2009, darkness at the window, my head half submerged in drink. Sat in a studio apartment (meaning Bedsit in old money) I felt suicidal, at the end of my tether with life. It alarmed me. I’ve had moments of thinking about it, (usually as a side effect or maybe a platform plank of my depression and anxiety) It’s just a fleeting thought. This time though, there was something dark and dingy about the whole feeling, a feeling of being stuck.
It elicited a decision that still ranks as one of my best reactions to poor mental health. I would get the next train to a station somewhere and start a travelling street art project over the course of a week, I’d only made a tentative approach at in my home town of Manchester
A week later the project, Show Your Bones had been taken to several cities in England and Scotland. I somehow ended up in the MEN and on regional BBC Radio talking about a strange little quirky project. I collected lost property umbrellas took a trusty sharpie (those things are fantastic) and wrote poetry on the outer fabric. At first they were all written in a single spiral but mistakes led me to work with those mistakes and more eloquent and expressive concrete poetry emerged. It still ranks as my best, most popular, most long running and most fun little projects. It has been used in multiple ways including being curated for exhibition at the Contact Theatre as part of Unsung Fest, “performed on stage” at several Manchester Fringe Fest events, used at a music festival (Stendhal) as well as a raft of other ventures. The whole point I am telling you this is that the arts can take a broken mind and help heal it. It is often at our most darkest hours that creativity and the arts in general can floodlight the once pitch black, art can give a shaft of light to let you see what you are up against. Necessity is the Mother of Invention as they say, if you back creativity into a corner or a box, it will show not only let you see but will help you navigate the most dangerous times. Creativity is a ship.
Going through my life of poetry and some street art as well as other artsy type stuff I can see so many times how it pushed me on or dragged me along. Winning a slam during a period of crippling panic attacks, channelling all that pain into performance and both helped each other along. In hospital I learnt to write, in hospital I gained a voice, a purpose and the illness never had a chance against those pocket moments of lucidity and calm that seem to usher in any time I sit to write.
There are, of course several if not numerous strategies that can save your life, diet, good sleep, social network, exercise, travel, a balance of rest and activity to mention a few, but for me the arts have saved me more times than I can count. It may have done the same for you. It wouldn’t surprise me if virtually everyone, if not literally everyone, has, at some stage had the arts help dig them out of a pit even if only for a blessed moments serenity. It is not the only reason for the arts, but for me, its up there.
Poetry still turns me on, it still helps me reach people, it helps me recover, to analyse and emote, it makes a life more authentic and more bearable, on more than many an occasion it can also make life more beautiful. Don’t stop creating. Turn the poison into something potable and gain a sense of self from what you create and how you created it.
You never know, you might save someone.
I can however argue, that you can definitely save yourself.