From the Edge and Back Again

No matter what barriers a writer faces, they can always be overcome. The Neanderthal Bard shares his journey to becoming a poet.

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How would feel and what would you do
If your world was mainly grey with a few shades of blue?

Those two lines are probably the most important I have ever written. I was a mess; I was barely existing through side-effects from heavy meds and more mental torment. If I had known then the impact those two lines would have on my life I would have scribbled them down 30 years ago and started the healing process back then.

I was born mentally flawed, I’ve known that since before my teenage years. Not fitting in was my specialty so I withdrew into myself just for everyone’s safety, but when the bullies joined forces with my awkwardness and magnified my mental defects I couldn’t protect me. That’s when I became victim-shaped and I let them break me, day after day. As a young adult I started to drink a bit to get me through the day – not huge amounts, but often, just enough to soften the edges.

I had bounced around from job to job for most of my life, usually I got the sack for returning drunk from a liquid lunch or not going to work at all. I was good at whatever I did because I caught on quick, worked harder for longer than anyone else, but I knew it would only be a matter of time before I was on the move again.

I was terrible at relationships and I would forget to go home for weeks at a time because I was so down and ungrounded. As a Chef I lived a fast-paced life, which was alright all the time. I was working hard but when the last dessert was served then the beers would to flow into rivers of Sambuca and Absinthe. I had less sense than the norm.

It was like a perfect storm of circumstance and fragility that finally brought me to my knees. I walked into work one day, stood in the middle of my kitchen, and I felt like a void had taken over my life, like a soulless hole. I had stolen my own essence. I had no sense of direction.

I was diagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder in my late 30s, brought on by a succession of distressing events and it was living rent free, kept company by me. I struggled through the diagnoses process as a haze of SSRIs and antipsychotics made side-bets with the voices in my head. One of my support workers suggested I worked on a letter so I was better equipped to survive this mindlessness in times of stress. The letter was meant to explain my pain to my close friends and family, but it ended up saving me; then poetry took control of most of those lonely moments and filled them with absurd-free verse and rhyming couplets – just enough for the voices to stop from time to time.

It’s strange that the one thing that I fled from for years has become the key to me having a new career. The road has been rocky, the path never clear, but I learned not to cower now poetry has become my BPD “Super Power.” Now my life has become fuller than it has felt in years, there are less tears now but I still let them flow. I still don’t go out too much and I renounce all luck now I’m making my own. I will always be affected in a big way so now I make hey when the sun shines and make the most out of coherent times. I still feel fear of fear itself, but as I get near to hell I fly back out. I still suffer self-doubt and I’m proud to shout that fact, the key to feeling better is giving back and not keeping track of the score – in fact I don’t keep score at all anymore.

This article is not meant to be about what I do now but about how I feel – but they come hand in hand – it’s part of the deal. I write poems and lead workshops and try to stop cuts to such vital services; my life’s more worthy now. I feature, headline, and perform to crowds; I hold and promote poetry events, putting my best foot forward – onward and upwards – as I recite my life’s story, but I hide from glory as I get up to host. This is what I love the most, to the highest degree.

It pleases me to see poets get up behind the mic for the first time; I will never feel a bigger sense of pride than I get when others forget their fear and let the crowd hear their most intimate thoughts. There have been times when I have seen a blatant change happen in people, like a complete metamorphosis that ought to be available on prescription, as I listen from the side of the stage and it makes me smile.

The fact is that no matter what, the more I think about changing other people’s lives, the less I think about ending mine. Maybe that is my reward in this life and, if it is, then I will smile inside ’til the end of time.

I’m sat on a coach right now on the first leg of what I am calling my ‘Terrified Tour’ of the south-west. My mental state remains good for now but I still suffer tough times and I know there is no cure hiding around the corner – and probably won’t be in my lifetime – so I work when I feel alright and I sleep when I don’t. I’m learning how important it is to take care of myself in times of hell on earth because I’m worth it. Besides, this much is true: I live a life worth living while I help the rest of you, and that’s more than enough.

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Performance poet Stefan Gambrell, also known as the Neanderthal Bard, has been tearing it a new arsehole for the last few years.

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