I suffered a nervous breakdown in June 2015 and eighteen months later have not been able to return to teaching, a job that I love. I continue to struggle with both anxiety and low mood despite numerous changes of medication and hours of CBT therapy. The medication causes or exacerbates a variety of problems with most bodily functions impaired along with poor sleep, lucid dreaming and hallucinations. I have self harmed pretty regularly and had suicidal intentions more than once.
I found writing about my experiences of depression most distressing but have managed to distil some of my feelings and emotions through poetry and drawing. Although these are bleak pieces, I have found it helpful to recognise that other people suffer the same feelings and that you are not alone in the dark.
The author SJ Parris is in real life the journalist Stephanie Merritt. Her memoir The Devil Within, expresses with the considerable talent she possesses many similar events and feelings that I was not able to relate. It was a very moving, rewarding and ultimately uplifting read.
Zoë’s sketches bring to life the feelings that many have at dark times. The quickness of the drawings gives them an immediacy I do not have the skill to recreate. Showing maturity beyond her years, she uses her art as an outlet and release and inspired me to do likewise; I value her friendship very much.
I am very happy for people to use these to help or support in any appropriate way; I would ask that you credit me as author/artist and link back to the source ie here. Zoë’s work should be similarly credited with link to her DeviantArt page.
[All poems © Paul Harrison. Images © Paul Harrison, Zoë B]
There’s an impostor living in my brain;
He seems the same but it isn’t me.
Ideas come so torpidly
And he can’t discern as lucidly, as I can,
The impostor in my brain.
There is an alien who has my voice;
He sounds the same but it isn’t me.
Vocabulary slips his grasp
And he doesn’t speak as fluently, as I do,
The alien with my voice.
There’s a charlatan dwelling in my head;
He appears the same but it isn’t me.
Tensions rise inexorably
And he cannot cope with complex tasks, as I can,
The charlatan in my head.
There is a masquerader, wears my face;
He looks the same but it isn’t me.
Organs do not work as well
And he cannot move as dextrously, as I can,
The masquerader with my face.
There’s a pretender looking through my eyes;
He scans the same but it isn’t me.
Hallucinations make him jump
And he cannot focus rapidly, as I can,
The pretender with my eyes.
There is a shyster lurking in my skull;
He reclines the same but it isn’t me.
Dreams recur remorselessly
And he cannot sleep as peacefully, as I can,
The shyster in my skull.
There is an interloper with my skin,
He moves the same but it isn’t me.
Pain is now his first resort
And he does not take care for himself, as I do,
The interloper with my skin.
The me I knew is deep within.
My voice, my mind are chained and bound.
The stress, the strain I feel and taste,
Yet other senses are deceived,
As what I see can’t be believed.
And when at last I close my eyes
The endless torments then can start
With fiendish contests none can win,
Where waking brings but brief respite
From constant battle through the night.
Yet daytime does not always bring
Relief from terrors lurking deep.
The pleasures that I used to know
Have faded like a photograph
Of how life was when I would laugh.
And by my shoulder in the fight,
It’s hard to feel my loved ones there
Or friends who want to see me well;
For they can’t see and do not hear
The demons looming, crystal clear.
So inward looking I retreat,
Recede inside a silent shell.
And there, for future shame, dismay,
I sink to a perverse belief
That pain, chimeric, brings relief.
So who will search deep down inside
To find my essence in the dark,
Then coax it gently t’ward the light
And nurture back my very soul
To make me once more truly whole?
Sitting on the precipice
Alone and all forlorn.
Hollow eyes stare nowhere through
The bleak and endless dark.
Brooding demons bubble up
And swamp you with their scorn.
Deep inside and far beyond
Look for that merest spark.
Let the darkness ebb and flow;
Suppressed, it comes reborn.
Pressure builds when you resist
The bite, allow the bark.
Midst those swirling stygian clouds
Amongst the gloom are borne
Moment’s friendship shared, not earned,
A touch, a kind remark.
Grant some good to coalesce
A face, a dew-drenched morn.
Beacons in the inky black
Faint on the canvas mark.