Little me couldn’t understand why.
Why were they gloomy?
Why were they anxious?
Why did they stay that way?
I hadn’t had enough time
To acquire little by little,
Knowledge, thoughts, stress.
Because they felt lonely.
Because they felt incompetent.
Because they suffered.
Over the long arch of life
Through every tick of time
We see, hear, feel, think
And who knows if and when
We too might feel.
© Kate Eunah Lee, 1/10/2018
Author’s Note: I just had my first Psychiatric Medicine small group session today, where we read some personal stories. One of those stories really moved me.. especially the reflection at the end by the author in which he/she talked about how psychiatric illness could come down on any of us sometime in our long lives. I suddenly felt so protective about my own life. We talk about genetic predispositions for psychiatric illness a lot, but honestly I couldn’t help but think that we, in the stressful situation of medical school, are predisposed because of our long-term stress.
I reflected and remembered a time when I really couldn’t understand psychiatric illness. When I was in middle school and high school, I would start getting exposed to talk about mental illness, and I couldn’t understand what it might feel like, and why someone would be stuck in depression or anxiety when maybe they could get over it by thinking a different way. That was little me. With the really ~basic~ (technical term: elementary) word choice of “Little me” to start out this poem, I refer to how young and in retrospect, thereby immature, I was.
Simple statement to start off – “Little me couldn’t understand why.”
Begs the question, why what?
Just why in general. Little me had no words, no vocabulary, at her disposal to explain how psychiatric medicine came about.
I followed up with questions alluding to two really common psychiatric illnesses – depression and anxiety – and their chronic nature – “stay that way”
The next two stanzas are explanations. The second stanza is an explanation looking at the microcosm of my own life, while the third stanza is an explanation looking at the others – “they.” Over the course of the poem, the organization of who the stanza is about is – me them me us.
In stanza 2, I wished to emphasize how the causes of psychiatric illness can be anything and everything – “knowledge, thoughts, stress” – that everyone has in their lifetime. We all also live in the context of “time.” Everything in this stanza is relatable to everyone. I simply say that perhaps with the accumulation of life experiences I or anyone could be more likely to develop something. (This is not to discount mental illness in youth; this is merely to emphasize that mental illness could affect anyone, even if we don’t think we’re prone to it at this point in our lives.) I wanted to emphasize time in this poem, so we see that stanza 1 references “little” me harking back to my youth, stanza 2 literally references time, stanza 4 does the same.
In stanza 3, I wanted to shift all the attention to the causes of illness for the others. So I used parallel structure. I just chose three adjectives that might encompass more ground with regard to types of illnesses. I left the last line as a one-word “Because.” with a stand-alone period at the end, to invite the thought that sometimes there’s no discernible or clear reason for illness.
In the last stanza, I explain my main point. I paint a visual picture of a “long arch” of life, and an auditory picture of the “tick” of time, in both cases again meditating on time. I appeal to the senses again by listing “see, hear, feel, think,” pointing especially to senses that are commonly involved in psychiatric illness. See what? Hear what? Feel what? Think what? I keep it vague, to help hone in the point that any experience, anything, can affect anyone. The switch in pronoun from I / they / I to we in this stanza represents a literal stepping back, seeing the bigger picture, adding to the conclusive nature of the stanza. Also, “they” is more impersonal, while the inclusive “we” encompasses me and you too. I use hypotheticals “if and when” also phrased in a question “who knows” to further emphasize that this could happen to anyone.
I hope you enjoyed. Let’s take care of ourselves and each other.