Thursday, 5 June 2014

Find your verse to find your voice.

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.


  1. What a magnificent phrase, "Find your verse and you will find your voice."
    Oh to live life poetically (a happy poem by choice!)
    Thank you Rachel.
    People so need to find their voice, their walk, their style, themselves.
    To live free from other people's agendas is freedom indeed.
    Off to write my verse... (Universe?)

  2. Leonard Cohen's poetry and lyrics are my constant favourite " one liner" is from Anthem....
    " There s a crack, a crack n everything....that's how the light gets in"

    1. Yes that's one of my favourites of Leonard Cohen's poems too. I am with you on Leonard Cohen!

    2. That's another brilliant line... I sense some nuggets to be shared today. I went to "Poet's Corner Cafe" (Sturminster Newton, Dorset, UK) last week and began a new sense of connection. Let's share some more!

    3. Its one of my all time favourites too, here it is in full:

      Ring the bell that still rings
      Forget your perfect offering
      There's a crack in everything
      That's how the light gets in.

  3. superb, thank you

  4. WOW! Just - WOW!

    Any of the desolation sonnets by Gerard Manley Hopkins do it for me - especially the line "Why? That my chaff might fly;my grain lie,sheer and clear." This post is helpful and inspiring and amazingly comforting. Words have power indeed. Thank you.

  5. Rachel, this one's just for you. I had a turning point last night - not a nice experience - but your wisdom this morning inspired me to create this:
    Thank you so much.

  6. Thank you so much for the poems you quoted - just what I am in need of now.

  7. I have not posted on here before. Today I am moved to as I was so moved by your words. Thank you. This is a poem that helps me when I get lost in my depression. It is by David Whyte.


    Enough. These few words are enough.
    If not these words, this breath.
    If not this breath, this sitting here.

    This opening to the life
    we have refused
    again and again
    until now.
    Until now

    1. Aah, i love it, thank you, this will be added to my first aid kit. Ironic as i only discovered David Whyte last week.

  8. This part of Eliot's 'Four Quartets' (from East Coker) has got me through some bad times:
    'I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
    For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
    For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
    But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
    Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
    So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.'

    I am posting this in the hope that it will help others, too.

    1. .....but also ' 10.46 a.m., ( anonymous friend... )
      " Hope is the thing with feathers -
      That perches in the soul - " - Emily Dickenson.

  9. Hello, Thank you so much for today's post. I have never written on here before but what you said really resonates with me. A poem I have found hugely helpful is Mary Oliver's 'Wild Geese'. Just the first line blows me away; "You do not have to be good." I have taken to writing a few myself. Take a look if words are your thing:

  10. Thank you, Rachel!
    Very, very good advice.....very well said...inspiring :)

    Many blessings.....