Please share a bit about you and your literary background.
My family was a regular South American working class family. They tried everything to give me the things that they couldn’t have, like better education. I really connected with reading specifically. I knew how to read before going to preschool and I wasn’t a very social kid. I was surrounded by adults in my family until I was 17 years old, so it was quite a long lonely time. I just found a lot of comfort and company in reading and I was really encouraged to read by my Grandfather. I used to spend my primary school breaks in the library. As I grew older, I got more and more interested in reading but you’re not really taken that seriously when you’re around 12 or 13. Teachers would just give us teenage literature and I couldn't find my path.
I changed schools for secondary school and the game changed. I met a teacher who was really important in my life. Our first assignment was to write a journal and he was the first person to ever say I had talent. I told him I was really into reading and asked him to recommend something because I wasn’t getting a lot of help in the libraries. We formed a really great relationship as mentor and student.
He started recommending books from European authors, South American authors, dead authors, live authors. Then I felt confident enough to show him what I was writing. I started writing poetry when I was around 14 years old and he was the only person who had ever read my work. Then he was sadly let go by the school, but we kept in contact and I still have contact with him today. He really helped me to get into college where I studied Literature. He really encouraged me to follow my dreams.
I started University already knowing what I liked in literature but then my whole world opened up. The first thing I fell in love with was Greek mythology, Greek literature, Ancient Greece - all of that I just really loved. Then I went through the Europe rabbit hole. I had the Latin American classes but I never really connected with them, I don’t know why. I don’t reject it, it’s my culture but I just connected so strongly with European authors. My professor there was amazing and so passionate that I got the passion myself, it’s contagious.
I was writing during this time and I got more confident writing literary critics and essays, so poetry was left behind a bit during that time. I was absolutely loving my studies. However, South America is a very different place and there are a lot of strikes in University. The students strike so often because the social and economic situation is not very good. So you stop studying for several months and you never know when you’re going back, it’s really stressful. I loved my studies so much so I got a lot of anxiety from the strikes. I was so anxious I couldn’t even study on my own. I used to talk with my professors privately but it got to the point where I couldn’t bear it anymore.
Coming up to 2020, it was my second year and then the pandemic started. The academic year is different in Chile, you start in March and finish in December. So right at the beginning of the year we had the pandemic. I tried to cope but I had not had classes for a while because we had a revolution in Chile in 2019. I was really disappointed with the education system. My professors were amazing and I will alway be thankful for them, but the system is not serious enough for the amount of love I have for literature.
I was struggling with my mental health at the same time. I have struggled with my mental health before University, but I started getting really ill. I was at my lowest point of Anorexia and it affects your entire body. These two reasons, my health and my disappointment in school, meant I had to drop out of University. Even in that terrible time, when I felt that nobody understood what I was going through, I found comfort in authors and in poetry and in literature. That’s the only thing that made me feel less alone.
Thank you so much for sharing! Now you’re here in the UK, can you tell me a bit about that transition?
It was the end of 2020, I was about to turn 20 years old. I was still at a really low point and I just couldn't find any purpose. The only thing I knew I loved was literature and I knew I connected with European literature. So I booked an English course in London. The course was more of an excuse to enter the UK because it’s quite difficult from South America. I’m thought I'm going to try and make it as a writer in England as it’s more appreciated over here.
My favourite author is Virgina Wolf who is English so I thought I'd go to where she lived. I felt so understood by her and really connected with her. When I read her stories and her biography I thought I have to go there. Just a couple of weeks before leaving, I had an epiphany. It was really drastic, from being in the dark, deep bottom to suddenly wanting to recover. I think the only reason that my recovery didn’t fail is because I came here. I really found more purpose in the UK. My time here is almost over but I’m eternally grateful because London is a magical city. I’m a lot happier here with life right now. I have Croatian citizenship as my Grandmother was Croatian, so I’m going there after I leave London and then I don’t know.
It’s weird because besides Anorexia I also struggle with OCD, with a strong fear of uncertainty. I just couldn't let go of any kind of control and I used to have everything organised and planned out. Now I’m just more excited than worried about it. Sometimes I still get that little anxious stomach ache but I think I’ve had the most amazing time of my life here and I’m trying not to ruin it by overthinking.
Can you share a bit about how your poetry is informed by mental health?
I started writing poetry when I was 14. I started struggling with Anorexia at the age of 12. I had a really tough time in primary school with bullying which made me a real introvert. That was the first thing that made me go into writing. It was actually a need. I literally remember spending a weekend with my Grandparents, being in my room there and thinking ‘I think I have to write something, I don’t know what but I have to write something otherwise I won’t sleep.’ I just picked up my phone and wrote something in my Notes app and then it was just non-stop. I started buying notebooks and writing by hand, trying regular poetry, by verse and metric until I was older and realised I felt more comfortable with prose poetry.
I wouldn't write that much about my mental health in the beginning. It was more like first love poems and I was just exploring. As I grew older, I felt like the voices and things in my head needed to be somewhere because I couldn’t deal with them on my own. So there was writing. I had this feeling that even though it was something terrible, I could make it sound beautiful.
At my lowest points, I would just write all the time. I still do sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with an idea and I have to write it otherwise I can’t go back to sleep. My first book is really focused on my struggle with mental health issues. Some of my poems are more explicit but they are mostly internal struggles. I never touch on topics such as the war or politics, which is really common in South America. Most writers are known because they care about the people, the economy and social issues. My work is more personal and looks inwards because for me, it’s just a need. Maybe no one was going to understand me but at least I could let it out.
Please talk through some of your poems with us - perhaps outlining your process and meaning behind the work.
I’m going to start with ‘Mass Grave’, which I wrote between 2019 and 2020. I started writing without the intention of making a book out of it. I would write daily, especially during the pandemic because it was just me and my thoughts. At the end of 2020, I thought I’d have a look at what I’d written so far and thought it could be a whole book. Then I thought I would share it, not because I wanted to be a famous writer but because if it just reaches one person who feels really alone or who is struggling and it makes them feel that they are understood by someone, then my job is done. That’s what I felt with other authors so why not try to do the same and make someone else feel like they have company.
It didn’t work out that well though. I printed it in Spanish back in Chile, I shared it, I sold copies which made me a bit of money to come here. However, after my family and friends read it, they shut me out. Maybe they didn’t know how to react to such honesty but it wasn’t the response I was waiting for. They never really mentioned the book again. Now I’ve been going to these poetry readings, having to go back to that terrible period is quite difficult.
I want to get everything out and have nothing. I want to get everyone out and have no one.
I want to get everything out, to not have anything. Let everything be white, monochromatic, uniform. Scented but not aromatic. Silent or with music, but with no voices.
I want to get everything out and have nothing. I need to see emptiness, even if it's for a few minutes. I would give anything for those moments of calm and pleasure.
I want to remove everything and everyone, and to have nothing nor anyone, and to be nothing nor anybody. Let emptiness reign and take me with it.
This poem touches upon my experience with OCD. There’s this stigma around OCD where people think it’s just about germs and being clean. The fact that there is this stigma around OCD delayed my diagnosis. I knew I was struggling with something but I didn’t know what it was. For me, I was so hypersensitive to everything that affected my 5 senses. I still am, not to the same degree but it’s just part of who I am. I talk about that in this poem. Everything bothered me - colours, smells, voices, sounds. South America is a very loud place. People are loud, the city is loud, people dress in bright colours, you can’t escape it.
I hold on to the stinging company of the black hole that replaces my stomach. It burns me because of how deep it is. Yet I always want it to burn a little more.
To feed it you just have to let it starve; it grows thanks to the
In the mornings its darkness overflows. Darkness comes up to my mouth; it tastes bitter. When I stand up the darkness completely clouds my vision and threatens to put me on the ground. But I do not fall.
A voice congratulates me. It congratulates me because the only thing that grows is that black hole, while I keep getting smaller and smaller.
This one is literally about waking up in an unhealthy body that you are sabotaging all the time. The black hole is a real thing and it’s really addictive. There was literally a black hole in my stomach because I wouldn’t eat for days. Every time I woke up in the morning my vision would go black. I would have to put my hands on the wall so I wouldn't fall. Somehow it felt like a prize because there’s that voice telling you that you’re doing great and to keep going. It’s really confusing, it’s like the body fighting the mind.
The moments of chaos with the moments of plenitude alternate without any pattern, jumping from one to the other as if it was a game.
And they confuse me; they make me doubt.
Consumed by chaos I am one; absorbing the peace I am another. And I don ́t know which one of them I really am.
It scares me to think that there is a woman trapped between those two forces.
It terrifies me to imagine that she will never be able to get out of there.
I’m really proud of this one. I added it after the book was finished because I wanted it to be the bridge to the next stage in my life. I was feeling trapped in a place where I wanted to recover but I didn’t know if I wanted to take that step because I could lose myself. There was a struggle of voices in my head all the time. I would wake up feeling optimistic but I would be a completely different person at the end of the day. I would think who am I really? Am I the person who woke up or the person going to sleep? Am I the person who is on lots of medication or the person without medication?
At the beginning, I wanted to give everything up for my illness; it’s like Stockholm Syndrome. I had kidney failure before writing this poem and I think that’s when I really hit rock bottom. I thought this is enough and I started thinking about recovery for the first time.
Now things have changed. I had to really rethink my writing because I’m not in that place anymore. At one point I was really scared because I was getting better and thought I would lose my creativity. But I’m going through a new creative process and writing about recovery - the ups and downs because it’s not just flowers and sunshine. Now I’m trying to discover myself as a writer who’s not in the lowest point of their life. I was one of those people who really defined themselves by their illness, so it’s a self-discovery process with my work and personality.
It’s going better than I thought. The fact that I’m in a new country and meeting new people gave me the opportunity to introduce myself not as my illness. I had to think about what I wanted to share with these people and what things I want them to know about me. It’s not like I will never talk about my illness again because I want it to be something that is spoken about more openly, but it’s not my tag anymore. The people I connect with now are really different to the people I connected with when I was ill, everything is really different.
Thank you so much for sharing with us and being so honest about your work and experiences. What’s next for you?
I’m working on my third book at the moment. It’s more about recovery and it’s a lot more optimistic and about rediscovering life. Discovering the smallest things like having tea with sugar, being able to walk without fading. It’s a bit cheesy from what I’m used to but I think it’ll be nice to share it. I will be printing my books soon and I’m working with an artist for the cover of 'Mass Grave'. It’s really personalised so I’m going to be distributing it.
To finish, I would just like to say: listen to the people around you, they may just need someone to listen and to give them a hug and not judge them. You never know what someone is going through so just try to be kind.
I would like to thank to everyone who never gave up on me when I just wanted to give up on myself. And to everyone who made their job to keep me alive when I couldn't: Mum, Dad, Noe, Papi Ly, Nino, Pao, Dante. I am here today thanks to you. I promise I'll never waste my life again.
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