Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Chapter and Verse: A Few Thoughts on Poetry, Creativity, and Mental Health

I met up recently with fellow blogger Aimee Wilson and we got talking about poetry and mental health. She showed me the blackout poem she’d created at a writing class run by Northumberland Council.

Watch it
permission
rather
I would
demanded
tolerance was not to be tested
increasingly restricted
reality reliving   particularly happy distracting
not dared to return
approved of
given up hope

Poetry is a new avenue for Aimee but she writes prolifically for her blog I’m NOT Disordered. As she says, “I find writing so beneficial for my mental health.”

We agreed there can be a close relationship between mental health and creativity. I shared with her how Fran had never written or been interested in poetry until she met me in May 2011. At the time, she was highly manic. Our early emails and online chat conversations were full of wordplay and had a free-flowing stream of consciousness quality that I found intoxicating. Sparked by that, and my own poetry which I shared with her, Fran began to write.

She wrote prolifically. Her poems were long; sometimes rambling, often brilliant. She wrote blisteringly of her experiences as a woman living with serious mental and physical illness in a small island community that did not understand her or what she was going through. She posted most of her work on social media. She held a live book reading and went on the radio. We talked of finding her a publisher.

Fran’s mania was eventually reined in by a change of medication, precipitating a winter of crippling depression and suicidality. Her creativity ceased as suddenly as if a switch had been thrown. It took months but eventually she began to re-emerge. The following description is from our book High Tide, Low Tide.

The wild, personal, and passionate poetry which flowed during Fran’s major episode of mania ceased when she fell into depression. Her creative voice was silenced for months. When it returned it was completely transformed. The haiku forms that emerged as she began to climb out from depression were more than descriptions of the island scenery around her. They were Fran’s attempt to find a reason to go on living.

boat on the water
slicing the calm
foaming leftovers..

quiet day
loud heart
stillness..

high tide
low tide
edgeness..

what else is there to do but live life..

These poems were written on Centennial Beach, a short walk from where Fran lived at the time. She would return home, show me her latest poems, and then share them on her social media page. It was her way of reaching outward again. As she said later, “I was trying to save my life, to get out of the house onto Centennial and wait for the haikus to come. That was all I had.”

As her mood stabilised Fran found less of an impulse to write poetry and it’s been a long time since she did so. This saddens me because I loved the insight and wisdom her poems expressed, but they are red flags for mania and her health is more important to me than poetry.

Aimee’s principal diagnosis is borderline personality disorder (BPD) but she could relate Fran’s story to her own mood instability. We agreed it will be interesting to see if she adds poetry to her options for self-expression and self-care.

I don’t have a mental health diagnosis but my writing interests and outputs have changed a lot over the years. A collection of my poetry was published in 2008, but I stopped writing poetry much earlier at the age of twenty-three. Since then I have written only two poems. Ironically, the first arose in response to a period of writer’s block. The second was inspired — triggered, really — by attending my mother’s funeral in 2018.

Wandering
Wondering

How do I feel
What do I feel

Release
Relief

Re birth

Stillness
Silence

Un known
Un homed

Un tethered

Still
Calm

Centred (thank you

— Liverpool, March 26, 2018

Between 2001 and 2005 I wrote articles and short stories in the fantasy genre for Reunion: The Alternative Tolkien Society. Most are still available on the society’s website. In recent years my work has been in the mental health arena; our two books High Tide, Low Tide and No One Is Too Far Away, and our blog.

Do you write poetry or prose, or do you have a different creative outlet? Has your creativity changed over time? Does it follows your moods or aspects of your mental health? We’d love to hear your experiences.

 

No comments:

Post a comment