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The poetry scene finally allowed me to be heard

Thursday, 02 February 2023 Isabelle

Isabelle, who was hospitalised with depression, always felt an outsider. Then she discovered a new world that embraced her.

I believe that rock bottom can become the best place to rebuild from foundations up and that’s what I did. In 2016, at the age of 23, I was hospitalised I was suspected to have Bi-Polar II, BPD and PTSD, I still haven't received a confirmed diagnosis. After weeks of unsuccessful medication trails I was deemed as treatment resistant, at this point I was so scared of myself and my suicidal thoughts and after two attempts on my life I agreed to receive Electro-Convulsive Therapy. I felt like I was unable to be saved and that I couldn't communicate enough to be helped. Truthfully I didn't want to die, I was just so exhausted I didn't want to feel the pain anymore. It was in the aftermath, the recovery journey, that I struggled most. I had real problems trying to position myself, and it led to a long journey of repairing my ruined identity and navigating this label of sickness.

“I had been writing privately for over a decade about the things I was too scared to share.”

I became so tired of having to rebrand myself to appear what I was not, I never let people get close. I feared new relationships and having to tell them my story. The fear of change became less than the fear of remaining in the same place. I knew I needed to mend myself and find purpose and I was determined to. Spending years changing jobs, trying bee hobbies, different therapies, I exhausted what I thought were all the options.

But I hadn’t. I had been writing privately for over a decade about the things I was too scared to share. I had long been a fan of the emotional outlet poetry has become historically.

Poetry is a format that has continually broken the bounds of what it is socially acceptable to discuss, and in doing so has allowed us to embrace diverse narratives. I have long enjoyed the works of poets such as Edgar Alan Poe, and Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg’s work broke social norms with a dialogue of the socially outcast. His book Howl and Other Poems was the first book to overturn obscenity laws as merely opinion on an art form. That poetry changed our sense of what it is to be normal and created a place for readers to feel acceptant of their differences.

Finding safe spaces

In 2021 I had another setback with post-pandemic blues, struggling to navigate a world that had been stripped of purpose. I had become depressed with an inflexible social anxiety that I had never suffered before. I was fed up with hiding and squirreling myself away.

In November 2021, when I was struggling through the winter months I decided to look into the Manchester poetry scene. I discovered a poetry evening Speak Easy in a pub called Dulcimer in Chorlton, Manchester. The first time I attended I was too scared to even share my name. As the night went on, it was clear this was a place I would be safe to mend myself. Each poet/writer took the stage and shared stories that are honest and raw, many about their hard life journeys. This platform wasn’t just about sharing, it was the magic of being so warmly received. I remember someone comparing the poetry scene to alcoholics anonymous but in a bar.

"After attending twice I got the courage to get myself a slot. To say I stood up there and smashed it would be far from true."

In the lack of adequate mental health services and the absence of its human touch, these poetry nights brought a safe place where all are heard from all different worlds and minds.

After attending twice I got the courage to get myself a slot. To say I stood up there and smashed it would be far from true. I was a nervous wreck, and I fluffed my words. I couldn’t stop shaking. I was the image of a disaster.

But the support I received, the warmth and encouragement to continue to share my words and feelings, meant the things I spent my recovery being scared and hiding from had no power anymore. I was free from the hate I had for myself. All these thoughts I had that I believed were unacceptable and made me unloveable dissipated with every performance.

I gained the confidence to start submitting some work. Two months later I got a book deal with Bent Key Publishing, an ethical poetry publisher in Manchester. I was petrified. I was just getting comfortable with who I was becoming and although a complete blessing I was worried about making my story so public.

From when I received the offer in February to the release in July 2022 I kept up with my schema therapy (a form of therapy that allows you to create a more liveable and sustainable perspective of yourself and the world around you), and I started to lay foundations I had never dreamt of. It’s a long process, but I’ve started to get the benefits.

I still struggle, still have bad days, and I continue to take medication and attend therapy sessions. But by the time my book was released I had made so much progress I was no longer scared of my own story. Pandora’s Ruin is a dark journey through my experiences of hospitalisation, ECT, treatment and recovery.

An opportunity to belong

After being hospitalised in 2016 I found that there weren’t accessible narratives that could help my recovery. I was looking for acceptance within myself, but my opinion of myself was an unmovable anchor created by social norms I simply didn’t fit. Eventually I found this acceptance in the poetry scene. It has so many elements that are healing for people’s mental health. It’s a safe space, an opportunity to belong, to be heard, to share and to feel free of the judgment we imprison ourselves with.

This year I have been published 8 times, including in a Mancunian anthology and my own book. I have been featured on various radio shows including BBC Radio Manchester. The poetry scene gave me the chance to see myself without judgment. It made me accept the praise I needed to heal. Taking this journey has been the kindest thing I have ever done for myself – to finally allow myself to be seen, to finally allow myself to be heard.

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