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Thoughtful Tuesdays: Overcoming Mental Health & Exams

By Eithne Cullen

Welcome to my Thoughtful Tuesday page for June.

I’m continuing into June with some ideas I started exploring in May, with ‘Overcoming’ as our theme. It’s also exam season month and, as such, I also have a couple of pieces from younger writers.

In a continuation for May’s Mental Health Awareness Month, I have one more piece on this theme. Dr Afsana Elanko reminds us to listen to others’ concerns, learn to empathise with them and use writing to help with the process of overcoming whatever troubles us.

United In Overcoming Mental Health Conditions

Over the last few years there has been much written in the press about mental health conditions, especially during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Has it, though, made us stop and think about those that are suffering? Having mental health illnesses can be draining on a daily basis, often without a glimmer of hope. Despite having the same diagnosis, one person’s mental health issues can have quite a different effect on their daily life compared to another’s. This is also true for other physical medical conditions, yet society is more receptive to these. I suspect an important element is that other medical conditions are more readily discussed and there’s sufficient social openness to ask questions and gather information. Conversely, with a mental health condition, people are not asked in this same way, which means there is little discussion and so, information is not as readily available.

Having a mental health condition can be very isolating and traumatising, as some societies are not as receptive and inclusive as others. A person with the condition could be trying to make sense of their own illness and trying to heal and recover. A lot of strength is required in the recovery of the mind. There is often the added fear that, if others knew, they would be judged and treated in some negative way. After all, no one wants to be centre stage of a negative discussion. So, unfortunately, it is often the case that they suffer in silence.

Breaking the silence is often the hardest step for the person suffering, demanding a lot of strength. Sometimes writing it down and just leaving it on the computer is a great way to overcome the internal silence. Just the act of writing and seeing it on the page can be a way of processing information, seeing it in a different form. Writing a blog can help the individual and others understand the internal challenges. It is also a great way of sharing the stories of everyday life. I suspect it’s a good way into being included in society. Having a voice is a powerful method of overcoming society’s silence on the topic.

As we turn our attention to mental health awareness, I suggest we include our minds in wider discussions. Yes, mental health is our mind’s health and our brain’s health is important; it is, after all, one of the body’s vital organs. So surely, we should give it more attention and care for those who suffer with something that impacts it. We should be able to use our own minds to include those who are excluded, integrating them into society in a way that makes them feel comfortable.

The next time you hear that someone has a mental health condition, give them your time and just listen with an open mind. We can all learn from each other. Remember, we are stronger if we are united and can overcome challenges more easily if we share them.

© Dr Afsana Elanko, 2024


Erin White has shared a poem with us describing a special relationship, supporting and nurturing the two people involved. It can remind us of the way relationships and support can help all of us to overcome our struggles and difficulties.

The House With Two Candles

There once was a house with two candles
They provided enough light to see
One of those candles had been you
And the other had been me

Both of us had had our struggles
And one flame was often weakened
But the other candle had always been there instead –
Acting like a beacon

Lately my flame has not been the brightest – so you’ve shone with all your might
But soon there will be two houses that we both must keep alight

I know your flame will always be there – promising to keep me aglow
But as the two houses separate
My light will also have to show

My candle has all of the pieces – the wax the wick and the flame
But as the house gets bigger
My light has remained the same

The fire is burning away and now just dimly waves
My candle is waiting for another spark – with that the light will be saved

But I know the spark won’t come instead I must just do my best
But accepting that the time is now and not later is really hard to digest

The house will keep on growing – so my fire must do so too
And I can believe that I can do that – and that is all thanks to you

You will always be my shelter you will always be my light and I always know with you I’ll never be alone in the night

My candle is trying to burn and it is slowly getting there
It knows exactly what it needs to do – but sometimes it just feels scared.

© Erin White, 2021


May 2024 also presented us with some big skies, to go with our big sky thinking. I was not fortunate enough to see the Northern Lights displaying their colours further and further south, even to the Isle of Wight!  But I love looking at summer skies, with the great formations of cloud and vast expanses of blue (when we have them). This is what attracted me to TAK Erzinger’s poem about clouds.  There’s such a strong sense of movement as the clouds roll in and of the speaker finding a way to overcome the threat of the storm.


A storm drawn to flatland
you chased me through the landscape of our home
booming in anger
no longer father or mother
just a heavy cloud of despair.

Again and again, I weathered the extreme conditions
during the calm before, a fickle oasis
I reached for hope in the eye of the storm
but from the bottom of a bottle
the funnel would always form

knocking us from side to side.
Now the day is dry, and the climate has changed
and still the clouds roll in, in dreams or not
I retreat to the basement in myself
memorising each time, the steps needed to survive.


© TAK Erzinger, 2024

Connect with TAK on Instagram: @takerzinger or via their website:


I’m fascinated with clouds, myself. A few years ago, I was on a bus, near the place I grew up (Bruce Grove in Tottenham), when I saw a plaque declaring that Luke Howard, namer of Clouds, had lived on that street. It captured my imagination and I wrote this poem:

Namer Of Clouds

Gazing from a Tottenham window,
locked in your thoughtful reverie
the clouds before you take on shapes:
fibrous, undulating, inclined masses –
convex and conical heaps

And you dig deep, deep into
the puzzle of the groups, as they diverge
and flex their shapes across the sky,
like horizontal sheets on skyward washing lines –
waiting for you to give them names.

The road, Bruce Grove, a stately avenue,
tree lined and quiet, reaching to the park,
the sounds of horse traffic like a muffled sigh
and your eye always moving towards the sky,
the clouds before you, in the silence of your gaze.

Absorbed in your work, composing your paper.
Some named for curls of hair or cloudy heaps;
or stratus meaning spread… across the sky,
and blended names for blended forms,
like cumulo-cirro-stratus- the rain cloud.

And from the bus I see the plaque that tells
of your long residence upon this street,
which grew around you while you looked the other way.
I am in awe, to see your home is marked
Luke Howard, namer of clouds lived here.

© Eithne Cullen, 2021

This poem appears in my pamphlet The Smell of Dust.


The final two pieces on my page today come from student Hannah Rooney. Having been a teacher for so many years, I can’t help thinking of June as ‘exam season’ and, for anyone involved, it’s a key month for overcoming the trials and tribulations associated with gaining a qualification. Hannah kindly responded to my suggestion of writing about the situation.

The Exam

Surname, forename, candidate and centre number.

Surname, forename, candidate and centre number.
Surname, forename, candidate and centre number.

She must remember to fill everything in. It was going to begin soon. All she could think of was the thrill of doing well: the approval, the nods, the sweetness of a high score. Her mind was incessant, convincing. Pushing silent expectations. Do not let anyone down. Perform well. Do not fall short. That was imperative. It was going to begin soon.

She would have two and a half hours to complete the exam. Two and a half hours to show everyone what she could do. Two and a half hours she’d spent years building up to. Before she went in, Lucy had told her to be calm and Tom had reminded her she could do anything she put her mind to. It was going to begin soon.

The room was unusually warm. Had it always been this warm in this room? She couldn’t remember it ever being so warm. People were walking past her, searching for their seats among the vast array of desks. She hated that part of exams – the frantic search. A lost puppy, looking for a name. Visualising the alphabet in your head. Wondering if your seat is even there. She could feel their stress, spreading through the room, intense and monumental. It was going to begin soon.

She shuffled forward. Of course, she’d been stuck with a broken chair. How typical. Slight sounds filled the expanse. The squeak of chair legs as others moved around, trying to get into a comfortable position. Pens and pencils rolling across desks, falling on the floor. For something that sounded like stationery, they were anything but. It all felt remarkably human; all of them stressed, wishing for a more comfortable seat, waiting to do the exam.

She thought about the times when she was laughing and existing and happy, how grades would be the furthest thing from her mind. How she was more than a grade. How everyone in the room was more, too. How she would be OK. It was going to begin.

Pen in her hand now, she could do it. She would. She was certain.

© Hannah Rooney, 2024


A Moment In The Hall

Body moves before mind, hand raised.
A woman walks, each step a force on gymnasium floor,
Beside Edward IV and Henry VII,
striding, shielded
ribosome armour,
mitochondria plated,
stature of a Queen.
Je vais aller au English court,
can you speak in iambic pentameter please?
The lady steps with rhyme and rhythm,
chemical reactions and glucose and oxygen,
photosynthesising the x and the y, the probability
of 1066,
the periodic table avec mon amies.
Stepping on the art supplies,
the computer screens
a woman moves forth.
Alliteration skips
and hypotheses sings.
The woman moves past Shakespeare,
sat with Romeo in his sycamore tree.
“Excuse me, can I have some extra paper please?”

© Hannah Rooney, 2024

Thank you, Hannah, and good luck to all the candidates, invigilators and markers who are so busy at this time!


Finally, I hope the blue skies help you find inspiration for your writing. If you come up with something you’d like to share, do submit to


Issue 20 of Write On! is available to read online here.

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If you or someone you know has been affected by issues covered in our pages, please see the relevant link below for ​information, advice and support​:

Mental health charity posts on social media are a great source of inspiration for poetry and an effective way to keep the conversation going.