World Mental Health Day
Evergrowing Poetry Collection
© mind.org.uk 2017
These voices are important, this issue is real. This collection of poems is necessary. Mental Health Week needs to last longer than a week. It is everyday living for so many people. I decided this collection will remain open for the duration of my Laureateship and will continue to expand.
For your poetry to be considered please email a previously unpublished poem to me at worcspl[at]gmail.com, submit work in the body of an email, max. 40 lines, single space, please refrain from using expletive language. The collection is updated every month. You will be notified with a link to the page if your submission has been successful.
Back in late September I put an open call for poetry submissions out across social media. I am grateful to all the poets for submitting their work.
Mental Health is an issue close to my heart, something I have battled myself. I know many creative people suffer mental health issues. The theme this year was Mental Health in the workplace and in my case this is where/how the slippery slope began. I have added a link to my own story as it involves POETRY in a major way. (Link to follow.)
There are an increasing number of poetry books available which deal with these issues and those you can read to help ease the strain of difficult times in your life. I have added links at the bottom of the post for websites of interest connected to these issues.
I hope you share this post across social media and take some solace in knowing – you are not alone. If you are lucky enough to be the 4 in 5 so far, (actually NHS figures now show 1 in 4 people suffer) – so if you are 3 in 4 so far – please share the post by way of raising awareness and hopefully we can work towards breaking stigmas & creating a more accepting world.
I hope the following words are shared widely.
Thank you to everyone who submitted.
Nina Lewis Worcestershire Poet Laureate.
I used to say ‘Stop the world, I wanna get off’
Now I’ve realised I’m the one who needs to stop
Stop filling every waking minute
Taking every silent space and putting something in it
Stop striving, trying so hard to be the best
When what my mind is crying out for is a rest
Remember kindness, peace and loving
Just breathe, and feel, and notice without judging
Because, as Shakespeare said those many years ago,
‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
I like to walk in rain, my body keeping my space
Pacing away from pain, each step into a new place.
I appear blurred in downfall, face obscured by my hood,
Almost deaf behind my wall, I’d vanish if I could.
Nothing’s expected of me, I fear no assessing look,
Without eye contact I’m free, off society’s hook.
Darkness intensifies my disguise,
Gloom is awaited,
Night welcome, no visible distinction,
I make no mark, for once I blend
Do I seek oblivion, or a place to heal and mend?
Immobile, I lay waste to days
Letting dust gather at my toes
Pins prickle sat-on hands
I wait, resenting daylight
Purpose passes by the window
Stillness stares back
From a crumpled pile on the sofa
Blanket-soft, nose cold
Standing to swallow cheap comfort
I face down the silent wall
Fruit furs and collapses
I like to watch it drip through basket holes
© Sallyanne Rock
Steven Thomas-Spires wrote his first book about his struggles with this illness and the reason for his writing journey to begin nearly two years ago, the poem was written whilst he was with a mood management group, they helped overcome the fear of not being good enough!
For all those with anxiety
of which there’s a vast variety
tough though it is on our sanity
the stress we can feel from society
our peers question our mentality
and sometimes question our insanity
when all we want is equality
from all corners of humanity
and when we seek help for our personality
we seek help in those from psychiatry.
© Steven Thomas-Spires
Trespassing the layers of your skin,
piercing your silence,
we are in dangerous territory,
monitored by wolves for all I know.
You are not obliged to share,
unravel, come apart.
You may choose the padlock and screens
or lay a cordon around your acres.
So I wait,
careful not to blow my cover,
a benign stalker.
like the all but hidden source of a river,
building from a trickle,
to a flow,
steady and p e r s i s t e n t.
Like water, it brings with it debris,
fauna, microscopic silt, that allowed to b u i l d
can do harm.
Then you STOP,
stem the flow, dry up,
as a lake in drought.
© Pat Edwards
watching her watching herself
as if seeing a stranger performing
her habits with hands dispossessed
senses dulled by unwittingly
donned ontological gloves
thinking thoughts of confusion
with pale milky eyes unaffectedly fixed
upon faces and forms once familiar
watching her watching herself
with a dour detachment
from time and from place
unaware of her beautiful currency
blank is the gaze
where the light used to be
what dim world does she see
where each task turns to puzzle
watching her watching herself
broken remnants of memory
sputter and spark in the mist
flash senseless of sequence
erratic of interval
now and then dim recognition
arranges a smile of subtle surprise
watching her watching herself
he hopes his old mind
is enough for the two of them
© Paul F. Lenzi 2017
Jackie was a walker,
on his own or with his pals,
he’d come home, rub his blisters
and re-shape his crumpled hat
groaning as he sat,
then stowed his boots, brushed and neat,
laid a table for one to eat.
One day, past the pylons, lagging behind the group
he came upon a thistled pasture with a wall of cows
blocking his path like a picket;
they stood, ignoring his waving arms,
impassive as the moor,
a head swung uncomfortably close
and breathed a heavy vapour of cud and drool,
he saw the caked, foreshortened legs
the tremble, to keep away the flies
the dark brown orbit of the eyes,
and was afraid…
…in the humid silence a lark sang,
the earth buckled as the cows rested their bulk,
as if settling in for the day.
Jackie stepped back, dropped his gaze
at the beauty of brute bones,
and knew he would give way.
He became diminished, hollowed out in the expanse of field
exposed by their primitive stare.
Jackie lost his nerve, marked time, made do, tugged at his hair.
So we find order
Our place in the line,
You go on I’ll skirt the fence, he said
I’ll wait; its fine.
Jackie just needed someone to take his hand,
to steer him safe across this stretch of land.
© Brian Comber
S.O.S. [Stressed Out Student!]
I know that all human beings have rights,
Including the gaining of knowledge,
And when I’m thirsty for knowledge,
Here is a place to gain it.
I am here to learn,
Then apply that learning
To discover and develop
Beauty in my life
But why do you need to judge me
According to exam results?
Must everything be given a score?
Is there no other way
To assess what I have learnt?
Life would be wonderful
Without continual exams,
Without always being questioned
Whether I really understand…
Yes, I understand!
But do you understand
How disappointed I am
That you judge me wrongly?
Do you understand that exam results
Don’t really show all that I understand,
All the knowledge that I have gained
And use every day in my life?
Please! Stop quizzing me,
And start investigating ways
That I can apply knowledge!
Please! Sit here with me,
See the beauty of life without exams,
Pleasure that can’t be measured!
The following submission was from Paul Scully-Sloan (Director) of the DWA Charity. This poem was written by one of the support workers who manages the poetry community page. (Scott MCCluskey).
Scott wrote these poems after being inspired by some of the stories shared by our child loss dads.
MENTAL HEALTH DRIVES YOU INSANE
MAKES YOU FEEL WORTHLESS AND ATTACKS YOUR BRAIN
MAKES YOU ACT WEIRD AND CRAZY TOO
SOMETIMES I WILL BE TALKING TO A SHOE
SOMETIMES I’M SHOUTING AND NOBODY IS
THERE AND IT LOOKS LIKE I’M SCREAMING INTO MID AIR
FOR I HEAR VOICES INSIDE MY HEAD THAT MAKE ME THINK I’M BETTER OFF DEAD
I TAKE SOME PILLS AND SWALLOW THEM DOWN
THEN GO AND GET CHANGED OUT OF MY GOWN
I THEN LIE IN THE BATH HOPING TO DROWN
I CLOSE MY EYES AND GO TO SLEEP
SLIDE UNDERNEATH THE WATER DEEP
MY BREATH STARTS FADING I START TO FIGHT
IT WAS THEN I NOTICED THE BIG BRIGHT LIGHT
MY LIFE HAD GONE MY SPIRIT WAS LEAVING
MY MOTHER HAD FOUND ME AND NOW SHE WAS GRIEVING
MY SPIRIT WAS TRAVELLING TO THE MAN IN THE SKY
WHO GIVE ME MY WINGS AND TOLD ME TO FLY
I HAD BECOME AN ANGEL AND GIVEN A JOB
MY AIM WAS TO STOP MAKING YOU SOB
FOR I’M AROUND YOU EVERYDAY
AND I CAN HEAR ALL YOU SAY
IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT I’M NOT AROUND
IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT THAT I WAS FOUND
FOR WHAT I DID WAS TOTALLY WRONG
I WAS ONLY LISTENING TO A SONG
THE VOICES APPEARED AND TOOK OVER
AND IT WAS THEN MY LIFE WAS OVER
I TRIED HARD TO FIGHT THEM OFF
BUT WHEN NOBODY BELIEVED ME
I FOUND IT TOUGH
I SOUGHT HELP AND SOUGHT IT HARD
BUT MY DOCTOR WAS A RETARD
HE SAID MY ILLNESS DIDN’T EXIST
AS FAR AS HE WAS CONCERNED
IT WAS ALL A MYTH
HE COULD SEE IN MY EYES THAT I WAS SCARED
BUT SAID MY STORY WAS QUITE ABSURD
BUT HE DIDN’T BELIEVE THE WAY I WAS FEELING
HAD TO PEEL ME FROM THE CEILING
FOR MY ILLNESS COULDN’T BE SEEN
MY MIND WAS PLAYING GAMES AND BEING MEAN
HE GAVE NO HELP OR PROPER ADVICE
HE JUST LEFT ME TO GET ON WITH LIFE
WELL TODAY WAS THE DAY THE DEMONS WON
AND ALL I CAN SAY IS I’M SORRY MUM
© BY SCOTT MCCLUSKEY-Daddys with Angels
There are days when there shouldn’t be
when you can’t breathe
and want to steal everyone’s colour
Then there are days
when the waters are glass-like
and the shells are singing
And then there are days like today
when you have to cover your mouth
to stop yourself bursting
press the sky to your skin
© J V Birch
Let’s write a poem about “Mental Health”,
So fashionable these days;
Unless, like me, you feel stuck in S***,
And are seeing no way out of it,
Since support has been slashed
Bit by bit by bit,
Till you’re feeling too crazed to enjoy this craze
For writing poems about “Mental Health”.
© Andrew Green
You wouldn’t get out of bed today. No reason.
Your chart tells all.
They spy on you while you sleep, logging every movement;
There is no privacy.
Sometimes you speak, breaking into their
Well practised routine of sympathetic speech,
Whilst revelling in imagined irritation written on faces.
Why should you care?
They are nothing to you. You are nothing to them.
So why speak?
They hear but they don’t listen.
There is no-one left to listen.
Fingers that once danced between ebony and ivory
Now fidget and twitch to their own tune.
Blind eyes pierce the gloom looking for loved ones,
Familiar places, but only see shadows, so drift gently shut.
Suddenly, the room is full;
Mother, brothers, wife and lover, son and daughter.
All gathered in the oneness that is family.
Laughter echoes around they walls
As the strains of an Irish jig fight for supremacy
Over the rising tide of long extinguished chatter.
No reason to get out of bed today.
© Maggie Doyle
Excuse For Not Calling
Don’t let me dull you with that mental health talk
like over-chewed Wrigleys. You won’t want
what comes from my mouth. Soo sorry. A burden
already, to have mentioned months like pooled
fat—some knee-jerk deflation—a rough seam
at my neckline, insisting it be stitched (as if).
I’d dial about my personal absorption
but you’d introduce topics—mention some novel,
or Mike’s referral. You’d ring me like flannel.
My sauciest perusal puckers into a poked
snail. This pain becomes a pop loop. Catchy
as hangnails; tongued, like a broken tooth.
Guilty, I’ve gummed you to a shelf, but I know you
would only say, it is no use beating up yourself.
© Gram Joel Davies
© Sue Thompson
Everything’s going to be OK
Sometimes the morning,
that yesterday seemed so
inviting, is now a cheap trick.
Nothing feels worth it –
especially you. The time
you have to luxuriate in bed
turns into acres of drag,
of plans not worth s***.
The carpet is laughing at you
the cat, a constant nag.
The sun is a curse and you cling
to the thought of a bright bird moment,
its beady side-glance that jerks you
back to the beauty of song.
Not today. No matter how many times
you repeat your positive mantra,
this morning has stolen your volta.
© Rachael Clyne
Written in a Swindon Poetry Festival workshop with Jacqueline Saphra.
Thirteen Ways to View Depression
(after Wallace Stevens)
1 We all know that depression is a lifestyle choice.
People with depression can snap out of it if they choose.
2 Depression is as deep as the deepest lake.
It ebbs and flows like an unruly sea.
3 Time moves erratically for the depressed mind.
An hour can pass in a minute, a day can seem like a year.
4 He gave her some roses to lift her depression.
But they were the wrong colour.
5 He hasn’t washed for a week but the smell is
hidden in the fog of his mind.
6 The TV is on all day but she can’t tell you
what she’s seen or heard.
7 Sleep is like a warm blanket which I embrace for hours each day,
but it deserts me every night.
8 Depression relieves me of all responsibilities.
Others can deal with life as they can fly while I barely tread water.
9 The sun is too bright, the rain too loud, the clouds too black
– so she closes the curtains.
10 Depression is as devoid of song
as a rock is devoid of a tune.
11 Living with someone who is depressed
is like living with a cold stranger.
12 The tears of the depressed
flow like a burst water main.
13 When the depression lifts it’s like seeing the world
in colour for the first time,
sounds are sweeter
and life tastes tangible again.
© Liz Mills
Cosy on the duvet we lie together
watching the sun mark time on the wall.
His head on one side and tongue
lolling in laughter
he gazes at me through soft brown eyes
and reminds me of my worthlessness.
Ever the attention seeker he lifts his paw
and, scratching my arm, seduces me
with the joys of self-harm.
A connoisseur of filth he rejoices
as I eat from plates encrusted with the
detritus of long past meals.
Snapping at my heels he pens me
so I am his.
He bites and with slathering tongue
consumes the marrow of my self-esteem.
I hide him behind a mask of bonhomie
as he gnaws at the bone of my brain.
He doesn’t live with me now.
Then, when I least expect it,
he comes to visit.
© John Mills
Mental Health Animals
Between us your depression and my anxiety;
such slippery things to articulate – yet I try.
You, a creature sat curled into himself, naked,
muscled, not a weak man but a hare-man.
Arms folded, long ears and face drooped:
blocking out everyone, but especially
me – a woman whose anxiety is a white horse,
pale in a dark green field. It is a pastel soft
night, I am wearing a cherry-red dress, bare
footed – my uneasy horse is outside myself,
body trembling as there are no stars visible.
The heart cries: where are the Plough
and the Pleiades? I hold her muzzle close
to my cheek to calm her – don’t pant so,
don’t pant my dear one. Your hare doesn’t
notice my withers flickering or hear
my breath come like gasps of steam
in the cold, dark air that surrounds us both.
© Ruth Stacey
Enumerate to me why you are big, bad, & evil –
it’s winter, & you feel warm.
Steaming up the spectacles of those I love,
they see me more favourably.
I too long for that crystalline perspective,
so I shall drag my icy index finger against the glass,
sloping pre-emptive cursive condensation apologies
for what I am about to imbibe.
Here comes something interesting,
Very delicately around the bend,
avoiding the midnight clinking of bottles
expertly paired with clandestine cigarettes in the garden;
this is where I retrace my steps.
Even in this new nation of no snow,
I can find the scent, & drag myself back
to the moments of peninsular oblivion,
taking them for one last dance.
This is the great big white elephant exchange in the sky.
I have brought & given away a truly unique gift;
trading myself in for the kaleidoscope
of dimpled green glass, I become as empty
as the bottles I have secretly drained
& collected beneath my bed
through darkly “ary” suffixed days. January. February.
(This has become serious; this is now May.)
Bliss. Once again, at last, I am cavernous enough
to cannon words & cadence rapidly within myself
(I will catch the words on the silvered threads of my page)
& for a very few hours – One night only! I promise –
they will sing louder than my plebeian thoughts,
& achieve quickening over mere mortal compulsions –
Before my blood thickens again in the sunrise
& I must stew through the bland week ahead.
© Keleigh Wolf
My fear is oppressive:
Oppressively hanging over my head
Like Damocles’ sword
My fear is waiting:
Waiting for the bubble to burst
For my world to fall again!
My fear is belief:
Belief that I don’t deserve happiness.
Knowing bad times always follow good.
My fear is memories:
Memories that haunt my mind
The past pain preparing me for the future.
My fear is love:
Love that has eluded me
I have freely given but have never received.
My fear is life
Life that I have lived
That each day I must endure
My fear is death
Death that comes to us all,
Will it come naturally or by my own hand?
My fear is driven by autism
Autistically feeling like an alien
In this foreign land.
© Lawrence Sharkey
And finally, I wouldn’t be doing my Laureate job if I didn’t write a poem for WMHD.
The words trapped
at the back of my mouth
button themselves up
in Emperor’s new clothes
self-scathing they blacken
tear at the edges of sound
The doctor prescribes.
disappear inside myself
The sense of touch evaporates
world not felt
escape route one,
the unconscious mind.
Pain a voided transaction
The medication became me
I lay down and let life live
this was my dark secret.
This mind filled with blind
© Nina Lewis
During my Mental Health research I also came across the artwork of Sow Ay. The following images speak to me as loudly as the selected poems. They have appeared in newspapers including The Independent.
© Sow Ay