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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Cakes and Weddings

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So I haven’t been up to a lot this week.  Mainly I’m re-watching Buffy.  Yes I am a big fan.  No there is no thing as too much Buffy.  Sssh.  But that probably is a topic for discussion elsewhere.  As well as that I have been getting a few photo projects going.  My friend in Basingstoke has started up her own cake stall.  Only small at first but she asked if I would take some nice photos for the facebook page.  Some very yummy ones on offer if you are in the area! (https://www.facebook.com/lizzyscakesandbakes)

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Now this was something slightly different for me.  Normally I just take my camera with me and see what I can find when I go out.  I haven’t really done a lot in the way of small, indoors photos.  This was a good opportunity for me to practice setting up a shot exactly how I wanted.  It’s cool being able to put the light exactly where I want it.  So after a fair amount of re-shuffling of her kitchen, I got down to business.  I personally wanted to make them slightly more interesting than the standard instagram snap of a cake.  Mainly this involved playing around with depth of field.  Pretty basic stuff I know but it’s amazing how much difference it makes to the overall look of the photo.  I also used a white board to reflect the natural light from the window in some of them, though again it is pretty well accepted that natural light is a lot better to use than indoor light bulbs.  Not a huge volume of photos but I am pretty happy with what I came out with 🙂

While I mentioned that photography is a passion of mine (as far as someone as lazy as me can have passions), you may gather that I am no professional.  However one of my friends obviously liked my style enough to ask me to do the photography for her wedding this summer.  First thoughts were something along the lines of “Eeek!”.  After confirming with her that she knew I wasn’t a professional, I was reliably told (in writing!) that the only thing she really wanted was the formal group shots.  But if I was going to do that, then by Jove I would do the whole thing properly.  We did some engagement shots just before Christmas which went really well and gave me a chance to practice my director skills.  My friend Sam has been doing photography for far longer than me (in fact it was modelling for an idea of hers that got me started on the whole thing!) and offered her help.  So there are two of us.  What I spent a fair chunk of time over the last week was putting together a shot list for the day.  I think between us we have got it covered right from the getting ready shots, up until the first dance.  It’s a big thing to be working on but I am really looking forward to it and having the opportunity to try.  For all I know I might want to do more weddings afterwards! So shot lists, and a lot of Pinterest until August.  It will be really good to get a chance to put the things I know into practice.

It’s all about opportunities in this blog post.  We have a photo club at work.  There aren’t very many of us, but a couple of people in the group have been doing it for longer than I’ve been around and it is awesome to have that sort of resource to pull on.  It also stops me getting stuck in one particular style.  So we will have to see how that progresses….

Point of the blog: GO PHOTOGRAPHY!

Link to last week: Still looking at new poems.  This is a new favourite of mine 🙂

Do I dare to eat a peach?

Ok.  Well I tried to post this once and then the internet stole my words! How rude. Ahem.  Moving on.  Apologies for anyone who read this while it was just a title.

So the title is a line from this poem called The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot.  It is a very long poem with beautiful meter that flows fantastically.  And what a line! In fact I recommend you listen to a reading of it right now.  It’s quite long.

So the reason I’m quoting this poem is because I’ve just watched a film called Kill Your Darlings.  This is a film about a completely different poet called Allen Ginsberg and how his intellectual and passionate blooming entwines with the creation of the Beat movement.  I highly recommend it to anyone.

But it got me thinking about poetry.  About words and stories and sounds and experiences.   I like poetry.  Mostly this has come from an angsty few years at university where the best way to cope with my emotional confusion was to write.  Hey it’s cheaper than therapy.  But the thing is I never learnt to write poetry.  I never learnt about rhyme and meter and the difference between a sonnet and a haiku.  I never even learned how to read poetry properly.

This is a pet peeve of mine.   Thousands of people of similar age to me in the UK suffered through poetry at GCSE by being given an anthology, told to read a poem, in silence, and then dissect every line of the poem for meaning whilst completely failing to appreciate the poem as a whole.   This picture is a good summation of my English lessons (apologies for the swearing!)

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But now that I have even the shallowest skim understanding of things like meter and caesuras, I can actually enjoy reading a poem.  I can read it out loud the way they are most often meant to be and appreciate the sound of the poem as well the experience.    I would like to read more poetry.  I don’t really know any poets so at this stage it’s pretty much just a random search to see what sticks…..so far one.  But that is better than none. 🙂

Umm…the end…..quick Rachel try and get to a point!

Poetry is a beautiful art medium.  I’m glad that I can start to appreciate it properly now.  Here’s to exploring the world.