aside Esi Yankey speaks to ASLI about domestic violence and PTSD and says “I am firmly committed to speaking up on topics that too many people remain silent on.”

Esi Yankey

 

Esi Yankey, 31, from London, UK, is a Poet and Spoken Word Artist. In this issue of the ASLI magazine, where we look at mental illness, Esi chose to submit a poem titled “The Devil Broke Her Wings” tackling the subject of anxiety and PTSD In relation to Domestic Abuse.

Esi is a mother of two and is currently studying holistic therapies; She also runs a small charity project and recently started an awareness campaign called ‘Secret Chains and Chambers’ focussing on Domestic Abuse and within that, related Mental Health issues.

At the age of 12 Esi remembers writing a poem about her little brother which she still has somewhere in a little cardboard bound booklet she made, this is the earliest memory of writing poetry Esi  has as a child, telling ASLI that writing has always been the main way she expresses herself. With a commitment to her craft she has been publishing poetry online for a few years now.

Esi has always been surrounded by creative people, with parents who are huge music and book lovers, with lots of performing arts growing up, as well as attending the BRIT School and continuing to work in the music industry, this is all part of a creative journey.

We had the pleasure of having Esi submit for both our campaigns “Celebration of Women” and our current one “Mental Illness, Health and Recovery”, so we are excited to share this artist’s important messages on domestic violence and PTSD and felt it was crucial to include both poems on these issues. This is what ASLI is all about using art to create change and share people’s stories and experiences.

We at ASLI wanted to find out more about Esi so here is our interview with her:

What motivated you to deal with your chosen submission subject?

My cousin introduced me to Art Saves Lives International back in March and suggested I write a new piece for submission on the subject of Violence Against Women.

I wrote a poem called “Another Woman’s Cry” and shared it with my online forums. The poem is the story of so many women who are subject to abuse. I did my best to use the power of words and the stories of so many victims and survivors in a poem.  I had such a warm and wonderful response from people who could relate to the stories I tell with my poetry- people who have read it and said that they feel reassured it is not just them; they are not crazy; that it could’ve been written about them! Some have asked to print copies so that they can share with others, others have simply thanked me.

Inspired by such a positive response I then tackled the subject of Anxiety and PTSD in relation to Domestic Abuse and wrote “The Devil Broke Her Wings”; then I wrote another poem, and another, and another.  Each poem motivates me to write the next, in the hope that someone reading them may be inspired either to help someone or, seek help and find freedom from abuse.


 

Another Woman’s Cry

by Miss Yankey

As I hold my pen in sorrow,
I realise the truth.
After all those years
Of blaming me,
I knew that it was you.

Excuses can’t explain away,
The terror of his reign.
Behind a wall of silence,
I kept a mask,
To hide the pain.

You see a happy go lucky guy,
With a 6 foot frame.
You only know persona,
I know the man
Behind the name.

I used to want to scream at you,
“Please don’t be taken in!”
Then I’d realise
That I too fell,
For those eyes
And dimpled chin.

How could such a good guy,
Be so many other things?
How could he raise his hand,
Apologise,
Then talk about a ring?

How could I really love someone
Who had spat upon my face?
Then stroked my cheeks
And whispered softly,
“You know I love you Ace.”.

How could I really trust someone
Who kept a special bat,
To smash up my things
In fury;
Whilst I cowered
From his wrath.

How I used to clutch my belt,
Until my hands were
Bloody red.
Praying he wouldn’t
Crash the car,
When he’d threaten to
Drive me to my death.

How could I ever
Tell a soul,
I was suffering
Such things?

The shame I felt
Was greater than,
Almost anything.

My pride
He relied upon,
To hide his lies
And keep me from…

My freedom.

I’d confront him often,
Every approach was applied.
He said he had
An anger problem,
Something I now know
To be a lie.

His mother would laugh,
And tell me that,
He’d always had
“A bit of a temper”.
Blinded by a sociopath
Fed by her placenta.

He said that
Childhood issues,
Had caused
Uncontrollable rage;
But what he did
Was all controlled-
Control and power
Was his game.

I was always waiting
For the bang.

Caught up in crescendo
So much thought anticipating,
I couldn’t see the end.
Though red flags waved
I missed them,
But I remember
All of those little remarks.
My frame, my name, my education,
Made to jokes for him to laugh.

Belitting my culture.
Frequent calls at work.
Criticising everything,
Made me doubt my worth.

Lazy, daily blazing.
Whilst I was grafting hard.
City life destroyed my soul,
And he destroyed my heart.
Coupled with depression,
Anxiety and hatred.
Self esteem in tatters,
I wanted to leave-
But was wasted.

He said that
It wasn’t his fault.
Begged and promised
That things
Would change.
I’d tell myself
That I could help,
To heal his heavy pain.

I told him
That I loved him,
As I wiped tears from his face.
I said that I believed with love,
Hate could be replaced.

Then he’d paint
A pretty picture,
Futures bright
And filled with joy.
Words of a loving man.
Actions of a boy.

On the morning
That he woke me,
With an elbow
To my ribs.

When he took the bat,
To smash my things,
Whilst bellowing and threatening.

Something inside me clicked.

He slammed the door in anger,
I calmly packed my things.
I called my Mum in tears,
To help me end the suffering.

I guess I was just too tired
To fight,
For his funny kind of love.
After all was said and done,
I had finally had enough.

I wailed like I was mourning,
But that morning I was free.
I closed that door and opened up,
I started being me.

The effect of what he’d done,
Left a scar upon my soul.
Even then I didn’t realise,
The power he beholds.

Domestic violence
Was something else,
That really wasn’t my life.
I’d just got caught up
In a bit of heartbreak,
Struggle and strife.

When he reappeared reinvented,
I began to fall once more.
The web of lies creative-
Two years he spun them for.

He’d given up the demon weed
Had anger classes,
Therapy.
He’d made a change
To win me back,
He’d love me for eternity.

I was not ready,
I had my doubts-
He said he’d give me time;
But all along he was
Plotting,
Planning,
Planting
Deadly mines.

I refused to take him back,
But fell into his grasp.
And when life got real,
Red flags,
They started whizzing past.

I stood my ground
And fought back fair.
Refused to play his games.
Sociopath gets scared,
Cycle is the same.

Harasses me and threatens me.
Exposure is a threat.
I kept a record of every last thing,
So that I would never forget.

Facts don’t lie.
So he can’t lie.
The paper trails insane.
He knows I’ll only speak the truth,
So starts a smear campaign.

In the meantime
I had found my voice,
And was craving understanding.
What the hell just happened,
How the hell am I still standing?

I am 1 in 3
Of every woman in Britain;
But the stigma of abuse,
Kept me lonely
In a prison.

Woman’s Aid embraced me,
After just one call.
Shout out to Pat Craven,
For a book that broke down walls.
Thanks to Freedom Programme,
And the group Abuse No More;
For their tireless support of women
Who are:

Victimised,
Stigmatised,
Left crying on the floor.

Stereotyped,
Imprisoned,
Locked behind closed doors.

Once I’d processed
What had happened,
I made a promise
To myself.
I would never ever let
Another soul,
Control me with
A spell.

I am no longer a victim.
I am lucky for my life.
So I wrote this for the women,
Who in their story
Don’t survive.

I wrote this for enablers,
Who turn a blind eye.
This is not just a story.
Real women die.

I wrote this for all women,
Living secret lives.
To give them
Strength and courage,
So that they too can survive.

Everyone knows someone,
Who is going through silent hell.
So learn to spot the signs,
So that you’re that someone
They can tell.

Support your fellow women-
Cast all judgement aside.
Taboos they can be broken,
Truth can win through lies.

Leaving isn’t easy.
Instead of asking why,
Take some time to listen,
To another woman’s cry.

Author Notes:

A piece written for Art Saves Lives #artsaveslivesinternational

References:

Women’s Aid

Freedom Programme

Abuse No More


 

What is your process when creating?

Usually it’s just me, a pen, and a notepad. Everything generally starts with a thought, a line, a concept, a character, or a story. I don’t have a set creative formula that I follow.  Usually when I write I joke that there is a ghost in my pen. Once I start I have to finish- occasionally I will revisit poems but generally I’ll finish a piece on the same day I start it.

I like to create in relaxed calm spaces- whether that is in the garden, local country parks; or usually sat at night looking at the moon and stars. I’m a bit of a space geek!

Who are you influenced by within your artistic discipline?

For me poetry comes in so many forms- I will see the poeticism in nearly everything so my influences are widespread. From the poetic lyricism of Lauryn Hill, Tupac and Big Daddy Kane; to the soulful sounds of Otis Redding; to old funk or break beat records, the UK’s Akala, Lowkey and Logic. I get so much from music. As a kid I’d sit studying the lyrics in CD sleeves for hours- Annie Lennox was a particular favorite!

In terms of poetry in the written form, Gil Scott Heron is a legend. I learn something new every time I read his work. I am also a fan of Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and Jill Scott, to name but a few. If someone does something beautiful with words, that’s it- I’m hooked!

I am also deeply inspired by nature- whether that be sounds, or literally basing a poem on the story of an oak tree (watch out for that one!).

Who inspires you in general?

My biggest inspiration I would say are people- from the ordinary to the sublime. I am inspired by the stories, the histories, the heartbreaks, scandals, joy; the emotions and the experiences of other people’s lives. I like to tell stories that perhaps go untold, or write from perspectives that people don’t usually hear.

What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for…?

As I mentioned earlier I run a small charity from my kitchen table.  We currently support two orphanages and an organisations called Ghana Twins Foundation.  Essentially we run small drives for donations via Facebook and word of mouth; mainly clothes, shoes, toys, books etc. Then I organise the shipping and safe delivery of the donations. So far we have provided clothes for approximately 500 children. It’s something that has grown organically- our ethos is basically to encourage people to just take some time to think about what they can actually do to help. That small act of kindness- like sorting through old books, toys and clothes; can actually be the most amazing gift for someone who has nothing.

There are many causes I support- Mental Health and Domestic Abuse Awareness, are two that I strongly support.

I always keep in mind a Dickens quote when I do any charity work- “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another”.

What do the statements “art saves lives” and “art creates change” mean to you? 

As soon as I read about ASLI, I immediately identified with the goals and objectives described on the webpage.  I have always believed that art (in all and any form) can touch even those in the darkest places; that it is a way in which those without a voice can communicate their experience. One piece of music, or a poem, or a picture can change the way you think about something- that’s powerful.  ASLI have been the catalyst and inspiration for my awareness campaign ‘Secret Chains and Chambers”.  After creating a piece based on your initial call out I found myself committed to writing more and more; in a bid to speak up for so many who are silenced.

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?

Creative expression- particularly writing has given me so much strength, perspective, confidence and clarity over the years. It’s been a constant even when life throws its inevitable challenges.

I’m a great believer that small steps lead to large strides; and I apply that to change.  If just one victim or survivor of domestic abuse can read or listen to my work and take comfort, support and strength from my words then it has effected change- and made a difference to the world.

What are your present and future goals for your art?

I believe that something positive can come even out of the darkest moments. So I plan to support and help others; by raising awareness of domestic abuse and the issues surrounding it- including Mental Health.  I have set up a project called ‘Secret Chains and Chambers: Raising Awareness on Domestic Abuse’.

I will be writing, and recording a series of poems on the topic of domestic abuse over the coming months.

For each poem I share, I invite artists, musicians, videographers, photographers, dancers or any creative; to interpret the words into their own art.

I will publish all submissions on my Facebook page and upcoming website. I will also select entries whose work will be used in the final campaign. Ultimately the poems, alongside the artwork and videography will be published in print and digital form to be used as both a resource tool, and in campaigns to raise awareness.

All of my work will offer links and contact details for advocacies, agencies, support groups and other organisations who offer help and support; and I really hope I can get as many of you on board a possible, in one way or another!

There is a huge community out there who whole heartedly support, speak up, share articles, knowledge and information, advocate, protest, fight for, and offer courage and understanding to victims of domestic abuse.

I plan to reach out and connect with as many of these people as humanly possible, and create a huge online resource tool- as well as a place for people to express themselves through art.

I aim to help people who are devoid of hope and fight, who are ignored, traumatised, stigmatised and isolated. I hope to be a voice that perhaps offers courage and direction to freedom.

I commit to speak up on a topic that for too many people is still a taboo, a social stigma, a topic of shame and discomfort.

I set up this project with the aim of reaching as many people as humanly possible, in a bid to simply raise awareness.

I will share articles, quotes, thoughts, memes, photographs, art, poetry, stories, videos- and just about anything that supports the thousands of people whose voices are never heard.

So you want to know what you can do to help? Like us please! Share our posts if you like them, share them with people you know have a talent and could create something beautiful to complement the poems! Send us your art work, message us, get involved!

The following question are about mental health:

Can you tell us about your own experiences with mental illness?

I’ve had previous experience of depression and anxiety. In the main in my teens and 20s.


 

 

The Devil Broke Her Wings

Late nights.
Siren’s wail.
Bright lights.
Scary tale.

Babies sleep.
Heart beats.
Fast pace.
Fear’s deep.

Takes hold.
No control.
Short breath.
Chokehold.

Panicked face.
On the edge.
Can’t relax.
My cluttered head.

Pacing,
Cleaning,
Bleeding scratch.
Gotta itch it,
Scaly patch.

Mind’s a mess.
I feel detached.
Gotta fix it,
Get it back.

Fast track.
Need to rest.
Exhausted by the
Heavy dread.

Need my bed.
Can’t sleep.
Insomnia.
Anxiety.

The doctor’s saying PTSD,
Thoughts invade involuntary.

What if he comes here,
Looking for me?

Double check locks-
But still too scared,
To walk past my windows
In case he is there.

He’s going to hurt me.
He’s still got that bat.
Maybe he’ll kill me,
And never look back.

When I walked out the door,
I thought I was free-

But the impact was like
A fast car to a tree,
In a crash that I thought of
Involuntary.

The crash never was,
But I thought it could be.
Flashbacks back,
To him threatening me.

What if those threats,
Now came to be?
Lost in a thought chain
Of ways he could he hurt me.

Cold sweats
And migraines.
I’m on high alert-
See, from the night
‘Til the dawn;
I’m nervous.
I’m worn.

I’m shaking,
I’m terrified,
Stuck in a storm.

Loved ones and friends,
Cannot comprehend.
I’ve left him so surely,
The nightmare must end?

Earthquakes create an aftershock.
Monsoons burst banks.
Avalanches eradicate.
Hurricanes tear up lands.

It can take years,
Decades,
Lifetimes;
To recover
From such things.

Surviving domestic violence,
Is a tsunami whilst you swim.
It’s an ascent against a landslide.
A flight through tornado winds.

So if you know a woman,
Who is weathering such things;
Then you’ve truly met an angel-
It’s just the devil broke her wings.

 

© Esi Nketseaba Yankey


 

 

How does your artistic /creative expression help you with your mental health?

I always found that being able to write made me feel calm, relaxed and grounded, or that reading or listening to particular artists changed my whole vibe from positive to negative. Working with my gardens soothes me- nothing quite like your hands in the earth. Without those outlets I’m not sure if my path would be the same. These days I try not to focus on ‘if’s, buts, or maybes’ and instead just the here and now.

Have you ever experienced being stigmatised or marginalised due to your mental health or have you seen this happen to someone else?

Yes but not to a point in which I feel it has been detrimental to my day to day living. I’ve experienced everything from people totally dismissing my health, to making a joke about it- or even just avoiding me as they simply were too embarrassed to discuss it.

I’ve known people to be turned down from jobs, rejected by their loved ones, ridiculed, bullied and abused because of their mental health.

Other people’s opinions and views are out of our control- unless of course you’re a media conglomerate! Stereotyping and misinformation mean that the stigma of mental health makes something that needn’t be, a taboo.  Problems can be addressed only when we talk about them- sadly for too many people they have nobody they can actually trust to talk to; so stay silent. Silence really can be deadly though.  

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’ve had some CBT and counselling which I found helpful at the time. I was lucky to have a great GP who referred me to local services.

Do you think society and culture is accepting of people with mental illness?

I think that for too many people the words ‘mental health’ conjure false images and realities. My mental health and well being are as important to me as my physical well being. No one bats an eyelid when people talk obsessively about gym routines, yoga, zumba or spinning class; or if someone is having physio to recover a physical injury. However, say you’re going to therapy of any kind and you’re straight in the crazy box (at least that’s how many feel).

How do you feel your Government in your country helps people with mental illness and could they do more?

When you travel out of the UK and become aware of mental health services, social norms and beliefs in other countries it really puts things into perspective.  We are lucky to have a health service which offers such fantastic care.  However I don’t think there is anyone in the country who would argue that the Government couldn’t do any more to support Mental Health.

A larger budget for child and adolescent services, more funding for local agencies and charity organisations, compulsory education on mental health within schools, equal access to mental health services regardless of your location, access to support for those that fall between primary and secondary care services, essentially ‘falling through the net’- and my list really could go on!!

Have you ever had any creative therapies as part of your treatment, did it help?

Not as dedicated treatment for my own health.  Although as I mentioned earlier poetry, reading and music have always served as creative outlets for expression.

Do you think artistic / creative expression can be used to help people with mental health problems?

Without a doubt! In my 20s I ran a small business called ‘Music for Health’- we provided therapeutic music workshops for people in the community with both physical and mental health problems.  I was able to see with my own eyes the profound effect that music has on people.

Do you think artistic / creative expression could help raise awareness and communicate how mental illness affects people?

Yes, I know it can from my own experience. Words, pictures, songs, dance- they are all avenues in which you can communicate without even having to verbalise. Never underestimate the power of art.

What made you want to get involved with ASLI’s MENTAL ILLNESS, HEALTH AND RECOVERY CAMPAIGN?

I am firmly committed to speaking up on topics that too many people remain silent on.  With ASLI’s campaigns being so relevant to my own I just thought it would be a crime not to get involved!

Do you believe in more rights for mentally ill people in the work place and for equal opportunities?

Yes it is something that I feel strongly about. Everybody should have the opportunity to work in an environment that is conducive to keeping good health- regardless of what (if any) their own health problems may be.

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 think that diagnosis labels can be both hurtful and helpful depending on the individual circumstances of a situation. Sometimes in getting that label, it feels like a sign on your head in bold capitals saying “mental health problems”- it can become all someone sees when they look at you. An incorrect diagnosis- or sometimes even a correct one can lead to medicating being the ‘solution’ before other avenues/approaches are explored. I believe this is dangerous- especially in an age where such a large percentage of children are diagnosed with mental health problems from an early age.

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?

Absolutely not! I think in any professional environment you are more inclined to trust someone who has experienced something- and can truly identify and empathise with many of their audience. ASLI is a great example of why silly stigmas and stereotypes (especially those surrounding mental health and employment) are ridiculous. A creative concept, well presented, well organised and inspiring- it’s a pleasure to be a part of it!

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?

I recently stumbled across a website called www.powerpoetry.org where there are some awesome poems writing on the subject of mental health.

 

If you would like to find out more about Esi here are some links:

Facebook Page 

Facebook Cause Page

Poetry Site 

Twitter

Contact: secretchainsandchambers@gmail.com

 

Esi Yankey
Esi Yankey

 

 

 

 

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