THE BLOG

Finding a Creative Outlet Helped Me to Manage My Depression

19/04/2016 17:47

When I was younger, I had a stammer.

I could tackle most letters, but syllables starting with R or W proved particularly difficult - as if I had to summon them from my toes and they weren't up for the journey.

My impediment was clearly not as severe as it could've been, but it was obvious enough for people to throw insults. It was obvious enough, upsettingly, to put me off taking English Literature at Sixth Form through fear of having to give presentations and speeches.

When time was mine to control, words would trickle effortlessly from my mouth. But when attention was thrust upon me, my jaw locked, my tongue swelled and my lips forgot how to part. I hated it.

I'm pleased to say I now have it under control (thanks, believe it or not, to an interview I saw with Gareth Gates on breathing techniques and the importance of rhythm when beginning words you struggle with). However sometimes when I'm asked to spontaneously speak to a large group or, oddly, if someone mishears me, and I have to repeat what I said, I need to take a moment to compose myself and implement the appropriate techniques to speak freely.

'So how,' you might ask, 'did you get into spoken word?'

Two years ago a Twitter friend read some comedy bits I had online and asked if I'd performed them on stage. I said no. She insisted I should.

My friend was unaware - as was everyone in my life - that I had recently been diagnosed with depression. My weeks consisted of struggling to get out of bed, losing confidence at work then struggling to fall asleep at home. The thought of doing anything creative felt exhausting.

Until one evening, my friend's tweet popped into my head. I'd just left a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy session looking at how learning and trying new things can help when experiencing a mental health problem. 'Could I perform on stage?' I thought. 'I guess I've always wanted to try.'

And it was true; I had always wanted to try. I was just frightened of talking to a crowd. But to be brutally honest I came to the conclusion that, as I was spending all of my time heckling myself and thinking I was useless, there was nothing an audience could do to hurt me more.

The next day I went to an open-mic night and I wasn't nervous. That's not to say I don't get nervous now. It's just nerves exist to lovingly protect us from danger and, back then, depression had put a pause on the love I had for myself so I simply didn't care if I was in danger.

What I read was nonsense - a piece about a man who sneezed so hard his skin fell off; another about a rapper called Keith - but the warmth from the crowd was intoxicating. No one had a bad word to say. I was accepted.

So I went again. And again. And slowly my confidence came back. With a new creative outlet I felt reenergised. I began to love myself again.

We all have different journeys with mental health problems, but by immersing myself in a new world I was able to take a step back from the one that had become too much; restore some balance to my life and go back to being Carl. Albeit one who now tells silly stories to strangers.

You can find further information about depression in the Rethink Mental Illness factsheet. You can also call the Rethink Mental Illness advice service on 0300 5000 927 (lines open Monday to Friday 10am-2pm and calls charged at local rate).

Carl Burkitt works for Time to Change - the anti-stigma campaign run by Rethink Mental Illness and Mind. Carl is also a poet, writer and performer. See his scribbles at www.carltellstales.com

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