I wrote my way through the pain

When you discover words, you discover answers, you discover hope.

Hussain Manawer is many things, an actor, writer, activist, poet, but mostly he is a wordsmith. We caught up with him for an exclusive interview on how he has dealt with the loss of a loved one, overcoming depression, and keeping in the right headspace.

So why poetry?

I grew up at a time of amazing artists like Dizzee Rascal, So Solid Crew and Eminem and I remember reading Kipling, Carol Ann Duffy and Michael Rosen, and I thought, where is the Hussain in this?

However, I wasn't the best behaved at school and was excluded for my behaviour. On my return, a substitute teacher noticed the lyrics that I had scribbled in the back of one of my exercise books and commented on how good they were.

That moment changed things for me, and gave me a real confidence. Other teachers got involved and encouraged me to perform at assemblies and compete in poetry slams and competitions.

Poetry became my way of expressing myself and making sense of the world.

Do you find talking about your emotions difficult?

Yes, sometimes. From an Asian cultural perspective we can find it hard to talk about our emotions. For example, even after I had spoken on live TV about an emotive subject and I know everyone in my family saw it, we still didn't discuss it!

People need an environment to talk about things. Things can be daunting if you don’t have a support mechanism, sometimes it's simply just someone you can chat to.

How did you deal with the death of your mother?

My mother died suddenly of a brain aneurysm, three years ago. You only have one mum and when you lose her well… I went into project manager mode, organising the funeral, trying to maintain my family’s privacy while trying not to bottle things up.

Once the funeral was over I wrote my way through it. When you write, your words lay naked in front of you, they don’t lie, these words are created based on how you are feeling, you can see them, break them down. Its like your own Da Vinci Code.

For me, writing is a release, a form of therapy, escapism, self-expression and it's free and I love free-stuff!

My latest piece is called Goodbye, which I wrote to help me express the feelings that come with a change of era.

When dealing with change, I think a lot of it is the fear of the unknown. Saying goodbye is always hard, especially if your heart is in it. But you have to see life as an adventure. One chapter closes and another starts.

How did you know you had depression?

My quality of life wasn’t great. As someone who believes in words, I believe in words like happiness and looking at these words I was thinking, “Why doesn’t that word relate to me?” That was when I realised maybe I was going through something.

I had to remind myself that the love I had from my mum, I still have. I decided I wouldn’t let the memory of her depress me, because she gave me too much love to leave that as her legacy.

I had to go to cognitive behavioural therapy, understand my triggers, what sets them off. That meant cancelling Celine Dion – My Heart Will Go On, off my playlist! I had to get rid of certain foods, I got rid of a lot of things, slowly, slowly, and then I began to feel lighter, my head felt clearer and that's how I got away. In order to change your life, you have to change your life!

I still have moments, like in my car where I just scream and want to smash something. But then I’ll be like "Relax, what would she want me to do?" I go to the graveyard and I can imagine her saying "Why are you here again? Go clean your bedroom!" And then I think oh, I’d better go and do something!

Grief is like a cloud, and clouds come and go

What message would you like to leave our audience with?

Everybody is gifted a different battle of pain and you are also gifted the armory to deal with it. You just have to dig deep within yourself to find it and that can sometimes take a lifetime. So be kind to yourself.

Be kind to yourself

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