A mother shares how poetry has helped with her mental health

Posted: 20/10/23

A mother of two has shared how poetry has helped with her mental health.

Sarah first started using mental health services with Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) in 2019, after suffering significant trauma.

She had to have emergency spinal surgery and ended up losing her home. Not long afterwards in a cruel twist of fate, her husband needed to have the same surgery.

“I then found out I had a borderline ovarian tumour,” Sarah explained. “After getting that removed, I was told I wouldn’t be able to have kids. Just five weeks later, I found out I was pregnant!”

While Sarah was going through her first pregnancy, her nana died who she says was like a mam to her. “I helped look after my nana when she was dying. Then when my daughter was born, I felt quite angry,” she said.

It was an appointment with a health visitor that led to Sarah getting help. “I’d always had underlying mental health issues, but I thought I was fine. My health visitor introduced me to CNTW’s services, and I was diagnosed as emotionally unstable with mixed anxiety and depression.”

Sarah describes her first pregnancy as overwhelming. “I felt like I was losing who I was and was just becoming someone’s mam.

“The second time I got pregnant, I struggled with anxiety. I kept worrying about how I was going to cope with two children and feared going back to how poorly I was when I was first pregnant.”

Sarah gave birth to her second child, a son, in April 2022.

Soon after, Sarah’s mental health took a turn for the worst. That’s when she stated writing poetry.

She had done a drama degree and always loved creative writing, but poetry wasn’t something she had done before.

“It just came to me one day, I started writing and all these emotions came spilling out,” Sarah said.

She had cognitive analytic therapy (CAT) as part of her treatment, which is a talking therapy that focuses on relationship patterns. Part of that therapy involved writing letters, something Sarah found to be therapeutic.

She sees this as the turning point that led to her writing poetry. It is now something she turns to whether she’s feeling happy or sad.

“I find it a good way to escape and let my emotions out. Poetry has given me a sense of freedom. It’s my form of therapy and I wished I’d discovered it years ago.”

Sarah has written a number of poems now, including ones to her husband thanking him for his support and ones for her daughter to read when she’s older. She says putting pen to paper has become a useful coping mechanism.

Julie Allison works for CNTW as a perinatal community nursery nurse and has been working with Sarah for around four years.

She said: “It’s been really positive to see Sarah find something that empowers her to express her feelings. Poetry has helped in her day-to-day life and her relationships. What’s really noticeable is her motivation; she has that drive to want to help herself and better understand herself.

“As a team we really encourage people to explore different tools that might help with their mental health. Sarah has helped me understand that one size doesn’t fit all and that we all use different ways of coping.”

Sarah is due to be discharged soon and has written a poem for Julie, which she plans to give to her when she leaves.

Life is looking brighter for Sarah now, and this is reflected in her poetry.

“Looking back at some of the first poems I’d written I can see how unwell I was,” she said. “I feel like they were written by a different person, and I feel sorry for that person. My poems are a lot more positive now, there is more hope. I feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Once Sarah is discharged, she plans to do a creative writing course at the Recovery College and hopes to go on to do a PGCE to become a teacher.

“I have goals now, which I didn’t have before. I couldn’t be more grateful for the service; I don’t know what I would have done without them” Sarah said.

Sarah’s advice for any new mums or mums-to-be who may be struggling is that time is a healer. “It sounds cliché but it’s true. It’s taken me eight months from being really unwell and writing that first poem to now. There can be a lot of guilt around motherhood and pressure to be the perfect mam. I’m not the textbook mam but that’s okay.”

Perinatal Community Mental Health Teams work with women who have a range of moderate to severe mental health problems during pregnancy, childbirth and early motherhood. You can read more about the service here.

CNTW is a leading provider of mental health and disability services.