The Retribution of a Diagnosis: A Review

Briana Roldan Works to Dismantle the Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness

Briana Roldan’s The Retribution of a Diagnosis is a bold publication. The collection allows strangers to pay witness to the inner workings of someone diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. It can be difficult to, as Roldan remarks in the piece, “Depression: A True Magic Trick,” be “…so vulnerable with it…,” but, like fellow poet D. Green, Roldan does not shy away from life’s more difficult subject matter.

The frankness with which Roldan discusses suicide and constant mental battles gives this collection the intense clarity of glacial water. Imagery that reappears many times throughout the text is a never ending circling of ceiling fans, undying loops that play over and over without end. Roldan’s inclusion of this picture is a shrewd move that effectively translates the cycles of this particular mental illness to the readers.

Roldan not only examines how Bipolar Disorder affects the one afflicted but also those around them. In “On Making Peace with Long Lists and Depression,” the poet notes:

I wish my girlfriend were here because she would
tell me to stop crying and I would listen only
because my crying makes her uncomfortable and I
think that my fluctuating moods makes her feel

This painful recognition that the poet is indirectly causing emotional hurt to a loved one is excruciatingly poignant. Dedicated caregivers (professional or otherwise) don’t want to see their loved ones in distress and it can be hard to know that they can’t remove the source of pain. Unfortunately, they are most needed when their loved ones are in distress, and thus begins another rotation of those unrelenting “…ceiling fans / Never ending circles.”

One of the most endearing pieces of the work is “My Friends”. This is a gentle poem that delights in the joy of friendship.

When they smile
I am whole
When they laugh
Everything just feels good.
My friends
Are like perfect picture frames
Holding my heart strings together…

Soft and grateful, this love letter to the platonic relationships that power human beings is one that should be shared with everyone. It serves as a wonderful reminder to cherish those persons who hold our hands and revel with us or clutch our shoulders to cry with us.

Roldan writes with an open heart, clearly trying to establish communication with readers rather than confuse them with an obtuse mysticism. After all, this is a work to that endeavors to knock down the walls of stigma surround mental illness. It must be noted that The Retribution of a Diagnosis does so quite effectively.


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