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There is hope

There are no side-effects, it’s free, and it just may help someone. It was with this in mind that I travelled to Maidenhead a few weeks ago to host a Healing Words workshop for the dozen or so who had gathered as part of a Depression Alliance support group. An hour later, we had laughed, we had cried, and dare I say it, the bits of healing poetry and prose that we shared had worked some magic

Of course, in the battle we face with our own Black Dog, what works is different for everyone. For me, poetry helps: it has been at the heart of my recovery from two major breakdowns, or ‘depressive episodes’ as psychiatrists prefer to call them. The first time I was bed-ridden for six months, the second for a year. Others will find other strategies that help them – it might be baking or gardening, and actually I find them helpful too (as well, of course, as therapy and drugs on occasion). But I’m a passionate believer that words can heal. Apollo was the God of poetry as well as medicine. There’s even some neuroscience that proves that the concentration required to read a poem can help root us in the present, stopping us from regretting the past or worrying about the future. (Sounds familiar?)

Here are some one-liners to get you started but once you’ve begun, you will find bits of verse and prose that answer your own needs, not mine. I would start with some healing mantras or short lines: some of my favourites are This too will pass’ (from Corinthians); ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness’ (ditto) or ‘Westward look, the land is bright’ – from the poem ‘Say not the Struggle Naught Availeth’ by Arthur Hugh Clough. When I feel the loss of all hope, I keep repeating these lines and they help change the dialogue in my head to something more positive.

If you’re feeling well enough, then try the poem ‘Love” by George Herbert, with the opening lines: “Love bade me welcome, but my soul drew back/ Guilty of dust and sin”. That’s what depression feels like to me: I’m guilty of “dust and sin”. But in the poem Herbert says allow “Love” to talk to you instead, develop a more compassionate voice. It’s what CBT tries to do, but far better expressed. Next up “Invictus”, supposedly recited by Nelson Mandela to fellow inmates when he was incarcerated on Robben Island. It has a very good opening description of the darkness of depression “Out of the night that covers me/ Black as the Pit from pole to pole…”. The last two lines are helpful for trying to regain your own sense of self, so often crushed by depression. “I am the master of my fate/ I am the captain of my soul”. Finally, try “Hope” by Emily Dickinson. Here’s the first verse:

‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all

There is hope. And I hope these poems help you as much as they’ve helped me.

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