Amy Barlow Liberatore… stories of lost years, wild times, mental variety, faith, and lots of jazz

Tag Archives: Therapy

Bitter Silence

Five years old, small for her age
Dreads night’s flannel silence
She’s scared of flashbulbs and
cannot swallow medicine

“Let it float, like a boat,” says mother
Finally, the girl manages to
chew bitter aspirin and swallow
Her nightgown, often wet at dawn

Fragile, frail, third of three girls
Until age forty, she was able to forget
the reason for vague, haunting fears:
She was Daddy’s favorite pet

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Sunday Scribblings wanted poems about silence. There is peaceful silence; then, there is the conspiracy of silence which burdens small children with undue shame and guilt.

This is reworked from an earlier poem, “Bitter Fruits.” I’m amazed at how looking back at old work, seen with fresh eyes, is able to morph into something better. This is me, my childhood, and I’m glad that therapy and psychiatry have helped me overcome many obstacles that had me stuck in that “zany girl/catatonic girl” hell. I’m still fun, but I’m in control of my mood much more now!


My gut is pierced
Not the physical, but the psychic
Not a knife, but a fork
Not alfredo, but tomato sauce

The fork attacks me,
a plate of linguine marinara:

Pierce the pile
Twist round
Feel the reel, the dancing circles

Pull in all I am
All the essentials
Trailing stringy strands

What was


A ball big as disco
The silver flatware long since slathered
in bloody twine, scarlet vine

I feel about for the loose nub
The end of my rope

Pull gently
Unwind ever so slowly
Don’t break the ties of time

Delicately, I will prise the fork and
dispose of that which has strangled my being:

The damnable tapeworm
he planted inside me
all those years ago

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Sunday Scribblings tossed us one word: Explore. I went inward. Also at the site that never twirls me ‘round unless it’s fun: Poets United.

Quick note:  I’ve been quite vocal (well, I AM an activist, right?) about the “auto-check” option that WordPress foisted on us without notice, flooding our (and our followers’) email boxes because “Keep me posted on follow-up comments via email” was now automatically checked. Complaints flew this way and that; I posted a series, including a “fix” for the “glitch.”

Apparently, many WordPress followers made their voices heard, and together (go, WPbloggers) we AFFECTED CHANGE. This was a wonderful, peaceful activist movement.  Y’ALL DID IT AND Y’ALL ROCK!  Next time you feel a call to action, take it.  You’ll be amazed at what happens.  As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  Amen, ma’am.


Song of Psychiatry

Paperwork presentation
plus insurance information
Explanation of condition
(that part really saps ambition)

Process of elimination,
might need “bin” incarceration
Finally, the prescription(s)
matching your description(s)

(If you didn’t tell it well,
your mental health goes straight to hell
Then you end up in “The Bin,”
feeling like you’re lost again)

Follow-up examination
Tweaking meds, anticipation
that he’s found the incantations
to relieve these odd sensations

(Ennui and extreme malaise,
lasts for weeks or only days;
MANIC, I could climb a tower
but that wears off in an hour)

Diagnostic confirmation:
Bi-Po PTSD-ation,
winter bluesy affectation…
Happy Light, a true salvation

(All these meds for downs and panics!
I may Kafka into Xanax…
Lex will look for me until
he finds me, morphed into a pill)

Don’t skip therapy’s vital function
Psych meds only, mental unction
Counseling’s for exploration,
finding roots of situation)

Now shrink gives me medication
Spirit gives me meditation
Thus my balance has been struck
(Thanks to doctors, God, and luck)

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For ABC Wednesday, brought to you by the letter “S.” Also at dverse Open Mic and my poetic haven, Poets United.

NOTES: I have a generally productive, sometimes difficult life, a fantastic husband and daughter who understand all the facets of my chemical imbalance, great friends and a supportive faith community, and I’m not on public assistance – because I have solid mental health coverage. WE NEED UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE. It would half-empty our prisons and save many homeless people from the isolation of despair. I’m an advocate for Health Care For All. How about you?

WARNING: NOT for the squeamish. (So if you read it, you have only yourself to thank or blame.)

For those who don’t know me well enough yet, this happened to me when I was a kid. Feel free to comment, ask questions, or engage me through email if you prefer to speak privately (ask and ye shall receive my address). I’m open about this (and my mental disorders) because I want survivors to shed their unearned shame and get the help they need to sweep the monster from under the bed and LIVE their lives not as victims, but as true survivors. Peace, Amy

Too Close, No Comfort

She feels the proximity of the monster
Hears his footsteps
Smells his acrid third-martini breath

She should call out, scream
But it’s useless, no one comes to
help the child until afterwards

It’s over. She wet the bed again
but he never noticed, too busy with
her small, slack-jawed mouth

Will she ever tell the secret everyone knows,
or will she block it all out to preserve
what little sense of self remains?

Little girls have a capacity, as do little boys
to save retribution for adulthood,
when they are able to handle the history

Tears witnessed by a therapist,
perhaps meds to ease the trauma as it is relived
again and again, until the haunting stops

My dad never did the perp walk
Mom never admitted she knew
but my sweet revenge was forgiveness:

After all, he was the sick one.

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For Three Word Wednesday: Immobile, Proximity, Retribution


Today, I’ll stroll to Mary’s place.
The patio screen scritchscratches with my departure.
Why lock it? Next Door Nan will be at home.

Sneakers on grass, bristling the sunburnt ground cover
The brush of palm fronts bending to grant me passage
And all along the way, crickets chirping

Now my sneaks scrape along the sidewalk,
past Pete the shoe repair guy, who waves.
“Time for that again?” he jokes.

“Yupper,” I shout, as my finger makes
little circles around my ear. “I’ll bring my
sandals over tomorrow, hope you can save ‘em!”

A profusion of orange flowers, “ditch lilies” they call them here,
but I dead-head the wizened, faded flowers,
pitch them into the fray, mulch for another day.

(Someday, I will be wizened and faded, too –
but if they want to toss me into the mulch pile,
they’ll have to catch me first!)

Finally the clip-clop upstairs, into the waiting room
with the fountain that always makes me need to pee.
Then, the soft inhale of a door opening:

“Amy?” smiles Mary, my therapist.
“Let’s do this sucker,” I laugh, and whoosh!
The door shuts. Tears to be shed, secrets to keep.

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For We Write Poems‘ prompt, Walk. Also on display at Poets United! Peace, Amy

Johann Ink and I were comparing notes on psychiatry today; much of this poem is derived directly from our three-hour conversation. Johann is a budding poet; we are both what is genially called in our society, “mental health consumers” (in other words, we’re both nuckin’ futs!). If you’ve never had the joy, the incredible honor, of being granted a meeting with a real live board-certified psychiatrist… consider yourself fortunate! Amy
(PS This poem also appears at Writer’s Island for NaPoWriMo 12.)

New Shrink Rap
(from a conversation with Johann Ink)

I’m checking in with my new shrink
society having granted me leave
from my sleeve-silky cubicle (AKA “acting normal”)
Now I sit in a leather chair so large
my feet dangle like Edith Ann

Doc is regally ensconced behind
an impressive antique desk
Drawers full of free pens from drug reps
Myriad diplomas staring me down
and sneering, “We’re smarter than you”

He’s new, at least to me, and eager
to change what my last psychiatrist did
He’s ready to rearrange my brain plane
because he has sample of a new drug
(They tested it on lab rats, so, hey, it must of OK for me)

I state flatly, “I want to maintain my current regimen”
He stiffens, doesn’t care to listen even thoug
I’ve been to the brink and back
(while he’s just read about it a whole lot)
Experience vs. experiments: The Great Battle of Which

“Man,” I itch to say,
“if you want to pimp for Big Pharma,
why not go all the way? Get yourself a solid gold chain
and maybe a diamond in your front tooth…
or don’t monster tires and hydraulics work on a Corvette?”

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Two girls in one… both of them me before I got the right mix of meds and therapy.  A not to folks who have the same condition, please know I’m not making fun of those struggling with the manic part.  It’s OK for me to laugh at myself, but I’m NOT laughing at you, truly.  I’m part of NAMI Stigma Busters.  Amy



Leaden footsteps dog my pace
Straining, forcing smile on face
Gravity has conquered me
Hard to muster strength to… be

Wheels are grinding ever slower
Ten more steps to my front door
Dropping bags and sloughing coat
Sitting in a sinking boat

Wow I feel great I’m late for work but it’s
not my fault this jerk on TV was sooooooooo
fascinating I had to watch this invention
and the audience was soooooooo enthusiastic
about it just twelve payments of $19.95 plus
shipping so I called oops that credit card
is maxed, went through three before I hit
the jackpot it’s a juicer that also vacuums
your cat whattaya think about that? Gotta
run run run I’m late for work wait there’s
the Dunkie’s need coffee and a doughnut
first catch you later what’s your name again?

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Bobby Francavillo, an old school buddy, turned me on to this young singer/songwriter.  She’s phenomenal and so is her story… look her up on YouTube for an interview about how, after a car accident left her unable to walk, holistically working 24/7 on her music helped her neurons reconnect her brain and legs, which has enabled her to enjoy a rich, full life.  Her voice is like… if Jean Arthur could sing.  I cannot say enough about her talent, nor thank Bobby enough for mentioning her on FaceBook.  I’ve bought 2 of her releases, and she saved MY mental health in a crowded layover at NYC’s Penn Station.   Proof positive that magic is all around us, healing comes in many forms, and friends are meant to share the best things in life.


Penn Station cacophony
The really big noise of
crunchy humanity made moist
by lack of air conditioning

Bad tempers, worse hygiene that
fails to be tamed by perfumes
each more putrid than the last
and all available at WalMart

I park my pack, stack my stash
under weathered and weary sandals
Pull out headphones, cause
it’s gonna be a long layover

Wheel the reel of my IPod to
Melody Gardot, she of the
quirky scat, scratched slightly
broken voice, sleek songs

Eyes closed. I serenely
accept this comfort
as it’s offered up
in her lazy tones, slowly

Crabby folks suddenly wash away
in a flood of lush love songs
Colors appear beneath my eyelids
Vivid purples and greens

Audio visual mental lava lamp
undulating, glowing jazz
In the midst of Amtrak chaos
Suddenly, vibrant beauty

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

The prompt today was “After the Rain.”  Took it to this past weekend in water-starved Philly; a mudslide in Topanga Canyon; and a flood in Attica, in which two people lost their lives trying to save animals from a vet’s office.  But this one seemed apropos for today.


Tears flow steadily surely certainly
Tissues stack teetering telling toppling
Therapist listens nodding knowing nudging
Time passes slowly softly swiftly

Tourist wonders why when how
she was brought to this strange place
of salt water headaches
of stories that go bump in the night

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil