The Madness Vase: What Slam Poetry can Teach us about Mental Illness

Andrea Gibson is an accomplished and inspirational slam poet. Like so many of her collection, Gibson’s poem "The Madness Vase" addresses some very complex emotions in a raw and enlightening way. In this particular poem, she addresses her battle with mental illness and the way it feels and is perceived by those around her. 

After identifying all the outlets of people who tried to tell her what to do with it, one line in particular really stands out.

"The trauma said, 'Don’t write this poem.

Nobody wants to hear you cry about the grief inside your bones.’ “


When trauma plays a role in one’s life it can so quickly become the focus, latching on to one’s emotions and thoughts and worries and behaviors. Gibson describes her struggle against that internal pain and identities with the “rock bottom” it brought her to. She addresses the physical manifestations of self harm and attempted suicide, of the lethargic affects of depression and the fact that “tomorrow has come and gone and it has not gotten better.” 

One thing that Gibson sheds light on is the fact that “you are not alone” and “you are not weak.” Stigma boxes mental illness into a seemingly lonely confinement, when in fact it is extremely prevalent. 

Gibson demonstrates the lack of awareness there is of the reality of mental illness in her line “some people will never understand the kind of superpower it takes for some people to just walk outside some days.”

The fact of the matter is that most times, mental illness isn’t as obviously seen on the outside as physical illnesses can be. The suffering isn’t as clear, as understood, and unfortunately this lack of awareness encourages stigma.

Not only is it important to fight that stigma, but it is also important to know how to talk to those around us who do suffer from the pains similar to those described in this poem. It may initially feel natural to offer immediate advice, to tell them it’ll get better and that everything will be okay, but that isn’t always the most sensitive option. Gibson puts it beautifully in the following stanza:

"So the next time I tell you how easily I come out of my skin

don’t try to put me back in.

Just say, “Here we are” together at the window

aching for it to all get better

but knowing there is a chance

our hearts may have only just skinned their knees,

knowing there is a chance the worst day might still be coming”

The most important thing you can do for someone with this pain is to be there for them. Listen to what they share with you. Instead of trying to fix it, learn more about it. Healthy support is so important, and for that reason, Forward Counseling strives to foster that environment for its clients. 


For a written copy of the full poem, “The Madness Vase” :


For more from Andrea Gibson :