By Gertcha Cowson
I think I have always had a gift for using words in abstract and metaphoric ways but could never get myself to sit down and put it to paper. I did try writing lyrics when I was a teenager but, life got in the way and I put all that potential work away in some cupboard at the back of my mind. I then tried to settle down into normal life with my then partner and mother of my eldest daughter.
It was during that time, in the mid-nineties, that my mental health condition was starting to get exposed, but I never went to doctor about it, thinking I could somehow hold it all in. It was around that time as well that the health of my lower back started to degrade (it is now diagnosed as lumbar degenerative disc disorder) and dealing with that took all attention away from my mental health issues.
Despite the lumbar problems being diagnosed in the mid-nineties I carried on working all the way until 2008. I was trying to keep my back fit and strong to keep the bailiffs away from my kids’ door. Unfortunately, I worked myself into the ground both physically and mentally until I was literally broken in two. However, I was able to make sure that there were no debt problems which means my kids will not have to fear debt collectors knocking on the door.
Although I always knew there was something wrong, my mental health issues went undiagnosed for nearly forty years. I was in my late thirties and coming to terms with my physical disability and constant pain issues, as well as the fact that my working life was finished. I knew though, that in order to keep up with my physical health issues I had to confront my mental health problems also.
One of my ongoing issues was the cacophony that was going on constantly in my head. This included bizarre ideas, fantasy realms, earworms, random rhythm and rhymes and paranoia and so on. All through this, I was trying to deal with normal life and all that goes with that. My two worst earworms were The Joe Loss Orchestra’s March of the Mods and Napoleon XIV’s They’re Coming to Take Me Away (Ha! Ha!) and on a very bad day I would have both mashed up together going on in my head. Just for the record them two do mash up well! These were/are just some of the rocks in my spin dryer!
One day about six years ago (2013ish), I decided to do something about all those random rhythm and rhymes. So, I simply sat down with a pen and a pad and started writing them down. It didn’t bother me if it was absolute tosh I was writing because I was the only one who would see it; at least that was my thinking back then. I was just hoping that by putting them on paper it would get them out of my head.
Amazingly it seemed to work, and I noticed the noise in my head (i.e. the rocks rattling around in the spin dryer), started to get a bit quieter which then cleared the way for writing something more full and meaningful. I eventually ended writing two full poems.
I am not sure which one came first Let Them Children Play or Coffee and Tea, but I do remember sitting there reading over both of them thinking “actually these aren’t that bad” and from there I basically spent the next year and a half vomiting poetry onto a page.
When the random rhythm and rhyme rocks had emptied out from my spin dryer, as I knew they would eventually, I turned my attention to sharing it with whoever wanted to hear it. It took me a while to get just about enough chutzpah to read live in front of an audience, which was a reading of Let Them Children Play at Dagenham library in 2015.
That poem normally takes two to three minutes to read, depending on the style I perform it. That night I swear it only took me twenty seconds! I was so anxious I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest and catch the bus home an hour ahead of the rest of me. But I got through it, sat down gathered myself and went back up a bit later and performed a couple more, although for the life of me I cannot remember what I read the second time round, I think one of them was Schismisms.
But of course, it was not all sweet roses from there because there is no magic switch to turn off your pre-existing mental health condition. It has taken me a few years to deal with reading out stuff that comes from a very personal place, whether it be about mental health, environment, honest histories, social issues, being a parent etc.
This is when the battle between Introvert Gertcha and Extrovert Gertcha advanced to a new level, and they have actually been at war ever since I can remember. Introvert Gertcha wanted to stay indoors, keeping all my poetry to myself or maybe even find someone to perform the poems for me – while keeping myself shut away and simply carry on writing. Whereas Extrovert Gertcha wanted to shout it out to the world and prepare for a fully sold out gig at Wembley Stadium.
Unfortunately, this enhanced my alcoholic coping, self-harming and self-medicating problems because the battling between these two Gertchas went ballistic. I ended up going to local open mics to practice my performance. Sometimes I would be grand and make every word matter. I would also be a physical and mental wreck though, and pretty much “as a newt” while performing. One of the tricks Introvert Gertcha would do, is put me in a false sense of security and let me think I was free of his stone cold influence, until of course I made my way to the open mic event, where Introvert Gertcha would suddenly raise his head above the parapet and take control.
I would leave my home feeling confident and tee-total but once I was out in public with its information overloads and confusing and random possibilities, it meant all my mental guards would run off and leave me vulnerable, that’s when Introvert Gertcha would take control and steer me towards off-licences in the hope that I would then get myself into such an alcoholic state that I would just tell myself to go back home instead of making an embarrassing spectacle of myself.
Luckily for me I am a stubborn f-f-f-f-f-f-f-fella!
Somewhere inside my psyche was that stubborn geezer who was determined to make it to these open mics irrelevant to which state I was in and despite being intoxicated I still forced myself to get up to the mic and perform, much to Introvert Gertcha’s frustration!
A word to the wise about Introvert Gertcha, he is not necessarily the enemy but a part of me that wants to protect me. Just as much as Extrovert Gertcha wanting to put me out there and succeeding, also puts me in embarrassing situations and makes me wildly overthink things.
Time and experience in the end got me in some sort of control. This means I can now perform my work to a standard I can be comfortable with, although I should say it is still hard work to mentally deal with every performance.
My next step is to release my book of collections of my poetry and then put together a show around my poetry/spoken word performances. Which just goes to show I do love to put myself through the wringer.
Right now, I am standing at my own personal, metaphorical Rubicon. I am just about to publish my book of thoughts and poems/spoken words but, Introvert Gertcha is trying to put me off by constantly distracting me. Extrovert Gertcha of course is trying to convince me that this time next year I will be looking forward to collecting my Nobel Prize for Literature. But it will be definitely released soon, I am determined about that.
I have now written about a hundred poems and spoken words and there will be many more yet to come, I can say that with confidence. As for the rocks in my spin dryer it still rattles and rumbles away, getting quieter when I am writing away and then getting louder when I have exhausted my poetic mojo and my spin dryer starts refilling with rocks. It is an endless cycle.
I am just about to publish my book of thoughts and poems/spoken words