“The Day I Will Recover”, the road to healing from mental illness

A poem conjugated in the future tense, the time of hope and life to come. A life our Rwandan author strongly wants to be free from anxiety and depression. To him, looking ahead to the future means to envision himself as finally healed and actively promoting mental health awareness to stop the stigma. It means being able to pick up a pen and write, returning to the village where you grew up to say to all men that, yes, they are allowed to cry and share their burdens. And, eventually, it means to write on all the walls the word “resilience” so that can anyone can see it and know it.

“Depression”, when it loosens its grip music sounds differently

Often people with a (mental) illness turns to personification as a way of coping with it. The illness becomes an entity with a life and a will of its own. So Tanzanian author Delphina Robert writes a letter poem to her despression that has suddently left, after being with her for a long time. Nobody informed her of this “departure” but this new absence makes itself very clear: music has a very different sound now. And despite initially feeling akward in this condition, the loosening of depression’s grip leaves room to relief and to a blank space ready to be filled up with new words.

“Return(ing) to Sender”, when that illness brings to constant lying

A visiting mother, a complicated relationship that emerges from the daughter’s hope to avoid the meeting. To avoid her worried and interrogative look on a body that doesn’t “function” properly, that rejects and shuts down. The same body her mother once fed is now rejecting nourishment; and its gradual crumbling and dissolving almost provokes a pleasant sensation, a pleasure that can’t be said out loud. Tanzanian poet Lydia Kasese describes all this and how the certainty that one day we all go back to where we came from turns into an alibi to let the illness nurture you and not react to this force fighting your body and mind.

“Dispatch from Ward C”, those wounded words in a hospital room

This poem by Sarah Lubala is a voice. It’s a voice that speaks to us as it reads a dispatch from a psychiatric ward. In a dreamy, surreal atmosphere, we see fleeting images as if browsing pictures taken in a hospital: a dead bird on the back stairs, the noisy corridors, a roommate with a razor blade… And these images get mixed with distant memories that suddenly and uncontrollably emerge and take over, making room for personal and intergenerational trauma. In the meantime stonewashed linen is “summering at the window” as a sign of hope, that life “out there” is possible – through acceptance and healing.

“A letter to my best friend” is a letter to oneself, a hope for healing

Tanzanian author Leah Gerald Soko recounts how she wrote this poem at night, her mind storming and troubled. Feeling useless and unable to do anything about her challenges in life and above all, feeling she had no one to talk to, she turned to writing. A letter to her best friend becomes the chance to open up about her innermost feelings, to face her difficulties and encourage herself to accept her pain and be responsible for her own recovery. In Leah’s words, writing has been “a breakthrough towards depression and anxiety” and it represents now a way “to heal and feel strong about myself”.

“Finally at peace”, the last bullet will let you fly high in the sky

Reem Yasir, Sudanese poet, opens her poem “in medias res”. The protagonist has a gun in her hand, it’s loaded. There are three bullets, three chances of ending it. Of silencing that evil voice in the head that has always commented every action and thought insulting and belittling. But the protagonist misses and the voices becomes even more cruel. The final lines of the poem portray all the contrasting emotions that can be felt in such a desperate moment: the exasperation of a soul that can’t find any peace and the unspoken, touching desire for a different life.

“Mental Mess”, the generation that dreamed of peace and freedom

“[…] for pieces of me are everywhere… and in everywhere… are their names… the ones who faced death and still breathing… the ones who faced death and got the likes of me choking for air ever since… But yet… In everywhere, there are still dreamers I know will create realities my mind can’t yet comprehend… I mean, even babies are born fighting… resisting… hands in fists… so here is to the generation that dreamed of a better nation… dreamed of peace, justice and freedom…” Those are Rajaa Bushra’s words for the young sudanese revolutionaries. A revolution that in Rajaa – and many others – has brought a never healed trauma.

“Living with bipolar disorder”, questioning yourself and reality

Self-awareness is the first step towards healing and young Kenyan writer Emily K Millern knows it well. She often writes about her mental health struggles and so trasforms an unusual topic for poetry into art, achieving a therapeutic effect for herself and her readers. Sharing personal experiences – as her bipolar disorder – “reminds us that we are not alone, we are part of a bigger fight and we all have a role to play”, as she said. In fact, Emily strongly advocates for raising public awareness on mental health, a subject as sensitive as underestimated and neglected.

“Bitter sweet” is the skin cut that suffocates the screaming soul

Mental illness can include a variety of symptoms; sometimes self-harm can occur. In a vicious cycle, the individual punishes his/her own body – the shell containing a suffocating inner distress – and takes somehow pleasure in it. In this poem Mercy Bibian describes with brutal honesty the “journey” to self-harm in scenes of cinematographic inspiration. So the reader witnesses the first cut and then the following ones, up to the establishing of an addiction to pain, to blood, to cutting – an act that almost inconceivably provides relief of unbearable thoughts and feelings of anxiety and depression.

“I Want to Fall Apart Quietly”: there’s hope at the end of sadness

A versatile artist from Zimbabwe, Chioniso Tsikisayi reveals in this poem a peculiar approach to mental health themes. A moment of awareness about an imminent psychological breakdown is represented with a very light and even sweet touch: the fall can be as beautiful as the rise. In the author’s own words: ““The light-heartedness of my writing is an ode to my inner child who chooses to see beauty in the midst of chaos. I think the literary space is already saturated with great, sombre pieces of writing, but as a young girl navigating the world, I don’t want everything that I read to be too heavy.”

“In This World of Ours” society teaches us vanity and isolation

“No man is an island” reads a renowned verse by the English poet John Donne: we are all part of something larger that is humanity. But modern communities are organized in societies that tend to highlight individualism up to the point of leading people to isolate, especially those who can hardly handle cruel social pressures. This is the context of Nigerian author Ayomide Inufin D’great’s poem, its key word being “loss”. We lose our head, our energy, our course, our core values; and we look for a foothold in vanity, in the decadence that envelops us and from which we can still – maybe- save ourselves.

“Poetry, Pain, Blades And Grace” a night of silence and screams

Day follows night incessantly and with no mercy for those who don’t see the point of this alternation. Society crashes – with its questionable demands – the frailty of those who feel inadequate compared to the world around them and to others. When these feelings become overwhelming, there seems to be only a solution: suicide. But society labels and judges even this extrema ratio. So, in the words of Kenyan author Young Nino, what is left is “drinking your soul away” or anything that can soothe that pain “that takes away your will to live“.

“The African Madman” who dines with dogs, mocked and alone

The unaware protagonist of these verses is described in three scenes: the place where he barely sleeps and eats, his weatherbeaten body, his condition as a prisoner of his own mental illness. Such a life is here described through the lenses of poetry to convey that same message that both scientific and artistic communities are spreading: mental health conditions must be destigmatized and people affected by them must be treated, instead of being socially isolated. In this concise and powerful poem, talented Ugandan author Amanya Aklam has managed to restore literary dignity to the life of a desperate man.

Overcoming post-conflict trauma with art: three African case studies

In volatile environments such as conflict-torn North Kivu, post-genocide Rwanda, or Sierra Leone, experts and humanitarian aid workers are now employing art to support the treatment of mental health conditions caused by violence. In many areas of the African continent, people with psychological illnesses lack effective therapeutic support – left alone in dealing with the sickness and forced to fight every day against the stigma. In these circumstances, art therapy can represent an important ally to cure pathologies such as PTSD, depression or nevrosis.

A pandemic of solitude which is silent, suffocating and like hunger

“WHO has & WHO hasn’t!” is a poem selected from a collection by South Sudanese author Mandela Matur, known as Ade, written during the first phase of the spread of Covid-19. The poem deals with those human conditions often hidden behind the silence produced by stigma or isolation, and that have been aggravated by the present situation. A frail mental health becomes a heavier burden to carry and accept; reaching out one’s hand through the fog of pain to ask for help seems to be beyond one’s power. Ade’s poem unveils what lay hidden in the corners of the mind and encourages us not to let these invisible and pervasive malaises strike us.

Applying musictherapy to human health, an experience from Africa

Music has always been part of Nsamu Moonga’s life, a young African musictherapist working in Boksburg, South Africa. A passionate student of music and psychotherapy, he decided to offer his skills – and his vocation – to the community. He works with children and young people at risk, in schools and in public institutions. Confident of music communicative and healing capacities – and of the diversity within the continent to be treasured -, he works connecting practice and research, enhancing African traditions and music.

Migrants’ post-traumatic stress is aggravated by hotspot system

Most of the migrants who have arrived in Europe by sea since 2015 have experienced violence: mental health problems emerge during the reception period in host countries, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder. Thanks to a recent study, we know that what awaits these people upon arrival matters just as much as their experiences along the migration route and in their country of origin. Life in large facilities such as hotspots and CARAs can negatively affect previous traumas. Associations agree: it is time to remove the obstacles to integration, radically changing the border approach proposed by the EU.

Ghana, exorcisms and witch hunts. Stories from Witch Camps

Beliefs regarding supernatural powers and the ability to use them to harm others are extremely widespread in this West African country. Witchcraft in particular, which still today is not considered a superstition but a concrete possibility. The main victims are elderly women, usually widows and without protection. Just point the finger and accuse them of being the cause of an illness, of “bad luck” in business, of all sorts of things. They are often beaten and cases of lynching are not uncommon. For them there is only one choice: to flee and find refuge in isolated and remote villages. We visited four of them and collected testimonies from these women banned from society for committing “invisible crimes”.

Ghana, the solitude of the mentally ill in wards that were prisons

There are three such structures in the country. A 2012 law, which establishes, among other things, the decentralization of psychiatric services, has significantly reduced the number of patients and the problem of overcrowding. Today the number of beds exceeds the number of patients. However, there are still issues of abandonment and the stigma towards those with mental disorders. This investigation contains some stories of the guests of the oldest hospital (it dates back to 1906 and was in the beginning a prison) and the interview with the executive director of Mental Health Authority who also talks about the principle and reasons for the so-called “decolonizing mental health”.

Abigail George, when the word confronts the darkness of paranoia

“Please help revise the jalapeños and Theodore Roethke” is the title of this poem that introduces us into an unusual yet familiar world. It is a wild territory where reality and dreams meet, where everyday elements remind us of their symbolic dimension and where the voices in our heads start a dialogue with the voices of authors whose books we have read or composers whose music we have listened to. Far from being a mere juxtaposition of images and sounds, Abigail George’s is an accurately structured poem that reveals the struggle for mental well-being and for becoming an independent, emotionally stable woman.

“Mental 360”, in Kenya against youth depression and suicides

Mental 360 is a non-profit mental health awareness organization that has been active since 2016. Among its activities there are physical wellness, counselling, art therapy, yoga and dance, all aiming at promoting mental health and emotional stability. The end goal is to establish a society where mental illness is not stigmatized and treatment is affordable to the common citizen everywhere in Africa. We talked with Bright Shitemi, co-founder of the organization, who explained us the inspiration behind the NGO and the objectives, obstacles, results achieved to date and future goals.

“Andolo, the Talented Albino”, an interview with author Nsah Mala

In the African continent, hostility and discrimination against people with albinism are widely spread. In order to celebrate albinos and help overcome stigma, more and more authors have been writing and publishing stories about this issue. Such is the case of “Andolo: the Talented Albino“, a children’s book written by Cameroonian author Nsah Mala. As detailed in the interview by Pina Piccolo of The Dreaming Machine, the author was inspired by the experience of his relatives to tell the engaging story of a child with albinism, with the aim of entertaining and educating his young readers.

“Living Death”, a hopeless life with sadness weaved into the bones

One Global Voice reaches Botswana with this poem dedicated to the fatigue of living. When not engaged in her work, Maipelo M Zambane dedicates herself to reading and above all to writing: she keeps a very active profile on Twitter and collaborates with the digital magazine Afrolutionist, which aims to contribute to inclusive development in Africa and in the African diaspora through the perspective of human rights. “I don’t remember the day i stopped embracing hope,” thus ends this painful piece from her recent Life and Everything in Between collection.

“Like a candle in the wind”, so we blow out the flame of our life

“It’s so difficult, this living thing / two decades sometimes / are more than one can bear”, this is the beginning of this moving poem composed about the sudden death of a very young and talented poet. It is the author herself to explain it, vangile gantsho, South African poet and healer who started to write and create at a young age and developed an interest into confessional and political writing. Although “some scars are too deep / even for poetry”, this poem enlightens the darkest emotions of the human soul that can lead to suicide, a choice no one should quickly label as coward and selfish, the author says.

Tender Arts Nigeria: music, theatre and painting inside hospitals

TANigeria was founded in 2013 to promote art in all its forms within healthcare facilities in Nigeria and other African countries. It offers a wide range of activities aiming at improving social interaction, easing stress and bringing some color to hospitals wards. Through art, patients are able to express their emotions without words and over 7 years, more than 15,000 people have had the opportunity to take part in these projects which are tailored specifically to the patient’s personal experience. We talked with the founder of this social enterprise, Kunle Adewale, who explained us their programs, objectives and difficulties.

Noluthando Makalima and adaptive surf: living life into the waves

Noluthando Makalima was born with cerebral palsy, but her disability never prevented her from achieving what she wanted to do in life. She is a talented young adaptive surfer from Cape Town, who gained a silver medal at the 2020 World Paralympic Championship. She currently represents South African excellences in the international parasports field and she wants to continue her training to compete again next year, despite the challenges she has to face everyday. Her main desire is to become a role model for young people. Surf isn’t just a sport for this athlete: it’s therapy, a way to feel free and safe, to challenge herself, to fully live her body. Her experience is a real life story that needs to be known in order to raise awareness about people with disabilities in sport.