A Paper Trail by Alan Blenkhorn is a collection of poetry written by the author while he experienced the highs and lows of being bipolar, adjusted to new medications, while living everywhere from hospitals to jails.While his unconventional writing style is a bit difficult to get used to, his choice of words and tempo are indicative of the rollercoaster ride a mental illness can perpetuate. Touching on issues like the shortage of beds on Canada’s psych wards and the side effects of medication, Blenkhorn gives a glimpse into a world usually hidden from ‘normal’ eyes.There are 236 poems in his book, which makes it a long read, but there are a few relics in there if you have the time to search them out. I have a feeling that Alan Blenkhorn is only just beginning his writing career.
Your book, A Paper Trail, depicts your state of mind quite accurately while going through a crisis in your life. What led you to writing in the first place? Do you read much poetry?
I started writing at first to vent feelings and frustrations. It first started as journal entrees I would write each night, and I thought it would be an interesting twist putting it to poem. And no I haven’t read much poetry. I have read some of Mark Twain’s work and feel a lot of his pain.
At what point did you consider publishing your work? Did you have much support behind you?
I considered writing a book in hospital. I would tell the doctors, nurses and other patients, I’m going to write a book about all this. A kind patient would say, that’s ok you’re just manic. I had enough support from family and friends, but they were all very surprised with the outcome.
How has writing affected your recovery?
My writing has helped my recovery by giving me something else to think about besides recovery, medication, counseling, and just getting through the day.
What would you recommend for someone in crisis in terms of coping?
I would recommend to someone in crisis to educate themselves with their diagnoses and be honest with you (especially), support people and loved ones. This illness requires you to be completely honest to your feelings.
Have you found any other coping methods besides writing to be beneficial to you?
I find organized physical activity is very therapeutic.
In your poem called “Admitting” you wrote:
“A shortage of beds
Like setting off a bomb of anxiety in each patient’s head
Can’t stay forever
You’ll have to do whatever.”
Could you elaborate on what these lines mean to you?
The lines you mention are directed at the process the hospitals do to turn over beds. More times than none patients would stress about DISCHARGE and relapse and find themselves back in hospital. I believe there is no set time for a person’s personal recovery; the hospitals have to consider costs.
Would you like your daughter to read your poetry one day? Why or why not?
Yes, but I’m no parent. I would prefer she be older and more mature than age 10.
If you could change one thing about the mental health care system, what would it be?
I would like to change the stigma surrounding mental illness. For that I am going to keep writing about my illness.
Any plans for a second book?
I do have plans for a second. I have already chosen the title: Mentally Ill In.