Greetings, dear readers. Today it is my pleasure to introduce, not one, but two amazing guests to my blog. In connection with the Waves To Light blog tour, next up is the talented MJ Holman.
Mental illness can begin quietly and be so faint that it barely makes a mark on one’s consciousness. There can be an imperceptible crawl towards a condition, and it may only be possible to identify the different symptoms, the behaviours in retrospect, after diagnosis.
The first behaviour came when I was six. I decided to stop eating. My poor parents and sister tried every method and subterfuge to get me to eat. This worked in my favour, for it was clearly an attention grabbing exercise to begin with and I won.
The next behaviour was not attending school. I would feign sickness or pretend to go, when really all I did was roam the streets alone. Eventually I was found out and I could have been saved from years of illness when my parents and the school decided to send me to a clinical psychologist. Unfortunately, attitudes to childhood depression were different then to what they are now, and all he did was try to establish whether I was an unruly idiot or not. He decided I was neither, I was just ‘difficult.’
Progressing through my teenage years, the illness tormented me like a constant hum. My mild anorexia turned into the opposite: binging, and the behaviours of apathy and social withdrawal increased to an extent where I was afraid to leave the house. At this time, I started to write about the symptoms in my journal and poetry began to form as a consequence. Now I had a record of sadness.
I left school with qualifications despite my frequent absence and wanted to go to university. My lack of self-esteem was so severe I could not fulfil my ambition and instead I drifted into work.
Work was a contradiction. I felt comfortable there, confident even, however the depression began to accelerate. While the illness got worse, the journals began to fill with writing. Some of the early poetry in The Sea of Conscience is from this period.
For some people, depression finally becomes unmanageable once it has reached the breakdown stage. After months of sickness and fighting it, I was descending the stairs at work, when I suddenly discovered I could no longer walk. I stopped still in the middle of the flight and had to crawl down the rest of the stairs. A few days later I could not go out without sobbing. My brain had said, ‘no more, get yourself to a doctor.’
My doctor diagnosed clinical depression and prescribed medication. As the months and years passed, still with repeated episodes of depression I also noticed something else. I had periods where I was incredibly happy, where I cried non-stop, not out of sadness, but out of joy. I was also impatient and thought the world turned too slow. In addition to this, I experienced phases of intense creativity where the poems and the prose flowed freely.
In 2013, after enduring these symptoms for two months, I went to my doctor and he initially diagnosed bipolar affective disorder. It was later officially diagnosed by a psychiatrist. My medication was changed and I was offered cognitive behavourial therapy.
With this history behind me I started to work on The Sea of Conscience, a volume of poems about depression, elation, and how we can cope through creativity and our passions. I asked Queen of Spades if she would contribute three poems, all of which blended well with my work. She later came to me to suggest a follow-up project, and agreeing it should be of equal parts and commitment, we started work on Waves to Light.
The two individual sections, All Shades of Black and Nuances of Color represent our experiences with mental illness, our approach to treatment, both our own and through our respective healthcare providers.
For me the emphasis in All Shades of Black was using language to illustrate the many layers (the shades) of symptoms and emotions, to build a description of feelings (whispering in my veins)
and to look to places where one might find solace and peace.