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Freelance Reflections #15

It’s been over a year since I wrote a freelance reflection, and my 3 year anniversary of being self-employed passed by just recently. Although the current pandemic impacted my work, and meant I had to sadly cancel planned and potential tour dates for my book ‘Circles’, published by Burning Eye Books at the end of 2019, I am now back to my usual work.

I spend mainly my mornings content writing, and my afternoons tutoring. There’s not as much time for creativity as I would like, but I love being freelance and I’ve now moved out of my parental home for the third (and hopefully final) time, living with a friend in South East London. I’d moved to SW around the age of 4/5, so prior to that I had lived around Herne Hill and Norwood, so I feel very at home now, more than I did before.

Part of why I love being freelance is being able to create balance in my life, in a way that isn’t always possible being employed (though it should be, and I think this pandemic has shown how flexible the workplace can truly be). I wake up between 7:30-8am, and after listening to a guided meditation in bed, I’ve started doing my Spanish apps for 15 minutes whilst having breakfast. I digest my food whilst writing my journal, then do some exercise. This has been at home (dancing, hula hooping, skipping, lifting dumbbells, and Nike Training) or outside (jogging, skateboarding, rollerblading), but I’m thinking of joining a gym. After 2-3 hours of content writing, I have lunch and then I have some time for other activities like submitting poems, and studying Spanish. I come home from tutoring between 6:30-7:30pm, depending on the day.

After making my feedback notes, I have dinner and try to spend the evening doing less work-focussed activities. I’ll mess around on my phone, probably a bit too much, watch some sort of programme, and then ideally have some time to do some varied activity, which could include listening to a podcast or music, drawing or colouring in, playing games, chatting, or writing. I also love baths, which I like to have before watching a programme, so this free hour sometimes (often) goes out the window, and then ideally I would read for an hour. I do tend to self-sabotage in the evenings, rebelling against my own structure of the day, and some evenings I’ll go out and do none of these things I plan, but I know when I do follow the structure roughly, it can be really fulfilling.

During the last few months, I’ve been doing some Instagram shows, including with She Grrrowls, my own channel and a couple of other online shows, including Spork, which can be listened to on Spotify, and The Word Bin, where I just talk about why I would bin the word “needy”. I was also commissioned to write a poem about small acts of rebellion during the current pandemic and lockdown, as part of the Royal Museums Greenwich’s Museum From Home series.

I had the urge to look back at my last 5 year plan from 2017 and made a new one. I find it interesting how overly-ambitious I have been, and I’m not sure if I’ve done the same with this new one, but it’s funny to think I had put ‘think about children’ in 2021, and now in 2020, I’ve changed this to ‘freeze eggs’, which I really hope I can do through the donor scheme as I have donated eggs three times now, so this would be my last chance. I’ve included career goals alongside personal goals like this, and imagining I may be able to save for a deposit on a place by the age of 36, and think about children around that time too. I have no idea what situation I’ll be in then, and though it’s a nice idea that I may have a partner to do these things with, in 2017 I had also hoped to move in with my then-partner, and I’m much happier now living with a friend, so there’s no saying that any of these things will make me happy, which really is the most important goal of all.

Is Poetry Therapy?

It was recently World Mental Health Day, and I wanted to start writing this blog again. I made a note in my calendar to try to do it weekly, but even then I’ve ended up pushing it back to three days later. It’s been over a year since I actually wrote a proper freelance reflection, so I guess things are going well in that respect, but for my next post, I hope to catch up with that.

So, the topic of this post was the question as to whether poetry is therapy. My short answer is no, but that’s not to say poetry and other forms of art can’t be used for therapeutic goals. Over a year ago now, I made a new friend through other friends and he challenged me to write something everyday, and he would do the same. He wasn’t a writer, but wanted to be more creative, and he told me in this time that it was something that really helped him. After a year, I had a lot more material that I would have had otherwise, and I think the process was therapeutic for both of us. 

Poetry is cathartic for me, and it is naturally how I process things. I aim to write my diary each morning, but it is writing poetry that gets to grips with certain issues, delving into them in a way my simple prose writing often doesn’t. Fellow writers may also have the same experiences, whereby the same themes will reemerge time and time again, haunting you, as if each time you return to it, you are attempting to exorcise it from you. There is something about getting it down on paper in a poetic form that allows you to distance yourself from it somehow, as you then try to craft it into art, and shape it into something that can then also connect with others and help them too.

Helping others is what motivated the artist Rich Simmons to create the project ‘Art Is The Cure’. He explains in the short film how art has helped him with autism and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. He talks about how visual art can help as a means of self-expression, and how it can be a positive release, even going as far as saving his life. Throughout the last few months, experiencing lockdown, I have also recounted how poetry has saved my life, in response to the way the arts are suffering and how they continue to be devalued. He talks about how other kinds of art can help us, and that it is really creativity as self-expression that is at the core of what is therapeutic in this sense. 

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This concept was also summed up in one of my favourite podcasts (before they moved from Spotify to Luminary, which isn’t available in the UK), ‘Guys We Fucked’ by ‘Sorry About Last Night’, made up of comedians Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson. They would repeat the phrase ‘comedy is therapy’. After Tweeting about a show I’d listened to that made me both laugh, cry, and heal, on a train, they repeated this phrase again when retweeting me. Likewise, Apples and Snakes shared poet Inua Ellams’ ‘Art as Therapy’, where he discusses the topics, stating: 

“Any seasoned poet will concur that more time is spent editing than writing. Involved in that process is the going-over of memories and instances, of emotions and images, the combing-through and the filing-down-to-their-smoothest-most-ergonomic-shapes our creations. It involves meditation, introspection and inspection. This for me is where poetry becomes therapeutic, when the created serves the creator, when the feather serves the bird.”

All of these points are true, but it was this Tweet from Burning Eye, which put the state of mental health in UK today into perspective: when it comes to talking about mental health, things are getting better, but when it comes to funding and enabling people to have access to therapy, we are a long way off.

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Poetry, art and any kind of creative self-expression is certainly therapeutic, but it is not in itself the same as therapy. CBT and mindfulness are also great tools to tackle mind anxiety and depression, but even with CBT, I would argue that it is pushed because it is often cheap. It is often delivered in groups, and can even be DIY, but it is not a miracle cure. Really, what is needed is a holistic approach, that gives value to both therapy and medication, which can often work best in tandem, rather than it being a case of one or the other (though I’d argue sometimes therapy alone could work, I’m skeptical about medication alone working, but that’s more to do with my view that everyone would benefit from therapy).

At the start of this year, I saw a psychologist who said I had traits of BPD; she phrased it ‘Emotional Intensity Disorder’, but this is just one of the many alternative names for Borderline Personality Disorder. I tend to use the term ‘BPD’ because it is more well-known, though I do feel that EID does capture a large part of the characteristics of my own experience. What others may deem to be “too sensitive” simply refers to my lived experience, and whilst there are negative points to feeling so intensely, I am thankful that at least these experiences of emotions has given me greater empathy and compassion for others.

Although I see it as a kind of neurodivergence, because of the fact, I often feel I really need the support of therapy, whether one-to-one, or a support group. Unfortunately, the support I was given previously was inadequate, essentially due to lack of funding and not being suicidal enough to get proper therapy (though ironically, that changed over the last few months, when it has been impossible to get anywhere). After moving, I found a support group that would have been free to attend, but I was in the wrong borough, and I haven’t had much luck finding anything beyond the £75-100 BPD therapy sessions. If there was a way to pay a fraction of the cost, and for the majority to be covered, it may be doable, but I’m not aware that this framework exists. Previously, I had paid for one-to-one counselling at a cheaper rate, but it didn’t meet my needs.

I know I need to do more self-help work as well, and part of me is using other (sometimes unhealthy) coping mechanisms rather than delve into the DBT book I have, for example, which is meant to be good for those with BPD. Aside from that, poetry, amongst other things, has saved my life, where the system has failed me, and so many others. The less fortunate are no longer with us.

Suicide rates are continuing to rise, and our mental health is bound to be the collateral damage of the current pandemic. Writing, drawing, walking, skateboarding, rollerblading, dancing, singing, cooking, playing games, and having a good support system have all helped me and continue to do so. But when things are okay, I still don’t feel I have the right tools to cope when triggered, where I might turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, whether manifesting as an “episode” of crying inconsolably, screaming in a rage, or self-harming (in its many forms). When these moments happen, I’m reminded that I do need help, but at other times when I reflect on my instability in relationships, it can dawn on me how much I need support in unlearning certain patterns (one of the biggest I think being related to elements of emotional abuse, whereby I have grown attached to receiving comfort after either being ignored or treated poorly emotionally in some way, meaning I am finding myself becoming attached to those who use such manipulation tactics or simply behave in an avoidant way due to their own attachment issues, for example).

Where the system does fail us, we have art to reflect our experiences when we consume it, and we have this fantastic ability to create, where talent and skill doesn’t have to matter, as it is something that everybody can do to feel good, whether it’s as a means of self-expression, an attempt to heal from pain, or simply to get a buzz from creating something from nothing.

If you want to know more about BPD disorder, I stumbled upon this video, which I’ve found accurately describes most of my experience. The fears of abandonment, interpersonal issues, and difficulties with regulating emotions are described here as the main characteristics. The only thing I would say, is that I have a strong sense of identity, though I can relate to the idea of having different personas within myself, but in a way that I feel is somewhat “normal”. I also feel like to say a reaction is “too much” is difficult to fully get to grips with, as it is in response to real emotions, and whilst I fully acknowledge I need to take responsibility for the ways I cope with these emotions, more often than not, a little empathy and compassion goes a long way too.

In the video, Dr Ramani also emphasises that diagnosis is a tool to drive treatment, rather than labelling someone, which is also a great point to remember.

If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website to find details of the nearest branch. I have also personally found CALM’s chat function helpful, because phone calls with strangers can also provoke anxiety.

2020 – Circles Tour

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05.02.20 – Tongue Punch

Tongue Punch, Tom Thumb Theatre, 2A Eastern Esplanade, CT9 2LB Cliftonville, Kent

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31.01.20 – 3Cs Open Mic

3Cs Open Mic – Burns Special at Corstorphine Community Centre, 191 St John’s Road, EH12 7SL Edinburgh

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15.01.20 – Find The Right Words

Find The Right Words, Leicester

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10.12.19 – Last Poet Standing

The Last Poet Standing at The Last Pub Standing, Norwich

07.11.19 – Burning Eye Presents

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The Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton St, London WC2H 9BX

Tickets: https://www.facebook.com/events/405137440204063/

01.11.19 – ‘Circles’ Book Launch

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Freelance Reflections #14

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Wow! It’s been over half a year since my last update! Time has gone unbelievably quickly. What have I been doing? Creatively, it’s been a time for things in the pipeline, so it seems like I haven’t done much, but it’s all been behind the scenes for the most part. I’m planning the next She Grrrowls tour and hoping to produce an audiobook of the anthology. She Grrrowls was featured in Time Out (see image above) and Eventbrite, which meant a couple of busy periods where I had to refuse people entry, which was really tricky to deal with, but much better than the opposite problem in South East London. The show was also a part of Attic Arts Club, which also presented a problem audience-wise, but the event had a great vibe anyway, it just sadly meant I lost a lot of money. The risks we take for art. I’ll also be going with my new co-host Ibizo Lami to Edinburgh Fringe, and it’ll be the third time She Grrrowls has been there and at 7-8pm at The Banshee Labyrinth’s Banqueting Hall from 3rd-16th August.

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A Lovely Word in Liverpool

Aside from She Grrrowls, I got to do my first proper headline feature outside of London… at A Lovely Word in Liverpool. I mean, I have performed at different festivals, and abroad in Spain, but this was the first time I was specifically asked to feature. You can listen to the podcast from the event here. I’ve also been writing an essay on spoken word and Feminism for an anthology due to be published in 2020. I’m going to be putting my own work out later this year, with the final event of the year due to be my book launch – watch this space! I haven’t had time to dedicate to my show idea, but I have been putting together a pamphlet for future submissions, which I finished but have been writing so much more that would go well in it that I will likely expand it and then reduce it again.

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A big thing that happened in my personal life: I turned 30. This meant that I went with my family on another expensive holiday as my mum also turned 50 (last year my cousin got married in Mexico). My mum has always wanted to go to Cuba, and it was great to read about it before going, and then whilst there I read some Cuban poetry in Spanish with English translation, a memoir called ‘Before Night Falls’ by Reinaldo Arenas, and ‘Generation Zero’, an anthology of short stories. On my actual birthday, I did a skydive for Mind, and at first it was terrifying and then it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I would love to do it again and again. As soon as I came down, I wanted to go back up.

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As well as mine and many of my friends’ 30th birthdays, so far this year has also seen the launch of two of my friends’ debut books. I supported Sophie Fenella at her launch for ‘The Rich Nothing’ published by Invisible Hand Press earlier in May, and just recently Tyrone Lewis published ‘Blackish’ with Burning Eye Books. I also wrote my first professional (i.e. paid) book review for DIVA, which should be out this month. The book is by Lucy Powrie, who is so young it makes me sick with jealousy haha, in the nicest possible way… I do run workshops for free at The Albany called ‘Don’t Get Bitter, Get Better’, for a reason.

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Sophie Fenella

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Other than getting on with my usual work, and having busy periods taking on additional work, I’ve also been continuing and starting up new hobbies. These include boxing, learning Spanish, and salsa dancing.

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I got my sixth tattoo this year too. Inspired by a person, a time, many people, many times. Forget-me-not. The past is behind me, but always alive in my memories, whether in pain or joy or in between. As poets, we mine our pasts, but also we must move forward. I also got a new undercut (which I am rubbish at maintaining), and I’m now so old that I forgot I actually had it twice before, and also think I’ve been asked for ID at least twice, not had it and ‘I’m 30’ has actually been good enough.

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