Creative Writing in Recovery for Young People with Mental Health issues – by Wendy French

Posted by Carolyn Jess-Cooke on January 25, 2017

Dear You,

I’m writing this blog in the form of a letter (see The Recovery Letters, James Withey’s project) and I’m asking myself why am I doing this? I suppose the idea of a letter written to oneself is so powerful because you are not just telling someone what you think they want to hear you’re telling yourself (and anyone else who may connect with this) the truth as you perceive it to be at this moment. We spend most of our lives veering towards stability or instability. I’m telling myself this as it is important to walk in the shoes of the young people whom I work with (or walk with) who are on the very edge of this survival. They have reached a low point in their lives and don’t know where to turn. This is sometimes how I feel working with those in deep  distress.

This may have stopped sounding like a letter to myself but the whole point of this is to remind myself what these young people are going through and how they feel that no one understands their very individual problems and worries. I’m trying to convince myself that what I believe in is worthwhile.

Adolescence is hard enough without a mental health component being added. And it is so difficult to talk to anyone particularly family members. So as therapists we find a way to connect without resulting in what is perceived to be a threatening situation. This is why I value the pen and paper. We can write what we feel and don’t have to voice the words until we are ready to do so. I am practising here what I preach.

For me writing is enhanced in a group situation. Even if someone is reluctant to join in, they will benefit from seeing other people picking up pen and then hearing the words being read aloud as their peers and friends respond to the stimulus of the  task in hand. Friends help one another, offer suggestions for words and the re-drafting begins. I have seen young people with bi-polar disorder extremely high in mood begin to calm down as they look at what they’ve written and begin impose order over the chaos in their minds. I have seen young people with chronic depression begin to make peace with themselves through writing. But it’s not just the writing that is important. It is the re-drafting of work that has the most significance because the focus of improving a piece of work helps the mind to settle down and focus more clearly and as Coleridge said, the best words in the best order.

It is not always easy for the young people or for me.  It is often difficult and there are times when I wonder what I’m doing. But I have to keep persevering.

Here is a poem written by a fifteen year old with an eating disorder. This poem is in response to the day’s exercise which was to write a love poem to something you possessed. Sue (I’ll call her Sue) used to come to each session and just walk round and round the room. She would not sit still. Remember how I had to keep reminding myself the remit? To keep Sue in the room for the hour. This poem was our breakthrough.

 

Old Faithfuls

 

Tattered, worn and tired

I walk the lonely street

supporting your whole body

protecting your sore feet.

 

By day I meet with paving stones

with grassy banks and more

but as the night encloses

I lie up on the floor.

 

I’m old and weak, made poorly,

only fit to throw

but I’m your only saviour

created long ago.

 

I smell the smell of fire

and see the dark of night

I hear your pangs of hunger

and feel your constant fright.

 

I hold my frame around you

in the best way that I can

but the sad cold truth is really

I’m totally out ran.

 

I’m the nightmare sole protector,

But I’m still all you’ve got

I’m the giver of every blister

As I am soon to rot.

 

But as you have no mercy

complain you cannot

I’ll have to do for the moment

as I am all you’ve got.

 

 

Yes, keep going and writing.

 

Wendy French

 

Thinks Itself A Hawk pub: Hippocrates Poetry Press 2016

Poems from the UCH Macmillan Cancer Centre, London

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