Time to Change

I’m writing this in support of the campaign to end mental health discrimination. To those who know me I may seem a calm, cheerful, and well-adjusted person, and I am, but that wasn’t always the case. Back in the late 1960s I had a debilitating physical condition which gave me severe anxiety attacks. That led to a bout of severe depression, or maybe I’m just assuming the connection – it was a long time ago. I couldn’t talk about it then, either to my family, my employer or my doctor. Few did talk about it in those days. It was a matter of shame, but more than that, the depression itself made me unwilling to communicate with anyone.

Somehow, and truthfully I can’t remember how, I came through that bout, which lasted about six months. I recovered, and it has never recurred. I was lucky. Since then, I’ve done things I would never have thought possible. I’ve come to believe that anyone can do anything, if they want to do it. But I’ve never forgotten what it was like to be in those dark depths. Later, after training, I became a workplace counsellor, and I did what I could to help workmates facing difficulties, including debt, bereavement, relationship problems and, of course, mental health issues. I think having been through it gave me insights and empathy.

After retirement, in my new career as a writer, I’ve worked in many mental health settings, from drop-in centres to a major national institution. I’ve seen people with many mental health problems, with learning difficulties, with anxiety and depression, with dementia, and with psychoses and personality disorders. I’ve explored ways in which I can encourage reading and writing poetry in these settings, because I believe that poetry is an act of communication. I don’t call it therapy, because I am not a qualified therapist. I only know that people can respond positively to poetry. Not always, not permanently, and sometimes in very challenging ways, but often enough for me to know it’s something which has the potential to enhance a person’s life.

About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Time to Change

  1. Jim Murdoch says:

    I’ve suffered from depression-with-a-capital-d since my late teens; I was first prescribed Librium when I was seventeen. Since then I’ve had four major depressive episodes which have usually ended in the loss of a job or wife or both. The last one was the real doozie although I did manage to hang onto the wife. Throughout my life I have to say I’ve found people very understanding when they hear you’re depressed. But there’s a huge gulf between being understanding and actually understanding. Even fellow depressives don’t always get what’s wrong with you because if you’ve met one depressive you’ve met one depressive; we’re not all the same. This was the problem I found with my last therapist. I got the feeling most of her patients were struggling with addictions or debt problems or marital difficulties and since I didn’t have any of these she couldn’t see why I was ill; I should count my lucky stars. So I left and learned to cope on my own. I’m better now than I was when I first started seeing her—my short-term memory was shot back then (I had to take notes to the doctor because I’d forget why I was there)—but I’m not the man I was ten years ago and after ten years of not being quite right I don’t expect to be ever again. So you cut your cloth and learn to work within your new limits.

    I have no doubts that poetry can be therapeutic, both writing and reading it. I wish I could write more because I inevitably feel better after writing but I’ve always resisted forcing the poetry. The right poem at the right time can be a life belt. I let one of my bosses read a poem when she was struggling with her feelings for some guy called Barry and that poem is now, and will forever remain in my head, “the Barry poem”. I had managed to put into words what she needed to hear. It’s lovely when a poem meets its ideal reader like that. What I’ve found is that often years go by before the poem appears. It was a year after my father’s death I wrote ‘A Drink up the Crow Road’ and even longer after my mother’s death I wrote ‘Making Do’. Nature needs to run its course. And that’s what I’ve found with depression; it exhausts itself given enough time.

    • Great blog post and excellent reply. Therapists don’t ‘get it’ when us depressed folk can articulate… being depressed does not always mean, and more often than not, doesn’t mean, being a zombie/stereotype of a depressed person. You both sound wonderfully well-adjusted, and *well*. In friendship… Kim

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s