“Schizophrenia” by Jesse Welch

In this Poetry Slam masterpiece, Jesse Welch pieces together all the anger and disappointment that a person with schizophrenia has felt against all the healthcare workers they have had the misfortunes of brushing his life with. After 7 years of walking away from all the “helpful” interventions prescribed, they are at a better place. 

Jesse Welch is a Chicago Poet currently based in Seattle (last updated 2015). 

His poetic take on “Schizophrenia” was a bold jibe at the immense disconnect between doctors and patients in the midst of managing this condition. It went on to attain notable mentions in 2013 and 2015 National Slam Poetry.

Study by Harangozo et al., found a weak but significant correlation between people having schizophrenia and being treated differently during payment for medical care, having dental problems, being disrespected by mental health staff.

Harangozo, J., B. Reneses, E. Brohan, J. Sebes, Gábor Csukly, J. J. López-Ibor, N. Sartorius, D. Rose, and G. Thornicroft. “Stigma and discrimination against people with schizophrenia related to medical services.” International Journal of Social Psychiatry 60, no. 4 (2014): 359-366.

A Dissection into Jesse Welch’s psyche:

Person within the poetry appears to have:

  • A strong sense of distrust with the healthcare system and its personnel 
    • Brought about by the intolerable experiences with seemingly indifferent psychiatrists and improper prescription of medication
      • “History lesson: Schizophrenia has never been a set of symptoms. Its lifetime has accomplished everything from mental retardation to epilepsy. It’s a label for those of us the medical system is done putting up with. And they have always tortured us. Binding. Electric shocks. Drowning. Castration. We, perpetual casualties in the war for our own sanity.”
      • “No matter what, their mannequinned mouths zombied after my sanity sunset.”
    • Convinced that doctors are reductionistic and cruel in their understanding of people with schizophrenia
      • Doctors know better than patients what is considered best for patient
        • “Everyone knows what’s best for me. Every plan I’ve ever made are the machinations of this over-clocked fever-brain. I want control of me, And you all know better.”
      • patients are unreliable
        •  “Because I’m a car running backwards, Steam pouring into a teakettle. A car with what pedals mixed up trying to floor it ‘til I stop moving.”
      • Stay well behaved, fit in the crowd, kill off your personality 
        • “History lesson: add a brand name, add a prescription, you can label anything ‘help’. You give us medicine, To make us marionettes. Make us marionettes!”
    • Convinced that doctors pretty much stopped listening
  • Believes that taking matters into their own hands results in the best quality of life
    • Ask us, why we’ve stopped taking our medicine, You wouldn’t pill-pop either if your drugs filled your frontal lobe with worms teething away at your self-control.
    • So doctor, listen! Look at my hands. See how still they are when the strings are off. 
  • World is against me always mentality
    • And when they said, ‘your healthcare was a war crime’, Said to stop ‘shoving ice picks through our eye sockets’,You found chemicals to do it for you!”

How have these struggles affected Jesse & those like him in terms of their wellbeing?

Person with schizophrenia has Internalised messages of 

  • Cannot trust anybody
  • I am, and will always be broken 
  • Healthcare is indifferent to my needs 

How had the people/person of relevance come to understand their experience and their mental state right now? 

Person with schizophrenia has internalised messages, spun in different light 

  • Can only depend on myself, look how far i have come with the decisions i’ve made to not listen to the doctors 
    • My hands are still now, because i did not listen to you. 
  • Finally understood why you treat us that way (person with schizophrenia may not have the right interpretation) 
    • 2 History lessons exemplifies how person with schizophrenia has welded their unpleasant experiences with doctors into dispensable teachings 
  • I may be broken, but I should still be in control of my life. 
    • Vehement refusal to doctor’s best interest, executing self-agency

What can we as HCWs learn from this perspective?

  • Listening may be our best arsenal against any condition 
    • Open questions
    • Affirmations
    • Reflective Listening
    • Summarising 
  • We may be experts in our domains, but patients are experts in their life. 
    • Take interest in what they find meaningful, and discuss what it is that they want to achieve with our guidance and prescriptions. 

Transcript: 

When I tell them I’m schizophrenic,

Everyone knows what’s best for me. 

Every plan I’ve ever made are the machinations of this over-clocked fever-brain.

I want control of me, 

And you all know better.

Because I’m a car running backwards,

Steam pouring into a teakettle.

A car with what pedals mixed up trying to floor it ‘til I stop moving.

“Son, we’re just trying to help.”

No, doctor, you are trying to kill the only part of me I’ve ever valued.

This car doesn’t run right, but I’m the fucking driver!
“Son, you don’t know what this means.”

I beg to differ. 

I’ve been broken for 23 years. I think I know what it means by now to live my life in a movie I don’t direct.

I’ve stopped running from their screen test at 16.

Realized the dead bodies filling construction sites were no more real than stage props, and probably couldn’t kill me anyways. 

No matter what, their mannequinned mouths zombied after my sanity sunset.

“Son, we’re just trying to help.” 

No. Doctor, no. 

I’ve seen your hands in the ghost of CAT scans.

Vivisection of homeless minds.

Ask us, why we’ve stopped taking our medicine, 

You wouldn’t pill-pop either if your drugs filled your frontal lobe with worms teething away at your self-control.

History lesson: Schizophrenia has never been a set of symptoms. 

Its lifetime has accomplished everything from mental retardation to epilepsy.

It’s a label for those of us the medical system is done putting up with.

And they have always tortured us. 

Binding. Electric shocks. Drowning. Castration.

We, perpetual casualties in the war for our own sanity.

And when they said, “your healthcare was a war crime”, 

Said to stop “shoving ice picks through our eye sockets”,

You found chemicals to do it for you!

History lesson: add a brand name, add a prescription, you can label anything “help”. 

You give us medicine,

To make us marionettes. Make us marionettes!

And you tug at our strings. You tug at our strings!

And we twitch. And we twitch! 

And we get our row on the bus ‘cause no one wants to sit next to us, 

‘Cause we’re twitching!

And we smell bad!

‘Cause you don’t pull on the string that says “shower!”

Just a wrench on the rope for “keep moving”!

And tug at the string that keeps twitching.  

Keep talking. Talking!

We talk to ourselves because no one else will listen!

So doctor, listen! 

Look at my hands. 

See how still they are when the strings are off. 

look at hands

see how still they are when the strings are off

Schizophrenia

Henry Qi

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