The Sick Fragrance

by Neesa Suncheuri

I can smell my brain.
Its fumes leak out from my left upper ocular bone,
The pressure point beneath my eyebrow.
When I smell it, I know that I will go to the hospital soon.

When I arrive on the psychiatric unit,
My smell mixes with the others’
And we create a hamlet of fragrant sickness.
When I breathe, I understand the insanities of everyone around me.
We all are in tune with one another,
Channeled onto this frequency that only the insane understand.
Some try to ignore this smell, but they end up
Frantic, crying for attention, yelling about their “rights,”
Suffocating in their so-called prison,
Merely incurring a long and painful stay.
But those who accept the smell learn from its message…


You must wait.

Wait until the doors open for fifteen-minute outdoor breaks, escorted.

Wait for meals to arrive in the big metal cart.

Wait for tomorrow, yet time feels the same and unchanging.

Wait for the meds to kick in, even when they don’t work.

Wait for the approval to leave.

It smells different in different parts of the unit.
In the bathroom, the rubber flooring resembles
Watered-down cleaning fluid and shredded skin cells that|
Refuse to die, each cell has its own immune
Intelligence and mission, all intening to
Keep former hosts ensnared in psychiatric ruin.
In the kitchen, generic food smells merge with
Plastic table clothes, activating the weight-gaining appetite of a
Normally-dormant part of the stomach.
The day room smells of stained couches ignored,
Mixed with the fragrant low expectations of
Psychiatrists, nurses, the always-missing
Social worker who never attends meetings,
Neglecting to plan discharge dates on time,
Their anemic attitudes prohibiting patients from
Expressing their individuality and solidarity,
Instead encouraging compliance and submission.

But the longer I stay, the more I like the smell.
It starts to smell not like sickness nor boredom, but
Instead becomes a floating cloud of protection, keeping
The world at bay, a dangerous place I can’t handle.
A savory fragrance, ever-blooming as an eternal flower,
Now itself adopting another voice in my head…

No more waiting.  You are home.

I find wisdom in this monastery.
My schizophrenia now is creative prayer.
The smell of sick brains is holy incense,
Wafting me away along its slanted direction.

My eyes glaze.

My shirt features spittle.

My hands shake.

In truth, this fragrance emerges when there is lack of love.  It is the smell of a malnourished human spirit.  It is the smell of ignored emergency, a person flailing, begging for compassion.  A cry for empathy, futilely fighting against misunderstanding.

It is the smell of a forgotten soul,



Neesa Suncheuri works as a mental health peer specialist at a housing agency in Queens, New York.  She is the founder of a Facebook discussion group for peer specialists and other recovery enthusiasts, entitled “What is Wellness?  A Mental Health Discussion Group.”  Much of her creative inspiration is rooted in her now-tamed schizophrenia.  She is a singer/songwriter, and performs in various venues in the city.  She writes poetry, maintains a blog and is currently working on a memoir.  Follow her on Twitter at @aquariumspeaks.

4 thoughts on “The Sick Fragrance”

  1. This was extremely profound and powerful. It comes only from experience I feel. I was very close to a guy who could no longer differentiate between the waiting and the voices. He ran his car into a concrete wall on the highway as if it were an accident as his Mom prefers to believe. I have my doubts.


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