Mental Health, the poem

Yrsa Daley-Ward's Heartfelt Call for Action

BY: Tiffany Goldstein

In today’s society, mental illness is treated differently than physical illness. It’s no secret that there’s a stigma behind it and the individuals who are consumed with this internal challenge. If we don’t recognize mental illness as a health issue, then those who struggle will never get the treatment that they deserve and need.

In the deeply moving poem, “Mental Health,” poet Yrsa Daley-Ward puts into words the beauty of life and how the journey to recovery and change begins with you.

The young West Indian/West African/British poet is an activist and feminist who uses the medium of writing to illustrate struggles with societal subjects like identity, race, and femininity. In 2014, Daley-Ward self-published Bone, the book that features the poem “Mental Health,” and in 2017 Penguin Books re-issued the book. Her new memoir, The Terrible, recently published to wonderful reviews, touches on similar themes of mental illness, abuse, body image, and drug addiction.

The talented poet is not only known for her powerful words but for how she delivers them. Daley-Ward uses social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter to promote her poetry and connect with her fans on a personal level. The writer told ELLE Magazine, “If you’re afraid to write it, that’s a good sign. I suppose you know you’re writing the truth when you’re terrified.”

The hard-hitting poem “Mental Health” reveals inner and external battles that Yrsa Daley-Ward fights and how to overcome the struggle, one step at a time.

Mental Health

If you’re walking down an aisle with a dim, fluorescent hue
by the tinned fish and canned beans
strip lighting above, cracked tiles beneath
with the realization that most things are futile
and get the sudden urge to end it all
don’t stop. Call a friend.
Call your mother if you have one
and, if you can stand her,
listen to her talk about the price of
canned fish and tinned beans.
Call the speaking clock. Know that
whatever time it says is the time that everything has to change.
Leave the damn aisle.
Don’t go anywhere where they sell
sweets, chips, booze,
fast love or lottery tickets.
See that just outside there are people-lined streets that are emptier than
your insides,
skies darker than your own.
Look for yourself, because it never
helps to hear from anyone else.
If you are one of those “running
around town like mad” people,
people who jump from tall buildings,
buildings with glass fronts and not enough
air
if you are failing to fix a broken story
if you have been cooped up for far too long in a very high tower in a
dangerously low state
plenty of TV channels and TV
dinners.

Plenty of biscuits, chocolate
desserts, cake and plenty of wine
but no love for miles and miles
if you did not get up for work today
if it has been afternoon for hours
and the silence is keeping you awake,
if you only remember how to draw
your breath in and out like waves of
thick tar cooling,
if you are wishing it later,
pulling the sun down with your
prayers, leave the damn bed.
Wash the damn walls. Crack open a
window
even in the rain. Even in the snow.
Listen to the church bells outside.
Know that however many times they
chime is half the number of changes
you have to make.
Stop trying to die. Serve your time here.
Do your time.
Clean out the fridge.
throw away the soya milk. Soya milk
is made from children’s tears. Put
flowers on the table. Stand them in a
measuring jug. Chop raw vegetables if
you have them.
Know that if you are hungry for
something but you can’t think what
you are, more often than not, only
love-thirsty
only bored.
When the blood in your body is
weary to flow,
when your bones are heavy though
hollow
if you have made it past thirty
celebrate
and if you haven’t yet,
rejoice.

Know that there is a time
coming in your life when dirt settles
and the patterns form a picture.
If you dream of the city but you live
in the country
milk the damn cows.
Sell the damn sheep.
Know that they will be wishing you
well
posing for pictures on milk cartons or
running over lush hills to be counted
at the beginning of somebody else’s
dream.
See, they never held you back.
It was you, only you.

Bone and The Terrible are available now via Penguin Books.
If you or someone you know is in need of mental health assistance, please call 1-800-273-8255.