The Poetry Pharmacy

Best selling author and mental health campaigner RACHEL KELLY narrates her powerful journey with depression and the healing power of poetry

IN MY THIRTIES, I suffered two major depressive episodes. It all began one May evening just over twenty years ago when depression  struck me seemingly out of the blue. I was a journalist at The Times newspaper and mother of two, married to Sebastian, a junior banker.

One night I was taking our two small sons – a six-month old baby and a toddler – upstairs for bath time. I laid them on their towels kissing their rounded tummies in our normal routine when my heart started racing. 

That night I was gripped by insomnia. I thought I was having a heart attack, my heart was beating so wildly. I paced the house all night, checking and re-checking the children. When I lay in bed unable to sleep, my worries went round and round, the anxiety worsening like a skater who carves ever deeper patterns on a frozen lake.

I was worried about trying to work, trying to be a good mother, trying to be a good wife. I became more and more overwhelmed with worries. I was bursting with an active sense of dread that disaster was about to strike. Something terrible was going to happen and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. It felt like I was on a plane that was going to crash. In three days I went from being mildly anxious to being unable to move in an agonising foetal curl on the floor, suicidal with fear. 

Rachel during her depressive episode

It proved to be the start of my first major depressive episode, born of overwhelm and anxiety. I was briefly in hospital, and was then ill for six months. I was treated with antidepressants and sleeping pills and got back to work, hoping the topic would go away. 

1 thought on “The Poetry Pharmacy

  1. There are lots of Bauhaus exercises that I feel link with this, for example experimenting with words by creating ‘sound images’ or writing within a structure like having to omit one vowel or taking a line for a walk – finding your total freedom from within, basically. Depression has been truly ‘outed’ now and is heading towards a place of post-stigma, but just because society is more accepting doesn’t mean that we needn’t heed Rachel Kelly’s excellent suggestions to aid the alienated soul in expressing its creative side. She addresses all of these aspects equally well in this personal and poignant piece.


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