A Poem about Bipolar Disorder & Stigma by Joye Chizak
The Last American Outcast
So I went to the Smithsonian
and sought out the lunch counter
taken from the Woolworth’s in Birmingham
some fifty years ago.
Slipping under the velvet rope
I pick the pink leatherette stool on the end
and wait to be served.
All these weirdos
the stench of outcasts still lingering in the air
catsup hemorrhaged like blood thickened by the musk of history,
me, the last of them
right in their spectral midst.
I had never known nor ever even imagined
for a heartbeat
that it would come down to a person like me.
The curator is called
and comes clicking swiftly perplexed.
“You are in a restricted area. What do you want?” she says in a stage whisper.
“To be served…like the others”, I say.
“But you ‘re not even black…” she pleads quietly.
“No, and I am not Irish or Muslin or Lesbian …they all would be served.”
“Who are you? What do you want?”
“ Just a stuffed tomato with chicken salad …and perhaps an ice tea, no lemon.”
“ Who are you?” she asked again,
cocking her head like a chicken looking for defects unseen to her naked eyes.
“I’m a mentally ill American. “
Her eyes widen and she speaks quickly into her phone calling for back-ups.
“I have legal rights. You cannot discriminate”,
by then, suited men pick me effortlessly off the sacred pink artifact and carry me away.
I glance back at the ghosts,
eating grilled cheese sandwiches and sipping cokes
clinking glasses together…the Jews, Gays and Latinos.
My time has not yet come.
The last outcast in America,
not welcome at the great lunch counter of this free and accepting land.
Joye was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1980 and has been stable on lithium since 1982. She worked professionally in marketing, now runs her own consulting firm in 2000. She remembers the time she worked briefly at a regional chamber of commerce with young people and disclosed her bipolar illness. Subsequently she was cut-off from executive communication and her duties were downgraded despite her tangible achievements. She’s been writing about the Last American Outcast ever since and also written a short, illustrated book for the loved ones of those with bipolar called Bipolar Bootcamp.