Trigger warning: Content includes personal experiences with mental illness, sexual trauma and eating disorders.
Trauma and anxiety, for me, come in the form of a bitter, screaming voice in my head- a booming sound too loud for my own words to quieten.
In the year that I began working on ‘Pique|Ennui’, I felt as though my mind had become a defenceless sounding board for my internalised insecurities and deep-rooted fears. But in the moments when stringing words together into a poem felt impossible, pointless even, I finally found a moment of respite- in music.
I consumed songs hungrily and was all at once, horrified and relieved that these artists had said all the things I couldn’t. Songs about being hurt. Songs about feeling like the world is ending. Songs that told the truth about love. These songs became my playlist for writing- igniting the flame of my feelings and putting a pin in my shame, allowing me for the first time to write my truth, no matter how frivolous my thoughts seemed.
Seize the Power- YONAKA
Choosing to write this anthology was a bold move. I write without a filter, and honestly, without thinking of my audience. At least, initially. What lands on the page is often graphic, impulsively blurted out, intimate details. Let’s put it this way, I wasn’t exactly dancing around the truth.
And then, choosing to publish it under the easily recognisable pseudonym ‘C.L Phillips’, was an even bolder move. Phillips, being my mum’s maiden name, it wouldn’t take a detective to put the pieces together. There’s little chance of anonymity in a wee town like Dromore.
So for a brave move, I needed a badass soundtrack.
‘Seize the power’ gave me the confidence boost I needed to portray my experience authentically in this book.
Theresa Jarvis on vocals, delivering the impactful imagery of power being within your own grasp, helped me to believe that I could choose to reclaim my life. And that writing this book could help me do that.
She Won’t Go Away- Faye Webster
It’s a difficult thing to realise that the scornful, loathing voice in your head is your own. I’ve always been a fierce advocate for self-respect being the key to happiness. But now I had to come to terms with the fact that some part of me, detested myself enough to want to die.
‘She Won’t Go Away’ is canonically about the singer and her friend, who were both set on the same love interest. But when I listened to it (over and over and over) I came to view the “she” in the song, as the angry voice in my head, the parts of myself I tried to bury.
One of the first poems I wrote for the anthology was ‘Mouse’. In my first year of university, I kept to myself at first, but in the final weeks, I had grown so sick of my own company that I attempted socialising again.
But the voice only grew louder, self-criticism so suffocating it drowned out the music and the people. I began to feel as though my own problems were inescapable.
The speaker in ‘Mouse’, although the words were written by my hand, come directly from the mouth of the mean mini-me in my head. The vilified “she” in my brain that I couldn’t expunge, seemed like a far bigger threat than the “friend” in Faye Webster’s lyrics.
Because how could you block the enemy if they lived in your brain and whispered in your ear?
Falling in love is scary. Falling in love when you’re mentally ill is terrifying. I know that there are going to be days where I can’t drag myself from my bed, let alone to a lovers arms. But I also know that my mental health will not make me love them any less- even the giant, stigmatised pandemic that is mental illness, cannot control my heart.
But at times this is not easy to remember. At times, I feel I am too broken to be put back together, let alone be something valuable enough to love. At times, I swing haphazardly from apathetic to euphoric, and I wonder how I could ever be consistent enough to fall in love with. At times, I am so afraid that if I open my arms to embrace love, my anxieties and my trauma will somehow seep into them like toxins, poisoning them too.
At times, like the song says, I feel that I am a “little much”. At the age of 12 I had learnt to channel my tendency for the dramatics into theatre. By 20 I am too afraid to be a little too much anything; too fat, too outspoken, too unlovable.
It doesn’t matter so much where this fear came from, as much as it matters where its keeping me from. My poem ‘Commitment issues’ is purposefully vague in who it is addressed too, but the message is clear.
My trauma forced me to believe I had to fight to be loved, but it also made me forget how to fight for myself.
Don’t Give In- Snow Patrol
Writing this book was choosing to relive my trauma any time I put pen to paper. Repressed memories came to the forefront whether I invited them in or not.
It was as though this book was a vampire or a leech that instead of sucking on my blood, had a sadistic tendency for psychological torture. I began to wonder if the process was analeptic or septic.
‘Don’t Give In’ was lurking somewhere in my playlist and somehow made its way to the front of the queue unprompted. But its message felt personal- even though I have zero connection to Snow Patrol, except our shared Northern Irishness.
I suppose it was because I grew up listening to them- my mum was a superfan and admittingly so was I, so much so that she brought her kids to see them perform. Kids, being the 18 and 24-year-old who were old enough to enjoy the concert with cider, but not too cool to hang out with their mum.
And so the song felt like home, in a way that it was comforting and encouraging. And honestly, it became a regular on my Spotify queue.
You’ll Need Those Fingers For Crossing- Los Campesinos!
‘Unlovely’ is the poem to which I would refer those with a tendency to glamorise eating disorders, while at the same time perpetuating the stigma surrounding them.
The poem is intensely literal, while also inviting more metaphorical understandings. Just as my eating disorder had physical detriments, it was also a psychological disease, plaguing my head with calorie counting and self-abhorrence.
The second time I relapsed, which was also the first time I became bulimic, I felt like a failure in recovery. I couldn’t imagine a future where I could go a day without overthinking every bite.
Listening to this song, while on a drive with my boyfriend at the time, I was struggling to block out the lyrics and listen to what he was saying.
It wasn’t that the lyrics impacted me that much, I barely liked or understood the song at first. But I just didn’t have the energy. When you aren’t fuelling your body, sometimes even blinking can feel taxing.
Stuck with only the lyrics making it to my ears, I knew I had to let go of these habits to even have a shot at pushing forward.
And the next time the song came on in the car, it didn’t seem so loud. Above the melody I could still hear my boyfriend’s off-key version.
That’s not to say this was a sudden, miraculous recovery. Even now, my eating disorder is finding new ways to pester me.
The difference is that now, actually trying to live my life, has offered me so much more than starving or throwing up ever could.
Speak- Janet Devlin
I spent so long viewing my sexual assault as a “secret”, a concept explored in Janet Devlin’s album, Confessional.
It wasn’t something I had discussed with a therapist, or friends, or family- at least not before I began writing this. My story found a place to land outside my brain, on the pages where I wrote my poetry.
But it’s one thing to write it down. It’s an entirely different thing to publish it.
I replayed the end of this song at least ten times a day- listening to the line “I’m ready to speak” and simply wondering, how?
But the longer I sat with it, the more I wrote about it, the less I started thinking about how and more about why.
The oil spills of disgust and betrayal that gurgled up my throat when I tried to say it aloud, they made me feel as though I was drowning.
Was I somehow perpetuating the stigma of shame around rape by keeping it a secret?
But eventually, the oil spills turned to inkblots on a tear-soaked page and when it came to publishing, I was ready to speak. Although I wasn’t so sure I was ready to be heard.
This Year- The Mountain Goats
“I am gonna make it through this year, if it kills me”. The message of this song is pretty clear- as hard as things may be, you have to persevere.
I’ve struggled with my mental health since I was sixteen, longer if you consider how much of an anxious child I was.
I applied to university apathetically, viewing each opportunity as some fantastical utopia just out of my reach. Most things tend to be out of your reach when you can’t leave your bed.
Passing the age of seventeen was like passing my expiry date. I had no clue what to do with the years that came after.
Towards the end of the anthology, there is a poem entitled ‘As my body recovers and I survive’.
Getting better can feel like an overwhelming to-do list that you can’t even tick one task off of. ‘This Year’ by The Mountain Goats became my ‘Vienna’ by Billy Joel, reminding me to take things at my own pace.
First Love/Late Spring- Mitski
Mitski was by far my top consumed artist when writing this anthology. But it was this song that stuck in my brain, specifically the lyric “tall child”.
Growing up, I was told I was mature for my age. Grown up (mostly) I feel more in sync with a toddler that can only communicate in crying and tantrums.
The emotions I experience often feel far bigger than myself, like they could both swallow me and cause me to detonate in the same second.
The imagery of Mitski’s tall child had an influence on my writing. In the poem ‘Yours for tonight’, the final line of each stanza is a simile, bearing a tone of childishness.
“like an aggressive toddler with a jigsaw.”Pique|Ennui, pg 3.
As much as I like to think I am an adult now- living in my own flat, paying my own bills, searching for jobs- inside of me there is still a tiny child, whose unmet needs I need to honour before I can start thinking of the future.
I’m curious, if I listened closely, how much of that voice in my head comes from a kid who grew up too fast.
What if it doesn’t end well- chloe moriondo
Pique| Ennui is not merely an anthology about betrayal. It also sheds light on some of the major steps in my recovery, including the moment when I felt myself falling in love for the first time.
Even in the honeymoon period of my relationship, I was scared. I was scared of disappointment. I was also scared of screwing things up.
‘Honestly, I’m frightened’ appears at the end of the collection and it’s the piece I felt most vulnerable about sharing with the public. I had reached the stage where admitting I had been hurt felt like a strength, but acknowledging the lasting impacts that this hurt had on me, felt like I was stuck in the past.
In the song, chloe moriondo expresses a fear that her “shit” will get in the way of her having a healthy relationship.
Every time I had a bad day and couldn’t leave the house to see my boyfriend, or any time he witnessed a trauma response I couldn’t come down from, I felt like more of a burden than a girlfriend.
When you do not love yourself, it’s difficult to accept that someone else could fall in love with you.
Secret For the Mad- Dodie
Mental illness can be isolating. It can convince you that there is not a person in this world who understands what you’re going through.
I became immediately defensive at comments like “it’ll be okay”, because how could they possibly know that?
Consumed by pessimism, it didn’t matter what my friends and family said because I could only see the darkness.
But there was something comforting in Dodie’s voice and her lyricism when she said, ““there will be a day, when you can say you’re okay, and mean it”. The more I listened to it, the more I started to believe it.
And there have been days when I tell someone I’m okay and it’s genuine. Sure, those days are as infrequent as a rain-free day across the UK.
But I’ve proven to myself that I can do it. I’m not going to stop trying for days like that.
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