Writing about my mental health is one thing, but getting up in front of an audience and talking – with words and hand movements – that’s a whole different thing. And given the chance to do it last night at Waterstones in Birmingham, I defied several bus-related catastrophes and the sudden reappearance of my long-forgotten asthma to get there to share a bit of my heart with the lovely folks who had also come along to give us all a treat with varieties of songs, poetry and an octokitty.
On the way into town, our bus stopped due to a car crash blocking our route and the driver needed an inspector or police officer to spot her reversing all the way back up the road to take a different way. Have you ever seen a bus reverse? I guarantee your bum cheeks will clench as you watch them dodge parked cars, it takes so much fucking skill. Anyway, I had half an hour to get into town and the option of waiting was just too uncertain so I found myself power-walking back up to the previous stop. Cold air, plus wearing a hoodie instead of my coat induced a tickly cough that I couldn’t shift no matter how much water I chugged. And it was all for nothing, as the driver of the bus had been able to reverse and come back for us.
Thanks to a few panicked texts between me and the Husband, we figured that my adolescent asthma had made a comeback – and on the night I needed to talk to people. Awesome! I managed to get to the shop in one piece, and I was told I might be able to get squeezed in to perform. By a stroke of luck, I was squeezed in before the last act of the night, which meant I could relax and get rid of my frog throat.
Just so you know, I’m not just going to talk about my time on the stage because the whole event was just too good for me to skip over.
The night opened with a fantastic tale from the utterly wonderful Gavin Young – I haven’t been that mesmerised by someone telling me a story since I was a child. From there, we had music from Will AKA FaceOmeter about a giant duck, something I can really get behind. His performance was just so energetic, and the way he crammed so many syllables into lines of song was just beyond human ability, so he’s probably a wizard or something. Probably. Following him, we had poetry dedicated to William Shakespeare before the amazing Jessica Law took the mic with her mandolele (I don’t know if I spelt that right, it’s her own invention of a mandolin and ukulele) to sing tales of dystopia in such an angelic voice. Plus she brought along an octokitty and an octobear, fuzzy creations that I need like, five of.
John Sullivan then read us poetry he’d written about hard times he had faced in beating addiction and hitting rock bottom before climbing his way back out. We spoke during the interval and I wanted to hear more of his story, because he is truly an inspiring individual. Before the interval, we had more poetry from Steve Harrison, who got quite a few giggles from us all! As well as getting a chance to talk to John, I also spoke to Gavin’s teenage sons about tank paintballing, which was wonderful!
After the interval (Waterstones, your hot chocolate is amazing and it soothed my throat so much!) we were so lucky to have Birmingham’s Young Poet Laureate to read us some of her utterly beautiful work. Serena Arthur crafts words in such a way that tells you that it comes right from her soul. I’m so proud that we have her representing poetry for my home city. When Carys ‘Matic’ Jones takes the stage, I didn’t expect her to give us a poetic piece about her own battle with mental health and medication – it was as if she had taken my own thoughts and spoken them for me. I just wanted to hug her.
More poetry inspired by social media and moral panics by LGBT Muslim activist Khakan Qureshi (he’s right, I’m sick of the media’s hatred of Islam…) and a rap by Christian, a young man originally from the Bahamas with such a silky smooth voice he could probably sell me anything and I’d buy it without hesitation. A few more poems from Steve, before Gavin turned round to me and told me I was on next.
I could probably run for it if I hurdled over those chairs, I thought briefly. All the words I’d been reciting over and over in my head played again briefly before I was introduced, and with a little mic adjustment (because I am tiny) I was looking out at everyone who had entertained me so much through the evening. Carys’ performance gave me a really good platform to open up the topic of mental health, as I told everyone openly that I have BPD and the huge stigma that comes with it due to certain behaviours – including self-harm. I spoke openly about my scars and how I was initially lead to believe that they needed covering. As I spoke, I could see everyone listening.
You don’t go through a battle without getting a few scars, I said. I told them how I had been through hell and was standing there to tell the tale. How I never thought I’d make it past the age of 18, and despite the long, hard fight, I’ve dug my way out. And I can do anything because of it. I saw nodding and smiling, and it felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest with pride and love for everyone there in that room. When I was done talking, there was applause. And not, ‘thank fuck she’s stopped talking’ applause, but actual applause.
I sat back down and got a huge hug from Carys, as others around me said such lovely things about what I’d said. I was buzzing, I felt like I could fly at that moment. And it was made even better by the just bloody brilliant Leigh Saunders finishing the night with a song about Brian Blessed’s beard – yes, you heard me – and a wonderful, wonderful song. I am still singing both today as I write this. Speaking of beards, his is magnificent, and I am now an unashamed fangirl of his.
As the night wound down, there were hugs and lovely words aplenty, and the chance to talk to everyone and share our thoughts about what we had seen and heard through the evening. Carys gave me some information about a future event that I am seriously interested in, I swooned over Serena’s poetry and stroked Leigh’s beard. HIS BEARD, you dirty buggers. (It was so soft, like a freshly washed sheep…) John cheekily said that my talk made him realise why I was so interested in hearing about his battle with addiction, which I’m glad about. I could have stayed all night just talking to everyone, but I’d promised to meet Husband afterwards. He was really fucking proud of me – he is truly my biggest fan, and the reason I can even do things like this.
I got home to a sea of tweets, messages and just so much love from everyone I shared the night with, as well as those who watched. I fell asleep feeling like I’d done something good with my words, and I thought back to 13-year-old Claire. She couldn’t fall asleep until she’d listened to a whole album of a favourite band, because it stopped the nightmares creeping in. There were so many things she was afraid of; school, people, emotions, failure – all she wanted to do was hide away from the world. I want to go back and hug that confused teenager and tell her what I did, and tell her that one day in time that it would be her.
The pain would be worth it. She just had to hold on, because it would be her time soon.
Will I do open mic again? Hell yes. Watch this space.