June 2024

Notes Toward a Memoir of
Madness and Writing - Part I

Gregory Luce | Scene4 Magazine

Gregory Luce


“There are hardly any exceptions to the rule that a person must pay dearly for the divine gift of the creative fire.”—Carl Jung

1. The other night I was preparing to brush my teeth. When I picked up the tube of toothpaste, a little blob shot out and hit the sink. I found this hilarious and had trouble stopping giggling. A small surge of shivery energy passed through me and fluttered my fingers. If this is a relapse I thought, it might be more fun than the ones before.

2. My first episode of what I’ll call madness (1) began sometime late in 2014 and lasted a bit less than a year, triggered largely by a series of difficulties with the place I was living, including an infestation of bedbugs. The ongoing battles with the management, coupled with intense work pressure, sent me spiraling into anxiety and depression. I was being threatened with eviction while undergoing a highly disruptive series of exterminator visits. (Anyone who has ever dealt with bedbugs will know how aggravating the situation can be. Anxiety is a frequent reaction.) My job had become highly stressful with more work being expected from a dwindling number of employees and the looming threat of continuing layoffs. Somehow I managed to function—barely—but I took little pleasure in any of my pastimes like reading and listening to music. It was agonizing to come into the office on Monday and listen to my colleagues talking about what they had done over the weekend when I had barely been able to get out of the house.

I think I was able to manage a fragile equilibrium with the help of my therapist, the psychiatrist I was able to find who prescribed anti-depressants (I no longer remember which), occasional use of Ativan (similar to Xanax), my AA meetings, and especially the unwavering support of my partner.

I found a new apartment and a group of amazing friends rallied to help me move. Moving day was actually almost fun and I felt reasonably happy, though the bad feelings returned the following day. By this point I believe I was slowly recovering, though it was not yet perceptible. About a month after the move I bought a new bike; the day I picked it up and rode home from Brookland was another rare happy day. I rode nearly every day despite not enjoying it much and I’m sure the exercise was a great move toward recovery. And one day, I woke up and felt…ok, and continued to improve rapidly. And one day, it was over.

“The fear of incomprehension links madness and writing.” —Hermione Lee, quoted by Suzanne Scanlon in Committed (2)

3. In addition to the factors noted above, one of the most important aids to my recovery was suggested by an AA colleague who is also a writer and very good friend. “You can write your way out of it,” he said. I was skeptical, but a seed was planted. I began writing short poems describing my emotions and daily experiences. It became a kind of journal that eventually became a long poem called ”Anxiety Journal.” I began to notice that when I was writing I felt better for a short time. Many seemingly trivial things I noted became small milestones on the road back. Eventually, after I recovered, I was able to publish excerpts in the premiere issue of  the literary journal Deaf Poets Society, founded to provide a voice for disabled writers, including those who are neurodivergent, which at that time included the mentally ill, or as I prefer, mad.

I will have more to say about these and related issues in Part II.


(1) Like many writers, I prefer the term “madness” to mental illness. The concept of mental illness is very problematic for reasons known to many.

(2) Committed, Suzanne Scanlon, Vintage Books, 2024


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Gregory Luce is a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
He is the author of five books of poetry, has published widely in print and online and is the 2014 Larry Neal Award winner for adult poetry, given by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Retired from National Geographic, he is a volunteer writing tutor/mentor for 826DC, and lives in Arlington, VA.
More at: https://dctexpoet.wordpress.com/
For his other columns and articles in Scene4
check the Archives.

©2024 Gregory Luce
©2024 Publication Scene4 Magazine



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