Invisible People

A physician living with mental illness shares their experience through poetry.

As a physician living with mental illness, I understand the fear and pain that the stigma of mental illness causes our patients. I have felt unseen or ignored by the health care system at times of my greatest need.

My hope is that sharing my experience will help others with mental illness to feel less alone as they are fighting through the toughest periods of their lives. So, I proudly share my identity as a physician living with mental illness because these experiences have increased my value to society. Now, I better understand my patients’ perspective and their place within the full range of humanity. This understanding is the basis for a cultural awareness which can improve the healing environment of our offices and the social wellbeing of our patients.

Invisible People

My home is my apartment building,

My heart enclosed within.

My mind encaged

By surplus thought,

Fed by rivers of blood

Flooding my brain

With obscenities.

Damned.

The elevator’s broken

Far more than functioning.

There’s dust remaining in the lobbies

After a fresh sweep.

There’s strangers

I know and avoid,

And my mail is written

For the last tenant.

Often, I am locked outside

Because I forgot my key.

Scared every time

I let others inside.

I feel judged at my most intimate,

Ignored when I most need kindness.

Neighbors speak other languages,

and I alone touch my skin because others refuse.

My child’s laugh has long disappeared.

There’s ghosts in the walls.

My shouts of pain

Echo the halls.

Then the sirens ring,

And I am disturbed

from writing down

My latest fears.

Locked away, how many have lived here before,

And will again in the future?

I make up stories to pass time,

To test my reality

And see how far away

In time and space

I can reach

Before stopped.

I leave for the same places,

Every day at the same time,

Often dressed the same way

On the same streets.

I return in a lesser state,

Given away too much.

A rotting carcass,

The vultures fed.

The moon seeps

Through a waning sun,

Passing my windowsill,

Injuring my eyes,

And torturing my thought.

A nighttime of terror

That I relive tomorrow.

More pain: I know what’s next.

I make my bed every morning,

And the same stale coffee.

The same stale conversation.

The same platitudes

And fake smiles,

Which steal my essence

Until I’m roboticized

And one of them.

Excitement lost to routine.

Emotions to regulation.

Distress to tolerance.

Colors blur into conformity.

Stability builds a new foundation.

Does anyone truly know

Me,

Or even do I?

I put it aside,

And repeat “All’s ok,”

Because I’m told to.

Change outpaces madness.

Out of the brambles.

Advancing one step ahead

Past twists and stumbles.

They say I’m getting better.

Lithium like lead paint,

Aging poisons,

Seep into my organs slowly.

My walls remain white,

But I cover them with art,

Which buys me compliments.

I have more guests

When I perform for them.

Stained teeth and stained bricks.

A vulnerable, bruised, brave mess.

A loud, silent stigma.

I love this world that is mine,

That I created for myself,

and scream, hands against my ears.

I am hurt no longer when teased

About where I choose to live.

There’s beauty in difference.

And I am among

Those who stop time

To see, and hear,

To share in the true me.

We carry our colors,

And help move this world

Closer to acceptance.

We exist between the others,

Those who wear

The same blue jeans

And gray shirts,

All the same haircuts.

Bustling to win

Green tokens

To look more like each other.

And act like each other.

Dulled noise

Bouncing off us,

Misunderstanding us.

Lost in a field

Of meaningless work,

They may never know

The wonder inside our apartments.

I know,

My apartment has survived

Many years

And much repair

After many storms,

And will remain

Beyond my tenancy,

A lasting connection.

To read more about Dr Lerario's experience, see "Invisible People: My Experience as a Transgender Physician with Mental Illness."

Dr Lerario (@MPLerario) is a board-certified neurologist and graduate student of social service at Fordham University, where they perform activism and research for the transgender community. Their work has been published in Neurology: Clinical Practice, the Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, and the Harvard Public Health Review Journal, among others.