The story behind Fighting Normal

There is a way to fallEdmonton author Amy Willans was a university student and elite-level athlete on the Canadian National Precision Skating Team when mental illness forced her to leave the team and quit school at age 22. The next five years of her life was a cycle of hospitals, medications, invasive treatments and the shocking reality of isolation and stigma.

After years of learning to manage her illness, Willans has dedicated her life to fighting stigma, educating the general public around mental illness, and supporting those living with brain illnesses. She recently spoke with Dr. Brian Goldman, host of CBC’s White Coat, Black Art, about her journey and how writing has been part of her path to wellness.

In 2013, Willans and Edmonton artist Laurie MacFayden created the multi-discipline instillation Fighting Normal which combined text fragments and paintings to examine the stigma and trauma of mental illness.

before you are well you must know things

you must know the hollow side of sadness

carved into the cave of your body

you must know hunger in its primal form

where you could eat your fingers and never be full

in a bed

no lovers

i’m covered in purple blankets

that smell of funeral homes

Looking for some sort of god

by amy willans

it’s so dark tonight and the snow sits watching me
how i’m living day to day
how i’m looking for you

10 thousand drums of hope

10 thousand drums of hope (willans)

all i can say is halleluiah
there are fingers
tapping at my window
ten thousand drums of hope

a candle close to the end
of its wick
the last drop of wine
blood on my lips
a chant so beautiful
this must be where you live

and there is a star
ready to fall
a song in the dark
the back
of a bare neck
i search for you
and today i sing:
save me love

maybe i already know you
maybe it’s your voice
that’s so soft
but my hands are cold
and there are ten thousand
virgins all named mary
you are more seductive than you think

and tonight like a song ending
the soft beautiful quiet notes
the warmth of a bed
a bath of soap and sand
it’s so close to winter
and i look for you in windows or the last mirror
in a row of faintly coloured pictures.

i’ve tried
my knees are cold and broken and within my sight
dark purple rings around my eyes
one last look of blue
will you swallow my bruises?

everything seems to be moving in circles
and once i was a child
and once i was alone with a craving to cut myself
then you

you’re at the bottom of all of this
in this universe i can barely move in
and i ask you whoever you are to find me
broken and beheaded in pieces of ash and bottle.

because you save me every morning
and every night when darkness sits below my eyes
you save me with breath and kiss and touch
and you save me with possibility and love
and what would i do without love?

what i am trying to say is
thank you

beforesight (excerpt)

the house that held you

mid-morning yellow kitchen curtains
the taste of soap on your tongue
this is the house that held you
white walls and red geraniums
a door bell that stopped time
this is your mother in blue scouring the sink
holding a spatula screaming
then promises of peace
the orange brown carpet
vacuumed into perfect lines
out the window grass and a tree
you’re not allowed to climb

(c) amy willans