My Pestilent Passenger

by Adam Smith

In recent months, there have been a number of celebrity suicides linked to depression and mental health problems that has reopened the conversation about mental illness – and though it remains a seemingly ‘taboo’ topic, any conversation is better than none.

Depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness should never be stigmatised, marginalised or ignored.

I wrote this poem in part to deal with my innermost struggles, but also because I wanted to try to bring a voice to a topic that has, for so long, rarely been offered such a stage. I want people to realise they aren’t alone in facing their demons.

You are never alone. I hope this poem helps someone out there to realise that, and helps to begin the healing process – even if only as a starting point.

Huge love to Paperwolf Productions for bringing this poem to life.

What are you afraid of?

You’re afraid of things that go bump in the night:
the spindly, phantom fingers of the unknown
that simply adore and delight in the dwindling of day,
the limping of light,
that reach out to cripple you, always just out of sight;
to stipple and stickle with your might; to sickle you with sharp pangs and pulsations,
an invisible knife,
lurching at your lungs, hitting at your heart and your mind –
your life: squirming from your skin in beads of sweat,
the salty teardrops of plight,
that pattern pathways down your cheeks in silvery-white.

But I’m not afraid of the dark, because the monsters I’m scared of don’t live under the bed.
The real monsters are here: alive and unwell in my head,
waiting for the quiet that comes
when nothing is said, when everyone’s gone home and the laughter stops
When it’s silent out here, in there the noises knock behind each blink,
nauseate every daydream,
infiltrate and deflate until I dare not think,
hanging heavy like frost – like a fog across a lake, so dense and indistinct –
clouding and shrouding
and staining like ink, an ice cube clink in a tumbler without drink;
no whisky can wash me, distract or retract me from this brink…
So cheers.
I try to shake it, but its haze is so thick, so complete, it holds me like shackles,
incarcerates my judgement and wit with its unseen claws, slicing so sharp and so slick,
scratching under my eyelids and my ill-fitting skin with its impervious itch
and short-circuiting my smile like a cold computer glitch.
My hard drive won’t reboot.
Ctrl Alt Delete
can’t beat
the demons that meet in my mind and put up their feet,
who sit atop my furniture until hope is obsolete,
until I admit outright defeat and try instead
to sleep.

What are you afraid of?

I’m afraid that every time I shut my eyes to rest, instead of sleep
to greet me I’ll be faced
with my regret.
That I’ll be faced with the feeling that I’m a waste, that I’m someone
my friends will wish they’d never met.
That the darkness behind my closed eyes is the brightest future
I can expect, that every
stupid little dream
I’ve had will wither with neglect because
I’m a mess and every chance I’ve ever had I’ve squandered and
I’ve wrecked.
I’m afraid the voices will get louder beneath the black,
that the peaceful passing of the moonlight is really some sneak-attack,
that the weight of my conscience, of my decisions,
will come crashing back and beneath the wreckage
of opportunities that passed I’ll
pull out bloody, broken shards of glass that rupture my reason
and leave my faith dashed.

Of course I can’t sleep! My mind is so alert,
dousing my dreariness with words so filled with truths they hurt.
They maim: they pile into poetry, into prose,
which my head proceeds to spurt, paralysing me
with paragraphs of pessimism and, worse? I believe it, I breathe it – it’s all so goddamn true!
I’m a failure to myself, to my family, to you…
…but am I?
I don’t even know any more.
The moon gives way to sunlight, it’s 5am and my eyes are sore.
Sore like burnt skin, like sunburn
when it’s raw and red and radiating, when its blisters begin
to score this freckled skin more and more.
My eyes only close
once I’m so exhausted I fall and my skull hits hard off
the spinning, unforgiving floor.

What are you afraid of?

I’m afraid of waking up,
of the silence still being here: a nothingness that gnaws so only I can hear;
a quiet crashing commotion like distant waves against a pier:
this solitary boardwalk
where the wooden slats splinter and buckle whenever I come near,
where I’m stood, stranded and alone with my fear.
I tread carefully with every half-step and stride,
knowing it’s hopeless because the floor will cave in and the ocean will swallow me alive and then, beneath the massacre of waves, I’ll hold my breath so I might survive,
might outlast this tsunami, but no matter how hard I try,
no matter how sincerely I strive, helplessly I will always
sink and flounder and
because the monsters in my head are drowning me inside.

I’m afraid I’ll open my eyes and be frozen where I lie,
that the first and only thought I’ll have is
the one where I want nothing more
than to die,
nothing less than to cease so
I don’t have to fight or to try,
don’t have to force myself to stand up,
to make an effort or arrive on time,
to wear a smart suit complete with an expensive bowtie because
“That’s how you make a living, son, that’s how you get by!”
Well fuck that.
Fuck that.
What if your expectation is more than I can be? What if that’s your answer but I don’t agree?
What if this pandemonium in my head won’t let me
get out of bed before 3
because this crawling in my skin makes me see me
as a useless, awful, disgraceful human being?
What then? What are you afraid of?

What are you afraid for?

Why are you afraid of speaking to me about the way I really feel?
Why does the idea that my pain is in here make it any less substantial or real?
Why is there a stigma?
Why is this a flashing warning light, an ordeal, for anyone other than those
who just want to speak out so they can begin to heal?
To open up and not conceal?

Why can’t I just deal with it?!

Because you’re afraid of spiders, and I’m afraid of this plague that creeps around inside us.
This eight-legged infestation that devours us like a virus,
that enflames our sense of doubt and controls us like a tyrant.
Because I’m afraid of this pestilent passenger that’s aboard but didn’t pay,
the lodger we never wanted but that just won’t go away.
But “Fear’s just a four-letter word.”
“It’s all in your head!” I hear you say,
because you’re only afraid of dying sometimes.

But I’m afraid of living every day.

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