There are many more poems written than are ever read.

12 Feb 2014

I was asked a very interesting question recently: "what keeps you motivated during times of depression?" Resisting the urge to collapse into unseemly howls of hollow laughter, I took the time to think about it.

Motivated? Oh no, that's asking too much; far too much. But the question "what keeps you going?" is a valid one.

In the end it comes down to dogged determination, a refusal to give up, a stubborn resistance to just lying down and waiting for death, even when that is what you want, more than anything, or as much as you can want anything in that state.

I realised that one of the things that does really help in those times, is poetry; the poems particularly of people who have gone through this before me. Gerard Manley Hopkins is best known for his poems The Windhover and Pied Beauty, but his Desolation Sonnets, as they are known, speak powerfully of just hanging on. A Modern poet, Shane Koyczan, speaks straight to our heart with his Instructions for a Bad Day. Psalm 139 is an important one to me. Not quite poetry, the lyrical prose blog (with great illustrations) of Hyperbole and a Half tells of her journey through depression with the slightly bitter humour many of us can relate to.

And what of all my poems written in the torment of wakeful nights - in purple ink using a quill pen, because yes, it seemed appropriate at the time - that were (mostly) binned with the break of day - or at least, in the late afternoon when some kind of literary sanity and good taste prevailed?

Art, in its widest sense, can be one of the resources that keep us going. For me, putting words on paper helps. It doesn't even have to be published. It doesn't matter if nobody else reads it. Somehow it creates a drainage channel and some of that grey blankness flows out and onto the paper. Other people paint, or sew, or plant flowers; build brick walls all round their garden (hint – it's usually best to keep these walls less than four feet high, otherwise they increase your isolation and the therapy becomes toxic).

The flip side of depression is often creativity. If the chains of inertia are not binding you fast at present, consider which form your creativity takes and if you can use it usefully in the bad times. If your world has turned grey, can you paint fifty shades of it? Just as an academic exercise of course.

You choose whether to go public with your art: it's therapy, not exhibitionism. But it just might be a gift and a lifeline to someone else.


Gerard Manley Hopkins: (Carrion Comfort)

No Worst, There is None

I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark

Shane Koyczan: Instructions for a Bad Day

Hyperbole and a Half:


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