Cecilia Knapp On The Power of Self-Expression

by Lauren Heaver
Cecilia Knapp

“When you stand and share your story in an empowering way, your story will heal you and your story will heal somebody else” Iyanla Vanzant. 

Cecilia Knapp is a writer, performer, poet and facilitator. Having spent the past 4 years performing her incredible pieces of spoken word and headlining some of the UK’s most popular poetry nights, it’s clear to say she’s one of the most exciting talents to rise on the scene – oh and she’s a huge asset to those of us dealing with Mental Health.

If she’s not sharing her works on stages at Bestival, Secret Garden Party and Wilderness and being commissioned by the BBC to showcase her skills, she’s actively channelling her passion to inspire young people to creatively express themselves in a bid evoke positive mental wellbeing. Running workshops in schools across the country, Knapp is a firm believer that creative writing, poetry and performance is paramount to our wellness. Cecilia also works closely with C.A.L.M (The Campaign Against Living Miserably) who’s core aim is to reduce the silence and stigma surrounding suicide and depression – the biggest killer of young men today in the UK. As she continues to encourage the benefits of self-expression, we caught up with her following the success of her recent show ‘Finding Home‘.

Hey Cecilia! Your show just finished a successful run with Camden’s Roundhouse. It was pretty hyped! I find it particularly important how you do not seem fazed by vocalising very well – the experience of mental illness. How do you deal with prejudice and do you you find it to be real?

Yeah, I’ve written a one woman show called ‘Finding Home‘. It’s about a lot of things. It’s about growing up and leaving home and falling in love and finding your place in the world. But predominantly, it’s about the loss of my older Brother to suicide and how a bereavement like that affects a person, and a family. Bereavement, it seems, is an uncomfortable thing to talk about. But suicide, people find that very uncomfortable. It’s clouded in this dark stigma. But this stigma serves to alienate those suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts because it’s such a taboo subject, they can feel as though they can’t seek help. It also alienates those who have been bereaved by suicide because people are very awkward around the subject.

I wanted to make a show that talks candidly about mental health, in this case, the depression my brother experienced, and in this way, normalise it a bit more. I also wanted to talk about what it’s like to lose someone to suicide, and raise the profile of this experience so those bereaved don’t feel so alone. I think creativity can play a huge part in helping people, whether they can use a creative outlet to express themselves, or watch or read something that unifies them with others and makes them feel less isolated. That’s what I wanted from the show, to show the messy, human side of grief that isn’t spoken about enough. I haven’t personally experienced any prejudice in writing and performing the show, I’ve only had positive reactions because I think people think it’s an important piece of work that tries to demystify mental health, suicide and bereavement. But I suppose the piece is a reaction to a world that isn’t vocal enough about mental health and grief.

I have seen your stuff on YouTube, particularly the film entitled ‘Howl 2.0’ which is in itself a really personal dissection of a secondary experience of mental illness.  What is your lyrical process? 

I read a lot, I try and write something most days, just a little observation about how I’m feeling or an experience I’ve had. The things I read and the little notes I make throughout the week tend to build up and I’ll have a big writing session with lots of cups of tea. Then I’ll read new things to my writer friends and get a sense of whether I’m going in the right direction, if it needs an edit or if I like it or not. A lot of the time I fall out of love with a piece after editing, but I’ll be inspired by a line in it and use that to start off another poem. I have a big book of lines and ideas that I flick through when I’m writing. I often write at night and on public transport. Something about the sense of movement helps, I think.

I love that. So who or what are your inspirations…in writing and also the composition and design of your videos? As in, what are your secrets?

I just love stories. I think stories unite us. They help us understand others, they help us see others in ourselves, they transport us and bring us home, they are universal. That’s why storytelling is ancient. So, in terms of my inspiration, it would be incredible storytellers like Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozie Adiche. I love Kate Tempest as well because when I first discovered her, I realised you could write from your guts, authentically for your own voice and I found that to be massively exciting. I love Warsan Shire’s poetry as well, the way she explores what it is to be a woman is breathtaking.

 In terms of my videos, I just want them to be beautiful. I love light and the stories it tells. My good friend Charlie Carr-Gomm does most of my film content, and was in charge of all the visuals for my show ‘Finding Home’. She told a real story with her films which helped to bring the words to life.

Finally, what would you say to an individual experiencing mental health issues today? It is evident in your work, but a beautiful succinct ‘sound bite’ to just help alleviate for people from someone like you, would mean a lot.

Don’t be silent. Talk, create, write it down and feel how getting it out helps beyond measure.

Below:Why you should write‘ at TED Talks Warwick. Cecilia highlights the impact writing down ideas can have on your life. Cecilia says … most importantly, talk about how you’re feeling and share your stories with each other. Opening up like that will only serve to emphasise the links that we all share“.

For more on Cecilia, you can visit her website here. 

For information, support or advice on issues surrounding suicide or depression please see the following:

Survivors of Bereavement By Suicide 

Support After Suicide 

C.A.L.M (Campaign Against Living Miserably)

The Samaritans 

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