Yeah. There’s gonna be a lot of mental health poetry in the next few months. Don’t say I didn’t give you plenty of warning.
Today, I’m presenting something special as part of Time to Talk Day.
Twenty pieces of audio were recorded, all of which have been linked to the image above to create an audio representation of my mental health journey. You can find all of these on a special page created especially for the day:
It’s been a fascinating experience recording this work, and has made me think I should be doing this again not just with audio, but video too. Starting next week, therefore, I’ll be picking the best of my own work that’s not gone off to a contest or a submission to use as the next stage of my Virtual Chapbook. I hope you enjoy all the pieces and would love to hear any feedback you have on the works themselves.
Don’t forget that you can still order these poems by clicking here.
It’s the UK’s @TimetoChange ‘Time to Talk’ Day in [FX: checks calendar] nine days and as this will be the last time that this event takes place under the auspice of the organization (who will cease to exist in March) it seems only right and proper to do something special. Therefore, I’ve decided to take my mental health journey, which is recorded in CURT; URBANE [click here for a link to purchase] and effectively present a virtual reading.
All 20 poems will be available here EXCLUSIVELY on Time to Talk Day, on a dedicated webpage. I’ll be sharing eight of those between 9am and 5pm on the 4th via my Twitter account too, with some extra bits and bobs along the way, and hope you’ll take a listen. In the end, all of this is about starting conversations, however small, about the things that worry or concern us. Talking about how you feel doesn’t just allow you the chance to explain what’s wrong, it can also help others understand and suggest where you can find help and support.
Time to Talk may be going away, but I fully intend to keep writing poetry about my mental health, and promoting conversations around it. I qualified as a Mental health First Aider late last year, and it’s only the start of a long-term commitment to help other people who might be struggling during the pandemic, and long after we’re back to whatever ‘normal’ ends up being. Poetry is a how I learnt to express feelings that previously I could not actually discuss, and my chapbook is an important metaphor in my continuing journey to enlightenment.
I hope you enjoy what I’ve made, and that you can take the time to listen to the poems when they appear next Thursday. Thank you for your support 😀
As I’m typing this, my chapbooks are in the final stages of printing. I’ve ordered some special sparkly pens to do signing in. There are postage materials standing by. Basically, I’m ready to roll, and there are pre-orders standing by. That’s the most surprising thing of all. People are willing to buy this unseen, which is all I’ve ever really wanted as a writer. The goal of my work in print was achieved this year, and this is the logical progression.
I’m also calling time on trying to sort out the issues I have with WordPress and getting paywalled content properly operational. As a result, next month will be organising a lot of backlog and finally taking December off. That’s the plan I’m working towards, because the last time I went away was a weekend at the start of the year which, quite frankly, seems like several lifetimes ago. Therefore, we’ll take the end of 2020 as a ‘relax, regroup and refocus’ exercise, because I’m planning to do RED January and that’s gonna be a hard ask.
I couldn’t be happier however, as video poetry is going great guns. I’ve had nearly 100 views on YouTube, only half of which are me. This is the surprise gift that keeps on giving, and this week I’m going to start the video blogging that was promised back in March. There’s a script already written, and as the UK goes into Lockdown (again) this week, I am ready to do my work with considerably more enthusiasm and belief than was the case back in March.
This time, I am ready.
This afternoon, I’ll be working on a project that is my contribution to a far larger whole: part of a set of interviews for a World Mental Health Day extravaganza being put together for the 10th of October. I already have one interview done, and that’s in the process of being edited. Once the rest of the preparation is complete I look forward to seeing the final, finished product play out. This is part of my push to be more interactive as a Mental health Champion, and to find a use for my unique skill set within the organization.
I also have a poem that I’d like to read, with a very particular video accompaniment. There is a bit of spare time left over with everything else being organised in order to record this, and the plan going forward is to present all of this to be used in the day as the organizers see fit. As the entirety of the event will be playing out virtually, producing all this feels really rather satisfying.
During the day I’ll share my videos with you, and the processes that went into making them. I’ll also have some poetry to share, and maybe some other stuff too. It will entirely depend on the timeline for other things. I’ve left enough space between now and the start of October to get everything edited to my satisfaction, with (hopefully) a level of professionalism. It’s a big step forward to me, and I hope everyone enjoys what it is I’ve produced.
More news as we get closer to the day.
As if there was not enough to be doing in June, I’ve taken an extra fortnightly task onto the list: Time to Change’s Story Camp. Running this week until the end of August, I’ll get a new prompt every other Monday. It encourages us to ‘tell our story’ about mental health and, in this case, I’ve decided that response will come via poetry. I’d not expected to have an automatic, almost visceral response to the initial prompt either, but it happened. This was written late Monday night and posted on Wednesday, and might be one of the best things I’ve produced for some time.
In the chaos of this week, to use my voice when so many others are being silenced seems… wrong. It really does. I appreciate that these events are arranged in advance, with no idea of the potential chaos that may unfold around us. That response needed to be the point of the poem: my own experiences at this point should absolutely not be taking centre stage. In two weeks, the world could well be in a completely different place, but for now personal history needs to mark this moment with significance.
Having someone else provide the prompts however is, undoubtedly, a bonus. Not having to think of directions or ideas, having an opportunity just to create has been what this week has been all about, and writing here after a week of doing just that? It is incredibly satisfying. Therefore, when all these are done, we’ll collate them together as a testament to how the Summer played out from my distinct and unique mental health standpoint.
You’ll see that poetic graphic a few times therefore in the next ten days: I’ll post it, optimising exposure times, just to prove I have learnt a few things about how Twitter has worked over the years. Now that’s done, it’s time to go sort out the Drabbles for next week, swiftly followed by the inaugural YouTube video … now, about that…
I should have written this on Friday, but in reality it’s Sunday. The last three days, I’ll be honest, have been a bit of a blur: we’ve had a vomiting bug go around the family, which is a salutary reminder that maybe personal hygiene needs a bit of work. As the day draws to an end everything is almost back to the way it was: except, as the dust settles, I’m aware of a key difference between the person that started the weekend and the one who now finishes it here.
There’s been a lot of anger to deal with because of COVID. I try not to talk about it too much in any of my spaces except personal Twitter, where people know and understand me enough to grasp that however much you try and be kind, there are days when everything just goes Pete Tong. I also get hauled up a fair bit when I refer to people as ‘stupid’ in how they react: mostly people who should really know better. I can’t be mean like that. It’s not fair.
Today, the relevance of those comments has come home to roost.
Everybody has a Nemesis. It’s how 007 got reinvented, the basis of a billion badly-planned Fanfics and kept Dr Who’s current season absolutely stonking. In my case, that evil is ignorance. Read the instructions: do the work, put in the hours, make the effort. It’s easy to just do, but thinking is hard, painful and ultimately redemptive. For an awfully long time I never took my own advice either, but fortunately I got over myself eventually.
Calling people stupid as an insult however is going to have to change. A memory surfaced this weekend, as I was on my hands and knees clearing up after a particularly effulgent round of sickness. Trauma flashbacks, each time they take place, are easier to cope with but this one wasn’t. This one still sits in my brain, right now, making me upset as I type this. You used to be called stupid as an insult.
You had no way of replying coherently when it happened.
Next week, therefore, there will need to be some mental rearrangement. The government can become incompetent. People breaking lockdown and thinking only about themselves can be selfish. I’m not going back to delete those posts because honestly, a lot of white people are genuinely not covering themselves in glory right now, and my opinion on them isn’t going to alter that one iota.
However, the training is beginning to kick in. My counselling has taken a year to really take, but now the changes are indisputable. I need to be more kind: to myself, mostly, and then to everybody else without thinking. However, the latter won’t ever be a given until the former is properly taken care of. That meant writing this before anything else happened. It’s a public acknowledgement of progress.
Nobody’s perfect, me more than most. However, it’s improving.
Every step forward is progress.
Really, this shouldn’t be being written, I should be getting ready to go away for some much-needed time off, except this week’s thrown up a lot of moments where my plans going forward have altered in both scope and significance. As a result, there is something that needs to be said before I go away: belief in yourself is, undoubtedly a part of the deal with ambition that never gets talked about enough.
I mentioned on Wednesday that I had an evening class/workshop that was being looked forward to, and it transpires that there was a lot more to the evening than I had initially envisioned. It was so successful, in fact, that if the organisation answers my email because I can’t find a link on their website, a monthly amount will be thrown down to go do more interesting things on Wednesday evenings in the future.
You have to be careful when people are being paid to be nice to you, of course, that their affirmations and responses can be somewhat tainted by the fact that if they’re honest with you, that might not be the answer that you want to hear. Wednesday night, undoubtedly, can be seen in two distinct lights. It was in parts an enormous ego boost. In other parts it was a testament to how far I’ve come as a person.
Somewhere in the middle was a set of writing exercises, the opportunity to just think about writing and not worry about chores or demands from others. That was perhaps the most important thing of all, at the end of the day. Whatever else may emerge from the experience, I held my own with a group of people whose only experience of me was that session. I didn’t fuck anything up. That’s a massive bonus.
The truth of the evening’s success therefore can be distilled from these parts.
It is a foolish woman who does not learn from everything that is thrown at her. Sometimes, undoubtedly, that takes some time to either register or absorb, but in the end being critical of your own actions is one of the most important life skills that can ever be learnt. Better is the state we all should be striving for regardless of whatever anybody else says needs to be done. Being successful does not mean you can be selfish.
The arrogance I see from those who clearly feel that success has granted them some kind of absolution from improvement is the most difficult part of a life online. How I’m choosing to deal with that is twofold: life the best life possible, whilst simultaneously maintaining healthy levels of cynicism and realism. It all works fine if internal balance is maintained, and that’s the plan moving forward.
Any true path to enlightenment, let’s face facts, is never going to be an easy one.
I finished the last portion of my formal Mental Health Champion training at the end of January, but all of that ended up being overshadowed by RED January Fundraising for Mind. At the end of the month, exhaustion was real. It’s taken a week to get everything back to something approaching normal: during that time it became apparent that this year, I wasn’t really comfortable contributing publicly to Time to Talk Day.
That came as more relief than surprise, if truth be told.
The last couple of years this date in February has been marked by me trying to be honest about my own mental health journey. Last year however, a lot of the perceptions that personally existed around those feelings was quite significantly altered by counselling. It’s taken this long to really begin the process of unpacking all of the baggage that’s been trailing behind me, in some cases for my entire adult life.
I’d even planned to try and get out to support an actual, real-world event this week, but when it came down to the day something else came up. It too was mental health related, and I made a decision: this was the moment to do my talking elsewhere and not online. It’s a measure of how faith in my own ability has improved in the last twelve months that this was automatically the place that it made more sense to be.
It’s also cemented my desire to become a Mental Health First Aider.
The course is not cheap and I suspect it will take me time to save, then it’s about finding the right time and location in which to take part. However, as I got so much from the MHF’s Mindfulness course when I first took it (you’ll find the details here) that it seems the logical extension from that initial process to pursue. It’s also a decent bet that my lived experience of mental health issues will become useful in training.
However, as a result of this revelation I have provided information to Mind which means that, at some point in the future, I may be called upon for interviews with the media. This might seem odd considering what has just taken place, but there is method in the madness. I am happy being interviewed, and a fair amount of front-facing public work will be taking place via the reading of poetry.
If I can read poetry to an audience, I can talk about mental health to others.
The difference, I now realise, about contributing this year was literal exhaustion. I need to be both physically and mentally awake to do the job justice. Yet again, all of this is a bigger process, learning and expanding my remits across multiple spheres. As confidence and ability increase, so does the capacity to do good and help wherever the need arises. I like this new me, so much better than the person I was before.
There is new purpose I fully intend to learn from going forward.
This month will be remembered for many things, but particularly because after a number of false starts, I’m running. There will be those of you who undoubtedly will scoff at such a pronouncement, but it is completely serious. Never been able to do it properly, or indeed for very long. Sixteen minutes on a Sunday lunchtime is, like it or not, the equivalent of Planet Sarah putting its first female astronaut into orbit.
This whole endeavour wasn’t just to highlight mental health, but to address issues with my own. Could I use the internal health wake up call from the end of last year (cut the fats, improve the iron content) and make a real difference to what is being done in the Gym and on virtual trainers? Right now, the prognosis is looking quite hopeful. I’m five pounds down in weight, biggest single fat loss drop for… well, about three years.
Yes, it does seem to be working.
This week is the third one of January so I get to start a lovely new row of crosses. There’s been a very judicious use of fitness apps to keep the cravings (and my calorie count) in check and the result is undoubtedly being more awake. It means that when a mental health wobble happens (which was the case last night) it was dealt with far more successfully than has ever really previously happened either. If running equates to space exploration, this change is better health and longer life for everyone.
I’ve tried very hard not to evangelise over these achievements, just put my head down and get the work done. Fundraising is not nearly as high as I’d hoped at this stage but we’ll push things into a higher gear next week. There’s still not as much outstanding stuff done either but you can’t have everything. There’ll be clear air soon enough, and as I’m definitely more alert now than I’ve been for months?
Everything will be done in good time.