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Turning mental health problems into published poetry

Tuesday, 04 April 2023 Stuart Watkins

Stuart blogs about how he has encouraged himself and others to give voice to their struggles in verse.

My schizophrenia first appeared in the form of a dramatic psychotic episode 29 years ago. I am now 58, so that was precisely half a lifetime away. Unfortunately, my episode was not a one-off (as they sometimes are) and I have lived with the condition ever since.

“At the time of the first psychotic episode, in 1994, I was an executive at a multinational financial organisation.”

Until then, my life had been one of high achievement. I attended Oxford University, where I studied chemistry. That was the prowess of my left brain - the part that handles logic and analytical thought. I was also a fan of music, art and writing, which was my right brain displaying itself.

At the time of the first attack, in 1994, I was an executive at a multinational financial organisation after a major promotion. This relocated me from my home in West Sussex to Norfolk, taking up the most senior appointment in that area of the country. I began on my 29th birthday in the January. At this time there were no mental health issues or any stress at all.

However, three factors were bearing down upon me at that time:
First, I had recently broken up with my son’s mother after a long term relationship.
Second, my job was demanding, target-driven and pressurised, and the hours were long.
Finally, I had been smoking cannabis.

Little did I know the dangers those circumstances presented to my mental well-being.

Bolted like a startled horse

In August 1994, a few months after the move, things came to a head. I was making the normal six-mile drive to the office on a beautiful, sunny morning, when from nowhere a wave of paranoid fear came over me. I bolted like a startled horse, turned off the road to work, and headed on a spontaneous four-hour drive to my parents’ home in Wiltshire where I grew up.

I ended up in a psychiatric ward, and was let go from my job, and it had a catastrophic impact on my life.

For the next 15 years I tried to live my life in new ways. Then in 2009, I suffered a cerebellar stroke. I couldn’t walk. It was frightening. Fortunately, I was young, my body fought it well, so after two weeks in hospital and three months of physiotherapy to re-learn to walk, I was able to function - though to this day I still have nerve damage on my right side.

In 2018, I felt able to try and do something different with my life, and set about writing seriously.

In 2019, I published my first book A United Kingdom - Trains of Logical Thought. My mother died from cancer eleven days after it was released, so I was able to show it to her in the hospice. That helped me decide to continue writing books.

That book is about social and political topics, from Brexit to religion, pornography, television and others. I am proud of its powerful, logical arguments.

Deep lover of poetry

I have a deep love of poetry. I dug up old works, edited some, wrote more, and they became the second book, Cosmic Visions. It consists of abstract poetry, love poetry, silly nonsense poetry and touches of philosophy. The Dutch progressive rock band Lesoir used my poem Ephemeral in the climax to their 20-minute masterpiece Babel. The Ukrainian multi-instrumentalist Antony Kalugin used two of my poems as lyrics for a song.

Because of lockdown restrictions we didn’t scatter my mother’s ashes until the second anniversary of her death; June 20, 2021, a blisteringly hot day. We did this in the sea at the White Cliffs of Dover. I sat up through the night writing my third book, The Ocean, inspired by a memorable conversation with a man on the beach.

“Putting together Pandemic Poets prompted me to create an anthology about mental health, written by carers, sufferers and survivors.”

After the pandemic, I decided to curate an anthology about the topic, and recruited poets from all over the world. Pandemic Poets was published in July 2022.

The success I had putting together Pandemic Poets prompted me to create an anthology about mental health, this time written by carers, sufferers and survivors. I figured I was the right one to do this because it used both my writing and my schizophrenia.

I had, in parallel, been working on the dense and ambitious sibling poetry collection to Cosmic Visions, namely Cataclysmic Vibrations, book number five - which I released between the anthology projects.

And so, then, The Melting Pot began. Within two days of its launch, I had 100 poems. My three personal projects - a book of poetry about the Tarot, one about psychiatric wards that I wrote as a Faustian tale, and one of classic poetry, contemporary poetry and song lyrics - were put on pause while The Melting Pot took over my life!

The first two Melting Pot books were published in late 2022 and early 2023. The third is close to completion and the fourth looks promising.

It has been deeply rewarding to give an outlet, a voice, to those with mental health struggles. I receive constant messages of gratitude and encouragement.

I can promise you that the old adage is true; when one door closes, another one opens. It’s happened to me too many times to be in any doubt. And, you’re never too old to start over.

If the blog has signposts put them here.


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