Depression, Poetry, and Guilt

All my good intentions fell apart after my last blog post, and I was MIA for a couple of weeks. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s just…. Life.

I’ve mentioned before that I have Bipolar II and a general anxiety disorder. Both are only minor in the overall scheme of things. In that I can manage them with lifestyle options such as exercise, food choices, meditation/prayer, and avoiding high-anxiety situations. However, “managing” isn’t the same as “curing”, and over the last couple of weeks I’ve found myself on a down — which is to say, I’ve been depressed.

Living with depression is something I’m accustomed to. Since I was eight years old I’ve been through three or four periods of depression every year. Then I’d “magically” snap out of it, and everything would be fine. (I was only diagnosed with Bipolar II a couple of years ago, and suddenly my whole life made sense.) So I know how to cope. I know the warning signs to look for, so I know when I’m not coping, and when to seek help. I know how to minimise the worst of it through exercise and food. I know to treat myself gently, and not try to “push through it” — which includes not pushing myself to write when I don’t have the energy. I know how to cope.

But once my anxiety disorder kicks in, it’s a whole other kettle of crazy.

Over the last few weeks, my life has felt like it’s spiralling out of control. Circumstances outside of my control have left me in a situation that has been thoroughly dependent on friends for my everyday necessities. I don’t want to get into the details here, but trust me when I say that I am eternally grateful to have friends willing to sacrifice their own time and plans to help me in my hour of need. But gratitude only gets you so far, and on Thursday night I found myself having a major panic attack — the first in eleven months.

And around and around in my head went the thoughts.

Other people have it much worse… You have no reason to feel like this… You’re just being silly… Stop being so melodramatic… Somewhere in Africa, children are dying.

And so I grabbed a pen and paper, and I poured my pain and anxiety and guilt on to the paper. This is what I wrote.

The Guilt of Africa


Anxiety strikes like a copperhead snake
My vision is blurry, my hands start to shake
Too many weights pressing down on my mind
The burdens are boundless, I’m not doing fine

My problems are first world, my life is a mess
My heart won’t stop racing, I’m tight ‘cross the chest
My children are calling, I want them to stop
I need to curl up in the dark now and sob

My thoughts are a spiralling circle of pain
Why can’t I be normal? My head feels insane
My breathing’s too fast, my head is too light
I’ve lost all my hearing and most of my sight

And somewhere in Africa, children are dying
Putin is marching and oceans are rising
And my well-fed children have pain in their eyes
While their mother just cries and cries and cries

Is this all I am? A heartbeat? A tear?
A mess of emotional, overwhelmed fear?
My fingers are tingling, my toes have gone numb
I’m not even worthy to wear the name ‘Mum’

It’s dark now and cold and I’m sitting so still
If I move, then I’m worried that I’ll break the spell
Of peace, just a little, of paper and pen
And words spilling out like the Duke of York’s men

I have vodka and cigarettes, stars and the moon,
Two children who love me, friends and a spoon,
And a tub full of yoghurt in the door of the fridge
I wish I could eat, but my stomach is sick

And somewhere in Africa, children are dying
ISIS is killing, Ebola is rising
And here I am safe in a home of my own
Strung out, defenseless, completely alone



Filed under Opinion, Poems

14 responses to “Depression, Poetry, and Guilt

  1. I hope things turn around soon, Jo. I’ve been through depression (with the aid of meds), but it was situational, and when the situation ended, so did the depression. I’m so sorry it comes back to bite you again and again.

  2. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always viewed my depression as a dragon and I was the knight in shining armor, the hero who would slay that dragon. Some days the dragon wins; most days, I do. I know it doesn’t help, but you aren’t alone. Not in this struggle or any other. I can’t do much besides offer a sympathetic ear, but it’s yours whenever you need it.

    • Thank you, Joe. I appreciate it. I know I’m not truly alone, but you know what those sneaking thoughts are like at the worst times. The times when the dragon has our intrepid hero trapped on the side of a rocky cliff, and the only ways out seem to be straight down, or an interminable and dangerous climb to the top, all while dodging dragon fire.

      Depression feels as much a part of me as the mania that is the other side of my mental illness coin. Both have affected my decisions and ife paths so much that I don’t know who I’d be without them. I try not to fight myself these days, but instead to find a balance point of happiness. It’s the anxiety that tips me over the edge.

  3. As one who also has to avoid taking on enough because it easily becomes too much, I get it. Remember that children are resilient, more even than adults, and will be fine working through their own stuff half the time.

    We are lucky, but are problems are real too. One bite at a time, my friend.
    I wish you a sweeter starry night tonight.

    • Thank you for the wishes and the understanding. It’s the guilt that seems to get me the worst — the “It could be worse, I could be [insert person, place, or situation” mentality that says I should be able to let go of my own problems in comparison to what could be. I’m feeling better today, though, so I’m hoping for an upward trek out of the morass.

  4. Damn it! I meant our problems. Carry on.

  5. Love is a blanket, soft and warm
    A shield to weather any storm
    Each soul you’ve touched is a filament cast
    woven tight and meant to last, and last,
    and last
    a lifetime.

    When storms arise
    and winds howl lies
    Wrap the weave around your fear
    break it’s power, tell it clear
    you cannot break me,
    I am here
    to stay.

  6. You moved me to tears, Jo. In empathy for what you’re enduring, and in empathy because it sounds so familiar. I remember first reading about the Dementors and thinking, “She (Rowling) knows what depression is like. She gets it.” It was an eerie feeling. I have that feeling now.

    I hate depression in all its forms and that it not only hurts me, but so many others. Mine sneaks up. I know I have so much to be thankful for, but there’s always a moment when I wake up from this dragging, gelatinous fog. That moment is always the worst. I always want to boost myself out of it. I tell myself “Get your head out of your ass, Tonia” or “Suck it up buttercup”. It never works the way I want it to and the guilt and hate-talk swoop in and I feel virtually incapacitated. Sometimes, the cycle is short, and other times it is long. So long that I lie awake in bed wanting to crawl out of my skin and wishing I were someone else for awhile.

    So, here we are. Not alone though that feeling of aloneness does not abate in the knowing.

    I was walking my dog last night, and stood in the middle of a street, looking up at all those stars. I felt big. I felt savage and full of Whitman’s multitudes. And I thought of you. Sending you love and wishes for many moments where you know you are alive and on the right path. *Hugs*

    • Thank you, Tonia. Your friendship is a blessing. *hug*

      Oh, how I wish we could rid ourselves of the guilt and hate-talk. Or at least stick our internal fingers in our internal ears and shout at the wind: “I can’t hear you, Nyah! Nyah! Nyah!”

      I thought exactly the same thing about Rowling’s Dementors. Perhaps I shall practice finding my happy memory and summoning my Patronus.

  7. My partner also suffers from this. There is no rhyme or reason bbehind the episodes. Sometimes, all I can do is reinforce that things will feel okay again. I feel bad that anyone should have to live with this. [Virtual hugs for you].

    • Thank you so much for the hugs. I have a friend (one I can see and touch in real life) who totally gets it. She gives me a hug and says “I’m here”. She doesn’t ask for explanations or reasons, she doesn’t ask in an exasperated tone if there’s anything she can do. She just helps, and brings a solid presence of wellness with her. And that’s the best help I can ask for.

      Your partner is fortunate to have a support person who understands.

  8. Beautiful words. So sorry you had to experience so much heartache to produce them. Please know you have more than earned the label ‘mum’ and you are never alone brave lady. Remember mums are human too. I thank my own mother frequently (in my head, if not in person) for showing me or sharing her experience of her own fragility – she was never afraid to apologise or show her human frailty and I’m sure she strengthened my emotional resilience as a result.
    Sending virtual hugs x

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