Olga Dermott-Bond, always a distance

When I was growing up there was silence about how people think, feel, struggle. I think that’s one of the reasons I loved books, plays and poetry — they let me peel back the edges of what lies underneath, how our hearts and minds really “work”. I never thought about my own mental health; that phrase didn’t exist (I know that makes me sound particularly ancient).

However, my story is perhaps a familiar one. After years of being close to those who had battled long and hard with their own depression, undiagnosed post-natal depression and the death of my dad and my best friend, I no longer really recognised myself. I couldn’t enjoy anything, I dreaded everything and felt like there was a wall between me and my whole life. Still, I struggled on, not really understanding what was happening to me and thinking that stoicism would somehow work, and this new grey existence might retreat. I was wrong, but it takes a very long time to sink slowly to the very bottom of the well.

I never write like this — directly, autobiographically — about my mental health. That’s where poetry lies. For me, it’s the space where I can explore the distance between how things are and how we might like them to be. What I have learnt about depression is that we need to name it, talk about it, and have the courage to accept help, because we can’t do any of this strange thing called living on our own.

P1

P2

P3

Before Depakote

I

our kitchen oiled blue and swaying, tilted by the smell
of his full glass, the second or third if I get home too

late, music full-volume-ugly talking talking talking.
no sleep for weeks on end –

II

parked on the bridge over the a46, the road beneath
black water, he wants to unfasten his seatbelt, watch

himself swim through air in silhouette, both daughters
in the backseat, tired faces like new moons rising –

III

bath time. stripy frog and baby penguin lie capsized on
the seabed, I squeeze rubber ducks that must be rotting

inside and wait for him. night-stranded quiet folds in on itself,
silence feathered tight against my ribs –

P4

P5

Olga, we thought you’d like to see this memory from 8 years ago

Sky like cough syrup, her smile
is snow, doesn’t know weight
of rock, ice, roots, earth –

she is kneeling on frosty grass;
I search for the fracture
that started it all, but it’s hidden

beneath that coat she loved –
she’s not struggling yet,
doesn’t know soon, she’ll be

buried up to the neck. I want
to shake this girl, peel her naked,
tell her she won’t be able to swim

out; an ice cube in his glass cracking
still enough to send her falling,
suffocated, somewhere she won’t

be able to reach –

Olga Dermott-Bond is originally from Northern Ireland and was the winner of the BBC Proms poetry competition in 2019. Her first pamphlet apple, fallen was published by Against the Grain Press. She was selected as one of the emerging poets on Radio 4 for Bedtime Stories for the End of the World, and has been widely published in a range of magazines including: Under the Radar, Magma, Rattle Magazine, Butcher’s Dog, Cordite Review, Paper Swans Press, and anthologies including; The result is what you see today (Smith/Doorstop) and Beyond the Storm (Write out Loud). She is a teacher in a secondary school in Warwickshire and has two daughters. @olgadermott

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