How exploring your creativity can help deal with depression
Colin Dardis has lived with anxiety and panic attacks since his mid-teens but poetry has helped him cope
Colin Dardis: ‘I struggled with my emotions and had difficulty engaging with people but I’ve always fallen back on writing poetry as a form of analysis’
Colin Dardis’s poem, Prescription, is one of the best advertisements for the healing powers of creative works you’ll see in a while. The poet, editor and arts co-ordinator from Northern Ireland will speak about how writing poetry helped his mental health in Stillorgan Library, Dublin on Thursday, January 9th at 11am as part of the mental health, art and culture festival First Fortnight.
Having lived with depression, anxiety and panic attacks since his mid-teens, Dardis started writing poems both to escape reality and examine it more forensically for himself. “I struggled with my emotions and had difficulty engaging with people but I’ve always fallen back on writing poetry as a form of analysis and exploration - it’s a cheaper form of therapy,” he explains.
In his guest blog for First Fortnight, he writes: “I always felt a degree of isolation, of difference. I had friends in school but didn’t connect with any kids on my street. I started priding myself on any minor difference: the long hair, my taste in music, my sense of humour, my religious outlook. I was a contrarian, a non-conformist, a free spirit. But really, I was depressed and not knowing how to handle life.”
When he was formally diagnosed with depression in his 20s - following his arts degree at the University of Ulster in Jordanstown - Dardis also saw counsellors and therapists. “There was a period when going to counselling was the only time I went out of the house. I was very shut off and not working. And while I didn’t agree with everything that was said, it was encouraging to explore your mindset,” he explains.
So grateful of the support he receives from his GP and the National Health Service (NHS) in general, in 2018, Dardis wrote a poem to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the NHS.
He believes creative people are probably more prone to depression because their work is introspective. “But depression doesn’t just exist because of creativity. There is no logical explanation for it and it affects people across all strata of society. I think it’s a false road to ask, ‘why did it happen to me?’ It’s better just to accept it and move away from illness to wellbeing and awareness.”
He says that meeting his wife, Geraldine O’Kane, was one of the best things that happened in his life. “She has very good awareness and open communication. I thought I was super-human and burned out doing that. But, she teased it all out of me in a long painful process.”
Now, Dardis and O’Kane voluntarily run Poetry NI which includes the Purely Poetry open mic sessions in the Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast. “We encourage grassroots poetry and people who come to poetry from outside the academic route. The more voices in Irish poetry lexicon, the better. And, the sheer act of writing and sharing a poem can be cathartic,” says Dardis. His poetry collections include The Dogs of Humanity (Fly on the Wall Press, 2019) and The X of Y (Eyewear Publishing, 2018). He suggests people listen to his sound art project D.A.R.D.I.S (Discord and Relative Depression In Sound) while reading his poetry.
Dardis encourages people to explore their creativity as a way of dealing with depression. He says, “it’s not about writing a brilliant poem. It’s the journey and giving yourself time and space with your thoughts and translating that into writing. Anyone can benefit from that process regardless of their background.”
He turned 40 in 2019, and says he is becoming more conscious of our need to be kind to each other. “The UK looked to emulate the US since World War II and now that we’ve voted in a Trump-lite as prime minister, we need an emphasis on trust, kindness and civility more than ever.”
Please read all of this poem carefully before you start
taking POETRY .
Keep this poem. You may need to read it again.
Take at least ONCE daily, or as required. Do not skip
doses or discontinue use unless directed by your local
What POETRY is and what it is used for:
POETRY belongs to a group of medicines called
‘literature’, or ‘literary art’. It works by enlivening the
brain and emboldening the soul.
Taking other medications:
You may continue to take POETRY while taking other
medications such as prose, drama, music, dance, and/or
Driving and using machines:
POETRY may make you feel extraordinary.
Do not operate heavy machinery while under the
influence of POETRY .
If you take more than you should:
It is not possible to overdose on POETRY .
If you forget to take POETRY:
If you forget a dose, make up for it as soon as you can.
Please refer to an anthology in emergency situations.
Possible side effects:
Warning: side effects that may occur while taking POETRY
include wider imagination, inspiration, education, wonder,
enlightenment, euphoria, the provocation of thoughts, the
stirring of memories, intrigue, curiosity, the desire to write,
spontaneous filling of notebooks, late-night conversations,
visits to the dictionary, knowledge, an aversion to clichés,
empathy and an interest in open mic nights in your vicinity.
Some patients have reported an increased need to go to
the library. If this symptom persists, please refer to your
Contact your local poet immediately if you experience
any of the following: ennui, apathy, discouragement,
melancholy or woe.
What POETRY contains:
The main active substances of poetry are: language,
rhythm, sound, metaphor, cadence, form, rhyme, simile,
allusion, alliteration, enjambment and imagery. For a full
list of ingredients, see a specialist.
Store in a cool, dry bookcase.
Once opened, you may continue to reuse POETRY