Anxious people can find social events difficult, so try not to get offended if they make an excuse not to come to something. If you can respond to a cancellation with kindness and tell them not to worry, you can make a real difference to how they feel.
As a part of our “Unstoppable” series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Blake Auden.
Blake Auden is a poet, writer and artist living in Brighton, UK. Blake has published two previous poetry collections: Tell the Birds She’s Gone and Beekeeper.
Blake won the Button Poetry 2020 Short Form Prize and has been featured by the likes of The Mirror, The Bookseller, Family Friends Poems, The Good Quote, Thought Catalog and numerous others.
Growing up with a father in the military, Blake began reading war poetry from an early age, where he became fascinated with the ability of prose to capture both deeply traumatic and cathartic experiences. Blake’s work now focuses on loss, heartbreak and mental health.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is really an honor. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Of course! I’m a poet and artist from the UK, and I’ve been publishing my work online for about 18 months (although I’ve written in one form or another since I was very young). I first came across poetry through my father, who is a veteran of the British military. I grew up reading war poetry and became fascinated by the ability of the written word to capture intense emotion in a way that really resonated with me.
Since then, I’ve focused on creative pursuits my whole life, from film-making, to graphic design, to music and poetry. I found myself in Brighton, on the south coast of England, in my early 20’s, where I studied for a degree in music. This is where I’ve been based ever since.
I began writing poetry in earnest at the beginning of 2019, in the hope that it would prove cathartic and perhaps help in my battle with mental health issues.
Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you became ill? What mental shift did you make to not let that “stop you”?
I’ve suffered with anxiety most of my adult life, but it’s had a much more profound impact on my life in the last 5–6 years. I’m not entirely sure what caused it in the first place, although I did have a rather unique and often challenging upbringing. I saw a therapist a few years ago who diagnosed childhood PTSD, and she postulated that this was likely the root of my struggle with mental health. With that said, my memories of my childhood are almost exclusively happy, and I’ve been extremely lucky to grow up with a strong, supportive family unit.
My anxiety got progressively worse in my early 30s, until I had something of a breakdown a couple of years ago. I began noticing that after this, anxiety was taking more and more from me — I stopped seeing friends, stopped performing music, didn’t travel and often wouldn’t leave the house for days, even weeks on end.
I decided to make a change at the end of 2018; to accept the anxiety as part of who I was, but to stop letting it take things from me. I started characterising the anxiety as a wolf; a stalking, silent thing that would follow me.
Rather than run from it, I got a wolf tattooed across the back of my right hand, so I would see it every day and remember not to let it dictate how I lived my life. I began deliberately doing things I knew would make me anxious, even if they caused a panic attack. In early 2019 I went on holiday to Florida (travel is a particular trigger for me) and started being as open as possible with people about the condition.
It was around this time I started sharing my poetry with people through Instagram. The community on the platform have helped me tremendously with my self-esteem, and with coming to terms with what may well be a life-long condition. Lots of people tell me that my work helps them deal with their own suffering, and that makes me feel like I’m doing something meaningful; something important.
The last two years have been much better. Although I still suffer with anxiety on a regular basis, I’m able to live a much fuller life, and feel much stronger in dealing with everything life has to offer — good and bad.
Can you tell our readers about the accomplishments you have been able to make despite your illness?
I’m not sure what really constitutes an accomplishment, if I’m honest. Some days, leaving the house has felt like a major achievement! But I guess there are things that I have managed to do, even when the anxiety tried to stop me.
I have two degrees, I’ve been running a small business for ten years, and I am proud that I’ve been able to leave England twice is as many years — something I never thought I’d be able to do. I’m also very pleased with how the poetry has evolved and grown over the last 18 months. I have nearly 140,000 followers on Instagram, I’ve self-published two books of poetry and I’ve appeared in some fairly famous publications in the last few months. I’ve also just signed a publishing deal with the wonderful Central Avenue Publishing for my third full collection, Murmuration, which is due out in 2021.
What advice would you give to other people who are struggling with their mental health?
I guess I would tell them that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. Mental health can affect anyone, regardless of how fit and healthy they are, or how strong they think they’re supposed to be. I think talking about what you’re experiencing is the first step to dealing with the problem, and you never know who else it could help.
Whether it’s talking to friends, your family, a therapist or reaching out to one of the many fantastic charities such as Mind or The Samaritans, it’s really important that people know there is nothing embarrassing or shameful about suffering from anxiety, depression or any other mental health condition.
Reach out to someone, please.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
Oh, there are a bunch of people who have helped me tremendously. I owe a monumental debt of gratitude to my parents, who not only taught me to be a good person, but shielded me through incredibly difficult periods, put me through school and made everything feel possible, and plausible. Without them I know I wouldn’t have a fraction of what I have now.
My brother and sister have always been supportive and kind, even though they’re both younger but still wildly more interesting and intelligent people. Outside of my family, my three favourite people (they know who they are) have been there when I needed them, and have supported everything I’ve ever wanted to do.
Oh, and my dogs. Just for being there, no matter what.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I ask myself this question a lot. One of my main goals with my poetry is to increase awareness around mental health, and to encourage discussion; I’d like to play a role, however tiny, in removing the taboo around talking about mental health issues, particularly amongst men. I think I’m beginning to have some kind of impact there, but I’d certainly like to do more. I’m hoping I can work with a mental health charity in the near future, in whatever capacity, to help them raise money and raise awareness, both in the UK and internationally.
I’m also a big fan of random acts of kindness. Whether that’s paying for someone’s groceries in the supermarket, doing shopping for elderly neighbours during the pandemic or giving away copies of the books to people who can’t afford them, I like to do good things for no reason other than I’m human, and I can. But you don’t need success to be able to do these kinds of things, we can all find ways to be a little kinder.
Can you share “5 things I wish people understood or knew about people with anxiety” and why.
Absolutely. I think my five would be:
- Anxiety will take from you, if you let it. But staying away from something just because it’s made you feel anxious before doesn’t mean you’re removing the anxiety — it will just find you somewhere else. Try not to miss out on too much just because the wolf tells you to.
- If someone with anxiety cares about you, they will probably worry about you. A LOT. There is little you can do about it, and it’s not rational — we really can’t help it.
- Panic attacks can be genuinely terrifying, and there isn’t much you can do to change that. Please try not to use the words ‘calm down’ to someone who is having a panic attack, it’s very unhelpful!
- Anxious people can find social events difficult, so try not to get offended if they make an excuse not to come to something. If you can respond to a cancellation with kindness and tell them not to worry, you can make a real difference to how they feel.
- From my own experience, being alone can really help me cope, and I suspect it may be the same for other people. If you haven’t seen someone with anxiety for a little while, don’t assume they’re antisocial or they don’t want to spend time with you, it could just be that they need their own space in order to recharge and/or overcome a difficult period. Try reaching out just to see how they are, without trying to get them to commit to a social event or specific action — it can really help knowing the people we care about understand.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
There is a story about an Eastern monarch, who asked his wise men to come up with a sentence that would be true in all situations; in both happy and sad times. The men returned to him a ring, inscribed with the words ‘this too shall pass’.
I think about those words a lot, and I’ve found them to be immensely helpful, and humbling, over the last few years.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
Wow, there are a lot of names I could add to this list! I think, right now it would be Ocean Vuong. His work is stunning, and his ability to craft meaning and resonance from mere words is something I will always aspire to. But, more than anything, I’d just like to have coffee and a chat with someone I hugely admire, and maybe we could share stories of our childhoods.
With that said, if Keaton Henson, Kelsey Grammar or Pep Guardiola want to grab a bite, my door is always open!