Today's blog is written by Moodscope member and best selling author, Rachel Kelly. Her book, Black Rainbow: How words healed me, describes her journey through depression and how poetry helped her recover.
'My grace is sufficient for thee: my strength is made perfect in weakness.' Sixteen years ago these thirteen healing words helped me through the worst of depression. I was in the midst of a severe episode, bedridden for six months and taking antidepressants, but a sentence helped reverse my negative thinking. This one was from Corinthians, but anything with a concentrated, hard-hitting message will do. My mother would say this to me by my bed. As I couldn't find my own words, and was only able to absorb a short phrase, I would repeat these words endlessly, mantra-like. At my worst, single lines became rungs on which I could pull myself out of depression. Words are free, have no side-effects and can either free your mind or fill up the spaces that worries want to fill.
So first thing's first: find your lines. Other favourites of mine, to get you started, include: "This too will pass" and "Westward, look, the land is bright" – the latter is by Arthur Hugh Clough and helped Churchill through the war.
When you're well enough to concentrate beyond a line, learn a verse, and then move up to a whole short poem. Stay with me on this. Get rid of the schoolroom context from your mind at once: this isn't an academic text, but a compassionate voice – a specific human being from history who has gone through your pain – giving you advice from outside of time. In fact, they have been trying to get through to you for centuries. They've gone through the hard part of setting down what despair or hope can feel like. It's right there, neatly packaged. If you're too unwell to express yourself, this person has articulated it for you. Let yourself feel the poems in an instinctive, intuitive way. You will feel less alone. If you've committed the poem to memory, you can call on these helpful people at any time. Like you, they are awake at four in the morning.
Here are some poems which have helped me, but once you've begun you will find verse that answers your own needs. Try "Love" by George Herbert, with the opening lines: "Love bade me welcome, but my soul drew back/ Guilty of dust and sin". That's what depression feels like to me: I'm guilty of "dust and sin". But in the poem Herbert says, allow "Love" to talk to you instead; develop a more compassionate voice. This is one objective of CBT.
Next up "Invictus" by W. E. Henley, supposedly recited by Nelson Mandela to fellow inmates when he was incarcerated on Robben Island. It has a very good opening description of the darkness of depression "Out of the night that covers me/ Black as the Pit from pole to pole...". But the last two lines will bring back your own sense of self, so often diffused by depression: "I am the master of my fate/ I am the captain of my soul". There you go. You are the captain of your soul. Remember that, and you will get better. Now find your verse and you will find your voice.
A Moodscope member.
Black Rainbow: How words healed me – my journey through depression is published by Yellow Kite Books, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton. All author proceeds are being given to the charities SANE and United Response.