This is a poem written by yours truly, Jack M. Freedman entitled, Stigma Busters. It is a piece that I open with at Psyche in the Light performances and has been read at various venues, including The Producer’s Club, Snug Harbor Cultural Center, the NYAPRS Conference at the Nevele Grande, and at a benefit for David Gonzalez at the Howie T. Harp Peer Advocacy Center. It has been my defining piece as of late, and I have been asked by the editors of City Voices to share this message of empowerment and fighting stigma with you, our loyal readers.
by Jack M. Freedman
Ascending from ash
Like the phoenix.
We break through our difficulties,
Leaving the ones we’ve hurt behind
And leaving the ones who have hurt us behind.
Working on remaining focused
Despite neurochemical imbalances.
We are the survivors,
Living to form a network of consumers,
The ones who make it out alive,
Make it in this world,
And make it a point
To stretch out a hand
To those desperate for hope.
We are a movement
That prides itself in compassion, empathy, and justice.
We will not rest
Until we can break the public
Of their perceptions of us:
We are prone to changes in mood.
Changes in personality.
Changes in threshold for pain.
We are also prone to having successful lives
In every field imaginable.
The strong and the proud,
Shall not sleep
Until we prove
That we are valuable members of society,
And that we have ideas to bring to the table.
We shall also bring our movement
To the polls,
Demanding to be recognized by the politicians
At the risk of being stigmatized.
We will prove
That our illnesses
Have little to no bearing on our competence
Or our intelligence.
Representing those in recovery,
Those in turmoil,
And those in hospitals and psych units
We will not submit to the notion
That our afflictions
Must remain taboo.
We cannot afford
To remain silent
In the face of discrimination.
We spit in the eye of the media,
Demonizing us in movies.
There are many clichéd images of us
Bouncing around in padded cells.
Laying in fetal positions while confined in straightjackets.
Four-point restrained to our beds.
Fearing the government is spying on us through inanimate objects.
Talking to our imaginary peers.
You may not realize it,
But you see us every day
Whether it be on the street,
In your office,
In your school,
In your clubs,
In your books,
In your music,
In your movies,
Or on your TV.
Before you condemn us,
Tell us how you feel about:
Robin Williams, Roseanne Barr, Jane Pauley, Carrie Fisher, Ben Stiller, DMX, Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, Vivien Leigh, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Vincent Van Gogh, Ernest Hemmingway, Tennessee Williams, Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, David Bowie, Axl Rose, Sting, Mark Twain, Jim Carrey, Peter Gabriel, Tom Waits, A-Rod, Darryl Strawberry, Terry Bradshaw, Edgar Allen Poe, Jack Kerouac, Anne Rice, Billy Joel, Harrison Ford, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Brooke Shields…and the list keeps on going.
We are a bountiful group of people
Hell bent on breaking the chains that bind us to these images.
We prove ourselves every day,
Even without revealing this aspect of our beings.
We defy race.
We defy gender.
We defy religion.
We defy nationality.
We defy class.
We defy age.
But most importantly,
We defy convention,
And we will continue to defy the ones who pigeonhole us
At every turn.
Regardless of whether we are:
We will remain on this earth.
Our voices will not be silenced.
Our mission is not impossible.
It will be accomplished,
And we will know that we’ve won
When we can be completely open with what we are
And still be seen as the beautiful people
We were intended to be.
We are the mentally ill.
You got a problem with that?