by Diane McMahon
Photography by Christian Lee
Wendye Savage’s dad put an “e” on the end of her name because he wanted her to be special. She is. Wendye has a gift, which became apparent when she won her first poetry contest at her elementary school. She was a fifth-grader. “I don’t remember the poem exactly, but I know I wrote about slavery,” she recalled. “I’m not sure how I even knew what poetry was, but the words just seemed to flow out of me. And then I kept winning contests at my church.”
Wendye maintained her love for words, but after high school a grown-up life intervened with different demands. She joined the military and married while stationed in Germany. The couple had five children and the family came to live in South Carolina. Her marriage was troubled and emotionally abusive, but Wendye felt she had few options. Her husband kept her isolated from friends and family. He controlled the finances. She was a stay at home mom who didn’t drive and had no access to transportation. On several occasions, Wendye tried to leave. But her mother—who had relocated to South Carolina when she divorced Wendye’s father—was unwilling to help her. She was forced to return to the marriage.
Wendye became deeply depressed. Ultimately, things were so desperate Wendye sought help at a mental health clinic. She was taken to Charleston, where she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression, and hospitalized for three months. Her mother had no choice but to take the children.
But ultimately, this is not a tragic tale. It is a story about the power of poetry. It is the story of how a woman used her gift with words to lead herself out of mental illness and into a life of purpose.
When Wendye first entered the hospital, she was delusional and lost to herself. Over time, as the medication and hospital staff worked to stabilize her, the only thing that felt real to her was writing. Wendye had felt repressed and silenced for so long, she intuitively knew she had to get her story out—in words—in order to heal. People responded to her beautiful way of expressing herself. Slowly, this connection brought her out of the mental isolation that mirrored her physical isolation. She felt a connection with people who listened to her story and were encouraged to tell theirs.
Writing became her lifeline. She got a job with the Jasper County Sun Times writing a weekly column, usually in the form of a poem. At first, she wondered if talking about her struggles and depression was too personal. But immediately she received feedback that readers were amazed how she was able to describe exactly what they felt. “Their feedback encouraged me to become completely transparent. It was the truest way I could relate to people.”
During the years she wrote for the Jasper County newspaper, Wendye developed a loyal following. She was frequently asked to write poems for peoples’ special occasions—birthdays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries and obituaries. Her well of words never runs dry. She has recently turned her talent to an on-line business providing original poems for the important events in people’s lives. The website is: www.thepoeticflow.com. She said, “I sit in prayer for a while and usually get the title. Then the lines just flow. It takes 10 minutes unless I’m struggling; then it might take 20 minutes.” That’s not just a gift. That’s practically magic.
Wendye has also published two books: One Sweet Day and After the Rain, both available at Amazon. Her future goal is to provide a wellness center for women in Jasper County. Her personal experience taught her how isolated and lonely women in rural areas can become. She wants to create a place where women can come and feel empowered and connected to others. Her vision is to offer things like classes in self-esteem, exercise classes and cooking classes. “I’d like to provide the things that might prevent other women from feeling so desperate and depressed.”
Wendye believes you become victorious over hardship by finding ways to help others. Her struggles have made her a perceptive and compassionate humanitarian. When asked what she would want to say to other women, she replied, “The valley is never permanent. Even in the deepest hole there is always hope.” And for Wendye there is the ability to express and share that hope in poetry.
All Done in His Name
Like the turning colors of the leaves
I accept my seasons;
Knowing God, gave me joy, despair
All for His perfect reasons.
And just like the sun will shine
It must surely set;
Rainbows in the sky
Help me not to forget
That storms will often rise
But if I place my faith in Thee;
My seasons, the sun’s shining and setting
It’s all part of His harmony.
So, I embrace my joy with gladness
And know tears are not in vain;
Like the turning colors of the leaves
It’s all done in His name.
- Wendye Savage