Poetry helps woman move toward healing

In the March 19, 2014, edition of the Homer News, a local woman submitted a couple of poems with the following words: “I am sharing in hopes of encouraging anyone who is suffering in silence to tell someone. With help you can find the light switch and even turn it on.”

That woman was Shannon Schrader, who has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for 17 years. The suffering she spoke of was her experience with bipolar disorder.

It’s been eight months since that letter appeared in the Homer News. Now, instead of just two poems printed in the local paper, Schrader, has published a book of poetry. “Up from Darkness” includes those first two, plus 16 more.

Many are dedicated to the friends who have helped her on her journey. The book itself is dedicated to the oldest of her two sons, Harold, who Schrader says suffered the most from her mental illness.

“How do you summarize putting your son through emotional abandonment when going through bipolar depression?” she asks. Her bright blue eyes fill with tears and she adds, “He’s been so worried about me all his life, and finally, he doesn’t have to worry anymore.”

The Mayo Clinic describes bipolar, also called manic-depressive disorder, as being associated with extreme mood swings ranging from euphoric to hopeless. The extreme changes may happen just a few times a year — or several times each day.

Schrader describes her life, before getting help, like riding a train of success that would always derail. She hopes to encourage others to get help before the train wrecks.

“I guess that’s my message,” she said. “Tell someone. Tell them. Because I never have, I just shut down.”

Growing up between her divorced parents — one lived in California, the other in Anchorage — Schrader said that she was always able to leave when things went wrong. That pattern continued throughout her life. Relationships would end. Careers would end. The bouts of depression drove her to attempt suicide.

“Sometimes it just hits you when everything will be perfect,” she said of the depression. “I can’t even explain the sorrow …”

Although Schrader, who is now 50, has suffered from bipolar disorder most of her life, she didn’t try to get professional help until she called the South Peninsula Behavioral Health Services Center six years ago. Even then, she just couldn’t find the words to express how she felt. She quit going for a time, until, desperate to stay alive, she went back.

“I’d either cry or lie,” she said of the sessions with therapists.

One night, when she couldn’t sleep — which is part of the disorder — Schrader wrote her feelings on a couple scraps of paper. The next time she went to her therapist, she took the scraps with her. She thought they would say she needed to be committed to a mental hospital.

Instead, her therapist helped her name the poems and type them up — then encouraged her to share them with her psychiatrist, Dr. Charles Burgess, who has since retired from the Center.

“Dr. Burgess read them, and he told me that they were so profound, and that they explained my mental state so perfectly, that I could help others if I could find the courage to share (them),” said Schrader.

“Poetry is the only way I could actually express my feelings,” she said.

The idea for a book came about after she started sharing her writing with friends and family members. They told her that she could help others through her poems.

“I don’t even know the correct poetry terminology,” she said, “I was like, ‘who am I to write a book?’”

But people kept telling her she should do it. So this fall, she did.

Through the online funding site, Kickstarter.com, Schrader raised $807 toward publishing the book, seven dollars more than her goal.

Although the book is self-published, she is working with a publishing professional, who advised her, along with her therapist, to “out” herself as being bipolar.

“It was a hard thing to overcome,” she said. She didn’t want to embarrass or shame her family.

“If even one person goes and gets help, instead of committing suicide, it’s worth putting myself out there,” she said, adding that she still doesn’t consider herself a writer.

Schrader said that if a person feels like giving up, they need to tell someone. Just say the words, “I feel like giving up.” That’s where you start with it, she said.

An estimated 2-3 percent of adults in the United States suffer from bipolar disorder, which puts them at a higher risk for suicide, substance abuse and high-risk behavior, according to Alaska Regional Hospital’s Web site.

Now that her book is published, Schrader’s next project is a calendar that combines new poems with photos by friend and photographer, Jessica Rawls, of Raw Beauty Photography.

Rawls provided the cover image, as well as several photographs, for poems in “Up from Darkness.”

“She’s such an amazing, talented person,” said Schrader of Rawls and her work.

“Up From Darkness” is available at the Homer Bookstore, in Soldotna at River City Books and online at Amazon. The Kindle edition is also available online.

For every other book purchased, Schrader will donate a copy. Because she is on disability, she can’t afford to print and give away all her books — which is what she would really love to do.

Already, 80 books have sold, with 40 of them donated to individuals or centers that help people with mental health needs.

Toni Ross is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.

Naked Soul

by Shannon Schrader

No longer covered in a blanket of darkness,

I stand for all to see,

a fearless warrior,

victorious in the battle to survive

Can you see me?

I will not hide.

A flame grows inside me.

My soul is on fire.

Can you feel it? My passion for living?

I am naked.

And I am beautiful.

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