“Wounds of Brokeness”, when healing is nothing but a mirage

Sometimes mental issues manifest in waves. Long, apparently peaceful times can be followed by new, unexpected waves of pain. And you find yourself again into waters you thought were already gone and that, instead, have changed their course to come for you. Traumas emerge from the depths of your sorrow and your never fully healed wounds start to bleed again. Ghanaian Afia Amoaa Oppong-Kwakye describes in her poem this condition of incredulity and helplessness in front of the destructive force of mental suffering; something strong enough to numb your will and make healing seem impossible.

“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.

“Midnight Crisis”, when you take cover under the roof of trauma

The days go by in solitude; the narrator is far from her family and has no access to means of communications. She then looks at a picture of herself, a glowing and enthusiastic version of herself very different from her perception in that moment. From that observation emerges a dialogue with the self, as she looks for a sense of identity, for personal and family history and eventually, for a sense of belonging. So she returns with her mind to her parents, to her grandmothers and individual and intergenerational traumas, such an “unbalanced cycle of life” we try to make sense of.

“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.

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.

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.

“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.

“No title”, when words dissolve in the whirlpool of deep depression

A poem entitled “No title”, because when one suffers from depression there seem to be no words to describe it. The world around seems to dissolve and words are deprived of their meaning and unfit to describe one’s feelings. This is the theme at the heart of the poem by Alum Comfort Anne, a young and talented Ugandian poet who has been inspired by her personal struggle with depression. She takes us in the middle of a stormy night, torn by the desire both to live and to die, until the break of dawn. The final verses convey not only the despair behind a suicide attempt but also the invincible faith in human solidarity and mutual support, because “we are all just human, anyway”.

“Left without”, a woman inside the imaginery cave of depression

Akimana Divine is a Rwandan poet, mental healthcare advocate and human rights activist. Her works have been published on numerous magazines and anthologies. The poem “Left without” allow us into that imaginery cave that is depression: a dark place where one is left without anything but his/her ghosts and fears. Divine has had her own hardships in life, first as a young girl being bullied for her weight and then as a single mother raising her boy alone. These painful experiences led her to find comfort in poetry and to write her own poems as a way of struggling against depression.

“My mother’s depression”, inherited on the night of the blood moon

Carolyne M. Acen, aka Afroetry, is a Ugandan Spoken word poet, writer and counselor. She has dedicated her life to poetry, which for her has become a form of activism to raise consciousness about delicate and complex issues: among these the condition of women, the search for freedom and all the prejudices coming from a patriarchal and macho mentality, not only African one. In this text, “My mother’s depression” she explores the theme of psychological distress linked to the family situation and, in fact, to a form of life oppressed by social constraining.

“I am a refugee in my mind”, when the sense of belonging is lost

In his poem “I am a refugee in my mind”, Alex Kitaka describes the sense of estrangement from the world and even oneself brought by mental distress. Bad thoughts represented by house flies buzz in our head and keep saying that there is no place for us, anywhere. But Alex reminds us that there is always a chance for us to bloom like roses and to heal through sharing: “I believe that writing creates a safer place to let out and let go of feelings that endanger someone’s mental health. Like always, writing is therapy!”

Baya Osborn, “Ocean Eyes”, where there is no past, no history

Baya Osborn is a Kenyan born poet and writer and use the pen name Bayable Word. He is just 18 years old. “My life journey has been poetic” he told us. We also asked how come he has written poems on mental health: “Mental illness is something that is really affecting any people. Mostly people of the young age, and it is we writers that are supposed to wake and encourage those people going through tough times through our writings that we care about them, we will speak for them and their lives will change”.

Eleazer Obeng, “The Devil’s Snare”: that silent, oppressive evil

“The sun is up, it seems like a new day sigh. you are still here. It’s not. How did you get in? I cry. Hubbub waters my anxiety. Sprouting doubt, and the traumas of my past I thought I buried.” This poem, as Eleazer Obeng tells us, “was born as annotations in which I tried to make sense of a facade created to remove an empitenss that I felt inside and that I could not explain to myself”. Dennis, this is the name in real life, defines himself as a “gender fluid” and in Ghana, the country where he was born and lives, he is an activist for queer rights.

“I want humanity!” I want the little things you find shaming to do

“Imagine you gathered all the courage and walked up to me? Me, that random girl sitting alone in the cafeteria
Me, that seemingly busy lady over a steaming cup of coffee at the cafe. Me, that swaggered teenager flocked by admirers, the envy of all. Imagine you just walked up to me and said “hi?” Imagine you gathered all the empathy and walked up to me?” Those are the first verses of a poem about solitude, depression, search for compassion.

“Weak Pillars of Sanity”, silencing the drama running into the brain

“My doctor walks in, hands out her gloved limb tainted with the multicolored silencers that she wants me to pill-pop to steady my weak pillars of sanity.” Those are the first verses of Ssekajja’s poem which goes through mental distress, alienation from society, sense of non-belonging and -maybe – a guilt feeling towards a family which cannot really understand him and his mind. Ronald is writer and performer of both English and Luganda.