An inspirational Harrogate woman is creating a book of poems about mental health to encourage people to be more open and raise vital awareness.
Writing poetry about her own experiences saved Tracey Ward’s life, and she is passionate about showing others how simply getting your thoughts down on paper can make a huge difference to both yourself, and someone else going through the same thing.
The project has already attracted a letter of support from Prince Harry, who together with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, is spearheading the national Heads Together campaign for mental health.
Battling with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and fibromyalgia causing pain all over her body, Tracey is determined to burst any remaining stigma around mental health, and hopes people will find the same comfort in poetry as she does.
Tracey said: “I find it quite cathartic and cleansing to write poems. I write about how I am feeling and my experiences. I think it’s a really good way for people to cope, and sadly depression is still something that a lot of people won’t talk about.
“I know what it feels like to be overwhelmed with emotions but I also know what it feels like to get through it and be on the other side. Writing literally saved my life.
“If I wake up at 3am and can’t get back to sleep, I write. I’m extremely lucky because I am a trained touch typist, and I can type as fast as I speak. This gives me a fluidity with words and my emotions, and it all just seems to work so that people think that I am actually talking to them - which of course I am.”
A Facebook group called the ‘Harrogate Black Dog’ has been launched by Tracey to create an online mental health support network, and now has more than 200 members.
The aim of both the poetry book and the Facebook forum is to show people that they are not alone, and when someone feels nervous about opening up in person, they can still seek support but have the level of detachment that they want.
Tracey said: “People need a voice. Depression is an illness just like fibromyalgia - you just can’t see it, but it’s there weighing people down. I sat in my living room for a year with the curtains closed with a huge pile of post, I was living on cereal and biscuits. That is no way to live, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
“It is worth all the pain and heartache I’ve suffered in the past, knowing that I have turned these things so negative into something so positive that will benefit other people - to help them through similar things and to show them there is really a light at the end of that tunnel and we are there at the end of it with outstretched arms.
“I think I want to give others hope and the strength to take that step and ask for help without feeling stupid, weird, psycho and all those other horrible names. What’s small for someone is a huge difference to someone else.”
Keen to hear from anyone who would like to write about their own experiences and feelings, Tracey said: “A lot of people can be put off by the fact that it’s a poem, they think they can’t do it. But this is not a writing competition, it’s just an opportunity for people to express how they are affected, a chance to speak from the heart.
"It’s like a big offloading mechanism, it makes you feel so much better. You don’t need to suffer on your own, people are there to help you, you are not alone.
“I am hoping that this new book will bring awareness especially as Christmas is coming up now and this can be such a lonely time.
“It is so difficult for friends and family members to understand what it feels like so I hope that the new book will give these suffered a voice and their immediate circle an understanding.”
Examples of Tracey's poetry:
A Journey with no end (from “Rainbows May Cry”)
I am tired of walking this lonely street
Broken slabs and heavy feet
Head hanging low once again
Watching the water flow into the drain
Just like me it is ebbing away
I have got to get through another day
I have no reason to look up high
Just grey clouds that go floating by
No birds singing their lovers song
How did everything seem to go so wrong
Nothing there for me except a space
Inside my heart; no smile on my face
The tears start to fall in a silent stream
I hope that this is a horrible dream
It is better to have loved and lost is what they say
Stupid words as it is me they betray
But my head it lifts when the stars come out
The moonlight trying to wash away my doubt
But it envelops me and I am sinking lower
I am blind to its light and my heart it beats slower
My Gift to You on National Poetry Day
Here I sit on a beautiful day
And time stands still
While my doubts float away
Just as soft as the clouds
My thoughts seem to be
And no one around or judging me
Because I am strong now and proud
Of what I have become
No fear, no lies, just harmony
Life is a gift so precious and free
Please just open your eyes, just look and see
Embrace each day as it is a gift from above
Don’t waste it on fear, or hate
Because the answer is love