You Who - an offering on 'resilience'

by David Gilbert

April 15, 2017

There is a small miracle happening in Hemel Hempstead. I am watching my boy snowboard. And I can see him.

Two months ago I had another painful breakdown. When I came to see my boy snowboard, I could not see through the mess of my own mind, the blindness induced by the hell of my own estranged thinking.

Now I seem to have re-emerged. This is the second significant breakdown in a year, after twenty five years of being (mostly) OK. I have come close prior to this double episode – when I was bullied at a university, when the Centre for Patient Leadership dream died, but have got across the thin ice. Until last Summer...

This bout has been scary as well as shocking. I am reappraising my life, my work and how I look after myself. I carried on working at home, ‘acted as if’ I was OK when I wasn’t, and... despaired. Well, you know the sort of stuff if you’ve been through it. And if you haven’t, well lucky you.

I have also been asked, as writer in resident at the wonderful Bethlem Gallery, to pen thoughts on ‘resilience’. It is a word I am not comfortable with for many reasons, not least because it implies an old style mental toughness that I don’t have. Bouncing back is also a poor analogy for what I have been through. Maybe it is mere ‘adjustment’ but that seems banal. It is certainly a ‘coming through’. It is the walk through fire. It is the stripping down. I have gained and lost. And vice-versa. It is all these things and more.

I was not sure whether to write a blog. Or a poem. This below seems a combination of the two. I hope it helps a little to those going through it. It is also written in anger. Rage almost, at those who pretend to know and due to their unknowing, pontificate and academicise suffering. To those in power who will not open the gates of the citadels to the deeper wisdom of those who bring back jewels from the caves of suffering. Our call is growing. But I shall leave the politics for another time.

Anyway, here it is, whatever it is – an offering….



You Who


you who

have been through so much
have been turned endlessly inside out
have had your identity blanked at the border of normalcy
are still within your story and do not know what...
have been bankrupted
become nocturnal
sweat and come to know the rank sweet smell of your own pillow
cry for rusty miracles and dusted off kindnesses
feel to the bone and muscle and nerve
what one bloody step counts for
who wait and wait and


that there are fearful readers of your life who do not understand
the pretty island story-tellers
who shrug and cannot land
who do not love and do not listen
yet give and give of their own spittling words
and light cold foreign fires
that smoke for blanketing years
and yet you pay them your grave
attention and grace
for their worthless weavings
and power and insouciance


away to the elsewhere
the softness of your eyes
and purple darkness behind the moth lids
shift the look slowly right then slowly left
for a moment open
then days and days until
the belly begins its tentative fall
and though the haunts of thought
will stalk you when your blossomy look
finally sights the green
stand stand and breathe across the graze of thorn
know that the most toughened fences of wire bend
that this is coming yours – the field –
the precise centre of the else and un-
greened field
you’ve always felt for

let’s gather at the edge



(c) David Gilbert 2017


If you liked this offering, or even if you didn't, see more of my blogs on the NHS and on mental health; and poetry at


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5 comments on “You Who - an offering on 'resilience'”

  1. Thank you Dave. I'm so grateful for the words you put together so well. They make me feel stronger and commit me to stay the course. Stay strong and keep the bastards honest 🙂

  2. Hits the mark David. I too struggle with resilience as people think I am 'resilient' & say oh you are always look so positive ..... BUT they don't see me when I can't cope, when I'm in extreme physical or mental pain, or both. I am trying to work through a very trying 18 months of physical problems, 1 procedure & 1 operation & unsurprisingly my mental health has taken a dive too.

    Also working with NHS in board & patient roles which is good but tough. So my 'resilience' running on empty & your poem sums it up.

  3. Hard to reply in public - your messages from the edge mean so much to me, though my lot is infinitely easier. Thank you for putting things into words so that I can recognise them in the daylight rather than as lurking shadows. With every best wish and hope, Heather

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