“Samsara is defined as the ‘round of rebirth’ or ‘perpetual wandering’ … the sea of life ever restlessly heaving up and down, the symbol of this continuous process of ever again and again being born, growing old, suffering and dying.”


—The Buddhist Dictionary by Nyanatiloka Mahathera


SURVIVING SAMSARA is a collection of poems, short stories, and essays that recounts the author Kagan Goh’s struggles with manic depression. This story takes place over two decades as he endeavors to survive the highs of mania and the lows of depression, tossed up and down on the restless seas of Samsara. As a survivor, Goh gives us insight into an “insider’s” experience of madness as he wanders through his personal Dark Night of the Soul. He exposes the damaging effects of the stigma of mental illness and explores manic depression not only as a disorder but as a spiritual emergence—a vehicle for personal growth, healing, and spiritual transcendence. Goh’s deeply personal stories illustrate his transformation from victim to survivor to activist.


“Within these pages, you can look forward to meeting the Schizophrenic Christ and the Bipolar Buddha, among many other compelling beings: the Cat God is present, the Madonna, the Mendicant Poet, the Holy Family. Thread between the archetypes and the landscapes are the mortals, generation upon generation, striving to understand and to make peace with all that is: learning to love the original face, learning to fly with the wings that each is born with.”


—Joanne Arnott, author of Wiles of Girlhood, Mother Time, A Night for the Lady, Breasting the Waves: On Writing & Healing


 “Seldom is poetry written today so personally revealing, serious and intimate—rising again and again like a hot air balloon of hope from all the madness, trouble and fierce descents every day becomes to a poet so vulnerable and sensitive as Kagan. He writes the truth. Read him, for all our sakes.”


—Vancouver Downtown Eastside poet Bud Osborn, author of Hundred Block Rock, Signs of the Times, Keys to Kingdoms, Lonesome Monsters, Oppenheimer Park






I’m sitting on the rooftop patio of my parents’ apartment in the new millennium staring across the skyline at the gray cityscape, lost in a haze of pollution, listening to the city drone Ooommm.


I feel like I haven’t slept for a century. I’m thirty, but I feel like I’m a thousand years old. Dying to sleep. Chloroform myself into oblivion while the rest of the world is buzzing busy at work.


I see an escalator descending and ascending from heaven. The cogwheels turn and churn in a madness of productivity. And I am not riding on it. And I am not riding on it. The cast-iron heart of the city pounds CACHUNK! CACHUNK! CACHUNK! Driving a million iron nails into my head as the day grinds away, oblivious to my existence.

A new house is being erected. I see it day by day, piece by piece, plank by plank from the foundation up to the roof. The new model house for the twenty-first century. It dominates the smaller older houses. Reminding me I will never own my own home, have my own family, a wife and kids like normal people.

All I hear is the noise of construction. Drilling, hammering, buzzing, sawing. Vultures circle, casting shadows over me, waiting for me to cave in, but I’m not done living yet.

Being mentally ill is a full-time job, but you wouldn't know it. I shut my ears, but it’s coming from inside my head. The voices of the city mocking me:

Get a job. Get a job. Get a job. Useless welfare bum. Leech. Freeloader. Get off your lazy ass and work.

I stumble, nearly fall down the stairs. Opening the door, the day is blindingly cheerful. I stagger like a drunk down the back alley toward that house. I am not going to be beaten down. I won’t be defeated.


God’s thick finger whacks me, and whacks me, and whacks me, pushing me around like a helpless puppet. He is a merciless drill sergeant barking in my ear: “Idle hands are the work of the Devil!”


The bastard is doing this to make me strong. I’ll show him. I march toward the construction site, looking for the foreman.


Rolling up my sleeves, I demand, “Give me a job, your hardest job. I’ll slave and sweat harder than a thousand men. Give me a job. I won’t take no for an answer. Give me back my life!”


I hear a meow. I turn and see my black cat, Tarim. An iridescent shaft of light pierces my soul. She is in a panic, running to me, coming to save me. She rubs against me hungry for affection, shaking with fear and terror.


“Come back,” she says. “Don’t leave me alone in that crazy house.”


She rubs and rubs against me until gradually I feel the numbness give way and slowly shanti shanti shanti hush hush shhh shhh, slowly, I feel human again.


I pick her up and hug her fiercely. I am a balloon flapping in the wind. She is my anchor. I can feel her heart beating as I turn and walk back home. She’s holding on to me and won’t let me go.