Tales from the Other Side


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By Christopher Ejsmond

ISBN: 978-1-84991-166-5
Published: 2010
Pages: 170
Key Themes: poetry, depression, OCD, schizophrenia


Christopher Ejsmond has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome. He lives with the legacy of child sexual abuse, severe mental illness, alcoholism, poor physical health and caring for a severely disabled parent. Although he struggled in mainstream education, he later found his direction in life and won a scholarship to Magdalene College Cambridge where he graduated in History and Philosophy of Science. He also studied Slavonic languages and cultures at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at the University of London. He is a qualified Social Worker. This, his second published collection of poetry, reflects the ideas, world events and personal experiences which have shaped his thinking and style of expression. He has previously published a collection of poems, Reflections on Life (2008), with Chipmunkapublishing.

The book is a collection of ninety poems focussing on the author’s experience of mental distress and his journey of self-awareness and recovery. The poems carry a message of hope and explore some of the subconscious and symbolic undercurrents which have shaped those experiences and have informed the thinking behind the words. Many of the poems explore philosophical and spiritual truths and address the existentialist struggle to acquire an authentic experience, poetic voice and personal identity through the written word and the image of the urban writer.

The book is aimed at the informed general reader with an interest in mental health and spirituality through the medium of contemporary experimental creative writing. The issues raised in the work touch on stigma and social toleration of “otherness” by using complex philosophical imagery and an exploration of lived experience, emotions, identity and ideas of the self. The author makes frequent use of the concept of personal origins, the journey through life and its end, as well as tying up this journey with broader social and political world events within an overarching battle of the loss of faith and its recovery through the written word.

About the Author

The author was born on 22 October 1964 in London and, with few exceptions, has lived and worked in London all his life. He is the younger of two brothers born to Polish émigré parents who arrived in the UK in the late nineteen forties, after experiencing traumatic childhoods separated from their own parents and witnessing conflict and war in some of the major theatres of the Second World War. The author lives in Ealing, west London which has a vibrant Polish community and is educated to university level.

The author’s childhood was spent in a family home with a number of lodgers which, by any means, was overcrowded. There were many people in his life from early on; each with different, sometimes difficult, personalities which did little to fuse the immediate family unit into a secure base from which a child could thrive.

Soon after starting school, the author began to experience cognitive, behavioural and emotional problems. These went unrecognised for many years, during which the author suffered in silence and fell back on his own resourcefulness in developing coping strategies. The author has had obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) since about the age of five and this had a devastating impact on home life and school. At first it was an obsession with numbers and letters of the alphabet. There was much confusion and anxiety in the young child’s life. Soon the obsessions multiplied and mutated into more physical aspects of movement (going in and out of doorways, walking up and down pathways and stairs, opening and closing, repeating things aloud) which were accompanied by thoughts and feelings of doom. On many occasions, the stress was so great that the author’s young mind would switch off and become empty of thought and fixed in a void but with the recognition that things had to be put right, sorted out and put back in place.

Chris was sexually abused twice during childhood: once at age seven and again at age twelve. This added to his distress and inability to make adjustments and build secure friendships and relationships as he grew into adulthood.

He was an average student and managed to hide some of the more distressing aspects of his illness. However, by his early teens the author’s OCD deteriorated and some symptoms which, in retrospect, were psychotic began to impinge on his consciousness. This is what Chris calls ‘thought swapping’ (the very real feeling that thoughts were being extracted, inserted or swapped with those of other people) and this has remained with him into adulthood. The complexity of combined thoughts, feelings and images would build one on top of the other and form intricate patterns and emotional associations which had to be neutralised, returned to the originator and ‘un-done’. It was like having an absurd play or a cacophonous orchestra playing in one’s mind. On other occasions when going about ordinary activities such as picking up and moving an object, Chris felt that something of himself was ‘left behind’ in the place where he picked up the object, meaning that he would have to return to the same spot, place it in the same position and reclaim that which had been left behind. It was like living in a perpetual mind trap with no way out and during which he would lose all track of time and space. Another symptom he describes as ‘merging’. This is the experience of losing self-boundaries and merging with inanimate objects in the environment which take on a special, usually sinister, meaning to Chris.

In learning how to cope with all of this, Chris self-harmed and destroyed things around him; his posture would sometimes freeze for lengths of time or maintain rigidity. The sign and symptoms of schizophrenia were evident from very early on.

Chris emerged in his early twenties with no friends and was suffering from a number of delusional thoughts, altered states of consciousness and an inability to hold down a job. He left school at sixteen with one O-level but persevered in the education system, gaining four degrees (one from Magdalene College Cambridge) and a sense of vocation in the helping professions. At the age of thirty-seven he embarked on professional social work training which he succeeded in and worked for about eighteen months as a qualified social worker with older people and in mental health before becoming unwell.

Whilst studying for his Diploma in Social Work, he became mentally unwell and had severe depression which eventually led him to seek psychiatric help. He saw a number of doctors, CPN’s, Social Workers and other professionals and was given different diagnoses by some of these and, for the first time, was prescribed medication. He got better and started to make new friends and go out with them.

Today, Chris has a positive relationship with his experience of mental distress and frequently refers to it as his ‘gift’ or visiting the ‘other side’. He believes that education and writing, in particular, are great keys to self-help and recovery and wishes to put himself in a position to help others in their suffering through whatever means are available to him.

Book Extract

A Simple Dance

Once is never enough
As I well know
Mutation is the order of things
Which drives me to distraction
And empties the mind
Leaving behind a strange void

Sensory overload and white noise
Fill the air and burden my soul
With enduring and eternal command
Watch as it ebbs and flows
And caresses those thoughts closest to me
Bringing destruction to my subtle nature

Long have I endured this simple dance
Which has visited me and tormented my soul
By day and night it finds new ways
To set the trap and ensnare my Being
Apart have I stood, mourning and waiting
For release and sweet surrender

It draws near again and changes once more
Into the beast which it truly is
It renders me and offers no repose
For it has known me far too long
Instead it prolongs the anguish
And takes me to strange and distant lands


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