Nobody’s Inspiration

Yesterday, I had the absolute honour of delivering the thanks to Linda Gask, who gave the second Oxford Disability Lecture, delivering a hugely-needed, unflinchingly honest, uncompromisingly demanding, and refreshingly pragmatic talk about her own experience of depression as a person, as a psychiatrist, and as an academic. There will soon be a podcast, but I wanted to share the text of the poem now. It was a fabulous, and very exciting experience delivering it to such a receptive audience, and in front of the University’s Vice Chancellor (it struck me as a delicious irony that after nattering to her for a while afterwards, I have probably spent more time with her than my bosses). Please check out Linda’s book The Other Side of Silence here.

At Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest

At Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest

Nobody’s Inspiration

Stigma is the thing with branches,
the miserly larch that will not shed its spines in winter,
the hollow hinterland that marches to horizons
where the eyes of reason and compassion cannot follow.

Thank you
…For lighting a path into the wilderness
That bewildered mess of passions dressed in dust.
Fashioned from half-started lives now carcasses of rust,
Ashes from the lists of everything we thought we’d be
…For caressing from the shards of carbon
Filaments of empathy
From which
Tomorrow builds her nest

See, I can fly but sometimes I need you to give me wings
My heart is full of song
But I sometimes need your love to amp me when I sing
Sometimes people reel off lists of things I’ve done
Jobs done, medals won
Ultramarathons run
Poems told and stories spun
And I feel like I’m in a minority of one
When I say, “mate, the hardest thing I’ve ever done
Was get out of bed,
Put down the pills
Pick up some clothes
And face the sun.”
And all you can say is
“the least you can do is put on a tie”
And I think, “look, you can have me shine,
Well, maybe not shine but at least get by
Like this,
Or you can have the last light in me die.”

It’s easy to say we care
And that is not enough
It’s easy to say we want the best for everyone
And that is not enough
It’s easy to write beautiful mission statements
And that is not enough
It’s easy to put faces on our walls,
It’s easy to celebrate the ones who did it all
It’s easy to embrace a culture of support
Until we fall
And we must do all of that
But that is not enough

We talk glibly of a human cost
As though we know
A world that will not change
Becomes a junkyard where depositories of genius are tossed
But this is also hope
Damped down
It’s smoking embers of a dream stamped out like cigarettes
It’s kisses choked before they leave the throat
It’s everything that adds up to a life
Lost.

We’ll not beat stigma with celebrations of highflyers,
By filling dreaming spires with choirs of good intentions idolising outliers
By glamorising myths of brilliant madness
Or fetishizing funeral pyres.

Your victory is this,
that you are known not by a label but a name.
My wish, my dream, my right
Is for the same.

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