Literature and Mental Health

 

Right. So. Here I am. (And falling back into the blogging habit of using unnecessarily short sentences).

I am not a regular blogger.  I don’t have a massive following.  But this is the best place to share my thoughts.  So recently I have been struggling with one of the worst grey spots in my adult life.  I’m not kidding when I say I hadn’t felt that bad in nearly a decade, and anyone who knew back then knows I was not easy to be around sometimes.

However I’m lucky (I guess) in that my depressive episodes have never become a permanent part of life.  Now I’m climbing back out of this latest cave and starting to engage with the world again.  I’ve finally reached out for help dealing with it.

In the meantime I found a free online course titled Literature and Mental Health (this is in no way a plug just my reflections of the course).  Now I’ve always considered myself an avid reader and I was interested in seeing how other people have used literature in dealing with mental health struggles.

I found the course easy to sign on to, and while there are plenty of discussions, I can interact at my own level of comfort which usually involves writing a comment reflecting on a topic, and then moving onto the next.

I am finishing off Week 1 and here are my thoughts about the course so far:

  • I really like the variety of people involved.  It’s not just the lecturers involved, there are guest spots from teachers, poets, even Stephen Fry (who I love deeply).
  • This first week is talking about stress.  They give a good variety of modern and more classical poetry for us to read through.  More importantly there are videos of poets and other people reading the poem.  I think that poetry is woefully taught in schools (see my previous blog post here ) and not all of us automatically know how to read a poem, where to put the pauses and the stresses (and isn’t it a nice rounding of the circle that stress means something from both a mental health perspective and a poetic one? Well I think so).
  • By listening to poetry the key thing I take away is the effect it has on our mind.  We slow down, focus, and the rest of the world falls away.  You can bring nature with you wherever you go.  I find that my breathing slows automatically to fit the pace of the poems discussed, which is key to controlling some physical effects of stress and anxiety.
  • I love the introduction to poets I haven’t heard of before.  Ben Okri reads some of his poems and I highly recommend his work.  There is a discussion of Carol Ann Duffy’s “Prayer” which I struggled with.  But it led me onto the beautiful spoken word poem “Heart Cry” by Samuel Cole which is referenced on Mind’s website.

There are occasions when the teachers assume a higher level of basic poetry knowledge, but all the material is there ready for you to reflect on.  And the other learners are very supportive.

Good poetry for me is like good music.  It articulates the emotions I don’t know how to describe myself.  It creates a situation where I can feel.  And it helps me choose what I want to feel which is incredibly important when trapped in a negative thought cycle.

I’ve been recording little scribbles here and there.  I think trying to practice some of the different structures of poems is a nice little personal challenge for me to deal with.  When I am at my lowest, I feel like I don’t add any value to anything at all because my creative endeavours aren’t successful.  I always struggle with that feeling, but coming back to a more even playing field (for now) I can challenge my thinking there and remember that it doesn’t need to be successful.  I don’t need have thousands of people read my scribbles.  I’m doing it to express myself.  Maybe getting it in writing is all I need to do.

I’m really looking forward continuing this course and seeing where it goes.  Let’s find out.

 

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