One Less Star.

A couple of years ago, a friend asked a question on Facebook: “What difference would it make if I wasn’t here anymore?”

I wrote this poem for him.

I also wrote it for those who had never asked me the question — well, not that I know of, at least — and left of their own accord.

Because it is Suicide Prevention Week worldwide, it’s a very appropriate time to share this poem with you. I hope it encourages you.

Just so you know, my friend stayed. And I’m very glad he did.

And if you’re ever in that situation, I hope you will stay, too.

©Promo X One Less Star plain

Tonight
Through the tears
That sprang from your pain
And fell from my eyes,
I looked into the sky
Where there was one less star shining,
And I wept for the world
Where life carries on
Just that bit darker
Than before
You left.

©2017 Joanne Van Leerdam

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img_3407This poem and fifty others are now published in a new collection: The Passing Of The Night.

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RU OK? World Suicide Prevention Day.

Today is RU OK Day, also known as World Suicide Prevention day.

This is an awareness very close to my heart.
I’m not going to expand on why, because I want the focus of this post to be positive and encouraging.

The message is important not just for today because it’s a special awareness day. This message is permanently, crucially important.

We need to take care of each other. Each of us is uniquely placed to offer support and encouragement to the people we know – friends, families, colleagues, students, whoever we cross paths with in our lives. That doesn’t mean we have to be their only support, although sometimes we might be just that. 

If you think someone is down, if they look tired or unwell, or notice they’re not taking care of themselves as well as they usually do, ask them if they are okay.  Don’t just ask as a throwaway question. Be willing to have a quality conversation that includes questions like:

  • What’s going on?
  • What do you need?
  • How can I help?
  • Is there someone I can contact for you?

Taking the time to check in with someone deliberately and thoughtfully is a powerful communication of care and concern. 

It’s important  to realise that you or I might be the one positive thing that happens in someone’s day. We might be the only source of encouragement and light that they encounter. 

We also need to consider the power of our words. A curt dismissal or snide remark in response to a comment that might actually be a true confession of desperation, depression or anxiety can be incredibly destructive. We should never, ever be making a joke of that. Yes, sometimes it is attention-seeking or needless drama— but sometimes it’s not. 

A kind word or message of encouragement could be the difference between someone actually deciding that now is the time to end their life, or not. 

I know. It’s a huge responsibility. 

But imagine a world where each of us gives someone that kind of support, and someone else gives it to us when we need it. 

And if you’re thinking you’ll never need it, stop right now and be very, very thankful for the blessings in your life and the comfort of good, stable mental health. It’s not possible to emphasise enough just how lucky you are. 

If you’re one of those who is struggling, or feeling like you’re drowning, or tired of treading water… please, please, talk to someone. Seek help. Look for reasons —  any reason — to stay.  Please stay.

I wrote this poem after one of the darkest seasons of my life thus far. I hope that you will gain both perspective and insight from reading it. 

Before you read this poem, there is somethingI would likeyou to know.

This poem is absolutely, 100% true. It is personal, it is painfully honest, and it tells of my own experience, not anyone else’s. And you may find it quite confronting.

Despite its darkness, it is written to be positive, not negative.

It was not written to win sympathy or make anyone feel guilt: it was written so that people might understand what’s in my head, and what I’ve been feeling, and why I’ve made the choices I have.

To answer your concerns: I have chosen to stay here and to defy all impulses that tempt me otherwise. I don’t always feel okay, I’m not always okay, but I will be okay.

For anyone in a similar position: hold on. Stay here. You matter more than you know.

Promo X Still Here Plain.jpeg

STILL HERE.

For a moment-
One fleeting, isolated point in time-

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Birth of the Semicolon

A semi-colon forms part of a highly symbolic tattoo on my inner wrist. Like many others who bear the symbol on their skin, I chose it because I, too, have struggled with depression, mental illness, self-harm and suicide. It’s a reminder that “this” is not all there is, and it’s not the end of the story. 

As a punctuation mark, I am a big fan of the semicolon. It has the power to make someone wait momentarily, to hold a thought or their breath for a moment, and to anticipate what is to come next. It’s the symbol that tells the reader that there is more to come.

I really enjoyed this article by Celia Watson which discusses how the semicolon came to be.

And if you’re a grammar nerd like me, you’ll understand the appeal of Watson’s book on that wonderful, versatile little punctuation mark, simply titled ’Semicolon’, which I discovered via Stan Carey’s review

A Celebration of Reading

download.pngThe article titled The Birth of the Semicolon published in The Paris Review (August 1, 2019) by Cecilia Watson is not to be missed. Here is just the beginning to whet your appetite for arcane knowledge offering clues to the development of formal language.

The semicolon was born in Venice in 1494. It was meant to signify a pause of a length somewhere between that of the comma and that of the colon, and this heritage was reflected in its form, which combines half of each of those marks. It was born into a time period of writerly experimentation and invention, a time when there were no punctuation rules, and readers created and discarded novel punctuation marks regularly. Texts (both handwritten and printed) record the testing-out and tinkering-with of punctuation by the fifteenth-century literati known as the Italian humanists. The humanists put a premium on eloquence and excellence in writing…

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‘Les Mis’ and the Night Tigers

‘Les Miserables’ is among my favourite books of all time, and it is also one of my favourite musicals. 

I saw a fabulous production of ‘Les Mis’ last night at the theatre in Warrnambool. 

My major achievement for the evening was not singing along out loud— which took more self-discipline than you might ever realise. 

I was moved to tears by the emotion and beauty of the performances, but also— as always— by the power of the lyrics. 

There are many moments and several songs in the show that I love, but my absolute favourite lines are sung by Fantine: 

“But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder…”

‘I Dreamed a Dream’


Those words are so profound.I find them powerful because I know that whatever it is that a person struggles with – pain, grief, depression, anxiety, worry… those tigers visit more often at night, and stay for longer, than they ever do during daylight hours. 

One of the reasons I began taking my writing more seriously a number of years ago was because I found it an excellent way of dealing with my night tigers and answering their voices with my own.  

That’s why many of my poems deal with themes of  mental health, pain, depression, grief, and resilience. Its also why I insist that writing is the most effective therapy I have ever had. It hasn’t cured me or solved my problems, but it has certainly helped to heal me and enable me to deal with the challenges I face in life in a much healthier way. 

Those tigers still come at night, but they have discovered that I, too, can roar. 

How Self Publishing Improved My Mental Health

Lucy Mitchell’s experiences, as she describes in the article reblogged here, are not uncommon. Many writers, artists and musicians use their creativity to help process and deal with their mental health issues.

I share this author’s experience of gaining motivation, encouragement and purpose from writing and self-publishing my works.

Withdrawing my first book from its publisher and taking control of my publishing journey as an Indie author was incredibly empowering. Producing not just good writing but excellent books has been as source of both pleasure and pride for me, but it has also been fabulous therapy. 

Every poem I write, whether it’s about mental health or a medieval princess saving herself and taking control of her destiny is evidence of my strength and resilience, even at those times when I am not feeling particularly strong or resilient. 

The fact that I can write about my own mental health in a way that others relate to and find powerful is both liberating and encouraging. 
And every time I kill someone fictionally, it saves me bail money and keeps me out of jail because I haven’t actually laid hands on anyone. That’s a system that has worked extremely well for me so far, so I will stick with it. 

Every book I have published is testimony to my survival. This is, perhaps, most true of A Poet’s Curse, which was written indirect response to evil behaviour and nasty people. Publishing that little volume, to which I like to refer as my “dark little book of hateful poetry” really felt like I was taking my life back from those who tried to destroy me, and I celebrated it as such. 

At this point of my writing and publishing career, I can say that I am incredibly proud of what I have achieved. That in itself is positive and motivating, and encourages me to keep going. There are still a lot of ideas bubbling away, and there’s life in the old girl yet. 

And where there’s life, there’s hope. 

All of this is proof of how far I have come from those very dark times that almost destroyed me, and of my determination to never go back. 

I hope you appreciate and enjoy the insights from Lucy Mitchell as much as I did.

Reblog: How Self Publishing Improved My Mental Health by Lucy Mitchell via the I Write. I Read. I Review blog.

Why I Love Audiobooks

I am a relatively recent convert to the audiobook experience. 

Before October last year, I had really only used audiobooks when teaching Shakespeare texts in high school, as it took the stress out of the actual reading for kids who weren’t sure how to approach or pronounce the parts of the language that were unfamiliar to them.  Beyond that, i had suggested them for people, especially kids, who weren’t keen on actually reading, or people who were sight impaired, or… you get my drift. They were always a good idea for someone else.

Of course, thinking of them in that way meant that I never really tried them out for myself. 

It was only when my own circumstances changed that I learned my lesson. Quite unexpectedly, I found myself recovering from emergency spinal surgery, spending a lot of time lying down, and unable to work for an expended period. I was in pain, forced to rest, and couldn’t really focus my eyes too well for some time.

On an impulse, I purchased an audiobook and found myself completely engrossed in the story. When it finished, I bought another. And another. I was hooked. 

The audiobooks I listened to during my recovery kept me company when I couldn’t sleep, and gave me something to think about other than the pain. They took me out of my hospital bed and carried me to different places. They gave my mind something to do when my body couldn’t do much at all. They were great for my mental health. And I really enjoyed them. 

Now, I listen to audiobooks on my commute to work each day, instead of getting steamed up over news and current affairs on the radio. I listen when I am resting, which I still need to do as my back is still healing. I often listen during my lunch break at work, which is actually much healthier than working straight through it as I have tended to do for most of my career. I listen while doing the dishes. 

Audiobooks have not replaced my reading time. I love reading books, and treasure the time I get to spend in them. That will never change. I’m a book nerd, through and through. Even a cursory glance at my Goodreads profile, Twitter feed or Book Squirrel blog will testify to that. 

Listening to audiobooks has also enabled me to add another dimension to my book blog, with audiobook reviews being added to the repertoire, along with Indie book reviews, author spotlights and interviews, and other bookish goodness. As I like to deliver varied and interesting content, that has been a bonus. 

Audiobooks have enhanced different times in my day when I can’t read, and made them more interesting and stimulating. They may not be for everyone, but adding some great listening time to my routine has been a positive and enjoyable development for me.  

Book Review: Crazy for Alice by Alex Dunn

“…a really interesting and compelling book.”

This was a really interesting and compelling book. It had a satisfying balance of humour and desperation among the characters, with a few good heart stopping moments thrown in for good measure. The ending was very satisfying.

I’d definitely recommend it for any Young Adult audience, and for anyone older who still enjoys a good story.
It would suit anyone who enjoyed the Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling or A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

I’ll definitely be recommending it for a few people I know!

crazy-for-alice