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a poem a day keeps the doctor away


Bridget Conway writes her daily poem whilst cuddling her cat

Bridget Conway writes her daily poem whilst cuddling her cat


*Trigger Warning: This post contains writing which may upset those with mental health issues* 

Imagine waking up in a cold, grey room all by yourself. You have a few of your clothes shoved into a shelf next to your bed and a plastic cup of water sits on the floor. There is no clock and you have no phone; your sense of time is thus completely skewed. To top it all off, you’re extremely hungry. Not just in your belly, but in your mind. You need stimulation and you need motivation. But there is nothing. This is where you are; this is where you’ve ended up in your life.

I woke up in this exact situation a mere six months ago. I was a 25-year-old who had just admitted myself to hospital because I could no longer be alone with my thoughts. I had run from myself long enough and it was time to face the truth; I wanted to end my own life and something positive had to be done about that.

It was March and I had just spent two long months living away from my partner due to him needing space from me. It was unclear why he had suddenly decided he no longer wanted to be with me. Nonetheless, after two months of space, he decided that didn’t want to be with me at all. It was heartbreaking to be pulled apart from the one thing that, at the time it seemed, was the only good thing in my life. To be told by someone that you love dearly that they no longer love you is hard enough in itself, add the icing on the cake that you’re already struggling with major depressive disorder, and the end result is not a good one. Within a day of the break-up, I told my new ex that my feelings of suicide and depression were no longer manageable. I needed help, and fast.

So, the next day, I woke up in that cold and lonely room in the acute care emergency ward of the Prince of Wales Hospital in Randwick. I spent the next three days in that ward. It was definitely not everything that I hoped for or needed at the time due to the lack of space and resources that mental illness care facilities receives, but it was an escape nonetheless. I had counseling sessions, got to spend a lot of time alone thinking about what I wanted to do next, and was set up with a plan for my mental health for when I was discharged. This plan didn’t go through, because administration seems to be the last thing that people can ever get right, but with the help of a friend, I was attending regular counseling sessions a month later. In this time I also moved to an apartment by myself, away from my ex and from everyone and everything that made me anxious, and I got myself a cat (because cats solve everything!) I started to spend time on myself and started to do things that I needed, not what everyone else needed from me. This began a slow process of self-discovery and self-forgiveness that continues to this day.

What has brought me the most healing, though, has been a project that I’ve taken on myself. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt through my many years of depression and this recent turn of events is that, although there is help around you and services to cater for you, the real healing begins and ends with you, and you only. It’s the sad but penultimate truth about mental illness. No matter what others try to do for you and even if you have the best support network in the world, at the end of the day it’s up to you to take the final responsibility of changing things for the better. If you don’t decide one day, or the next day, or the day after, to get out of bed for your own good and to do things that you want to do, then your road to recovery will be a very long and arduous one.

I found that, although I had opened up about my depression and had made great strides to recover, I was still struggling. Then, one day in mid May, I opened up my computer and I wrote a poem. I hadn’t really written a poem in ages, due mostly to the fact that I’m a perfectionist and always thought that everything I wrote wasn’t worthy in one way or another. But this day, I told myself, screw this; I’m going to write a poem. So I wrote one.

And then it struck me; if I was going to get anywhere close to recovering, I had to take care of myself every day. So I vowed to write a poem every day. It didn’t have to be long, or short, or to rhyme, or to make any sense at all. I just had to do it; I had to spend at least the five minutes it took to open up my computer and type a poem every day. I was worth at least that amount of time and effort.

Since beginning this project, I’ve definitely missed a few days. But I’ve learned to forgive myself for that, and to continue on with the project no matter what. I’ve now expanded and have my own website, Facebook and Twitter, where I post my poems daily. This is especially confronting for me because day in and day out, I’m letting people in to the very core of who I am. They are seeing my inner thoughts scrawled out in front of them. Very often I write a stream of consciousness, so my poems don’t make sense or they repeat words and phrases that I’ve used a hundred times already.

But I don’t care about all of this. All I care about is that I’m doing something for myself and that within this project, I’m learning how to be myself and take care of the inner workings of who I am; not who I’m supposed to be. It’s a liberating project to say the least, and although I’m still going through the ups and downs of living with a mental illness, I definitely feel that my poem a day has kept the doctor away.

I hope to inspire others to take on similar projects in order to find out who they really are and what they love about themselves. Mental illness is a huge and ever-increasing problem for many people and the options for getting help are still next to nothing. The best thing to do, I feel, if you have a mental illness, is to seek the help that’s available to you, but also take a stand for who you are and do the things you want to do. You may surprise yourself one day; you may wake up in a sunny room, with a smile on your face and warmth in your heart, and you may breathe in the fresh morning air and get up and look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself ‘I love you, just the way you are.’

World Mental Health Day is next month – but let’s talk about mental health all year long

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