St David's Day
When you go to a spoken word event or poetry slam, the performers often give a bit of preamble before the main piece in which they tell us something about the experience which informed their writing.
I’ve been sitting on the poem below for a while, and now that I am ready to share it, I felt that the text required a complement. I hope it still reads well on its own, and I hope that the contextual info doesn’t deaden the poetry.
Earlier this year I found that I had sunk into a pretty low depression. For a long time it seemed as if I were swimming against the current of how I felt, pushing on and ignoring the growing unease beneath the surface of my work life and my relationships and my ability to cope. To be confronted with quiet or solitude, something which I used to enjoy seeking out, became a trigger for panic, and I seemed to fall apart if I had too long for my mind to wander.
The divide between the exterior I presented and my eroding inner life eventually led me to the realisation that I had slipped into depression. It wasn’t that I became depressed all of a sudden, but I could make sense of what I’d been feeling up to that point.
This poem, the first draft of which I wrote on St David’s Day 2018, is an articulation of the way that depression and anxiety seem to snatch away the structure of our experiences. The individual parts are still there, but it becomes difficult to feel coherent. We look to words to describe and order our lives, and the sentences help us to make a sensible picture of both our concrete world and inner realities. In the midst of depression, it can feel that the order and sense of experience has been replaced with emotional chaos and randomness.
If I were asked what I felt at the time, it was hard to say anything other that “empty” or “low”. It’s nearly impossible to describe what is going on because everything is mired in the messiness of despair. I think that’s what depression/anxiety is, in a way. It’s like a mind-blank in an interview, when the pressure’s on and your brain clocks off early, shortly followed by your ability to speak. It’s only after that we realise what the answer should have been.
When we struggle with our mental health, we easily lose sight of the fact that we won’t always feel this bad. No feelings last, the good or the bad, we end up believing that the low mood is an impenetrable fog that will never lift.
More often than not, the best thing to do is look after yourself day-to-day in the small, practical things, and wait out the storm. You will find the structure to make sentences. It will make sense again, it always does.
Not the words that lack,
It's the sentences that
I find wanting. Words
Float to the surface like
Possessions long lost
In a lake, or dead fish.
Words like empty or cold,
Pictures like dirty snow
Packed onto the pavement.
Or a sunburnt whiskered
Face on the high street,
The pupils of the eyes
Tight and shrunken with drink.
Traffic lights and street lamps
smudged through condensate
Bus windows. Images are
Everywhere. Twists of steam
Off the tea I've poured.
Frowning, wrapped-up wives
Who play melodeons and ask
For change. Hollow apartment,
Sunken sofa. Phone-glow on faces.
Pictures multiply. It's the sentences
I long for, to put back together
All these pieces which slip through
My fingers as fine dry sand,
Which I would press in my hands
To make stones again,
And hold firm.