Content warning: mentions of mental illness
The true struggle of mental health is a source of confusion for many, including those, like myself, who suffer. I have spent most of my adolescence fighting with the utterly consuming thoughts of depression and finding it hard to not feel utterly alone given the stigmatisation of mental illness. I have found my own salvation through things which bring me joy such as singing. I recently performed in the university’s acapella society cabaret night with my group. During this I was entertained by many open-mic acts however, one shone out above them all.
A budding spoken word poet Fraser Hume, a graduate from Aberdeen and prolific member of the university’s acapella society, performed his poem ‘Why I Do This’, a personal story of how he copes with his mental health. Fraser’s work truly moved me and evoked in me complete euphoria in that there was still someone shouting above all of the noise from those who don’t care and don’t understand and that this one guy could create such a meaningful project to help those he doesn’t even know.
Fraser’s project is to write a collection of poems tackling the stigma around mental health by asking for help from survivors. To research and understand Fraser released an anonymous and voluntary survey on his Facebook to gain direct and personal experiences from people in order to begin this writing journey. The survey provided him with a foundation to tackle his own struggles with mental health and those around him whilst still understanding and respecting the seriousness of those struggling.
I met with Fraser to discuss the project further:
Interview- 12/3/19 – Cult Espresso, Edinburgh.
Some answers have been edited for clarity.
What was your inspiration for this project?
I have struggled with mental health myself and watched close friends fight this battle. The realisation that I wished to do something more hit me during my studies at [Aberdeen] University, with the competitiveness of my degree and the music industry as a whole making it very easy to get down on yourself and feel a bit lost in life. Talking with friends and classmates, most people struggled to discuss their feelings and I wanted to make it easier for people to know they are not alone and that these are things that people feel. I wanted other people’s thoughts as well as my own to come across in the most sensitive way possible.
What is the aim of the project?
I wanted this to do something to help. I have always turned to art and after all that is all art is: people gaining something from it. The poems are meant to wake people up and give a realisation rather than bring them down, so these more uplifting poems would be dappled within the collection allowing people to see the turncoat nature of mental illness. It is sad to think people are feeling this way, the wider aim of the project is to help, if one person is moved by the poems then it will have fulfilled its purpose.
Is it a university only project?
No, I am looking to get as many perspectives as possible. University is a hard place to find your identity but equally, professionals have their own struggles and so I’m open to anything.
Acapella is obviously close to your heart. Was there ever any doubt in your mind that it would be the focus of one of the poems?
This started as an add-on apart from the project but became the focus by getting these feelings and this journey down on paper. The poems are portrayed less as specific thoughts and more as general feelings brought into words.
Is there somewhere people can find them?
I do not have them online at the moment as I would like to work up a collection and release them all at once. I would like to have them released by Mental Health Awareness Week in May
Is each poem based on a specific issue?
Yes, I have covered, depression, alcoholism, anxiety, dissociation and loneliness. They are narratives if what these struggles are like. All the poems reference each other.
I’ve read only one and it is presented as a coping mechanism. Will others be like this?
‘Why I do What I Do’ was a very personal poem and it became a way for me to acknowledge that there was a way for others to understand that they are not alone as I personally didn’t realise I had experienced some of these issues until I began discussing them.
Will more be based like this?
It would also be two halves of the same collection in the end with a part on the issues and then a part on how they can be tackled and overcome.
Would this be a collaborative endeavour in the future?
I am very open to make it grow and the aim is to find out how best it would help people. This is not a project for my own ego but one for the helping of others understandings.
Was the spoken word an issue as you come from a musical background? Was it difficult?
Initially, but from the musical background I know how lyrics work, so coming up with the source material was the most difficult part but sometimes, like the first one, it just works. By my first performance, I had already created three or four [poems].
Is there more feeling when you perform them?
Yes, it is so hard to communicate through written words compared to spoken word; the emotion is portrayed better when performed. I could see it becoming a spoken podcast or on social media in order to make it accessible, however my worry is that the live performances are very intense so we must read the room. Performances become so much more real when they are personal.
Has this project been helpful for you to overcome your struggles?
It is much easier to understand something when you put it into words, and naming things causes the overhanging cloud to become less heavy. The feedback I have received has showed me how powerful this could be.
Fraser’s poems are both moving and motivating which is so powerful from my own perspective as a sufferer but also as a friend of those who have suffered before me. The poems are a refreshing perspective on what is a truly dark issue but still combats the stigma beneath it. The complications are easy to get caught up in when every day is a dark struggle but people like Fraser are fighting the good fight and creating a safer space within universities and wider society so that we will have a place where nobody will feel alone.
Below is Fraser’s poem which drew me to his project along with the link to his research survey should anybody feel passionate about this project.
‘Why I Do This’
A song starts, the outside world stops.
The late night arranging,
The rehearsal stress,
And listening to recordings
Where the tuning’s a mess
Made me forget why I’m here.
It’s partly the repertoire.
I studied music, once upon a time and if you asked my lecturers, they’d call my arrangements crimes against harmony.
“You can’t just go from Tenacious D to Adagio for Strings in its original key”, they’d say.
“But why not?” I thought. So, I did.
The songs that I chose would also no doubt be swiftly opposed by my classical classmates whereas in A Cappella I had the freedom to experiment and to eventually create the combinations that were in my head already.
It’s partly about development.
Each year, in each group, I see,
Several people who remind me of me,
They’re the ones who look nervous,
But it never lasts long at all,
They doubt themselves now but they’ll prove themselves wrong.
In the beginning, I was hidden at the back,
Making all the strange noises, all the boots and the cats,
My voice is worth nothing I thought,
But each year came and went and brought more confidence in my ability.
Now I can perform. I can stand my ground and I don’t cringe too badly when I hear the sound of my own voice recorded.
It still there sometimes but now I deal with it better because onstage, it’s alright to feel something. I know that now.
And it’s partly the people.
I’m not usually a social guy,
With each new group I join I try so hard to ‘fit in’ but I don’t have to here.
None of us is ‘cool’ per se and to say that is okay because you’re accepted either way in this society.
A group of folk, formed completely by chance,
Comes together each week to sing and to awkwardly dance.
To be themselves and to help each other grow,
So that everyone has the chance to show a side of themselves that they never thought existed.
Now, I’ve taken you through my journey so far and I’ve told you what my reasons are for turning up to rehearsals each week,
And though these words may not necessarily speak,
To any particular experience for you,
You now know why I do what I do.
Image: via flickr