Tag Archives: mental health awareness month

#HookedOnPoetry: Brian James Lewis Discusses Mental Health & Writing + Shares Three Original Poems @skullsnflames76 #poetry #mentalhealthawareness

Today is the start to another week of the #HookOnPoetry project. I want to introduce you to my friend Brian James Lewis today. He’s no stranger here as he was part of the project last year as well. Brian has something important to talk about today given that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. He talks about how writing has helped him through his depression and how it focuses him to look toward things like being successful with his writing even through disability. I’m really proud of Brian for what he overcomes. I hope you either relate or come to understanding through his essay, and then, enjoy three original poems he worked on for this project. I’m proud to publish them. Join us the rest of this week here, and at Kendall Reviews, for more poetry.

Erin Al-Mehairi




Hello everyone! I hope you all are taking the voluntary quarantine due to the Covid-19 Pandemic as an opportunity to read things you didn’t have time for previously or even to spread your wings a bit and try something new! One suggestion that is totally contagion free is issue 49 of The Sirens Call e-Zine. Lots of really good writers, poets, and art in this totally free issue. Check it out!

Writing has become my “second life” after a major accident left me with severe spinal injuries and PTSD. I went from working multiple physical jobs and having physical hobbies, to not being able to do much of anything at all. Previously, I was a pleasant, happy-go-lucky kind of guy who liked to hang out with friends and family. After the accident and its aftermath, chronic pain was a constant problem. I became very depressed and suicidal. I shut out the world and focused on anger and rage about what happened. Things escalated until I was classified as a danger to myself and others. If I’d owned a gun during that time, I would not be here. Writing served as an escape and a place to harness all that negative energy into something better. In fact, my psychologist encouraged me to send work out and attempt to get published. Amazingly enough, I found some takers, got into doing book reviews and… totally lost my grip and fucked everything up. Not exactly the way to be a success. green man pic (2)

Depression took over my life and it brought some friends along. Nothing mattered, medications didn’t do much, and my doctor was about ready to move me into inpatient treatment before I killed myself or ended up homeless. Then a friend of mine committed a carefully planned and really messy suicide by cop. Oddly, that woke me up. Perhaps my friend found the peace he was looking for, but in myself I found that I didn’t really want to go down that road anymore. Overall, it’s been better chasing a dream than working on my own death. Since then, I’ve had to push myself, but things are gradually improving. Through regular mental health care and the right medications, my life is gradually getting better. But the main deal is I write something every day. A lot of those things are poems and a few of them are included here.

“Lunatic Twist” is brand new and a good introduction to dark poetry influenced heavily by depression and anxiety. “Nightmare Suite No. 38” is influenced by H.G. Lovecraft, who got many of his stories through the nightmares that made sleep nearly impossible for him. Last, but certainly not least, is “STOP.” Many of us plagued by mental health issues spend a lot of time thinking about suicide. Since our brains aren’t working right, ending our lives can look attractive. “You’ll finally be at peace and free” the demons whisper in our ears. But that’s a lie. If we stay alive, we’ve got options and the chance for life to improve. But if we take ourselves out, we’ll be trapped in a personal hell that lasts for all eternity.

In 2014 Trajectory Journal published my poem “Puppeteer” which mixes complicated emotions with fast cars, my love of big women, and fire. Most recently, I’ve appeared in Trajectory Issue 20, The Sirens Call e-Zine issue 49, Ghost, Spirits, and Specters, The Toilet Zone from HellBound Books, and Putrescent Poems Vol. 1, recently out from 42 Books. My work has also appeared in literary journals such as SLAB, Hickory Stump Magazine (w/video!), Third Wednesday, Bards & Sages Quarterly, and The Iconoclast. A lot of my writing over the years has been in reviews, which I’ve been doing since 2016 for Hellnotes, Aphotic Realm, Gallows Hill, and my own site, Damaged Skull Writer. I’m a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA).

I also enjoying bringing vintage typewriters back to life. It’s really a pleasure to be a part of the writing community. Everyone is so supportive and looking to lend a hand which is great! Thanks for reading my work! If you want to say Howdy, don’t be shy. Your best bet is to visit me on Twitter @skullnflames76 and Damaged Skull Writer on Facebook – he just doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing there! For news and reviews, please take a gander and also my website: http://damagedskullwriterandreviewer.com.


scary photo

by Brian James Lewis

Nightmares of strange things
Brought on by songs from the past
Echo inside the plastic case
Of my transistor radio that plays

An endless loop of songs
that I once knew until the changes
Made the sound double over
on itself like an angry serpent

Sweet song melodies twisted
into a lunatic laugh track
That frightens my poor brain
Like the carnival fun house

Shaking uncontrollably
Eyes glowing in the dark
I huddle upon my sweaty bed
Wishing it would stop



by Brian James Lewis



Not here



Falling apart
Falling apart
Falling apart


Don’t have it together






Until it’s too late
and your life melts into the gloom
under the highway overpass

in the flickering fluorescent lights
Like a ghost on a hot night
Undergoing sublimation


Leave me here in the place where I belong
Dark and deep
There is no wrong
Nor any rights

The creature slithers across the tiles

It smells my fear

And it smiles

Knowing that I’ll make a fine meal

I’m a crawling King snake, baby
In your room again
I’m a crawling king snake, baby
In your room again

Open up that door, little girl
and let me come inside
because I wanna boogie
Yeah, I wanna boogie

All night long

All night long

All night long

Until the break of dawn

When the light of dawn hits
everything returns to normal
But that’s a long time to wait
when you’re facing down a monster

Its skin rasps along the asphalt

As the creature moves closer

The drip of saliva is louder than a heartbeat

I try to think brave thoughts before the end

Hoping that the sacrifice of my too short life

Will save the citizens of a city I’ve grown to hate

As the decades slide by the corruption grows

Like cancer of the mountain-tearing it down

Ruining lives and releasing this thing that moves closer

Its greedy maw opens and closes like a hungry bird

Now is the time for me to burst into flame!

Spontaneous combustion has been trained

Into me by the masters, who see all

From their posts in the old subway stations

I’m sure they are watching me now

Whether they will assist me in my fight is unclear

Regardless of what they said at our last meeting

As a piece of Hell incarnate, I grab the fangs and swing

Inside that maw, fighting the devil with fire

Making the huge serpentine body whip

And venomous secretions attempt to drown my flames

We both hurt and I can feel myself bending


Bending to near breaking

“Mayday! Mayday! The ship is going DOWN!

That’s all I have, I’ve done my best and now…

FLASH! I’m growing into a giant with amazing powers?

The creature explodes as I stretch its body past all limits

With my multiple arms, tentacles, and teeth

It never had a chance against

This monster of the deep

Now I will return to my

Underwater cave and sleep

And return again

When I am needed



by Brian James Lewis

Have you ever paced your room
Saying “I should shoot myself in the head?”
If not, good for you! You might just be alright.
But for the rest, who make up a larger number
than we’ll ever admit, I am with you
We are brothers and sisters at arms

Don’t think for a moment
that I’m condoning suicide or self-harm
What I’m saying is that I feel you
and live in the same world of pain
Frustrations, disappointments, loneliness
On that dark, crooked street called life

Sometimes I wonder if intelligence
makes life worse, not better
As was preached to us in grade school
Could ignorance really be bliss?
I watch people in my neighborhood
and they make it appear to be so

The pressure is off if you’re an idiot
or a person with a very set mentality
about what’s right and wrong
Just coasting easily through life
because you don’t care about others
You’re right, they’re wrong. That’s all

Sensitivity to others’ pain
makes us want to end it sometimes
Because there’s only so much a body
can take before it twists and sours
I’ve screamed into the city night
But the demons won’t let go

Though it may not feel like it
you’re not alone in the struggles
to keep sunny side up and hold on
For just one more day, hour, minute
If we kill or cut ourselves-They win
Which makes the demons even stronger

Life is simpler when we’re alone
That’s why many people run away
Unfortunately the pain follows
Like a Bloodhound on your trail
No matter how much you drink and dope
It’ll be waiting when you come down

What happens if you don’t?
Just overdose until it’s final
Trouble is that all your baggage
goes along for the ride with your soul
Once you’ve destroyed your body
There’s no getting free of the toxins

So if you’re pacing the floor
and thinking you should kill yourself
Stop, and remember how that door
will slam shut and leave you stuck
with everything you tried to escape
Except now it’s forever


Thanks so much for reading and please consider sharing. What can you do to spread the word about mental health awareness as well as learn to value, appreciate, and work with, as well as help, those who are struggling?

Stop by Kendall Reviews tomorrow for another feature in this poetry project.

pen poetry







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Guest Post: Author Tanya Peterson Discusses Mental Health Awareness and Making Time to Write

Today we have a guest post by author Tanya J. Peterson, who is on book tour for her just published novel, Leave of Absence.  Her fiction novel encompasses the issues of mental illness and she hopes to create awareness and break down barriers with her work. In the guest post, Tanya tells us why she wrote the book and then gives us insight and advice into how to make time for ourselves for things like pursuing our dreams, without feeling guilty……writing included!

You can view a synopsis of the book and her information at the end of the post. Stop back by the next two Fridays here to see a review of the book and then an exclusive interview. Take it away, Tanya….


Time for a Mission
Guest Post by Tanya J. Peterson, Author of Leave of Absence

Tanya PetersonI have a mission in life:  to help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.  Doing this involves correcting the negative stereotypes that are perpetuated by mainstream media and helping people understand what various mental illnesses are really like.  Doing this will increase understanding, and with understanding comes compassion. 

I’m joining lots of others in this mission, of course, and we all have unique things to offer.  I’m drawing on my background, my life experience, and my love of writing, and I’ve rolled them all together to create Leave of Absence.  In the novel, Penelope Baker wrestles with schizophrenia and depression and the devastating impact these illnesses have had on her life.  Oliver Graham experiences post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and complicated mourning in the wake of the traumatic loss of his wife and son.  (I won’t say more so I don’t infringe upon Erin’s review or inadvertently create a spoiler!)

I drew on my background and experience to make these characters realistic.  One of my goals is to correct the misconceptions and stereotypes that are out there, so I figured that I’d better be accurate.  The background and experience to which I’ve referred is this:  I’ve experienced mental illness from the perspective of a counselor and the perspective of a patient.  I have a degree in counseling and am a Nationally Certified Counselor, and I’ve worked with people to help them help themselves.  I’m also a patient.  I have Bipolar I disorder.  I’ve even been in a behavioral health hospital on several occasions in the past.  That was extremely helpful in depicting Airhaven, the behavioral health center that is the setting for much of Leave of Absence. Airhaven and the characters there are definitely fictitious, but I drew on the reality of my own experience to paint a picture of life in a behavioral health hospital.

I’m really happy that I finally took a chance and dove headfirst into my passions.  I’ve wanted to write for a very long time, but until recently I pushed my dream aside.  Real life and its responsibilities kept getting in the way.  To be sure, much of that was by choice.  I wanted to have a family, and I have two wonderful children with my husband.  Kids, marriage, and a career are time-consuming.  Originally, I was a high school teacher; later, I was an at-home mom who volunteered in schools, led a Cub Scout den, and did ordinary mothering tasks. During this time, I did write a novel (It’s a YA novel entitled Losing Elizabeth, which I published last year using CreateSpace.  I like its message about an emotionally abusive relationship, but I don’t consider myself a strong YA author.  I did learn a lot about publishing from that experience.)  I really, really enjoyed writing that novel, but it required a lot of my time, and I felt guilty devoting so much of my energy to it rather than to my family.  At the time, I saw it as an either-or type of thing:  either I was a writer or a mother, but certainly not both at the same time. 

Then, I suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident, entered graduate school for counseling, was diagnosed (in the hospital I mentioned above) with Bipolar I disorder (not caused by the injury), graduated, worked and volunteered as a counselor, moved across the country, and worked at a school for runaway and homeless adolescents (my official title was teacher, but only two of us worked in a school of approximately 45 students who attended when they could, and I played dual role of teacher and counselor).  During this time, as I experienced the consequences of stigma and helped others who also faced this stigma, my passion to change things grew.  And my love of writing and desire to write novels also grew. 

Yet I was still a busy mother.  Certainly I should continue to put my own desires on hold.  I found it increasingly difficult, though, to ignore the desire to write novels and create characters to whom people could connect.  I wanted to use my characters to show what mental illness and its stigma are really like.  Then I had an epiphany.  As a mother, I could do a tremendous service to my kids by modeling the fact that women, mothers can indeed follow their dreams.  As important as it is for me to provide this service to my children, even more important is the fact that I’m honoring myself by doing something that makes me happy. 

I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “If Mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”  In my household, that’s very true!  I’m happy when I write.  I’m happy that I’m modeling healthy behavior for my kids.  And I’m happy that I’m pursuing a greater mission:  to increase awareness and understanding of mental illness through character-driven novels like Leave of Absence.


Leave of Absence Synopsis~

9781592998838 cov.indd“Oliver knew deep in his heart that he would never, ever be better.” In this insightful and evocative novel, Tanya J. Peterson delves deeply into the world of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and schizophrenia.

When Oliver Graham’s suicide attempt fails, he is admitted to Airhaven Behavioral Health Center. Unable to cope with the traumatic loss of his beloved wife and son, he finds a single thread of attachment to life in Penelope, a fellow patient wrestling with schizophrenia and its devastating impact on her once happy and successful life. They both struggle to discover a reason to live while Penelope’s fiancé William strives to convince her that she is worth loving. As Oliver and Penelope try to achieve emotional stability, face others who have been part of their lives, and function in the “real world,” they discover that human connection may be reason enough to go on.

Written with extraordinary perception into the thought processes of those grappling with mental illness, Leave of Absence is perfect for readers seeking an empathic depiction of grief, loss, and schizophrenia, as well as anyone who has ever experienced human suffering and healing.

Here’s a link to the video trailer:


Author Tanya J. Peterson, Biography~

Tanya PetersonTanya J. Peterson holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education, Master of Science in counseling, and is a Nationally Certified Counselor.  She has been a teacher and a counselor in various settings, including a traditional high school and an alternative school for homeless and runaway adolescents, and she has volunteered her services in both schools and communities.  She draws on her life experience as well as her education to write stories about the emotional aspect of the human condition.  She has published Losing Elizabeth, a young adult novel about an abusive relationship, Challenge!, a short story about a person who finds the confidence to overcome criticism and achieve a goal, and a book review of Linley and Joseph’s Positive Therapy: A Meta-Theory for Positive Psychological Practice that appeared in Counseling Today, the national publication of the American Counseling Association. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two children.


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