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.
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.
For the last few years I have been writing poems about my life.
I always planned to create a poetry collection but it wasn’t until recently I decided to group them together and start editing. Darkness and Light is a collection of
emotionally-driven poems about the struggles and joys I have experienced in my life so far.
I would describe the collection as a raw and honest collection of poetry exploring the emotional complexities of modern life through the lens of a young woman’s experience. The collection is a balance of both an idealistic and realistic view of the world, compared with the ideology of darkness and light. There are themes of love, sex, struggle, heartache, pain, mental illness, relationships and happiness.
At the moment, I am working on the second draft of poems. I currently have 30 poems but plan to add more before I am ready to publish it. I don’t feel like the collection is complete yet, I still feel like I have more to say. A lot of writers hate editing. But I am one of the few writers that loves this part of the process. I am thoroughly enjoying rewriting and organising this collection.
I have thought about whether or not I would like to submit it for publication or self-publish it on Amazon. I think I am leaning more towards the latter. I want my book of poetry to be published, not to make me any money, but to share my poetry and my experiences with the world. I’ll save the dream I have of seeing my book in Waterstones for the novel I will one day write (I just have to complete one first). I will keep the blog updated with the writing and editing process and will hopefully be announcing the publication soon.
Today I wrote a short story, for fun! This may sound like a simple task for a writer, as writer’s write, right? Well, I did write A LOT once upon a time. I had notebooks full of ideas, I had motivation to put pen to paper and I really enjoyed the craft of writing fiction and poetry. I did a three year degree in creative writing because I loved it so much. I completed an adult novel a few years ago (it now sits in the bottom of my desk drawer). I was moving onto writing a children’s novel when, well, life happened.
I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with my writing muse over the past couple of years. It wasn’t a writer’s block that stopped my flow of ideas and writing, but a life block. A lot of circumstances in my life should have pushed me towards writing but instead, it pushed me further away from it. Writing was at the bottom of my priority list and I didn’t realise the negative effect of doing so. Writing is a big part of who I am and by not doing it to freely express my thoughts and ideas, I was losing a piece of myself. Over time, I could feel the idea of me being a writer and writing becoming a memory, a version of myself that I could never get back.
Last week, I was in Cardiff with my partner, when I came across The Writer’s Toolbox in Waterstones. I had seen it previously and never bought it, but something was pulling me towards it. With the help of The Writer’s Toolkit, Best Writing Prompts Daily Facebook page and reading some of my old writing (to remind myself that I’m not terrible). I was inspired enough to write something today. The ideas are there. They never disappeared. It was my inner critic, the confidence in myself that I was a great writer and I had something to say that stopped. For some reason, one day, I just started to question if my writing was any good. This nagging self-doubt stopped me from actually writing. It caused me to stop doing what I loved. I don’t want it to happen again.
I shouldn’t care if my writing is any good or even if it has an audience. I just need to get back to the reason why I started writing to begin with. I need to find the joy in writing again and today I accomplished that. I’m starting my NQT year in a few weeks. Which is the first year of primary teaching. I’ll have my own class, a lot of responsibility, a lot of challenges ahead.
But I need to make time for my writing. Writing fiction or poetry for me is an escape. Such as reading a book, playing a video game or even doing a jigsaw puzzle is for others. I love to lose myself in a fictional world that I create. I love to take my feelings and emotions and turn it into a beautiful poem. This will not be a fluke. I will make sure that for the love of writing, I continue to make time for it. I must, I am a writer after all and that’s what writer’s do…. WRITE!
I’ve always had a turbulent relationship with my writing muse. I’ve been struggling with writer’s block for two years. After graduating with my degree in Creative Writing, I decided to give my writing brain a rest. I had spent the past three years juggling poetry, stories, scripts and essays in my mind, so I simply stopped. The problem was, I didn’t know how to get started again.
I’ve made so many attempts over the past two years to get into the habit of writing regularly. After a while, I realised that forcing myself to write was only decreasing my enjoyment for it and I should just let go and wait for my muse to return when I was ready.
Well, now I’m ready. I woke up one morning with an idea burning at the front of my mind. I couldn’t get to my notebook quick enough! I thought it was a fluke, but a few days later, I started writing in my pink journal, which is a mixture of poetry, story ideas and random thoughts that inspire me.
The ideas started to pour out of me effortlessly. When I didn’t think too much about when I would start writing again, my mind was clear enough to allow ideas to develop. I have a large stack of Writing magazines to read and without even thinking about it, I have started to make my way through them. I’ve also decided to print off the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo in 2014 and edit it. I am reading and writing again and I couldn’t be happier.
There’s a small part of me that has been missing for the last two years. I am a writer and although I have been occupying my mind with other things, getting a job, relationships, family, friends, starting my own magazine and discovering my love for teaching, I feel whole again now that I’m writing stories and coming up with new ideas.
When my writing brain is active, I feel like a child again. I cast my mind back to the excited little girl, sticking out her tongue as she scribbled stories in Woolworths notebooks and I smile. Not a lot has changed. I’m all grown up now but the burning desire to create stories is still very much a big part of who I am. I allowed ‘real life’ to grab my attention for a while, but now that I am in a place of contentment, I am ready to make room for writing again.
Energy and persistence conquer all things – Benjamin Franklin
I may have lost my way for a while but I now feel back to my old self. My ambitious, hard-working and motivated self that wants to succeed. I have so many projects and exciting opportunities happening right now that I haven’t even had the time to blink and really think about how far I have come in the past month.
Persistence is something that comes naturally to me. Sure, I can give into the temptation of being lazy for a day and say that I will do something tomorrow but in the back of my mind, it all keeps on turning. Like an old grandfather clock, my mind never stops. The hand always goes round and round and even when I don’t think I’m thinking about everything I have to and want to do, it’s still there, encouraging me to keep going. I have this ongoing need to succeed.
I want to update this blog as much as I used to but there are not enough hours in the day to achieve everything I want to and I have to learn to prioritize. In the last few weeks I have managed to land myself a paid part-time freelance writing job, volunteer at a hostel as a mentor in Creative Writing, sign up to be a volunteer at The Manchester Literature Festival and start my own online magazine Zest For Life. It’s in the very early stages but please follow the Zest For Life Blog here.
Adding to that I have a novel that is still stuck on 4,000 words because I haven’t had the time to focus on it. I am still writing short stories and poetry for collections that I will put together one day in the future. I still contribute articles for two online magazines and I also have this blog. If that wasn’t enough, I’m also signing up for a night class once a week, the class is being taught by a successful author who will be teaching the different ways to publish your writing.
I know I have a lot of things going on in my life right now but I like to be busy. The days were so long when I had nothing to do and no motivation to start anything new. Now, I feel my old self again. I am ready to take on anything life throws at me. I still think about the future but I am really in love with my life right now.
There’s a burning passion inside of me for words. I want to write. I want to be a successful writer. One day I want to be a successful author. I want an amazing career. I want to complete all of the projects that I have set for myself. I want to take every opportunity that comes my way. I want to succeed and I’ve decided to start enjoying every second of my life.