This is my 31st article on MIA and the most personal. It’s about being tender and loving with myself when I’m suffering, and how for me that means being merciful and defiant at the same time.
As a boy who was abandoned by my parents at an early age, I’ve always felt vulnerable to the disapproval and judgments of others, afraid of being shunned, forgotten and rejected.
Especially when I was in madness, I felt freakish and alien – an outsider, as if looking in on the warm world of others from outside a window pane, the window condensed with moisture on the inside from delicious food cooking – with me unseen standing out there in the fading light of evening – while happy lives of family occurred inside the houses with the safety and warmth, and warm dinner food and love – of them all together, in a vision that broke my terrified and isolated heart.
But I somehow realized that love can be portable. That I could carry it in me like a little flame in a secret chamber of my heart.
So even when I was homeless sleeping in the rain under a tree with bugs crawling all over me or sleeping in the dugout of the high school baseball field, I could hold that loving grace through the night.
People who knew me then looked at me strangely, I know – the pre-med Michael now an unwashed wild-eyed denizen to be dodged on the street – them crossing to the other sidewalk side when they saw me approaching.
But I held my heart light closer then to balance the pain of those chance encounters.
So when I figured some of it out, I realized I’d never digested the poison pill completely – the one marked “unworthy of love.”
I refused. I said fuck that – I deserve the mercy they’d give a dog. I’ll give it to myself. I’ll love myself if no one else will.
And I did. And I still do.
I’m almost 70 now but I had a dream recently that proved to me how much my defiance has always helped me embrace love.
I was being led along a mountain hillside with a rope around my neck in a procession of captured slaves by mounted horsemen with long spears or pikes – the mounted King’s men.
For some reason, unbidden the words welled up inside of me…
“There’s one thing I’ve always wanted to say… ”
And then I shouted at the top of my lungs knowing it would bring my certain death…
“FUCK THE KING!”
“FUCK THE KING!”
At once to my left a huge mushroom about 10 feet tall erupted from the hillside. It was full of numinous vibrant energy and the sky over it became a mosaic of thousands of small shimmering patterns of ecstatically beautiful circular energy, as a huge chorus of voices intermingled in sustained notes of sacred release all brought about by my treasonous and blasphemous defiant cry against the tyranny of the king.
I can still hear that long sustained note of a thousand souls in my head.
Love is my birthright – and I believe it’s yours too. Please don’t let them tell you otherwise.
There’s a love that doesn’t wait to be claimed, received.
There’s a love that doesn’t wait and long to be returned.
There’s a humble love that just is, is.
A hidden flame that just burns, burns.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.