Poetry to help with your mental health

Reporter ANTONY CLAY meets Dearne Valley poet Nigel Downing who has set himself a challenge after suffering personal trauma

A MAN who has battled with bipolar disorder is hoping that his latest no-holds-barred book of poetry will help people conquer suicidal thoughts.

Nigel Downing, of Dearne Road, Bolton-on-Dearne, wants his new collection to help a number of good causes and raise awareness of suicide.

His new book, called Stronger Than My Own demons, is a brutally honest journey from the depths of despair to a brighter present and future.

Nigel’s book is often a very hard read emotionally but he hopes it will get people talking, understanding and helping.

In the first half of his collection, the poems reflect Nigel’s utter despair and tell of his desire to kill himself, but the second half marks his move towards the positive place he is in today.

It has been a long journey in which Nigel has tried to commit suicide many times while suffering from bipolar disorder for 22 years.

“I have felt suicidal 30 times and it is terrifying,” said Nigel. “I did not choose this.

“I am on top form now. I am the best I have ever been for 20 years.

“I have had to really dig my feet in to get through it.

“My life is hit and miss so when I am on a good day I try to experience as many good things as I can.”

Nigel — who has lost three friends to suicide — wants to support five charities through his new book — Bipolar UK, Creative Recovery based in Barnsley which has helped him with his writing, CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), Talk Club (a mental fitness community for men), and suicide prevention charity Papyrus.

“My priority is to stop as many suicidal people as possible,” said Nigel.

“I am going to drive the charity book as far as I can.”

Writing has become more than a hobby for Nigel, it is a lifeline which has got him through his trauma.

“On my good days I am burning my brain to pieces,” he said. “I write things in poems and other people connect. But I am a deep guarded person and don’t let people in too much.

“It’s me writing down and letting anyone else read what’s going on in my head.

“I have put that book out to try and help others. To show them they are not on their own. When you are in that place you think no one else can understand.

“I am very lucky that I can appeal to people through poetry.

“I have to be a writer. I am a different person to what I was.”

Nigel has been studying creative writing with the Open University and has many ideas for novels. He also writes songs and has performed his poetry to live audiences.

A major inspiration for Nigel’s latest book and his recovery has been a perhaps unexpected one: dancer Michael Flatley, he of Riverdance fame.

Nigel said that he saw Flatley talking about his determination to dance and be creative which Nigel said he found “inspirational”.

Nigel said: “I know what I want to do. I am not making any money for myself because I don’t need to make money out of my own misery.”

Nigel said that he now has a positive outlook and has set goals which drive him on. By accepting the things that dragged him down in the past, he can move onward.

“We have all got to be inflicted with something so we can learn,” he said.

“Many people have tried to drag me down but I believe in myself.

“I like to think I have got reality. I appreciate life.

“When I get in a good mood I really appreciate it.

“If you have something in your head and let other people drag you down it will never happen but if you believe in yourself anything can happen. If I really do believe in myself I can do anything.

“We have got to take what we are given.

“I am very open and very outspoken and very honest.”

Nigel’s Christian faith is very important to him. Indeed he sees the conflict between his darker and lighter times in religious terms.

“I have to believe when I am feeling suicidal that it’s the Devil trying to tempt me,” said Nigel. “But I feel God trying to help me.

“I love life and I love people. I don’t want to be sad.

“I have to tell myself that it [suicidal thought] is a dream in my head.”

The natural world is important to Nigel too, and living in an area with open spaces has been a great benefit to him in his recovery.

“I do really connect with nature. I used to sit on the side of the riverbank at night instead of killing myself. I would hear the birds and change my mind,” said Nigel.

Nigel’s outlook today is a much more positive one. He’s in a better place.

He said: “Being ill changes your priorities and what you look at.

“I have had a few friends who I realised were energy takers so I got rid of them.

“At the end of the day if you can honestly say you have three or four really good friends that’s a good thing.

“There are only a few people who are with you through thick and thin over the years.

“Socialising and mixing is what we need to do as humans.

“We are programmed to love people.

“I don't think we have evolved over all these years to sit and watch Coronation Street.

“We have lost touch with what we can do as human beings. Ants can connect with each other even though they have got no brain. That’s why I like animals.

“I have spent 12 years helping disordered people and it’s taxing. It’s very hard work.”

Nigel wants to do a voluntary job, perhaps befriending blind veterans.

He will continue to be creative, maybe eventually producing the novel he wants to put his name to.

Nigel knows he has come a long way and that there is a way to go but he hopes that through his poetry he will be able to encourage others in the same direction.

Stronger Than My Own demons is available via Amazon.