How “Bi-Polar Poet” Paul Butterfield Jnr Found Creativity In Mental Illness

Can there be light after the darkness of mental illness? Paul Butterfield Jnr believes so. Meet “The Bi-Polar Poet”, a 27 year old writer, performer and filmmaker from Limavady, Co. Derry/Londonderry.

thumbnail_paul-2Paul’s short film “Mentally Ill World, Find Your Soul” hears him recite one of his own original poems to a backdrop of music and personal footage.

“I always wanted to write from a young age, as far back as primary school.” Paul said. “When I did write stories at primary and secondary school I was a very erratic writer and took the criticism badly, so my dreams were kind of shattered. After training in the martial arts around 17 years old I finally puck up a pen again and wrote two articles for a martial arts magazine that got published within a year.”

After spending a couple of years writing about martial arts training and self-development, Paul realised he wanted to explore more creative writing as well as filmmaking. But shortly after joining a writing group and starting a film making course, his mental health rapidly declined.

He said: “By the end of the year, I had a nervous breakdown. When I came out of the hospital after a few days I decided I never was going back in there.”

It was then that Paul rediscovered his passion for poetry: “Even though I had skateboarded for years and trained in the martial arts, one thing that really came to me very naturally was poetry. My poetry came from the memoirs I had been writing over those couple of years and it all stemmed from there…I have never looked back.” he said.

Paul’s mental health problems began to surface from a young age, although this all came to a head in his late teens.

thumbnail_paul-1He said: “I think I knew there was always something a bit different about me from when I was 10 years old and I first thought about the existence of life and the meaning behind it all.

“I knew this wasn’t normal, but really the cruncher for me was at 17. I was supposed to get up for a training session but I pretended I was asleep when my father came in. I was totally exhausted but I remember my first suicidal thought came into my head and I didn’t know why. I was a very fit and strong young man and it really made me question my life.”

Despite being admitted to a psychiatric hospital soon after, Paul used the experience to change his life for the better.

“When I went into the mental health hospital and saw how bad these other people were compared to me, I really vowed I would never go back. The mental illness had affected me deeply in a bad way from when I was 19 until at least 24.

“I just wanted to be a free spirit and I even stopped taken my medication numerous times. But now I see my mental illness as a gift. Having the writing as a way of venting it out is an absolute miraculous beauty in my life. I actually met a guy in Cork who said “You must write all your stuff when you come off acid”. I saw this as a compliment.” he said.

The inspiration behind Paul’s short film “Mentally Ill World, Find Your Soul” was a poem he was writing for one of his mentors who lives in America.

Paul said: “He told me of all the devastation that was happening in America at the time and how people were suffering from mental illnesses. I just wanted to say “Wake up!”, realise that this is not a bad thing that you have. It is something beautiful if you can find a way to vent it out in a loving and creative manner.”

Above all, Paul hopes that people will be able to relate when they read, watch and listen to his work. At 24 he committed himself to writing and over the course of a year created a film, a documentary and an album before going on to do live performances of his work.

thumbnail_paul-3He said: “In that year I traveled all around the north doing as many open mic nights as possible. I even got to do Stendhal and was a guest poet in Letterkenny. I won a pamphlet competition were I got my book published (The Addicted Jesus) and also made a new film.

“After that I decided to take my performances on tour through Ireland and the UK. I was in Derry, Belfast, Limavady, Dublin, Cork and London. I also made an album with a musician where he turned 4 of my poems into songs and he put a backing track on me doing some spoken word.”

Through his evocative writing Paul has been able to express his illness in a positive light to a generation that desperately needs to be more open about mental health problems.

He said: “If people haven’t been where you have been then more than likely they won’t understand it. The work will speak for itself, if it is good enough.

“During my last epiphany I realised I had to stop trying to be something and just enjoy the ride. The journey and love for what you do – that’s the most important part, as well as reaching as many people as possible that need it the most, for it may just save a life.”

thumbnail_pic-for-eventTaking control of your mental health and channeling it in way that serves you positively is the message at the core of Paul’s work: “I suffer with a mental illness and I have been through some shit. I know it takes time but you’ll get there. Be patient, because I know I wasn’t.

“If you are suffering from a mental illness, find something that is truly, truly you and let it be your guide into a life of love. When you do find that thing? You will realise it is a gift and others will see your genius.”

Paul is set to release a new album and plans to head to New York to perform in the future.

He said: “I will leave you with this, a little poem I believe sums up my entire existence:

Death is a blank space,
That I’ll never be able to deal with??
Happiness is only a temporary solution,
Life is the only way out!!”

Check out “Mentally Ill World, Find Your Soul” and see more of Paul’s work at

About the Author

Abby Williams
Belfast based author/writer specialising in entertainment, mental health and human interest.