I recently wrote my first blog for Time to Change Wales to coincide with my employer, Cardiff Metropolitan University, signing the TTCW pledge. As part of my commitment to ending stigma surrounding metal health, I wanted to walk the talk: yes, I wrote honestly about my experiences, but felt I needed to have conversations with people about mental health issues if I was to make a difference in my workplace. With this in mind, I decided to be more open with colleagues. During a casual chat with one colleague, I talked about my experience of having anxiety and mentioned how it felt. What she said surprised me. She said that it must be hard to feel an intense feeling of anxiety over long periods. This took me aback, as I suddenly realised – for probably the first time in my life - that not everyone has such intense feelings. With this in mind, how can people understand the lived experience of such mental health conditions if we are not talking about mental health? I thought I should write something about how anxiety feels.
Writing about these feelings was not forthcoming, and this was a bit frustrating. Then I remembered a (quite long) poem I wrote two years ago, where I reflected on the breakdown I talked about in my first blog. I thought I would share the poem here:
A shanty blues
Part 1 – The wind and waves
Wet wood creaks and groans.
Wet wood – rise and fall;
watered wood – rise and fall.
Waves create, then complete.
Perilously close to flint like outcrop.
The surf hits – soapy and soft –
against these jagged shards,
as vessel lists hither then tither.
Approaching calamitous outcrop;
the wind whips: hands grip.
Sail thunderously cracks.
Mast cracked; rudder snaps.
adrift, and at mercy to what is:
grey gruel soup and slate sky.
Part 2 – The sinking
Whip wind and wave fists.
Frigid cold; pins on skin.
struggle to keep above water;
mouth sea salt wet dry.
Sinking now, like a slow stone.
Slow. Slow. Sound is slow.
Light is slow to see
in this same sea, so deep.
Deeper still. Sinking slow, slow stone.
Undercurrents caress; enveloped by this same sea.
Sinking slow, like a stone. Slowly
from the wet fists of the waves
No more struggle deep in this same sea.
No sound. No light. No slow sound.
Dust cloud plume heralds
the drowny sleep on the sea bed
Part 3 – One thousand arms
Brilliant white, bright white light:
a beacon guiding to safe harbour;
polaris to navigate the expanse I fight.
One thousand eyes that gaze and spot,
in the vastness of the ocean,
in tumultuous wave fists, this faint dot.
One thousand arms to reach out:
slow stone sinks no more;
wet dry mouth, sea salt spat out.
One thousand hands that hold
frigid, shivering pin skinned hands;
providing warm refuge from cold.
A multitude of faces look down:
evaporate the death masks I wear
that weigh me down to my sleepy drown.
I hope this is of use and gives some insight into the experience of having a mental health condition. The last part of the poem – one thousand arms – is redemptive; I got through this difficult time by speaking with family and friends, and that helped. I would encourage others to do the same: if you are experiencing mental health problems, reach out to someone; if someone you know appears to be suffering, reach out towards them. Talk.