Cantabrian Debbie May is very familiar with new beginnings.

Not only did she live through the 2011 earthquakes, she’s experienced crippling anxiety and depression for most of her life and, more recently, grief after the loss of her sister.

Yet every time life tosses her challenges and tragedies, Debbie finds ways to grow and survive.

Debbie’s struggles with her mental health prevents her from working fulltime, but this didn’t hold her back from accepting a volunteer role on the Quiet Minds radio show at Plains FM.

Debbie thought she was just getting a background job, but ended up being the show’s producer. Since then she’s also taken on the hosting role, interviewing guests – challenging because she didn’t want to talk on the radio at all – and flown to Sky City Auckland to receive an award alongside famous radio hosts like Marcus Lush.

Writing as a way of connecting to your thoughts

Writing is another way Debbie copes when times are hard. It began as a way of getting through sleepless nights and became a way for her to make sense of her world.

“I write about things that are going on with me,” she says. “My writing reflects what goes on in my life at certain time and it helps me to sort it out in my head.

“But I’m not disciplined. I can’t just sit down and write. I need to have the angst and inspiration.”

After taking a series of Mad Poets Society workshops at Awareness, she branched out from prose into poetry.

Take an old hobby and try something new

This year, she has been building her confidence to read her poetry aloud. In the deliciously named Honeypot Café, Debbie stood in front of friends and strangers and shared her thoughts.

“I didn’t go along with any great expectations and I was very nervous, but the acceptance and the response was great,” she says.

”What I like about the Mad Poets open mic nights is the very welcoming environment. There is no pressure, the experience is supportive and non-threatening.”

Debbie firmly believes anyone can be creative and we all do it already in different ways – whether it is painting, poetry, gardening or baking.

“The most important thing is to value what you do and find something that really works for you as an individual,” she says.

From prose to poetry to performance – Debbie knows how to embrace new opportunities to grow.

Ode to All Who Know Despair by Debbie May

If I could leave a gift
Just one gift I would give to you
I would give you a smile on a darkened day
I would glance with knowing
I would whisper in the breath “I care”
I would see your soul and accept you there
I would hear your unspoken cries
I would listen in reverence for all you are
I would love you just as you are.