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8 Brave Poets Who've Put Mental Health in the Spotlight

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To honor National Poetry Month, we wanted to celebrate modern poets who’ve put mental illness and mental health in the spotlight. They say out loud words we’re used to hearing in whispers, and give us permission to tell our own stories — however we chose to.

Thanks to these poets for sharing their words with us. Missed someone you love? Tell us about them in the comments below.

1. Neil Hilborn

Who he is: Neil Hilborn made waves when his performance of “OCD,” a slam poem about falling in love when you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, went viral. He also writes about living with bipolar disorder. A College National Poetry Slam Champion, his debut full-length poetry collection is called “Our Outnumbered Days.”

Our favorite lines: 

The first time I saw her, everything went blankAll the ticks, all the constantly refreshing images, just disappeared / When you have obsessive compulsive disorder, you don’t really get quiet moments

2. Blythe Baird

Who she is: Blythe Baird represented Chicago as the youngest competitor at the National Poetry Slam. Her poem, “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny” tells the story of when she developed an eating disorder as a teen.

Our favorite lines:

When you develop an eating disorder when you are not thin to begin with, you are a success story / So when I evaporated, of course, everyone congratulated me on getting healthy / Girls at school who never spoke to me before stopped me in the hallway to ask how I did it / I say, ‘I am sick.’ / They say, ‘No, you’re an inspiration.’ / How could I not fall in love with my illness?

3. Yashi Brown

Who she is: Yashi Brown is an author, poet, speaker and active leader in the mental health community. She writes about living with bipolar disorder. Her recent book of poems is called “Black Daisy in a White Limousine.

Our favorite lines:

I’m severely severe in all clinical severities / Those severely large psychiatric books with new severe terms every day have to say that I wouldn’t know them if they ran up and severely slapped me in the face / They’re like unidentified flying objects. 

4. Sabrina Benaim

Who she is: Sabrina Benaim is a writer, performance and teaching artist, whose home base is Toronto. She enjoys breaking down stigma, which she does in her piece about explaining depression to her mother.

Our favorite lines:

Mom, my depression is a shapeshifter / One day it is as small as a firefly in the palm of a bear / the next it’s the bear / One those days I play dead until the bear leaves me alone. 

5. A.S. Minor

Who he is: A.J. Minor is a United States Army veteran, TedX speaker and mental health advocate. He writes about his borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder to show others they are not alone.

Our favorite lines:

Sometimes I’m drowning so deep in an ocean of medications / that all I want is to feel like me again / I want to pull him out of the water, breathe life into his lungs / and tell him, ‘No, you can’t give in.’

6. Taz

Who she is: Taz is a spoken word poet from the United Kingdom. She writes honest, confessional pieces about her experiences with depression and self-doubt.

Our favorite lines: 

For as long as I can remember / I’ve always had this void in my life / This empty feeling deep, deep inside of me that you can’t quite shake / no matter how hard you try / It’s what consumed and eats away at you/  You have great happy moments and just when you think things are fine / Surprise / The feeling always comes back.

7. Jeanann Verlee

Who she is: Jeanann Verlee is a poet, editor, and former punk rocker. She currently lives in New York City. She is a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow and the author of “Said the Manic to the Muse” and “Racing Hummingbirds.” In her poem, “The Mania Speaks,” she writes from the perspective of her mania.

Our favorite lines:

I gifted you the will of gun powder / a match stick tongue / and all you managed was a shredded sweater and a police warning? / You should be legend by now

8. Bharath Divakar

Who he is: Bharath Divakar is a spoken word poet and a mentor at National Youth Poetry Slam in India.

Our favorite lines:

Dear Depression / you’re my oldest friend of 12 years / and you hate to be alone / so you brought along sickly friends and cousins of yours / panic, anxiety, mania, social phobia and made me believe my life was a party / a party where I was the cake people would leave half-eaten on paper plates.

9. *BONUS* Our Mighty Contributors

I Am Not Like You: Life With Mental Illness

Explaining My Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Poetry

Hello, I Am a Person: A Poem About Anxiety

My Life With Anxiety: A Poem

The Thing About Depression Is…

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7 Mental Health Advocates Get Real About the Pressure to Seem 'OK'

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When I heard about Amy Bleuel’s passing on The Mighty, I found myself frozen staring at my semicolon tattoo. I will never know exactly what was on Amy’s mind at that time, but I was stuck thinking about how we make it hard for our advocates to succeed.

We are the people changing the mental health system, holding hope for others who hear our stories and want help, we are fighting against people who don’t want to talk to us because they think we are fragile and broken — no matter how badass and accomplished we are. We are treated like clockwork oranges — always giving to others. We give support, love, advice, ideas, space for people to complain when we don’t speak for them — and sometimes, all without getting proper self-care space, payment or respect for our hard work.

And — before anyone decides to complain about this in the comments — we understand how lucky we are to have a platform and voice to make a change, it’s why we always come back. But if we don’t have the space to rest, the support we need or the respect — it makes advocacy unsustainable and potentially harmful. Below I have asked for other mental health advocates (and amazing Mighty contributors) to share their stories of how being an advocate makes self-care hard. I hope from this, other mental health advocates (big or small) can understand they aren’t alone in how they are feeling. I hope the community that relies on us for support can understand why we can’t always be there. And I hope the world understands we are not unbreakable or perfect, we are just normal people who care a whole lot.

1. “There was a quote in Sarah’s article that really grabbed me about how those called as suicide prevention advocates are often those who have survived an attempt or who are survivors of suicide loss. It doesn’t mean they know the territory before jumping into the canoe. (Paraphrasing here, so I don’t have it exactly right probably.) This is so true. We’re navigating the same waters, but don’t necessarily have a lighthouse in sight, a life jacket or even know how to swim in uncharted waters… we just know we’re called to help others. Sometimes in helping others, our own self-care takes a backseat, sometimes because it’s easier to focus other’s problems and sometimes because we get caught up in what we do, and other times because we just don’t see that we have that safety net we are to some. It’s easy to not see the rocks or rapids ahead until you hit them. People tend to think we have the answers and have conquered, but we’re really still in the battle with them.” — Selena Marie Wilson

2. “I always want to educate people about my mental illnesses and show people that someone with my disorders is still able to succeed in life. I am eager to talk to people about the difficulties I have overcome and how healthy I am now. But life isn’t simple like that. My journey to mental health has been going in the right direction overall, but there have been a lot of bumps on the way. I want to tell people, I was so sick when I was diagnosed 14 years ago, but now I’m great. But in reality today I might have had a panic attack, today I might have had terrible anxiety, today I might have been in deep depression, today I might have been manic, today I might have heard voices or dissociated. I had two mental breakdowns just last year. I want to be a poster child for mental illness, so sometimes I smile and say I’m OK when I’m not. It’s a struggle. I love when people say I am an inspiration. I love when people say that they are amazed at how well I am doing in life, despite my illness. But then it’s easy to not tell the whole story. I have days that are terrible. I want to be an inspiration, not a burden, so sometimes I hold my tongue instead of getting help.”  — Anna Lente

3. “I started writing to get my story out there, to break through that wall that told me I wasn’t lovable. I have such a difficult time verbalizing, writing became a way for me to get clear, to regain my focus. The unseen force at work is that I feel the need to be OK, that I feel admitting publicly that I am not OK ruins all the work I have put put there. It is a struggle between being who I am in the moment and that person I want to be. Sometimes I am not OK, sometimes I fall down and I need help getting back up; becoming an advocate has created the illusion for me that it is not OK to ask for help. But it comes down to this: that shadow part of me deserves just as much love as the rest of me. But I am not sure how the shadow will be received by my readers and friends that may not understand it is not a straight path.” — Lenore Searle

4. “We want people to be inspired by our tales, as we have been inspired by others who came before to keep us motivated in this battle. Still, it is a hard commitment you do when you become a mental health advocate, as you are still struggling, but the priority now becomes to inspire others. Amy is a clear example. We make a significant change, save lives, make people see it’s worth living life and leave the mental health community much stronger than the one we started with. That means keep fighting with your demons, but always remembering you are doing it not only to keep yourself alive, but so others will. Our job demands to know how to handle the thin line between telling our stories bluntly and as they are, to show that mental health struggle is in fact real, but always keeping in mind that you do it in order to create awareness, strength and solidarity, not to make others sink with you at your hardest moments.” — Mariana Solarte Caicedo

5. “One of the most detrimental misconceptions surrounding mental health advocacy is the notion that advocates ‘have it all together.’ Although we, as mental health advocates, write and speak on some of the most vulnerable aspects of our lives, candidly addressing our own struggles in the hope of spreading awareness and helping others feel less alone, we are perceived as virtually infallible. We are faced with the pressure to remain composed at all times, to be ‘self-care superstars’ and to advocate in a socially conscious way, but the desire to continue fighting, the expectation that we must always smile and the notion that we must never have a difficult day can cause our mental health to plummet. This polarizing dichotomy between the perception and reality of mental health advocacy affects me daily, on a deeply personal level. Despite my candor regarding my experience with mental illness, others in the mental health community believe I am winning the battle against my own mind, but they cannot see the days I struggle with self-care and fight to stay afloat; my mind frozen by anxiety and numbed by depression. — Kelly Douglas

6. “I began writing about my mental illness because I didn’t want people to feel as alone as I felt when I was diagnosed. I try and be as honest as possible in the life I am experiencing but at times it gets hard. The world almost expects me to be fine because I advocate for mental health awareness. There is pressure to not have a bad day, not not break down, to show no signs of weakness. It’s silly because it goes against everything I advocate for. I advocate for openness and free expression of how one feels. And to find that I don’t do it because I get scared of the very stigma I advocate against is hypocritical. I want to say I am always winning because I don’t want others to give up. I always smile because I feel the need to be strong for others. But I forget that at times I need to let go of all that control so that others can be strong for me.” — Ros Limbo

7. “It’s so easy to fall into the trap of presenting as 100 percent better. It’s easy on social and in traditional media, and in person. I wanted that fairy tale recovery story — but instead of Prince Charming Recusing me, it was some magical mental health professional that made it go away forever. But — as we all know — fairy tales are not real. My real story, of being better for a while, getting worse, being better getting worse again, is the most accurate — but also the most inspirational and stigma challenging. I realized, after trying to be perfectly well, that I didn’t need to be perfectly recovered to make change. That I can write awesome blogs, create amazing programs and tell compelling stories even if I am not well — as long as I love and take care of myself. In doing this, I also took pressure off myself to be the one true mental health advocate. All I can do is fight for the change I think is good, highlight the voices I see passed over and build stuff I think is really cool. When people get upset because it’s not their change — all I can do is show them tools to make their change. I can’t do everything for everyone. Lastly, I have also given myself permission to say fuck the haters. I have been in so many meetings where I had to present well to appease some doctor, politician or community leader who thought people living with mental illness were too fragile to participate in change that affect them. Now — when someone suggests that I need to be x amount of well for x amount of time to participate — I kindly remind them that I kick just as much ass as they do even if I am unwell and that asking people to pretend to be well to talk to them is dangerous.” — Alicia Raimundo

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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Ways to Be a Good Friend for Someone With a Mental Illness

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What I Want Instead of Pity When I Tell You About My Mental Illness

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A commonly expressed opinion I’ve heard is those who talk about mental health problems are doing so for pity or attention. It seems to be assumed that only these things could be a solid enough reason for speaking about something so taboo and uncomfortable.

Please let me speak for myself so I can attempt to clear up this misconception.

I do not want your pity. I do not long for your attention. What I hope for is empathy — I dare to dream you will stop and try to place yourself in my shoes. I wish for understanding, kindness and tolerance. I crave your acceptance and support, your friendship.

Please do not judge me when you notice the scars that color my wrists. They might seem ugly to some, but they are a part of me now and I cannot change them.

Instead understand I was in a great deal of emotional distress and it was how I managed to survive. Express your gratitude you are glad I am here, alive.

Please do not avoid me if you notice at a social gathering that I seem distracted or I am wringing my hands and seem jittery. I am likely struggling to control a panic attack. I’m not dangerous to you and I’m still the same person you know — I’m just frightened.

Instead come and ask if I’d like to walk with you. Help me escape with my dignity before the panic takes hold and give me a chance to remove myself from a scary situation without causing embarrassment to myself or others.

Please do not make thoughtless comments about “thinking positively” or “remembering to pray” or any motivational speeches about “choosing happiness” for that matter. I do not wish to be depressed.

Instead ask me how I am and then really listen. If you don’t know what to say just say, “I don’t know what to say, but I’m sorry you are experiencing this.”

Please do not stop talking, keep telling me what is happening in your life. I am depressed and anxious, but I am still interested in what you are doing and feeling, the good things and the bad things.

Instead share your highs and lows with me. Trust my friendship and know I love to have a chance to escape into someone else’s life for a while and feel useful, so don’t hesitate to ask me to do things for you or with you.

Please do not be angry with me if I need to postpone our plans. My physical health is unstable because of my mental illnesses, but I really do want to hang out with you when I can.

Instead recognize I’m feeling guilty about letting you down and assure me you are not angry with me. If you are angry, please express it kindly and try to understand I did not upset you on purpose. Know I am already trying to figure out how to make it up to you as soon as I am well and able.

Please do not stop including me in your plans. I know I am often unable to attend but it really hurts me when I feel invisible and discarded.

Instead invite me and let me know you understand if I can not attend, but that you would love to see me there if possible. This truly means the world to me and I feel loved and cared for.

No, I do not talk about mental health for attention, pity or sympathy. I do it so I can be open and honest and help others to come to understand what those of us who struggle with these illnesses are going through. I hope you will find insight and be able to better know what to do to show your support to those you love.

Often mental illness is called “invisible,” but it is not invisible. The symptoms can easily be unseen, but trust me when I tell you they become all too visible to the person struggling, including his or her close family and friends eventually.

All any of us want is to be understood and accepted for who we are through the good and the bad times. Please do not pity me, just love me.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo via contributor.

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Why People With Mental Illness Need a Superhero

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The quirky friend and the villain; these are the two stereotypes we commonly see in movies with characters who have a mental illness. Girls who have mental illness in romantic comedies are often seen as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Manic Pixie Dream Girls are quirky and fun. They’re often manic (thus the name) and spontaneous, yet host an internal rage and a need to be alone, often isolating themselves. She is unpredictable. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is fleeting, is there for the main character’s development, and she exits when they’ve learned a valuable lesson. We even see this in male roles, usual as the best friend or sibling who is “lazy” but often up and down.

If someone in a film with a mental illness isn’t the unbalanced friend, they’re seen as the villain. The world has seen this recently in movies, such as Split, where the villain has dissociative identity disorder (DID) and kidnaps young women to please one of his alters. I’ll admit, I watched the movie despite the warnings. I thought maybe people were being overly sensitive. I was thoroughly disappointed, and felt ashamed of myself, being that I have the same diagnosis as the villain.

All these stereotypes are adding to the already heavy stigma of mental health. People believe what they watch in movies (sadly) and hold them as truths in the outside world. I’ll admit there’s even times I’ve fallen into the trap. This happens especially after watching a horror film of someone with mental illness. I’m ashamed of my own health, and neglect self-care, which makes my mental state much worse than it was before viewing the film. I even believe one of the reasons it took me so long to seek mental health treatment is because I was afraid of the stigma, based off what I’ve watched in films.

It’s time the mental health community had a superhero.

We need a blockbuster, hit movie to change the face of mental illness. I want to see a film where a city’s hero struggles to get out of bed — not due to laziness, but because they’re so blinded by depression they can’t see the point. I want to see a movie character who has to face a villain in a crowded street, while dealing with social anxiety. I want a hero who is trying to focus but has attention-deficit disorder (ADD), or a character who is good hearted, but trying hard to stay present. I’m waiting for the movie that shows us as more than villains or quirky side kicks. I’m waiting to see the film about the truth, but I want the character to be respected, and glorified.

Part of me wants this to re-educate people, but a bigger part of me wants to watch a movie like this because I want a hero to look up to. Yes, we have a million advocates; celebrities, writers, spokespeople. I’d like to think I could be a mental health hero, too. However, I know as a young child I was inspired most by movies and television shows. I often looked up to princesses from Disney films or the adventurer movies; I even have a soft spot for superhero movies and horror films. Movies shaped me growing up. I’d like a movie to reshape the way the world views us who struggle with mental health.

Someday, I know there will be a movie where we’re the hero. Even if I have to write the screenplay myself.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure.

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What Having Mental Illness in College Is Like for Me

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Mental illness in college can be a silent battle.

It’s coming up with reasons not to hang out with my friends. Or go eat dinner or do anything at all. Because the truth is, I just can’t get out of bed.

Mental illness in college is putting on a show when my family calls because I don’t want them to worry. I want them to think everything is OK. So I lie.

It’s feeling overwhelmed by the flood of papers and exams that just keep coming and then staring blankly at my computer for hours. Then I can’t breathe and I want to ask for help, but I don’t want to annoy my friends. I know they’re busy too.

I start to wonder how people say these were the best four years of their lives.

Mental illness in college is biting my blankets in the middle of the night so my roommate doesn’t hear me cry. I want people to think I’m tough, but I also just want someone to notice how broken I am inside.

Until they do.

It’s shaking uncontrollably in my friend’s arms on the balcony at midnight and feeling guilty she had to get out of bed to hold me. Then it’s feeling like nothing I do will ever show that person how much she means to me.

But mental illness in college isn’t all bad. It can help me grow.

Mental illness in college is realizing I can get by on my own. I can navigate a new city and do my own laundry.

It’s learning how to control habits that have controlled my life. I’m surrounded by new people who don’t know the old me. College is a fresh start. If I want to change, now’s my chance.

Mental illness in college is channeling my intense emotions into each new experience. I can inspire people with my passion.

It’s making connections with the best friends I’ve ever had. It’s having a roommate who researches my illnesses when I’m in the hospital. Or the friend who gets me out of bed to go for a walk with her when it’s pretty outside. The friend who comes to be with me when I say I’m fine, because she knows I’m not OK. And the one who holds the scars on my wrist and tells me I am beautiful.

Because I am.

All of these thoughts and emotions swirling around can be overwhelming. And if you are handling college on top of all of this, that is amazing. It isn’t everything, though. No matter where you are in life, you are strong.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Lead photo via Jacob Ammentorp Lund

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