Open Words article for Magnet

What we can learn from the dark.

Below you can read an article submitted by me from Open Words to the Magnet magazine in 2019, about looking after your mental health. This article was directed at young people.

Persephone, the daughter of the mighty Greek God Zeus, was snatched by Hades, the Lord of the Underworld, whilst picking beautiful flowers in a garden. Demeter, her mother, was so distraught by the kidnapping that she stopped caring about the harvest or the growth of food on earth and famine spread across the land. Zeus commanded Hades to return Persephone to Demeter, but Hades explained that she could not be freed as she had eaten food from the soil of the Underworld. Hades commanded that Persephone could only return to Demeter for two thirds of the year. It was said that when Persephone returned, the flowers bloomed and the crops grew in abundance. 

Dramatherapy works with stories, exploring symbols and characters, narratives and settings which can relate to our own lives and emotions. What can the Greek myth of Persephone show us about the lightness and darkness in our own lives? A similarity can be drawn between Persephone’s kidnapping and the journey in to poor mental health  and the ‘darkness’. Both include feeling trapped, lonely, out of control, sad and without beauty. Dark times in our lives, such as depression, addiction or grief, can impact your day in a way which feels out of control and can leave the rest of our world empty and in a state of famine. It is important to also notice, however, Persephone’s cycle of moving from the dark in to the light. Nature flourished in the light but the dark also held value. The fields lay bare in order to once again be rejuvenated with new flowers and crops. Similarly, it is within the dark times of our lives that we can see our bare difficult emotions and plant the seeds to grow in to the light. 

Picture your emotions growing in fields. In one field grows ‘sadness’, in another grows ‘happiness’, in another grows ‘anxiety’, and so on. Then consider what happens when you do not tend to these crops. They become overgrown, difficult to harvest and so dense they are impossible to see through. Once you return, it is a mountain to tackle, so you walk away and tell yourself you will harvest them another day. All the while, the fields are becoming more overgrown and intimidating. Should you leave your difficult experiences and emotions unattended to, so too will they become  more difficult to harvest, easier to leave for another day.

Harvesting these dark fields will make it easier to plant the seeds for more crops to grow; understanding and engaging with difficult times and emotions in your life will make it easier to grow emotionally and move forwards. If you think you may feel depressed, anxious or just generally unhappy, you should seek support from an adult you trust. Speaking with a parent or guardian, health care professional or teacher, can help you look after your mental health. You can learn from and engage with the darkness. Ignoring difficult emotions may cause more harm than good, potentially leading to a substance abuse, depression, isolation or more serious mental health issues. As challenging as it may feel to harvest such difficult and tangled emotions, it is important to remember that in depression we realise the joy of life, in grief we remember how much we love those we have lost and in recovery we learn how strong we really are and how much we wish to reconnect.

You can look after your mental health by: 

Talking: Talking to trusted adults, friends or relatives who you trust can help you realise you are not alone. Sometimes it can be scary to admit you may have a mental health issue or it may feel shameful, but around one in four people in the UK suffer from mental health issues in any given year. Speaking to someone may help you regain control and start your path to finding the correct support.

Writing and Drawing: Take space in your day or week to write or draw in a journal. This could include writing about your feelings or writing poetry and stories. Writing can help you understand your view of a situation and can also be helpful in monitoring how you are feeling. Writing difficult feelings can sometimes feel scary, so begin by writing lists or what you have done in a day. Then try to write feelings or emotions linked to these events. Drawing can be a peaceful and calming exercise and can be another way to express how you are feeling if words are sometimes too difficult.

Breathing: Breathing deeply and slowly can trick your body in to thinking it is calm, and can be a useful tool when feeling scared or stressed. Your body responds to these emotions by making you short of breath and your heart beat faster. Breathing deeply will lessen this. Try breathing in to the bottom of your stomach and counting to five before slowly breathing out again. 

Other ways to look after your mental health include exercising regularly, walking outdoors, practising mindfulness or meditation and joining local social groups such as sports teams or theatre groups.

It is impossible to argue that being snatched in to the darkness, like Persephone, can feel difficult and it is important to identify where you can nurture and care for your mental health in order to find hope and strength. Seeking professional support alongside taking care of your mental health is vital in engaging with the more difficult times or feelings in your life. Step into the dark in order to find the strength to step back into the light. 

Useful Links: 

The Story of Persephone: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Persephone-Greek-goddess

Breathing exercises: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/ways-relieve-stress/

Tips for Journalling: https://mellowed.com/journaling-for-beginners/

The Samaritans: https://www.samaritans.org

StudentMinds: https://www.studentminds.org.uk

Mind Online Forum, ‘Elefriends’: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/support-community-elefriends/

Young Minds: https://youngminds.org.uk

Open Words UK: http://www.openwords.co.uk

Therapy services: https://beta.nhs.uk/find-a-psychological-therapies-service/

Find a Dramatherapist: https://badth.org.uk/therapist-search

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