parts of me
could make life change so fast and drastically,
and circumstances with which I was blessed
for most of life could end with me distressed
and in some situation such as theirs
confronted with a world that hardly cares
and even may see hell as thing deserved
through being awfully bad, from far observed.
Like homeless people in a world where worth
is measured by one’s wealth or caste of birth,
I felt that my identity had wrapped
around religion, so that I was trapped
to thinking that my worth depended on
a god that was for me as good as gone:
the god of Noah’s ark who’d cook my goose.
The god who seemed to me far worse than Zeus.
The God of love of whom in youth I dreamed,
through which I felt my life had been redeemed,
is who I still am striving for, although
my brain feels like a broken radio
that can’t tune into stations as before,
the ecstasies replaced by static’s roar.
If I was to live on, I had to shed,
some notions long ingrained within my head.
Christianity, so central to my mind,
around which thoughts and feelings have entwined,
which made it possible for me to live,
I’ve had to put like sand as through a sieve
to keep the gold but separate the bits
that threw my nervous system into fits:
like tales of hell that are for some abstract
and are for others something that’s attacked
their minds that were susceptible to drama
and often have induced a life-long trauma.
While there are people who feel they are certain
of afterlives beyond death’s final curtain
and feel that it’s a truth that can be known
and talk of truth as something they can own
by way of their religion that bestows
authority to step on other’s toes,
I only know of things before my eyes,
my senses and my reason. Though not wise,
and though disordered, I can still discern
it’s harmful to tell people they may burn
if they don’t follow your beliefs, as if
you know what happens when the flesh turns stiff.
To cope with mental illness, I have tried
to clear encrusted doctrines that had dried
on windows in my mind through which I see
though never with complete transparency.
To keep a grip on life, I’ve had to try
to think of life at hand, not foes that fry
forever in a hell where I could drop
unless I yield a wholesome bumper crop.
I’ve struggled to unlearn some things that seep
through images of people being sheep;
the feeling that I’m helpless, or a goat,
without the aid of God who feels remote.
It’s not that I deny that God exists;
my trouble is with dogma that insists
that God is just the way that has been said.
Like heavy wool, I found I had to shed
some imagery as of a cosmic war
that I can’t simply swallow as before.
Though I’m not privy to what’s absolute
as if truth streamed from some far, holy flute
straight in my ear, so I could then transcribe
the Truth to which all others could subscribe,
I speak of my own struggles like a song
where some notes may sound right and some notes wrong.
My doctor treated women who were scarred
by things they sought to emulate so hard
that they had harmed their bodies and their minds.
It dawned on me ideals of different kinds
that I had striven for with firm excess
had harmed my body and my consciousness.
The women had been duped by imagery
that showed them what to buy and who to be,
by ads that showed them they weren’t good enough,
but they’d be better if they bought some stuff.
It dawned on me that possibly I too
was duped about ideals I should pursue,
and I would be a wretched, useless guy
without the things I was supposed to buy.
Ideals are often wonderful, no doubt,
like dreams from which realities can sprout,
but I saw that they have a darker side
when to ourselves or others they’re applied
without regard to who we are for real,
so we cause harm in seeking some ideal.
We may feel that we can’t be worth a dime
outside of some respected paradigm
where everyone must fit a certain mold,
where everyone must buy what’s being sold.
In coping with conditions that are chronic
for which there isn’t any single tonic,
I try to be life-centered, focusing
on things to do, to write, to draw, to sing,
to learn about, discover and explore,
as long as I am able to some more.
While growing old, I’ve grown more like a kid
through learning things of which I never did,
like playing piano, even some guitar
(although I’ll be a firefly, not star).
I’ve started hosting parties of support
but not the simply sitting talking sort,
but ones where we can sing, play games, make art,
engaging more our wholeness than a part.
Because our lives are brief and often hard
as based on what fate deals us like a card,
I hope to live in such a way that lightens
some loads of all that causes woe and frightens,
although I have no wisdom as of sages
but maybe just collected funny pages.
My brain a radio that’s hard to tune,
I’ve loved to see or draw a fun cartoon.
I aim as writer, artist, party host,
to try to make of life that’s short the most.
I’ve spoken many words but can’t explain
the feelings sometimes clouding up my brain:
abysmal darkness, hopeless emptiness,
intrusive thoughts, a once neat home, a mess,
a sense of being just a soul-less shell,
that’s lost all feeling under some grim spell.
I’ve tried to see my thoughts and feelings as
the different clouds the wide sky often has
and focus on the life that I can build,
the life itself with which the days are filled,
and when neuronal lightning flashes from
some clouds and thunders like a booming drum,
I focus on the life that I can form,
despite the turbulence within the storm.
Though when I waken, often I am greeted
with symptoms which with medicine I’ve treated,
I strive for life as seedlings do for light,
although my growth toward it be slow and slight.
The sense of isolation I have felt
from mental illness with which I have dealt
seems mirrored in a way that’s sharp, not vague,
as people isolate to slow a plague.
As when some thing within my brain had snapped,
my life as I had known it seemed all scrapped,
so has this plague seemed like a shock assault
with which our fast paced world came to a halt.
And just as when I felt my mind would rip
from thoughts that had it firmly in their grip,
I had to try to handle my mind realm
as if conductor at a concert’s helm,
it seems the plague that’s cause for much alarm
may wake us up: we can’t keep causing harm,
destroying this blue world we’re living on
till we and every other creature’s gone.
It’s not like everything was going fine,
and ailment of the mind was only mine:
the way we’re living now can’t be called sane,
because it’s bound to cause mass death and pain.
Within my rear view mirror, I perceive
a gloomy place I’ve tried so hard to leave
where parts of me were left to be embalmed,
or be like countries that a rich one bombed,
because I felt they were against my soul,
but now I seek to harmonize the whole,
while in the world what had been harming me
continues, though we long for harmony.
The notion of a holy land implies
for me, the rest of Earth as now it dies
is not regarded holy—if it were
we wouldn’t be where now we are for sure.
It’s not just others, though, whom I critique:
throughout my own life, I felt I should seek
my treasure in the world beyond, and Earth
in contrast was a thing of little worth.
I didn’t want to be like other dudes,
as kid, but I have been like multitudes,
and seen in me as Whitman in himself
the characters that fill a huge bookshelf:
the monk, the monkey, the mystic, and the jerk,
the patient with the mind that’s gone berserk,
the bookworm, and the poet, full of love,
the kid, the teen, the wolf, the bat, the dove,
the good Samaritan, the callous ass
who sees a stranded soul and speeds to pass,
the cynic and the saint, the debauchee,
the paralyzed from fierce anxiety,
the dad, the dude, accompanied, alone,
the one who thinks he’s badness to the bone,
the one who felt exceptional and wise,
the one who wished to be like other guys,
the paragon of virtue or of vice,
the font of unsolicited advice,
the superhero and the hopeless blob,
the workaholic and the aimless slob.
The thinker with a mind that’s clear of fog,
philosopher, photographer, hound dog.
The everything, and none of the above,
in need of my acceptance and my love.
But I had tried to live in just a room
of manhood, like a mansion, with a broom
to sweep away the things I didn’t want,
to kill the parts of me that then would haunt.
I’d known of Carl Jung, since childhood,
but knowledge not applied can do no good.
His notion of the shadow side of us,
the sides that we don’t want of which we fuss,
the sides that onto others we project,
the sides we try to kill or just reject,
makes sense to me not just in my own life,
but also for the world where deadly strife
frequently in large part seems to stem
from notions that involve an “us” and “them,”
but hopefully we’ll learn before too late
there is no “them” we should eradicate
within ourselves or in the world where we,
to last, must seek a wholeness harmony.
I’ve wished this tale could have a happy ending
with brokenness of all the planet mending,
so we’d go as when movie credits fade
outside to sunlit lives, a lovely fate.
Though struggles are a part of every story,
there’s hope for gorgeousness amidst the gory.
There’s hope amidst the broken and the frayed
that we can tell our stories unafraid,
contributing our lives like lines of verse
toward the epic of the universe.
This story here is drawing to a close,
and where it goes from there nobody knows,
though I have often wished for certainty
and hoped the outcome would be heavenly.
Like buildings, lives are many stories high,
and even, in their own way, scrape the sky,
like towers in the sunlight glistening.
I thank you for your time and listening.
“Thorn Crown” is one chapter of my “Pentameter Memoir.” Other chapters on Snapshot Couplets, some with recordings, are “Child of Exiles”, “Resume in Rhyme”, and “Parental Canto”.
Mario A. Pita