Freelance Reflections #16

So, I have intended to do weekly posts, but when it came to it, I didn’t know what to write about. I had a think earlier today about what I could share, and I realised that I just need to get into a better habit of making notes of what I could share, reflecting on the previous week. I think I sometimes build things up in my head to be bigger tasks than they need to be, so perhaps this habit will help me to be concise and share some of what I’ve been up to, as well as what others are up to.

For example, at the same time as celebrating Trump’s loss in the elections, I believe this is my first poem in a North American publication, in the first issue of nine cloud journal. As I was wary of submitting this piece, ‘Toy Truck’, written as stated after the shooting of Charles Kinsey on 18th July 2016, it was so insightful to see the commentary on the first page: ‘…it’s okay not to have all the answers and you’re kidding yourself if you think you do know the answers. We can merely ask relevant questions and sit with these unanswered questions for a time until we inhabit the interior world of that question and live its truthful response.’ (Vijay R. Nathan).

As I stated in my Instagram post, three years later in 2019: The officer who shot Kinsey, Jonathan Aledda, after being arrested in 2017 and charged with attempted manslaughter and negligence, was found guilty by a jury of culpable negligence. Although fired from the police force, he didn’t serve any prison time. Kinsey could have been killed, and the culprit was instead sentenced to probation and had to write a 2,500 word essay on policing, serving a total of less than 5 months of probation before being released. It won’t even appear on his criminal record.

Whilst looking through a backlog of emails, I came across Laurie Eaves’ post on the Burning Eye Books website, outlining ten tips for writing a collection. It was a great read, and I really recommend it for those who have yet to publish anything. Even though I’ve had a couple of books published, I’m currently working on my first full-length collection. Although I felt finished in some sense, I’ve still been producing work that fits well within my vision for the collection, and I don’t want to rush it, especially as I already have work out there, and other projects going on in the background. One thing I have been trying to do is look at my schedule and how I can make more time for my creative work whilst still keeping everything else afloat.

Although I am largely just trying to get on and ignore the news, I was pleased to have had a negative COVID-19 test, and this was thanks to me doing a ‘freeze and share’ egg collection, as it was necessary to have regular temperature checks and then a test (which I didn’t get the results for, but assuming the procedure went ahead, I assume it’s all good). I had actually had a little cold, which I was paranoid about, but blasted it with garlic, plenty of vegetables and hot honey and lemon drinks, and now I’m feeling better.

Initially, I didn’t think I was coping as well in ‘Lockdown 2.0’, but I think when you compare the fact that my work has increased, and it’s cold and dark, then I’m not doing too badly. I’ve had triggers when it comes to BPD, and within the recent week, I’ve become more accepting of losing certain friends, if only through an understanding that it’s their issues and not me. I’ve actually started the DBP skills workbook I have, and came up with a boss distraction plan. I thought I’d share it below, in case it works for anyone else. I tried to think of things I could realistically do when intense emotions are triggered, as well as some rooted in the five senses (smell, touch, taste, sound, sight).

A friend of mine who has suffered with depression and found living alone in the previous lockdown really tough also has been practising gratitude, which is always a useful trick. Sometimes I can just walk around my flat and feel a wave of joy, and I am so grateful for my living situation now, as even though it’s completely fine to be in your 30s and live with your parents, I realise how much I needed independence as an adult in this stage of my life, and I’m so grateful of my friend who I lived with at university to be reunited in this way once again. It wasn’t healthy for me to be stuck where I was, and feel so trapped, and essentially be trapping myself… when I could have this freedom and form better relationships with my parents as a result, rather than living as a teenager, running home for dinner from the park.

Looking to the week ahead, I’m also excited for The 10 Year Anniversary and 50th Event R.A.P. Party. It’s unfortunate that it’s online, but it also means so many people can bare witness to the incredible line-up. It’s happening this Thursday, and tickets are Pay What You Can, which I certainly appreciated just after my rent went out.  Inua Ellams and Theresa Lola are joined by Breis, Charlie Dark, Zena Edwards, Joshua Idehen, Jacob Sam-La Rose, Kae Tempest, Musa Okwonga, Nii Parkes, Gemma Weekes, and Polarbear. I plan to cook and eat in front of it, so I otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend due to my work schedule (although I live super close to The Albany now, woop!). There’s another silver lining to this surreal situation. And on a final note, I was really inspired and motivated by the four-part documentary ‘The Defiant Ones’, so check it out on Netflix.

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.