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What I've Learned


Erika Gelzinnis

A poem about Erika's experiences of the mental health system.

Content warning: Includes swearing and experiences of institutional violence.

What have you learned?

Nurse said brightly without context.

What do you mean?

Well, normally you’d be screaming.


I have learned                                                                                                          

the System’s f*cked.

I have learned

it’s not that I’m just bad at life,

it’s that people like me do not fit the life you choose.

I have learned  

your comfort is worth more

than my safety and freedom.

My way of existing challenges you deeply because it shows how inadequate you are.


I have learned

you refuse to see the irony of a caring institution causing so much harm

in the name of Mental Health

a service that is at supposed to protect us

used to imprison and abuse.

I have learned the rules,

the policies

the multiple mandatory directives that describe a service delivery

I have never received.


I have learned

what I am asking for is nothing more than you are paid to deliver.

I have learned,

what you see is what I get,

if it isn’t in The Record, it didn’t happen.

If it did happen and was recorded but does not make you look good,

it is ignored.


I have learned

simple acts of kindness,

a cup of tea,

a validation,

an opportunity to make a small, unimportant choice

like lights on or off,

can help me remember

I am a human,

with a right to be

respected, safe, free

and able to communicate my opinions about my care and wellness -

without fear of punishment

or refusal of services.

Illustration of a tree with leaves and branches falling off and writing on the leaves and trunk about Erika's life.
Image above: Artwork by Erika: 'Tree Goals diagram I used to explain my life to the NDIA.'

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This story is tagged under:

Life Choices
Taking Part
Sex and Your Body
Safety and violence
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