“Oh Not So Great”: Poems from the Depression Project is the culmination of a 5+ year research and poetry project I conducted in partnership with Drs. Patricia Gabriel and Josephine Lee, and a team of volunteers. It was published by Leaf Press in November 2017, and went into second and third printings, most recently in June 2018.
The project consisted of a series of focus groups in which the group members, all of whom were living with depression, discussed their day-to-day lives, centring especially around their experiences of: sadness, poor sleep, loss of interest, guilt, low energy, poor concentration, abnormal appetite, psychomotor retardation/agitation, and suicidality (known by the medical acronym SSIGECAPS, an evaluative tool used by many doctors to diagnose depression).
From these focus groups I wrote a series of 30 poems, three each for each of the nine categories, with three additional poems. Each category includes one found poem, composed entirely using the group members’ words as found in the focus group transcripts.
Our hope is the book will be able to act as a bridge between patients, family members and physicians on a subject that so often engenders alienation and stigmatization.
Simon Fraser University Health Sciences: “Alumni encourage empathy through art”
Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute: “Poems Enhance Empathy Towards Patients With Depression”
“John Keats said, “Poetry should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.” Striking the reader as a wording of his own thoughts is exactly what Rob Taylor’s collection “Oh Not So Great”: Poems from the Depression Project achieves… I shared my life for several years with a man who suffers from depression. As soon as I began reading Taylor’s work, my heart broke open. I felt like I was hearing my former partner’s most private thoughts.”
– Lené Gary, Science Borealis
“This integration of art and science has resulted in a book that has surpassed its original conception to act solely as a tool for enhancing empathy in physicians.”
– Phoebe Melvin, SFU Faculty of Health Sciences
“Taylor’s most affecting and adept poems remix actual quotations from the project participants inside of poetic structures and techniques. The saddest poem, perhaps, is the one that gives the book its title: “When people say, ‘So how are you?’ / really they want you to say, ‘Oh I’m great.’ / I’m sure there’s something chemical to it, but // when you say, ‘Oh not so great’ / people go, ‘I didn’t want to hear that.’ / I have been trained since I was a very young child.””
– Jonathan Ball, The Winnipeg Free Press
These poems are the result of a years-long project designed to create for physicians a doorway to empathy with patients who suffer from mental illness. As it turns out, they open that door wide for us all. Here are people speaking from deep within the isolating world of depression, their stories transformed into poetry by Rob Taylor’s considerable talents. From the heart-rending admission to a friend in the first poem (“It’s the one gift / I do give you, every day / I don’t call), to the final lines (“You walk alone / across the room, sit by the fire, / and wait there for the longest time”), this collection unveils a reality lived by far too many people, one most of us don’t know how to handle – not when we experience it ourselves, not when loved ones are going through it. Read this book. It will help.
– Sandy Shreve, author of Waiting for the Albatross and Suddenly, So Much
An unfortunate side effect of the physician’s office being a confidential space is there never being any public record of thoughts and emotions expressed there. Equivalent honesty about depression is generally not heard on the street or posted on social media, and its relative lack of existence outside the doctor’s office contributes to stigma and a sense of isolation for those who are depressed. Through collaboration with doctors and a gifted poet, participants in this project have converted a comparatively sterile diagnostic checklist into more emotionally tangible human experiences. I believe they’ve created a new and powerful communication tool for helping patients express how they feel, helping others understand their experience, and helping doctors and other clinicians translate that understanding into empathic, and therefore therapeutic, communication with patients. This project is an example of the leading edge of mental health care that moves creatively outside the walls of a clinician’s office to empower both patients and clinicians.
– Dr. Alan Bates, President, BC Psychiatric Association
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