Cold and black begin to crack
Like the shell of a hatching bird
Slowly from its dormant state
The gallant light is spurred
Urging night and moisture flight
To seek another land
Cautious warmth beams
While raising victorious hand
Glowing calls and silence falls
People stop to hear
Since Time is shifting seasons
There is nothing more to fear
Crowds run to have some fun
A momentary trance
They dress the way and slip away
To join in March sun dance
This was the poem that arrested the poet in me. As if a gentle stream that had flowed since my early youth, the poetry expressing deeper feelings trapped inside, suddenly came to a block. A dam of sorts. This arresting poem was written during my first experience with mania. Looking back now, it was a break through. The layers of inner pain and turmoil that I had fastened below were making their way to expression. This would be the beginning of a twenty-year-long process of breaking down and breaking through.
This poem seemed to have a different voice, as spoken through the mania. I deeply understood it at that time. I had written it. But when I shared it with my closest friends, I began to realize that it was a language they did not understand. This shocked me and as I was still so young and unprocessed, I thought that I was not a good writer and I had better stop. How powerful our own words can be.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 1999. Just starting a Secondary Education degree, I was not expecting the fallout that mental illness would bring. My family doctor prescribed Lithium, but as she handed me the papers, she thoughtfully informed me that medication did not have to be forever. A seed was planted.
I diligently and carefully progressed through the next years on Lithium. I avidly learned and gathered my resources. Deep down, I had a sense that I was not “ill” and that one day I would find a way to take care of myself without a need for medication. I took full advantage of what I needed at the time, and have been tremendously helped by Lithium and some psychiatric assistance over the years.
For me, depression was not something that I experienced. Looking back, I did not allow myself to experience depression. I was in such denial and repression that I even had myself convinced that I was “just fine”. I lost a very special uncle to suicide in 2003, and this left me with the idea that depression was not something I would ever entertain.
Consequently, my years on Lithium were stable and uneventful. If it weren’t for the fact that I had a lingering feeling that a large part of me had been removed or muted, I would have lived in this grey zone forever. I was prudent in waiting many years before attempting to wean off medication. I had earned a great respect for my need to remain healthy and stable. With my wonderful doctor’s guidance, I parted ways with Lithium and this arrangement lasted about four years with success. By this time I had gained more awareness of my moods and how to take better care of myself. I would like to take more credit for this, but truth be told, denial and repression of feelings was a strong factor.
I had placed my “inner self” somewhere for safe-keeping and I was all but a walking robot. Robotic living can work for a long while, until the pressure inside the emotional container begins to mount.
Becoming a mother was as traumatic for me as beautiful. My first baby was born in 2009. I had been on high alert that pregnancy could be a potential risk. I was delighted that I seemingly escaped another round of mania, medication-free to boot. I was not expecting the effect of what I now refer to as the “babyquake.” Many months of sleepless nights due to difficult breastfeeding yielded a growing anxiety and depression. I was grateful for the term “Post-Partum Depression” because in some way it allowed me to feel some depression but have a “reason” for it. I assured myself that many women experienced PPD, it was perfectly normal, and it would go away soon. It did. Most likely because I willed it too. A strong will can be both helpful and hurtful.
Perhaps it went away because I ended up seeing my doctor again and requesting to be put back on Lithium. Part of my self-care toolbox was having a plan for what I would do when I sensed that I needed medication again. After a very horrible experience the first time with loss of dignity and personal power, I was determined that I would be the one who would be in charge the next time. It was noteworthy progress that I was able to maintain my health and dignity as I reached out to my health care team, asking for their help once again.
Lithium served again as a solid bridge. As my moods were stabilized and sleep was regained, my baby was much happier and life as a mother was becoming more enjoyable. After a year, I felt ready to part ways with Lithium again. The transition was successful and to this day, there has not been another need for Lithium. Seven years and a second baby have passed, and I have now discovered a path of walking with my mental health in unique and creative ways that do not require the use of Lithium. I suspect that I will never again need the help of medication, but one never does know for sure. I always carry it in my mind that my friend, Lithium, is there if I ever need it again
The second baby in 2012 was the catalyst for what I now refer to as my “perfect storm.” I had become a high school teacher and was working with an extremely challenging class. I was trying to conceive this second baby and pressure was rising. There was also a significant upheaval underway within my family of birth. We are a family with large-spread experiences of abuse, addiction, and trauma. As I found my mental health declining again, it became a race with time. Using Lithium would not be healthy for conception or pregnancy.
Somehow, with the skills, awareness, and support that I had gained by my third encounter with mania, I was prepared enough to carry myself. There was also a deep spiritual breaking through this time, and I was aware of a guiding voice and presence that I now know to be God. This was the main reason why I was able to walk through the storm in a new way.
There are chapters here that I could speak of, but the end result was that I conceived my second baby, managed to remain healthy, and gave birth in 2012. And then there was the explosion of the poetry. The dam had burst and there was no stopping it.
The poetry was my way of engaging with the voice I was hearing. A safe place for my mental, emotional, and spiritual processing.
The poetry was like an excavation process where I was able to discover the deeper boulders buried below, all the hurt, pain, trauma, and false stories from my past, and bring them up to the light of truth. My mission of truth telling and truth seeking was driven primarily through the poems that were gushing out. By gushing, I mean surging. I carry paper everywhere and I constantly have a stack of poems waiting to be typed. Now, in 2019, seven years later, there are nearly five hundred poems!
The poetry has gripped me and taken me on a wild adventure, one so far without Lithium, and I have never been so healthy, joyful, peaceful, honest, and alive. The journey, of my pen on paper, led me back to the Christian church and this has given me healing, community, and deeper understanding of my relationship with God.
In my hardest places, with tears, fears, and grueling work, the voice has assured me that these poems are not just for me. My process is not just for my own good but for the good of others, too. We are all connected and our stories are far more similar than different. Now, I share my spoken word poetry through events in and out of the church. My voice, words, and stories are powerful, dynamic, honest, raw, and they offer balm to the soul of a weary traveller and dynamite to anyone who might be stuck. Many people have been profoundly touched by these poems and this continues to amaze and delight me. To know that my pain and creative process of healing can help others is a purpose worth pursuing.
I have recently joined a ministry team called Wounded Healers and I lend my voice, through speaking and poetry, as we share the message of forgiveness in churches throughout Victoria and hopefully across the country as God opens doors. I would not be in this position if not for the journey through poetry and all the deeper work that it has done in my heart and soul.
I see mental health in a unique way. For me, it has been a fascinating process of peeling through layers of myself. My mind is like the surface of a stream. The water is only healthy, pure, clear, and free flowing as the debris and pollution clear beneath it. The poetry has illuminated my way down deeper. I have been clearing out the debris, waste, crud, and pollution of my heart and soul. Of the stream. Now, the water of my mind is much healthier. Am I finished? No, but I will keep writing and clearing.
I saw a doctor once, in the timeframe of the poetry explosion, a specialist referred by my awesome family doctor, to have a cyst removed from my scalp. This doctor walked into the room, took my chart, paused for a quick scan, and then piped up: “I see that you have Bipolar Disorder.” I was strongly curious as to what that would have to do with having a cyst removed, and so I proceeded to inform her that I was walking in a new way with Bipolar Disorder. She was immediately intrigued and asked me to tell her more. I told her that I planned to navigate my mental health through examination of my emotional and spiritual health and that I planned to write about it. With a twinkle in her eye that I will never forget, she said: “Do it! I have many patients who would benefit from such a thing.” This is just what I am doing. This is just the beginning.
We all have our own stories. This is mine.
And so I’ll dance
It is my chance
New life, new light
All these years I’ve chipped and peeled
The layers of brick in my basement
Making sand from cement
Joy from lament
Present from absent
All these years, all these tears
Tears moistening mud
And washing impurity
Wounded child to maturity
And so I run to have some fun
I dress the way and slip away
This path we are clearing
New times we are nearing
I am cheering
Come and follow me!
The glowing we will see!