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I believe this is pretty self explanatory, especially given the epigraphs that precede the poem. I wrote it for my Writer's Group, for which the prompt was, "Now or never..." But it derived directly from my hospital stay, as you will see. Not much more to tell you about it except that the one thing I hope you get from it is an appreciation for my experience of paranoia, which is not everyone's by any means. Mine is a personal, meaning a person to person paranoia, individuals near me are undermining me or planning or plotting against me...Yes, in the past it was the CIA and so forth, but these days it could be anybody and is as likely to be the guy sitting next to me on the bus, or Karen, as it might be the NSA or FBI. MORE likely now, in fact. In that sense, the confabulations of my brain, trying to make sense of the "I am afraid" message sent by the amygdala without stimulus, seem "saner" because they are less outlandish in their scope. They concern real people and regular situations, for the most part, though usually ones that are unlikely to occur and unthinkable to the one accused! What it looks like to outsiders who don't understand what is going on is too often that I get upset, furious even, by some little thing that displeases me and -- wildly misinterpreting what is going on -- I blow the whole thing out of proportion and cause a "scene" or have to walk away from causing one.
However, that deserves a whole 'nother discussion, and I have here a poem to show you that has nothing to do with that!
WHAT YOU KNOW AND WHEN YOU KNOW IT
For Isabel Gill
The mechanism of paranoia is an electrical impulse, a feeling generated in the amygdala -- of fear, of certainty, which the brain instantaneously translates into a “story” that makes sense of it, the paranoid delusion.
The hippocampus, shaped something like the horseshoe for which it is named, is the brain center critical to memory.
Whenever you are sure a communication has a secret message or there is a secret plan or pattern to be figured out,
Carolyn S Spiro MD, my twin, a psychiatrist
Three weeks into the five you’ll spend
at the best psychiatric hospital
in the state and your treatment team,
that competent octet behind the scenes in charge
of your handling and care, still concludes
your paranoia remains “incompletely resolved,”
even as those who talk behind your back talk
behind your back behind your back
scheming familiar conspiracies, which, the team notes,
you note copiously in a nearly filled journal,
all the entries recording your amygdala’s aberrant sparks
and an instant confabulation of “reasonable” fears.
Writing, you’re told, is an excellent coping skill
and, if practice for your poetry, better than acting out,
on impulse, or screaming. Fourth of the five weeks, it’s hard
up against the wall; you learn and forget, learn and forget:
Minds heal. Learning changes neurons. Doubt
everything you think is both “secret” and “certain”.
Fifth week, another amygdalar flare, the gauntlet thrown,
red cape and quickfire, and this time you just know
you know. Now or never! Seize the moment and---
A light blinks on in the horseshoe of memory:
you have been here before.
You breathe through the reflex, resist
the urge to plumb the abyss,
question perception, question feeling, question certainty.
You do not look around you.
There are no clues. You remember
all is in fact not as it seems.