Healing verses: How poetry saved a young man’s life

Paul Butterfield
Paul Butterfield

Struggling with his mental health, at his worst Limavady poet Paul Butterfield Jnr was overcome with feelings of depression, anxiety and even panic attacks.

Since childhood he remembers always having feelings he couldn’t understand, or at times, cope with.

Eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder Paul began writing about how he was feeling and naturally fell into poetry.

But he wasn’t serious about pursuing a career in it until a short stay in a psychiatric unit a number of years ago kick-started a turning point in his life.

“I had a nervous breakdown after Christmas at the age of 19 and went into a mental health hospital for a few days,” said Paul.

“But I didn’t like the feeling of being in there and I signed myself out.

‘‘I realised I had to keep writing and try my best in the real world.

‘‘One thing I knew was that I didn’t want to be in that hospital. I was 20-years-old when I was diagnosed with manic depression, I’m glad of the diagnosis because at least I knew what I was dealing with.

‘‘I carried on through the storm until I was 25.”

Now 28, Paul’s life has turned around. He’s managing his illness whilst pursuing his love of writing.

Challenging his social and political surroundings as well as his own personal issues through his poetry has not only been a life saver for Paul but an inspiration to others.

He said: “I started to know I was feeling wrong in my mind from the age of 17. That is when I had my first suicidal thought.

‘‘I think it would be fair to say that poetry saved my life.”

Having toured across the UK, Ireland, Northern Ireland and even as far as New York Paul even secured a publishing deal with local company Excalibur Press this year to produce his book of poetry My Last Poetic Diary.

Released this month for Paul My Last Poetic Diary was a way for him to not only write for himself but to show others how feelings can be expressed and used positively.

Paul believes that writing creatively has helped him channel his mental health issues.

His writing has been described by critics as “provocative” but “at its heart has a gentle wit that shines through.”

For Paul writing poetry has been instrumental in his ability to manage his mental illness.

He explained: “I wasn’t even that much into poetry when I was young and to be honest I have no idea how I started writing it. I kept writing pieces of poetry and I picked up a poetry book to see if I was in the right line and I saw I was. I don’t know what it is about poetry, but I do think it is magic, but it is also tiring, but you can say so much in so little. That is the beauty. You don’t need an excuse for depression or anxiety to start and happen. It can happen no matter what. It is so unpredictable. But I see it as a gift now. It helps my work be as strange and sincere as it is and it helps me understand others in the same situation and feel them in every step they make and it is as simple as finding something bigger than you and live for it.”

As well as performing across Ireland and London the experience of performing his work in New York is something that continues to inspire Paul. It was a courageous move for the poet – with the support of family and friends he took a chance and flew to the Big Apple with only the promise of a short slot at the Nuyorican Poets’ Café.

“That was a fantastic experience,” he explains.

“So many people hugging me afterwards and wanting to get to know me. It might have been a bit far to travel to a gig, but how far do you want poetry to reach, because your heart reaches Neverland and beyond when it comes to poetry.” It wasn’t always an easy journey – even before he started to understand his mental health issues.

At school his early efforts at creative writing were dismissed by a teacher, and despite being published on BBC and in a national martial arts magazine he struggled to find his voice until three years ago when his poetic muse came to life.

n My Last Poetic Diary is now available on Amazon, Kobo and direct from www.excaliburpress.co.uk/store/products.