Artwork Spotlight Guest Post

Guest Post: Charlotte Amelia Poe

Today The Layered Onion has a guest post from poet and author Charlotte Amelia Poe. Charlotte Amelia Poe (they/them), like many of us with mental and chronic illness, has let life inspire their work, including experience as an autistic and nonbinary person.

I write. It’s how I make sense of the world.

Charlotte Amelia Poe
A photo of the author - Charlotte Amelia Poe. Writing from a place of being autistic and living with mental health challenges and addressing mental health through the arts. Addressing mental health for the arts. In fact, writing and art for mental health. Art and mental health together to help us cope.

The author has migraines.

Without further ado, an intro from the writer:

I didn’t used to get migraines. That’s new. Well, not new, but it’s been maybe four years since all of this started and I don’t remember what it was like before. It’s strange how quickly your internal world shifts to accommodate some new horror, a pain you can’t escape from.

I write. It’s how I make sense of the world. I’ve always written, perhaps as an autistic person it always made more sense than the spoken word, writing can be precise and honest and sometimes brutal, sometimes healing. It’s a salve on a wound I don’t know how to close.

For one brilliant month, my migraine medication worked and I didn’t have migraines. But something else happened instead – a lack of sleep and a sudden overstimulation meant that I was writing all the time, poetry, prose, nonfiction, anything and everything. I stayed up for twenty four hours and wrote a book. It’s being published next year.

But the brilliant month ended, and the uncertainty returned. It’s difficult to plan for anything when you don’t know whether or not your head will be trying to kill you. The only thing I could do on the bad days was write on my phone, brightness turned way down low, tapping out every thought I had and trying to make it beautiful even as the darkness of the room seeped in and turned the air sour.

I do, completely, understand why people would drill holes into their skulls. I understand this about depression, I understand this about anxiety, and I understand this about migraines. The primal need for exorcism is something we cannot help but seek out, but it’s not the answer, as much as we would like it to be.

In the darkest room, an opening sentence that spawns a thousand words, or a line of poetry that twists into something brand new – that can be magic.

Creativity, perhaps, is. I write because I have to, because I’m possessed by all the demons of my life and I want to splurge it all onto the page and see if I can make sense of it all. In the darkest room, an opening sentence that spawns a thousand words, or a line of poetry that twists into something brand new – that can be magic.

And maybe, in lieu of medication that doesn’t work and trepanation that can’t be provided, we have to count on that instead. That magic.

So I do.

The migraines may never go away, I can’t find what causes them, there’s no rhyme or reason to it. But the creativity remains. The urge to create remains. It’s a scream into the void, loud against an aching head, but god, it might be the only real thing.

And I think it might be everything.

Charlotte Amelia Poe

Introducing this piece:

Content warning: Strong language.


So I say –

“My head hurts.”

And I grit my teeth and I fold my fingers into my hair and I tug until maybe my scalp loosens a little and I can hear myself think again. I think if I buzzed off my hair then maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much, like maybe the throbbing above my right eye would dull a little and I could finally sleep.

(It’s been thirty six hours and the caffeine in the painkillers keeps me buzzing like a moth to the light streaming through the holes in my blackout curtains and I can’t sleep, I can’t sleep, I can’t sleep, but I can’t do anything else either and time is treacle slow and my tongue sticks to the inside of my mouth and I breathe in and out and bury myself further under the duvet, legs curled up to my chest and I want to scream but noise makes it worse and – )

I understand why people would take rocks to their skulls and carve a hole into themselves to let the demons out. The pressure release valve option seems so fucking appealing. I cannot touch my own skin, can only press my fist into my eye socket and wish I could scoop everything out and let it drip through my fingers until there was no pain anymore, no nothing, just the blessed emptiness and my head would be empty, and my eyes would be empty, and do you understand?

Try cold compresses, ice from the freezer wrapped in a washcloth and pressed to the side of my head and for a moment I don’t feel anything except the chill of numb and blessed relief. My pillow soaks through and the room is warm, so warm, three days of stuffy air and I’m breathing in my own fumes and I can’t stand up to open a window and my head hurts, I am trying to tell you that it hurts, I am trying to find language to describe the fact that it feels like I’m dying and there is nothing I can do except wait it out.

I think about stepping on broken glass. At least that bleeds. This isn’t red, isn’t liquid, there’s no colour or texture to any of this, just pounding, and I’m inside of myself and outside of myself all at once and I can hear somebody begging to be let out and I think it’s me, but it might be the demons, you know? And I can understand. Because being trapped here with me is a fucking nightmare, I understand that, I hate it too, but I don’t try to self-destruct every other day just to get my own way.

Unless the demons are me, in which case, I guess I do.

I can hear my sister’s children laughing and shrieking in the garden and I’m so happy they’re alive and that they’re not in pain but I also want them to just let me lay curled up in silence. Everything is so, so loud and I am flinching against the shuffle of my sheets as I shift my body from one side of the bed to the other, burying my face into the pillow until the nausea becomes too much and I have to lift my head again, the inside out bruising of my neck an extension of it all and I have googled this and Google says meningitis, and I don’t think I get meningitis every other day, but maybe.

See, you get kind of crazy with it.

You make all kinds of deals with any deity you can think of. You don’t even believe in anything except that time is cyclical and that this will happen again. But you still beg and hope and plead that this will stop and maybe this will be the last time it happens, maybe you won’t have to cancel plans and waste away in this fucking miasma of stale breath and old t-shirts.

So I say –

“My head hurts.”

And my mum says, “go lie down.”

And I do.

And after a while, it goes away. And for a little while I can bear to be in the light again.

But it comes back. The demons eat at me again and it hurts hurts hurts.

And then I must be quiet and still and dark.

And I don’t think people understand the cost of that. I am losing time. I am losing time. I am losing time.

Can’t get enough? Follow Charlotte Amelia Poe on Twitter @charlottepoe or Instagram @smallreprieves or on their website.

Or check out one of their books – available via links on their website. Charlotte Amelia Poe published How To Be Autistic in 2019, an honest memoir that shares a personal account of autism, mental illness, gender, and sexual identity.

A photo of the author's first book, a memoir. How To Be Autistic - Charlotte Amelia Poe. 
Writing from a place of being autistic and living with mental health challenges and addressing mental health through the arts. Addressing mental health for the arts.

This is a perspective we have to read. Thank you for sharing your story!

Artwork Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: Éloïse Armary’s Pink Goo

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. Artists with lived mental and emotional health challenges show the power of art for mental health. These works range from short stories to visual art, music, poetry, and more! This is art that explores mental health. Today, Éloïse (Loulou) Armary (she/they) will share her upcoming poetry collection, Pink Goo.

Éloïse took the time to participate in a Q+A with The Layered Onion, but before we share the dialogue, here’s a little bit more about our artist:

An image of the artist, who uses art to explore mental health. Mental health through the arts.

Art and mental health work.

Éloïse “Loulou” Armary is a French poet who writes about mental health, neurodiversity, social and climate issues, memories, queerness, and the strangeness of daily life. She is the co-host of the podcast Poetry to your Ears. Loulou is based in Brighton, UK. Pink Goo is their first poetry collection.

Éloïse participated in a Q&A with The Layered Onion, expanding further on her work:

LouLou's book uses poetry to interact with her anxiety and depression. The book shows the power of Art and mental health. Describes mental health challenges and their toll.

Pink Goo is a collection of poems that explore what mental health is to Éloïse and the reality of living life in today’s world. 

It is about a spiral down to anxiety and depression and the following journey to find peace. After trying to shed light on social injustice, sexual harassment, and the climate collapse, the poet finds herself in the darkness and explores many corners within herself, rough and soft. In the deep furrows of her mind, Éloïse finds a white canvas on which she paints with colours to lift her spirit while allowing nuances of grey to tell the depth of reality.

These poems aid the reader who wants to scream but doesn’t find the words. They are a balm to spread on trauma wounds. They care for the soul after a storm.

You are releasing a poetry collection, Pink Goo. Congratulations! My first question – how did you come up with the name?

Thank you! The title poem is a metaphor for my anxiety. I wrote it during a challenge I set for myself to write 21 poems in 21 days in December 2021. I got stuck mid-way through the challenge and started exploring unusual images. I loved that poem, people I read it to loved that poem. The name stuck with me. I knew my poetry collection would be named Pink Goo before I knew what else would be in it.

Title poem of Pink Goo - art that explores mental health, anxiety, and depression. Poetry. Describes mental health challenges and their toll. Art and mental health/ art for mental health.

What topics do you explore in Pink Goo?

Pink Goo is everything mental health. It starts as anger against social injustice, eco-anxiety, and sexual trauma, then delves into chronic anxiety and depression. It’s a quest about my neurodivergent identity, an expression of moments of sensory overload, meltdowns, and anxiety attacks. It has a pamphlet about bipolar disorder, which is close to me. Mostly, it’s about how to find acceptance and where I dig up peace. 

What first led you to poetry?

I started writing poetry as an extended form of journalling in high school. Sometimes, my emotions were so strong writing them in prosaic words didn’t feel right. I started skipping words to express myself faster and playing with images to articulate my feelings in a way that sounded true. 

Where do you gather your inspiration from?

I am inspired by the intensity of my emotions, which is what I mainly write about. I draw into images of nature, colors, and senses to express how I feel. I recently started rooting myself in a community of poets and find endless inspiration from poets I know who I find so talented.

What are your favorite topics to write about?

I write about mental health, neurodiversity, and social and climate issues. I don’t really choose to write about these topics; I feel more like I have to in order to expel the intensity of my emotions. Lately, I am enjoying delving into topics of memories and queerness, exploring alternative realities, and writing based on senses rather than thoughts.

You also have a podcast, “Poetry to Your Ears” – what kind of topics do you cover? Where can folks go if they are interested in checking it out?

My co-host Tom and I interview contemporary poets and read out poems we find that tell of something new and meaningful. Our byline is ‘We celebrate poetry the way it is done today,’ because our podcast is not a poetry course that studies the theoretical structures of poetry. We don’t read the famous dead poets studied in school.

We found out that most poets we talked with didn’t like poetry before they [started] writing poetry. We want to know who writes poetry, what they write about, and what it can tell us about more significant subjects. When I say write, I also mean perform, since we feature many spoken word artists! We platform a diversity of poets from different backgrounds, especially marginalised ones. All the links to listen are here:

You are French, but you write in English. Why is that? 

The first poems I wrote were in French, but when I met with my partner, who is British, I started writing poems in English. I loved the distance between the words and my thoughts and the easy wordplay that wasn’t constrained by the rules and rigidity in French that I inherited from school.

English being my second language, I make some mistakes that turn out to be poetic, which I can use as the base of a poem. I write a little bit of bilingual poetry, but since I moved to Brighton, UK, I found it hard to share it with an English-speaking audience. I want to explore bilingual poetry more, though.

Mental health, social topics, and the climate crisis are deep concepts that take a lot out of all of us living in 2022. “Goo” is the perfect word to describe that feeling of being stuck, of fighting your way forward.

Éloïse is selling Pink Goo on The Layered Onion shop – be sure to check it out! You can catch up with Éloïse and their work on Instagram @eloisearmary.