I sat down with up and coming poet Megan Turner, better known by her pen name PW Gates, to discuss her work, the stigmas of autism, mental health and bisexuality, and pasta.
It was a grey and cloudy October morning when I met with Megan Turner for a coffee and a chat in a little coffee shop on the Isle of Wight. She arrived looking the epitome of autumnal cosiness, wearing an oversized jumper and boots, and her energy and humour were infectious from the moment she entered the room.
We settled ourselves at a table at the back of the shop and began chatting about everything that makes this amazing and inspirational poet the person she is today.
“I was born sixteen weeks premature and weighed 1lb 6oz – I was given a 50/50 chance of survival. So basically now it’s just drawing on that and making my life the best I can make it.” Megan says of her outlook on life.
Her mother is a cancer survivor (“One of the strongest women I know” says Megan, showing me photos from her mother’s recovery), and it was around the time of her mother’s illness that Megan developed depression and anorexia, something that she is extremely open about and is now recovering from.
“Mine started when my mum got ill, and it was like a form of control. I couldn’t control my mum being ill so I felt like I needed to control something else – and what I could control was what I ate. That control still lingers and I’ve relapsed before. It’s not easy. People think recovery is eating three meals a day. It’s not. It’s training your brain.”
She makes a point to emphasize the word brain.
“As someone who had anorexia but never lost weight from it, it needs to be shown that’s it’s a mental illness, not a physical one. Anorexia isn’t just ‘being thin’.” she adds.
We are discussing the glamorization of mental illness within the media, especially in television shows and films aimed at teens.
“Look at shows like 13 Reasons Why!” she says. “I watched one episode and I nearly threw my new macbook out of the window! It was upsetting.”
Our conversation turns to the media and its reluctance to portray a healthy recovery. I ask her what her recovery was like. She ponders for a brief moment and speaks thoughtfully.
“I went to the doctor and I said ‘’I need help” and when you say those words the floodgates open, and it’s just relief. I was referred and then had a call with the crisis team and had an appointment within a month. I finished in June – I had 18 months. I’ve had a couple of relapses. I am a better person 18 months later because of therapy and I believe that there is a therapy for everybody.”
Megan’s experiences have impacted her poetry, she tells me. Her experiences with heartbreak, her sexuality, and the stigma she faces in her everyday life. Megan is autistic, and has experienced that stigma and stereotyping first hand.
“When I was assessed it didn’t sink in. I remember when I was diagnosed it still didn’t sink in. I took it rather badly. I didn’t want to be autistic. I didn’t want to be stigmatized. I wanted to go out and smoke a cigarette. I wanted to go and get drunk – everything reckless. And then the stigma hits you like a ton of bricks. The amount of people, you don’t realize it, the amount of people who will sit there and say to you ‘’you don’t look autistic’’. How am I meant to ‘look autistic’? When I went to college I was asked if autism was my mental health condition. Like sure, let me get my anti-autism medication! I was watching a documentary, and one question that came up was ‘would you cure it?’ and I sat there and I got so upset, because how can you want to cure something that’s part of you.”
It’s a powerful statement. She elaborates further, discussing the things that benefit her as an autistic person that other people don’t particularly see as ‘normal.
“I have a tiny fluffy bunny rabbit.” She explains. “She’s called Lucy and I bought her last year as an anxiety bunny and she used to come with me everywhere. If ever I feel really anxious and I know it’s going to be a bad day I take Lucy. When I was at work, I walked around with her in the top of my jumper. She was under my chin and it’s just about that relaxing thing of having something soft against your skin to calm you down. People don’t see that as normal. The headphones is another one – people don’t see it as normal. I have an autism card that I show when I don’t want people sitting next to me on trains or buses. I say ‘’I’m really sorry, but I have autism, please don’t sit next to me.’’ People don’t think that’s normal – they don’t understand autism. And that’s what’s difficult: finding that understanding. We need a lot more understanding. I know stigma is always going to be there but if people had a better understanding of the spectrum it would be so much easier for people like me to walk around in life. And my view on autism in society is it’s horrible. I saw in the news recently where a nineteen-year-old boy was hospitalized and died because he was given antipsychotic drugs to ‘cope’. It was horrible.”
She begins to choke up a little bit. This is very clearly a topic that the poet cares deeply about. She takes a deep breath and continues.
“It’s heartbreaking because I think that, as somebody who is autistic and isn’t physically impaired by it, it hits home that it could be worse. It hits home that I’ve got the easier end.”
The topic turns to back to Megan’s poems about the subject. Writing poetry is therapeutic she says. She explains that she always loved books and reading when she was a child, but it was upon discovering Slyvia Plath’s work during her GCSE English course that Megan truly fell in love with poetry. Besides Sylvia Plath, Megan cites the likes of Rupi Kaur, Sabrina Benaim, and John Keats as her literary inspiration.
Of the poems she’s written, she talks of a few that have a true meaning to her.
“I wrote a poem called ‘It’s not a phase’ about bisexuality. I like men, I like women. There’s a stigma: that people think it’s a phase. Erasure of bisexuality by both the LGBT community and others is also a huge issue. When I attempted suicide two years ago, I wrote a poem called ‘Dear Dan Stevens’, and I honour and credit that man with saving my life. I’d love to thank him some day.”
The poem closest to her heart though is a poem about her inspiration.
“I wrote a poem called “Sylvia”. It’s a love letter to Sylvia Plath and I wrote it last year. It took me six months to finish it. I was just so happy with it. Sylvia has a place in my heart.”
Megan regularly publishes her poetry online under the pen name PW Gates. The name comes from the initials of her maternal great grandparents and her paternal grandmother’s maiden name – a touching tribute to relatives that Megan tells me she would have loved to have been around. PW has taken on a life of her own it seems, as Megan explains:
“I created PW Gates so that I can distinguish between the two. Megan is recovering from every trauma and she’s anxious. PW Gates is bolshy. She’s strong. She just doesn’t care and she’s very much herself. Being PW Gates is freeing.”
The poet also performs her work live regularly across the island. It’s an experience like no other, she tells me.
“It’s liberating – it’s also terrifying, but it’s liberating. Beforehand, the anxiety’s really high. But you get on that stage and it all changes. I walk out on that stage as PW Gates and leave Megan behind. The first time I ever read my poetry in public was in 2017 at a Waterstones event. It was like somebody had put me in a bath of cold water! I just did it. I’ve just been doing it ever since.”
Megan’s poetry is bold and unapologetic, as is Megan herself. It gives her a personality that is pure electricity. Being a strong woman is in her veins.
“I was brought up by strong women. I have strong women in my family. They’re strong because they had to be. They’ve all had problems. My mother is very strong – she’s had cancer. I consider myself a strong woman. I believe in gender equality, I believe in the principles of feminism, but I feel as though sometimes modern feminism has become a bit twisted. It’s frightening how much women apologize for just existing. I’m very much a woman’s woman in the sense of support. I feel that so often women are too involved with putting each other down. ‘You’re not this enough. You’re not that enough’. Stop. Take a step back. What happened to sisterhood and womanhood? It’s about looking out for each other.”
Megan hands me a copy of her poetry book to flick through. One poem stands out straight away: ‘Sunflowers and Roses’. It’s beautiful and guttural. I ask her to explain it to me.
“It’s about my first fling with a girl. She broke my heart. I was very happy and bubbly when I met her and afterwards I had trust issues. And that can be seen in the poem: Sunflowers are very bight very happy. Roses are quite intense. The last stanza is kind of like a rebirth really. They’re reborn as this intense rose and drawing on that.”
One last (super serious) question before we both go our separate ways in the October rain: what’s your favourite comfort food?
“Pasta with butter. It’s my ultimate comfort food.” She answers. A girl after my own heart.
Megan has kindly allowed me to share the poem here for you to read. If you would like to see more of her work, head over to her blog HERE.