Twenty-Nine

What if my destiny is to claw my way to greatness?”

— Emma-Jane Barlow (From Weeds, Sins & Sunflowers, 2022)

It is the eve of my 29th birthday. Every year I like to reflect on the year that has passed but before I started to write this, I read my last two birthday blog posts for 27 and 28 and I marvel at how different my life has become in only 12 months. This is going to be a long journey to write in such a small space. Maybe I should start at the beginning? That would be a good place to start.

When I turned 27 years old in June 2020, I was unhappy. When I turned 28 years old in June 2021, you guessed it, I was unhappy. You wouldn’t know it from my words but I just didn’t want to admit to myself that the root of the problem was blindingly obvious, something major had to change in my life. I felt stuck, like a weed, anchored to the soil. I dreamt of becoming a sunflower with canary wings, I wanted bliss, I wanted to fly, I wanted to soar, I wanted so much more for myself. Then, a few months after my 28th birthday, October 2021 to be exact, everything in my world changed. The universe shook me like a tambourine until I was forced to admit some harsh truths, I had to peel back the rose coloured lenses and become the person I was always meant to be and it all began with a broken heart.

The universe shook me like a tambourine until I was forced to admit some harsh truths, I had to peel back the rose coloured lenses and become the person I was always meant to be and it all began with a broken heart.

As the autumn leaves started to change, my 12-year relationship with my “childhood sweetheart” ended. But we didn’t just part ways because we had grown apart, there was no civility and shaking hands, only chaos, betrayal and pain. I never wanted things to end the way they did. It felt like it was happening to someone else. I was disassociated from the world and the people around me for months because I was trying to process the loss of everything I had ever known. I was yanked from the comfortable and familiar life I had been living for 12 years and all of a sudden, I had to start again. Alone. Build myself back up, brick by brick, discover who I was without this other person identifying my existence and purpose.

It has taken many therapy sessions to unveil my past traumas and to fully understand and accept that there was nothing healthy or gratifying about that long-term relationship. There was love there once, there was also growth and respect and honesty, but somewhere along the way, they all withered and it became toxic and I just didn’t see the signs. It has taken a lot of soul searching and shadow work over the past eight months to uncover the truth and understand the wrong choices I have made in the past decade of my life. I let myself grow small. I let myself be abused. I let myself live in someone else’s shade instead of giving myself the space to flourish and thrive as the bold and beautiful flower that I am.

I let myself grow small. I let myself be abused. I let myself live in someone else’s shade instead of giving myself the space to flourish and thrive as the bold and beautiful flower that I am.

In the hurricane of my heartbreak, I was compelled to write. As autumn faded into winter, emotions poured out of me and onto the page. I filled notebooks with verses of sorrow and I tried to find the reason and rhyme for everything that was happening to me by doing what I do best, write poetry. The end result was Sins & Sunflowers, my brand new poetry book, it is a raw and brazen collection that unearths some of the darkest truths that a broken heart ponders and it also explores the themes of finding new love and most importantly, learning to love yourself. Click on the buttons below to find out more…


So, I was now living in my mum’s box room. Staring at the ashen walls every day trying to figure out what the future would hold for me. I swam through all the different rivers of grief, denying my pain through a unfeigned smile, drinking red wine to numb myself, holding back the waves of anger that overwhelmed me and feeling dizzy from living as the past, present and future versions of myself. I was single for the first time and during those few months I explored my options, I had fun. Flirting, sexting, dating. I found a hidden confidence that I didn’t know was within me. I was finally getting somewhere with one guy that I was attracted to, but eventually, I was ghosted and left feeling used and worthless.

The journey of feeling worthless was how I discovered my worth. I knew then that I didn’t need anyone else to define me. I focused on myself and once I let go and fully embraced this new version of me, I found out something else, something I think deep down I have always known, I’m Autistic. When my therapist confirmed it, everything finally made sense. I’m not going to go into too much detail about my Autism here because this is my birthday post, but it was a blessing to finally understand myself and how I see the world.

The journey of feeling worthless was how I discovered my worth. I knew then that I didn’t need anyone else to define me. I focused on myself and once I let go and fully embraced this new version of me, I found out something else, something I think deep down I have always known, I’m Autistic.

Something else happened when I stepped out of the darkness and started to heal my heart. I met someone. An unexpected, beautiful surprise of a man that has shown me that I can fall in love again, learn to trust, fully embrace life and enjoy every moment. I am bursting with gratitude and admiration for him because he has shown me a new direction and a different path that I didn’t imagine my life would take. He is the sunshine I needed in my life and I wake up every day thanking the universe for giving me him and showing me that the love I still had in my heart, despite all its cracks, could find a new place to reside with someone else.

He is the sunshine I needed in my life and I wake up every day thanking the universe for giving me him and showing me that the love I still had in my heart, despite all its cracks, could find a new place to reside with someone else.

Fast forward to now and I am spinning under the disco ball, enthralled by the wonders that await me in the future. I am loving life again. I am finally breathing in the scent of blossoming hope and believing that I can be truly happy. I thought I knew what happiness was but I didn’t, not until now. I am going into my 29th year with grace and authenticity and carrying wisdom that outshines the grief and anguish I have encountered in the last eight months. The highlights of my 28th year are that I have found myself, found new love, found that change can be exciting and I have found that the strength to be a sunflower with canary wings was in me all along, I always knew how to fly and now I will soar towards 29 and be thankful because every day is a gift. The future for me is bright and I am going to dance beneath the sun, knowing that this happy poet has everything she needs to start living the life she has always wanted.

I am loving life again. I am finally breathing in the scent of blossoming hope and believing that I can be truly happy.

A Published Poet Part Two

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/

Dream Big Or Don’t Dream At All.

dream-big

I think this is the most confident I have ever felt about my writing. I currently have 8,000 words of my first novel drafted, it doesn’t sound a lot compared to the 80,000 word mark I am hoping to achieve but for me it is a big accomplishment. I tend to bore easily with my story ideas but I strongly believe in this one. I might be currently writing The Pendant but that doesn’t stop me developing other pieces of writing. I am in the process of redrafting a poetry collection, I submitted it last year for my Poetry class and my tutor told me with a few more edits it could be published, so I am taking her advice and I am trying to polish it and will hopefully submit it to a competition when it is completed. There are fifteen poems in the collection and I have considered adding a few more, the collection is titled Beneath My Feet and the themes throughout the collection are place, landscape and time.

I also have the ambition to write a short story collection, I have a few ideas and would like the theme to be love, finding love and losing love. I have a few short stories that I have already written that could be apart of this collection and I have plenty of story ideas scribbled in my journal for new short stories. I am determined to make this an academic year of writing. When I finish my third year of university I would like at least 50,000 words of my novel manuscript completed and a collection of poetry and short stories. I am also studying screen writing this year and even though I enjoy it I don’t inspire to carry on with this medium after university.

I have always been overly ambitious, I just wish my efforts matched this ambition. I am indecisive, easily distracted and easily bored which definitely makes being a writer a harder journey to endure. I like to set myself aims that are possibly out of my reach, then I won’t be disappointed if I don’t reach them because they were big dreams in the first place. I’ve always believed that you should dream big or don’t dream at all. I am really excited to go back to university and carry on with my studies, I know that my last year is going to be my hardest year but I am going to try my best and hopefully I will have several creative pieces ready to be published when I graduate.

I would love to have my poetry or my short stories published. I know it’s going to be a few more years until my first novel will be ready to be submitted somewhere, so even though I am writing it I am working on other projects so I can get them published too. I have big dreams. I want to walk into Waterstones and see my book on the shelf.  I want people to get lost in a story that I created, I want people to fall in love with the characters that only existed in my imagination and I want people to eagerly anticipate reading my novels when I write them. I want to have a successful career, possibly publishing or editing I’m not entirely sure yet. I have big dreams and I am determined that they are all going to happen.  Every writer is an optimist. Canadian poet Margret Atwood quotes that ‘Any writer is an optimist. Why? Number one: they think they’ll finish their book. Number two: they think somebody will publish it. Number three: they think somebody will read it. That’s a lot of optimism. It’s optimistic in and for itself because it believes in human communication.’


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