A treacherous hurricane, spiraling out of control. A fire, alive with light, burning too bright. A blur of making the impossible, possible. a haze of anxiety, dead on my feet. Worries on my pillow, expectations to meet. My mind, teeming with images of my impending calamity. My heart, gripped in an iron vice. I was planning an escape route, to find serenity, to leave the chaos. Then one day. I stopped. I walked away. From something never meant for me. I locked the door. Stored the memories as lessons. I smiled, I am free. I threw the key into the flames. I was no longer a slave to the wrong choices I had made. The biggest lesson I learned. The words I etch into my skin like a tattoo. I can do anything. But not everything - EJ ©Emma-Jane Barlow, all words are my own.
Darling, I’m not going to lie to you. I won’t fill your mind with quixotic fairytales, vacant promises and jubilant dreams. I’m not going to hold your hand, reassure you, tell you that your life will be ideal, it will be complicated. That is the truth. You will struggle. A tiny speck of stardust called hope, will become the elixir you need the most. Your pillow, stained with tears. Your heart, heavy and broken. Your mind, a cloud of chaos. Moments of isolation, panic, fear. Blinded by a forest of darkness. Lost without a compass to guide you. But what you don’t know darling, is how strong you are. You will not see the light for some time, but when you do, it will radiate. Flow beneath your skin, enlighten you. Darling, you will rise like a phoenix. You beautiful warrior. You can do it. I believe in you. Struggle, to find your strength. Fall, to find your bliss. Hope, to find your way. EJ ©Emma-Jane Barlow, all words are my own.
Beneath the twilight,
under the gaze of
the watching moon,
in the presence of a
I made a wish for you
to be mine,
a decade has passed
and our hearts still
beat as one.
©Emma-Jane Barlow, all words are my own.
A few months ago, I was pondering the idea of posting my poetry online. For me, poetry has always been a solitary activity. I would scribble rhymes and metaphors onto paper, close my notebook and I would never read it again, never mind letting other people read and comment on it. Then, I decided that if I ever wanted to publish a poetry book (which has always been a dream of mine), then people would ACTUALLY have to read my poetry, right? Now, social media has its advantages and disadvantages. When you post something online, it is there forever, you lose control of where it can be shared or saved. This scared me a little, when I thought about my vulnerable musings being there for the whole world to read.
I lost my way as a writer for a long time. I have spent the last seven years of my twenties living my life, experiencing the good and the bad, I would write from time to time but never took it seriously enough. I do believe I am finally in a place not only to write again, but I actually have something to write about. Poetry has been the way I have expressed myself from the age of five. I’m not exaggerating here. From the moment I started school, even if I couldn’t articulate and write my thoughts down yet, it was there. I would make up stories in my mind and I had a lot of imaginary friends. Once I knew what rhyming was, I quickly started making little poems up and I loved it. I actually remember my first poem I wrote down on paper, I was seven years old.
In March this year, I created a poetry account on Instagram @EmmaJanePoetry, I wrote a poem on paper, typed it up, placed it on a colourful background and clicked upload. I could feel my heart thudding in my chest as I waited. What have I done? What if people don’t like my poetry? What if people are mean and say hurtful things? What if I’m never taken seriously as a poet or a writer because I have posted these words on an Instagram page? My stream of worries disappeared when I saw what happened next. Slowly but surely, people not only started following me and reading my poetry, they commented on my writing ability, told me that my words spoke to them, made them feel something. I had personal messages from people commending my poetry and asking when I was releasing a collection. I’m no Rupi Kaur, I have 387 followers. But I don’t want to be an Instagram influencer, I don’t want fame and fortune. I just want to write poetry and have someone to share it with. I want people to read my work and Instagram is a good place to start.
I’ve just watched a poetry documentary on YouTube about the ongoing debate between academics and young people who disagree on whether the Instagram effect on poetry is a positive or a negative one. It’s what inspired this blog post. I believe that there is space for everyone in the writing world. Commenting on whether poetry is “good” or “bad” is completely subjective. Poetry is personal for the reader. Yes, there are people on Instagram posting two or three line quote-type musings and calling it poetry. Let them. Poetry has never fit into one box. I have read some classical poetry that academics rave about and I thought it was useless drivel. But hey, that’s my opinion.
I think the real problem here is not about the definition of what a poem is, it’s about technique. As a Creative Writing graduate myself, I had to study poetry, learn about technique, different styles, how to create imagery in a poem. I took the time to learn about my craft. I think some writers are angry that young people, with no writing skills, are stringing a few generic phrases together, posting them online and calling themselves “a poet.” I get it, I really do. But like I said, there is space in the writing world for everyone. Spending time ranting about it just makes you an insufferable snob in my opinion. Compare this idea to art. You have your Mona Lisa portrait, that is considered to be one of the greatest portraits in the world alongside a modern piece of art, a few crisp packets hanging on a piece of string. One person may love classical art, so they deem the crisp packet art as rubbish, unworthy and unoriginal. However, some modern artists may respectfully admire the Mona Lisa but prefer unique and unconventional representations of art such as the crisp packets. Poetry is no different. We all like different things.
What I have noticed since I became a part of the Instagram poetry community is there are some extremely talented poetic voices out there, that would have never had their work read without social media. They may not have the confidence to go marching up to a publishing house and say, “publish my poetry please.” By sharing their work, they are receiving a positive response from their readers and this increases their confidence in their writing ability, what’s so wrong with that? Artists and writers want the same thing, to get their work “seen.” We live in a world with social media at the centre, we can choose to embrace it or ignore it, the choice is ours.
Poetry is changing. I know that by posting my poetry online, I am accepting that this is the 21st century and culture is adapting to be part of the digital world. We now have many platforms to share our words with millions of people. Why not utilise and use it to share our art, whatever that may be? We live in a society that likes to put labels on things. It makes us uncomfortable if we don’t categorise or explain something. If someone ever branded me as an InstagramPoet or an InstaPoet, I would politely correct them. Not because I would be ashamed of that label. I would tell them that yes I publish my poetry on Instagram, a social media platform. I also post it on Facebook, my blog and Twitter. But I think of that little girl, with her notebook and pen, writing poems about her imaginary friends and I smile. I always have been and always will be, no matter where I share my poems, simply… a poet.
Another year has passed. It has become a tradition for me to reflect on my life for the past year, the night before my birthday. Tomorrow I turn 27. It’s a strange world that we are living in right now. With a global pandemic, lockdowns across the world and an unpredictable virus taking people’s lives, this birthday I am filled with gratitude that I have a home, I have people who love me and I have my health. So this birthday is a little different, I have to stay indoors and celebrate it on a smaller scale, but I’m okay with that. You see, in the post I wrote the day before my 26th birthday, I talked about already feeling fulfilled, about learning to let go of things I can’t control and focusing on the present moment and the small things in life I am grateful for. I am happy to say that I continued on this journey of gratitude and light this year.
In September, I decided to go back into the classroom. I took a role as a teaching assistant, believing that even though teaching was not the job for me, the classroom was still an environment I thrived in. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There were many reasons I left my most recent job, I won’t go into the details. But something inside me was telling me to move on. I didn’t belong. I don’t know how I knew. I just did. I had to walk away. Now I don’t see it as a failure. I see it as a lucky escape. From a life that wasn’t meant for me. Since I left teaching, I often find myself repeating this phrase to myself “I can do anything but not everything.” It keeps me grounded and reminds me that it is okay if something is not for you, it’s not a failure but a lesson. Then I ask myself, what can I learn from this experience?
Well, what I have learned is that I am a free spirit. I am someone who becomes restless in one place for too long, I crave change, I need to be stimulated, I always want to try new things. I may have changed my mind a lot on what I want to do and what I think my purpose is during my twenties so far, but isn’t that what this time is for? Everything I have done is part of my journey. Since my last birthday, I have been focusing on my wellbeing and working on myself. My energy has shifted from what career or job I want to have, to what truly makes me happy. I started going to therapy and I worked through a lot of issues that have held me back for years. I made the crucial steps towards battling my anxiety and depression once and for all. There many other factors alongside therapy, but I can say for certain, I haven’t been this mentally strong in a long time. I am calm, centred, more creative and overall I worry less about what direction my life is going to take. What will meant to be will always find a way. I’m not saying I won’t ever experience mental illness again. But I now have full confidence in myself that I have the right tools to recognise the signs before I end up in that place again.
Also, in the last year, I have started my own small craft business called Positive Stitch. I started stitching as a hobby. In January, I started selling cross-stitch and embroidery gifts and I love it. Stitching is therapeutic for me and I have always loved creating things, whether that be a piece of writing, art or a music. During the last few months, I have found my creativity again. I am writing poetry every day and working on editing my first collection. I am practising my skills on the guitar and ukulele and singing a few times a week. Life is good right now.
So on the eve before my 27th birthday. I want to just take a moment to look back at how far I have come. Remember the mountains I have climbed to get here. It may have taken years of struggle but I have found my strength. I am happy, I am thankful for the present moment and hopeful for the future (whatever it may hold for me.) Now I can’t predict what will happen in the next 365 days of my life. But as long as I believe in myself, follow my intuition and appreciate the love and happiness that surrounds me, I’ll be okay. Happy Birthday to me, here is to many more to come!
Last year I entered a Mental Health Poetry competition with Make Our Rights Reality (MORR), my poem Did You Know made it in the top 25 and the prize was for my poem to be published in an anthology. The digital anthology has been released, the physical anthology will be out after the lockdown in the UK is lifted.
Did You Know is a poem I wrote about my darkest time a few years ago, when I was suffering with depression. It is a letter I wrote to let those around me know how deep in depression I was. Poetry for me has always helped me process my emotions. Many of these poems stay in a notebook or on my computer, as I once found them too personal to publish. But I saw this competition as an opportunity to make my voice heard amongst those who have suffered with mental health issues.
I am really pleased with this poem. I can look back on the words I wrote and be grateful that I no longer feel that way. But knowing that this anthology will be read by other young people who may be suffering with their mental health and my poem may make them feel less alone, makes me proud.
Did you know?
by Emma-Jane Barlow
Did you know that in my darkest moments,
I imagined a world without my heart beating and I smiled?
Every day, I wished for a way out, searching for salvation,
a path that would lead me towards the light.
Did you know that before I shared the positive picture that you liked,
I was drowning in desolation on the bathroom floor?
On the edge, pierced with panic in my chest, the walls crumbling around me.
Trapped, desperately watching my dense tears descend to the ground.
Alone, clock ticking, waiting for the storm to pass.
Did you know the immeasurable time I spent fighting with my own mind?
A damaged wasteland, a toxic atmosphere, somewhere you would never want to be.
The countless moments I spent revisiting old conversations.
Analysing every-spoken-word, every-emotion-felt.
Exhausted by the endless cycle of never-feeling-good-enough.
Did you know the infinite seconds, minutes, hours that I struggled to find silence?
Wanting just a fleeting moment of peace amidst the chaos of my unruly thoughts.
Every day, I dragged my legs through the mud until the sun set in the sky.
Sleeping, my only sanctuary, my only safe space away from the bleak.
In my dreams, I was free from the demons that held me hostage.
Did you know that despite the glimmer you saw in my eyes, inside my soul was breaking?
The mask I wore was due to the fear of being misunderstood by a disapproving world.
When it slipped, the eyes would stare, the voices would whisper, the fear returned.
No one recognised the hopelessness in my heart, the desire I felt to eliminate the darkness
that was growing inside me, once and for all.
Did you know that although I am walking on solid ground today,
I am waiting for it to dissolve, without warning, beneath my feet once more?
I see the light, I feel the light, I am the light. I can finally breathe without pain.
Yet I know that one day, when I’m not watching, my demons will return.
View the full anthology here: http://makeourrightsreality.org.uk/young-people-use-poetry-to-speak-out-about-mental-health/
We are living in uncertain times at the moment. What better way to unite people than with the power of poetry? One of my writer friends had an idea to create a pandemic poetry collection and raise money for charity. She asked me if I wanted to contribute and of course I said yes.
Blue Rose is a collection of poetry with 21 poems and 14 contributors. All proceeds of the book will be going to Samaritans. It contains the different perspectives of the current global pandemic, words from different writers about the significant time in our history we currently find ourselves in.
It’s an eclectic collection, my poem entitled “Positive Pandemic” is in there and many other talented, poetic voices, positivity shines through the page as you read this fabulous collection, I highly reccommend it. If you would like to purchase a physical copy of the book, you can buy it for £7 on Amazon, alternatively, you can download the Kindle version from Amazon for £3.50. Link below.
For the last decade, I have been suffering with crippling anxiety. As I made the transition from my teens to my twenties, my anxiety continued to grow and I started to feel like I was no longer in control of my thoughts, emotions, actions or behaviour. This year, it started to feel stronger than it ever has before. It was like I was living with an uncontrollable monster inside my head, one that was trying to destroy my life and constantly paralysing me with fear and doubt. I have been trying different methods to get rid of this life-ruining anxiety with no long-term success. I was trying to find a ‘magic cure.’ I wanted to be ‘normal.’ I wanted to be ‘anxiety-free.’ That was the problem. I was trying to eliminate my anxiety, rather than learning to manage it. I believe I have found the best way to manage my anxiety and it isn’t just one thing, it’s a combination of five different things. What works for me may not work for anyone else, but I believe I now have the right tools in my anxiety toolbox to not only manage my anxiety on a daily basis but no longer let it take over my life and jeopardise my health and happiness.
If I consistently practice yoga and meditation and give myself a little bit of time each day to unwind and slow down, it has a huge impact on my anxiety levels. Yoga has the amazing ability to change the outcome of my day. Focusing on the breath takes my attention away from my thoughts, even if it is only for thirty minutes a day. If I ever find myself overthinking, a quick sun salutation is sometimes all it takes to press the refresh button. I started doing yoga about five years ago and I still remember the first time I tried it, honestly, it has been a lifesaver during my lowest moments. I go through phases of laziness when I don’t practice and I see a big change in my mood when I don’t spend time on the mat. I need to be stricter with my yoga practice because it really does benefit my overall wellbeing. Meditation is something else that keeps me grounded. I have the Headspace app on my phone and sometimes a guided meditation is all it takes to change my mindset for the day. Yoga, meditation and finding time for self-care are all the ways I find calm in my day.
Something new I decided to try was CBD oil. I have always known about it, well before the current CBD craze that has swept the internet recently. I was always a little hesitant but decided to buy some a few months ago. I was taking it every day and felt much calmer. However, I didn’t know if that was just a placebo effect. When I ran out, it gave me a chance to see how I would feel without it. I spent four weeks without my daily dose and slowly but surely, the panic started to return, I found myself going back into old negative thought patterns and whenever I felt stressed at work, it started to affect me in a physical way, tight chest, headaches and light-headedness. I’ve started to taking it again and the only word I can use to describe how it makes me feel is zen. I know CBD oil has many benefits but for me it keeps me in a even-tempered state, it’s almost as if the things that usually trigger stress and lead to anxiety didn’t bother me in the same way…. magic!
I’m a creative person. I love art, music and poetry. I am always looking for new ways to be creative. What I have found is that having a consistent creative outlet, whether this may be cross-stitching, painting, playing guitar and ukulele or writing poetry, it has a drastic change on my thoughts, my mood and my overall anxiety level. Something that has really helped me is creating an art journal. On a regular basis, I get out my art box, which is full of paints, pencils and pastels and I just create. I spend hours, I get lost in a creative haze and during that time, I am free to do whatever I choose to do. Now that I have a job that gives me more time to spend alone to do these things, I have noticed a big difference in my health and happiness.
I’ve never been one for prescription medication. I am extremely sensitive to anything doctors prescribe me, so when I can, I find natural and holistic alternatives. Holland & Barrett is one of my favourite places! What I love about it is not only can you find supplements to aid different problems in your life, the staff are extremely knowledgeable. After talking to someone in H&B, I decided to give 5HTP tablets a try. If you’re not sure what they are and what they do. 5HTP is a daily dose of serotonin (Serotonin is an important chemical and neurotransmitter in the human body. It helps regulate mood and low levels of serotonin can contribute to depression) I started taking them every day and my mood was so much better! I also stopped taking hormonal birth control (as I believed that this was contributing to my anxiety and depression, five months later and my mental health has improved dramatically, so I am 99% certain that being on the pill for a long time was a contributing factor to my decline in mental wellbeing in the last 9 years).
I’ve always been open on here about my struggles with my mental health because I think it is important, it helps to remove stigma and let people know that they are not alone. I have tried CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) in the past, twice, but it didn’t work for me. This year, I finally took what feels like the final step in my anxiety journey. I booked to see a private counsellor. I was tired of my anxiety holding me back. I had no idea if it would work but I’m so glad it did. I’ve had five sessions already and I feel like a different person. The things that have weighed me down for years suddenly feel lighter. I still find myself being anxious from time to time but it quickly passes like a cloud, it doesn’t stick around anymore, it doesn’t build and build until I have a panic attack, I finally feel in control of it and this is because of my counsellor, she’s amazing and worth every penny!
Finding these five different things and doing them all simultaneously has been the key to managing my anxiety. Finally, I feel free from it. I no longer walk around believing there is something wrong with me because there isn’t. The label of General Anxiety Disorder that I wore so proudly for years has been ripped from my chest, I don’t want it anymore. Anxiety is a normal part of life. Allowing it to consume you and become part of your identity like I have been doing isn’t healthy, I know that now. Letting anxiety affect your daily life and being so paralysed by fear that you don’t allow yourself to be happy is madness, yet I let it happen for years. I was blinded by anxiety but now I see everything so clearly. I’m ready for then next decade, 2020 is going to be a continued year of personal growth for me and my number one goal is to continue managing my anxiety and live a calm, balanced, happy and healthy life.
What am I searching for?
This is a question I am currently asking myself but I don’t have the answer. For as long as I can remember, I have been chasing success. Studying, learning, training, getting qualifications, searching for the ‘perfect’ job. But the truth is. I am exhausted. I am tired of chasing ‘dream jobs’, only to find they are not what I thought they would be. I am tired of adding more and more pages to my already long CV. I no longer want to feel lost and confused, desperately seeking a place where I belong. I am tired of searching for the successful career that I believe will finally make me happy.
What if all I really want is a simple life?
In a world where you can do ‘anything.’ I feel suffocated and constrained by the societal structure we have in our western society. You know the structure – go to school and get a good education, work hard and get good grades (these will inevitably define the rest of your working life, but no pressure), go to college, attend university (don’t dare to do a degree that will waste your time eg: anything creative or vocational, you don’t get unlimited chances), get a job when you graduate (and become a functioning adult in society, even though you were never taught the REAL skills you actually needed), then work, work, work, pay taxes into a pension (that you will probably never get), then work a little more until your health declines and you can’t work no more. That’s it. That is your life. But it doesn’t need to be this way.
I have been stuck on the career hamster wheel for years now, giving everything I have, trying three different industries to become what society defines as ‘successful.’ But you know what? I don’t think I want it any more. I am starting to wake up and realise that there are other ways to be successful in my life and that my health and happiness need to come first before any job. I am becoming more aware of the link between my ongoing unhappiness and my need to be the best at everything.
We are all stuck in this abiding loop of always wanting and needing more.
Showing off about what we have. Craving attention and likes. Impressing our friends and doing whatever it takes to make our family proud. Climbing a metaphorical career ladder to achieve more power. Why?
I’ll tell you why. Fear. We are scared of what will happen if we stray from this structured way of living. Sometimes we need to break the mould and do things differently. We all want to do as much as possible with our lives. We want to live a life without regret. So we work ourselves into the ground to try and achieve the unattainable, quintessential, Instagram-perfect life. We go where the money is. We either get a soul-destroying job just to ‘pay the bills’ or we nearly kill ourselves training for a job that takes away our right to have a healthy work/life balance.
We spend so much time trying to get ahead that we gloss over the importance of what really matters.
I have focused SO much energy into finding my ‘identity’, finding the ‘perfect’ job for myself and finding ‘me.’ But I don’t need to. I am me. I always have been. I am constantly adapting, learning and evolving. I am learning to reflect on my past mistakes and learn from them. I am figuring out what makes me happy and what I need to walk away from.
I don’t need a label or a job title to define who I am.
Like a kaleidoscope, my visions for life are always changing. My vision now is to shift my focus towards my hobbies and passions. I am going to keep writing because it is what I love to do. I am going to continue to do yoga because it grounds me, it heals me, it allows me to be closer to my spiritual self. I am going to sing in choir and play my guitar and ukulele. I am going to do the things that make me happy and try and let go of the idea of being successful and having a career. It isn’t going to be easy but nothing ever is.
What am I searching for? Maybe what I think I am searching for, I already have.
I have a wonderful life. I have a place to call home, people that love me and hope in my heart. That should be enough. I need to start appreciating and loving my life instead of obsessing over things I don’t have and goals I haven’t achieved yet. It’s time to take a moment and reflect, I need to stop questioning the direction of my life and worrying about what I am ‘meant’ to be doing and just let go, let life happen and trust that the universe will give me everything I need.