Catherine Williams, 58, a Parisian poet and creative writer who now lives in Hampshire, England shares her Bi-polar poetry with ASLI to give insight to people unfamiliar with the condition. Catherine has now lived in England for 37 years, longer then she has lived in her own country of France and has had a very successful career in the Travel Industry.
Catherine is the proud Mother of Artist and Art Saves Lives International’s MD and co-founder, Charlotte Farhan and has volunteered at ASLI events and been a very supportive member or the charity.
Catherine states that she is lucky to have a wonderful and successful daughter who manages a charity such as ASLI and who uses her art in relationship to mental health. About 10 years ago Catherine could no longer work due to her Bipolar Disorder which became worse. Now living alone with her cat, Rhubarb, due to Catherine’s mental illness the life she once led is now restricted due to never knowing which mood will present itself one day to the next or even within one day.
Here we speak to Catherine about her poetry, creative writing and her thoughts on mental health:
What is your artistic/creative background?
From a very early age I was introduced to art, visiting exhibitions, museums and going to the theatre and visiting historical venues. My father was an avid reader and I was therefore brought up around books, which has stayed with me until now. In my youth I was exposed to politics and also poetry. I also visited many art exhibitions in Paris and then in England. Which I have shared with my daughter from a very early age, as I have valued the importance of art and culture within education, wanting my daughter to have this, was a must.
What motivated you to deal with your chosen submission subject?
I have kept most of my poems to myself and thought that this time I could share a little of my work, also having a ‘link’ to mental illness which the campaign focuses on, which I feel is very important as it is so misunderstood by so many people.
Ice Box – By Catherine Williams
Alone in my Ice Box, looking inward,
people staring at me,
they simply don’t understand.
I am cold and lonely, I am in hiding.
There is no exit, no doors, and no windows.
Nothing… just me in my nothingness.
I feel safe in my Ice Box,
I feel protected from judgements,
I feel protected from the world.
They sometimes push the Ice Box,
from one place to an other,
though I am untouchable.
Nobody can take me out of my Ice Box,
I am finally safe, alone and dead.
My Ice Box is my coffin.
My coffin has become my house,
a house where I do not have to do anything any more.
My safe house at last.
I am happy dead, no more pain, no more worries.
No more demons, they cannot enter the Ice Box.
I am free at last in my Ice Box,
I am happy!
What is your process when creating?
I mainly write when I am depressed, I cannot write happy poems, it does not work with my moods.
Who are you influenced by within your artistic discipline?
My Grand Mother, father and sharing ideas with many friends.
Who inspires you in general?
Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf of course others but they are two important figures who wrote poetry and literature suffering both from serious mental illness. I read their ‘words’ and I can so relate to them.
What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for…?
World politics, Human Rights, the Right of Free Speech, feminism (have been since I was 16) Equality between men and women, Justice, some others I guess!
What do the statements “art saves lives” and “art creates change” mean to you?
It means hope an ‘ouverture’ to arts which creates a way of expression for what is important to each of us and all of the people who engage with ‘art saves lives, are able to obtain self-worth which may have been unknown.
Have your artistic and creative outlets saved your life in anyway and do you think your message within them could help create change in the world?
It may have during very dark moments.
What are your present and future goals for your art?
Maybe to be publish one day, and to be more involved in ‘art saves lives international’.
The following question are about mental health:
Can you tell us about your own experiences with mental illness?
Being bipolar and having to deal with all aspects of this illness, from deep paralysing depression, self-harm, overdosing , not knowing what type of mood I am going to get up with, go to bed with, for it to happen without any kind of warning, sometimes it will change from one minute to another as if I had a black veil falling on my face.
How does your artistic /creative expression help you with your mental health?
If I quickly take a horrible mood I can start writing, but over the years it has become a lot more difficult!
Have you ever experienced being stigmatised or marginalised due to your mental health or have you seen this happen to someone else?
I have lost 3 jobs because my mental illness. I have lost a lot of friends, they don’t want to know, to hear and now if they ask “how are you” (which is rare) I just say “I am fine”, why tell your friends who have no understanding or even those who don’t want to! I have tried to explain on some occasions, more to friends than strangers.
Have you ever received treatment for mental health and if so, what was it, did it help and was it private or state funded?
I have received privately 20 years of care from my psychiatrist, have been hospitalised 6 times privately and have a wonderful, understanding GP. I consider myself very lucky, having heard the horror and total lack of treatment from mental illness in the NHS.
Do you think society and culture is accepting of people with mental illness?
I am going to give a very short answer, which is NO!
How do you feel your Government in your country helps people with mental illness and could they do more?
Yes they could do more as they really put mental illness at the back of the queue for treatment and research and basically they do not do anything. Just talk, no action!
Have you ever had any creative therapies as part of your treatment, did it help?
No as this was not my choice, I wanted a psychodynamic model, I would make the same choice now, however I can see that creative therapy can be very positive to express one self. I wanted a talking therapy, although art is also a talking therapy in itself, a language in a different way.
Do you think artistic / creative expression can be used to help people with mental health problems?
I do think so as with a lot of mental illness a talking therapy would be difficult.
Do you think artistic / creative expression could help raise awareness and communicate how mental illness affects people?
Yes absolutely, we need more charities like ‘art saves lives international’ We need a projection to be able to make it in the first place I think the possibilities to make people not so ‘fearless’ of these words ‘Mental illness’ would be a start.
What made you want to get involved with ASLI’s MENTAL ILLNESS, HEALTH AND RECOVERY CAMPAIGN?
Because only a few ‘bodies’ represent the illness linked to art, because hopefully it would show that there is a lot more that mental illness but that people can be very gifted within their illness
Do you believe in more rights for mentally ill people in the work place and for equal opportunities?
Well really rights for people with mental illness do not really exist. Awareness is a start, Mind last year after quite a big campaign had a result of 3% understanding mental illness, awareness is very well needed, somehow talking is great but doing would be great as well, sorry for being pessimistic we are quite a long way away in dealing with this stigma!
We at ASLI want to de-stigmatize diagnosis labels within mental illness so that people treat others and their own mental health label as that of a diabetic or any other chronic “physical” illness, as we know the brain is physical and this would further improve stigma and marginalising mental illness. How do you feel about diagnosis labels?
I am in two mind about this point, I think if it is a proper diagnosis, I mean a real diagnosis as opposed to suspected diagnose, it is a serious point as many people are not diagnosed with the right illness or at all. Therefore for the person who has a mental illness being diagnosed properly instead of this broad mental illness label. I think that it is important to know what you are suffering from and you deserve the right to treatment, the choice to refuse or to choose an alternative. Though the problem I fear which is happening, is that anybody with a mental illness is put in ‘the same box’ and therefore everybody is stigmatised. Also the media should be more careful when reporting ‘mental illness’
Everyone within ASLI is affected in some way by mental illness, with our MD having several chronic mental illnesses and other members either caring for or dealing with mental health issues. Would this make you think twice about working with ASLI? And does this make ASLI “less professional” in your opinion and if so why?
On the contrary.
Are there any artists/creatives/performers which you admire, who suffer from mental illness that you feel use their work to discuss or highlight mental health?
Sorry mental block… but I would say that there are many public figures who have been brave enough to tell the public of their mental illness which has been a very good step as the public can ‘maybe’ realised that mental illness can affect people from all kinds of backgrounds. It also has been interesting to discover who in the past suffered from mental illness, such as Churchill who had bipolar and also as an artist, he painted a great numbers of pieces.
Finally is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself or your experiences?
I think I said enough! But Thank you for this opportunity and for doing this necessary task of raising awareness about mental health.
Catherine’s poems reveals a deep and intimate look of the world from her minds eye, giving the reader a real sense of how she battles with bipolar and her environment.
If you would like to know more about Bi-polar disorder please follow this link
If you have been affected by anything in this article please seek help here are some helpful links:
International Mental Health Helplines
Here is a piece of creative writing by Catherine Williams on how it feels to be a bi-polar:
It is mine, my own self, I carry it with me all the time and I am used to it. I do not like it at times, I want it to go away, to leave me alone, I wish I could throw it in the rubbish bin as I pass it in the street and then I may be able to see clearly but do I really want to do this?
If I let go of it I am going to be alone not knowing who I am, I will be lost. How will I feel without it?
It scares me, I have lived with it for so many years, that it has become my greatest friend and my greatest enemy, so what am I to do?
I am to do what I have been doing for so many years, live with this extra self, battle with it at times, loving it at other times. It sends me into an abyss of total despair and pain. It takes me into the darkest place on earth, it drowns me and then I want to die but it is too much effort in my paralysis.
I just lay in the deepest darkness, the world is totally black without any possible escape. This is how it feels, it will take me there for however long it wants to, I can cry in silence with a voice in my head begging to let me out but it has a mind of its own and only will let me escape from this unbearable torment when it is ready.
I have no voice, no choice it has engulfed me in this state until it decides to let me out. It does not matter how much I ask it to set me free, it is as if it does not hear me, does not hear my plea, I am just there waiting and waiting… not knowing how long I will be trapped in this sombre place.
So I cry silently, I want to die the only place which seems to want me.
If it goes on too long I will rummage in my collection of pills and choose them at random, one after the other or if I can get up I will take them to the kitchen and drown them in a glass of water and savour this ‘get out of life’.
It works for a while and I am happy, dreaming of never waking up, a selfish act, but a possible exit. I will fall asleep inevitably, I will wake up feeling very sick and will now throw up my exit.
It is another passage in my life, which could take me to death.
A place which at the time of death I will rejoice to be in, yes to forever or for the moment it lasts.
It has not let me out yet and now I am sick in my darkness for the next few days until I recover, until it lets me out again, slowly like purgatory, like it has taught me another lesson in survival.
If you would like to find out more from Catherine please follow these links:
Thank you for Art Saves Lives International for publishing my poem and my story which have been seen only by a few.
Thank you for Art Saves Lives to give a great awareness to us all about MENTAL ILLNESS AND THE STIGMA ATTACHED TO IT.
To show that suffers can through illness how talented and creative they can be.
Thank you again