Steve, my patient, fancied himself a poet, first and foremost. Brilliant, yet sadly bedeviled by schizoaffective disorder — a condition somewhere between schizophrenia and bipolar — he feared he would die before his gift was discovered. “I think I’m dying,” he said every week. His poetry reflected this preoccupation. For example:
The roses are down-petaled, so they meet their end.
Indeed, he used his writing to keep himself alive, to soothe himself when spinning out of control, and even to fuel his psychosis when he drifted into madness. Most of all, however, poetry kept him connected to others.
I first met Steve when he was referred to my psychology practice by a colleague who no longer took his insurance. I also suspect the colleague had grown tired of Steve, whose emotional pain, grandiosity and idiosyncratic ways of engaging were sometimes hard to stomach.
Steve led a difficult life. Over many years, starting when he was a promising student at an Ivy League college, he endured a series of psychiatric hospitalizations. In one of these, back in the ’60s, Steve had electroshock treatment — yet his memory remained as fresh as the latest poem he’d read or written, the latest pretty woman he’d met, the latest conversation he’d had with his brother or sister. Miraculously, he remained positive:
Though I shattered into bits and pieces
I believe in man’s unconquerable mind.
Though man is born to tears,
I believe in life’s laughter.
Now 65, Steve was large and lumbering, a “sad sack,” as he once heard someone describe him. Yet beneath this shuffling heaviness I saw a twinkle, and this — the twinkle — was all about poetry. I was intrigued.