Berquist bears 'the beast' in book of poetry

On his most challenging days, Jeremy Berquist found himself on the peninsula with a pen in hand and a notepad perched on his lap.

As he battled despair and symptoms of his illness, the untamed wilderness of Presque Isle served as the perfect backdrop for the verses he wrote. With choppy waves crashing into jagged rocks and weatherworn foliage providing the inspiration, Jeremy sat and chronicled his own efforts in navigating a turbulent landscape.

“I would find something in nature and would be able to connect that with mental illness,” he said.

What started as a way of coping with psychosis and suicidal thoughts culminated in a recently published book of poetry that recalls the author’s lifelong struggle with schizoaffective disorder.

Jeremy’s account, entitled “Walking with the Beast” is a collection of thoughts, emotions and messages he conveyed using imagery and prose. The symbolic and sometimes cryptic nature of his words made poetry the ideal vehicle.

“Sometimes when I felt overcome with emotion and seemed like I had no other way to express myself than to write,” he said. “The medium seemed to fit so well that I just continued to keep writing.”

Despite completing an entire volume that relied heavily on nature, writing didn’t always come natural to Jeremy. A mathematician by trade, he was trained to solve problems by logically fitting parts together to produce a solution — a considerable ability that netted him a Ph.D. in addition to a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – not the mercurial world of crafting words.

In fact, Jeremy estimates it had been longer than a decade since he had engaged his brain’s right hemisphere by creating poetry as he had done in high school, when he wrote merely as a pastime. A few years later, as a 19-year-old college student, he suffered his first bout of psychosis.

It wasn’t until 2015 – in the days following Jeremy’s most recent episode of psychosis — that he again picked up a pen and pad. This time, however, writing took on a different meaning than it had all those years prior. Suicidal and depressed, he needed an outlet to communicate and a way to find his voice while he took to this familiar endeavor.

“It allowed me to get something off my chest,” he said. “A lot of what I ended up writing I felt I wasn’t able to say in person.”

Some poems in “Walking with the Beast” address matters relating to his illness, including issues such as hitting and cutting, while others make no direct mention of mental illness. With poetry both metaphorical and literal, each piece is significant to Jeremy’s life, he said.

“The stories are symbolic but also directly (about my illness),” he said. “About half are science-based and reflect the medical component of my illness.”

Most of Jeremy’s written works take up less than a page, and many are in sonnet form—a poem consisting of 14 lines – including his favorite piece entitled “Knocking.”

“It really spoke to me because of its concise message,” he says.

When Jeremy speaks about poetry, he does so as though he holds postgraduate degrees on this topic, not another. He cites Robert Frost as a main inspiration due to his brevity and ability to convey messages in a punchy manner.

“It’s difficult to communicate anything in a short space but fun,” he said. “The sound is different and the meter is different but the picture it creates is easier to envision and process.”

The process of publishing also proved to be far simpler than Jeremy initially imagined. He used the website CreateSpace, the self-publishing arm of Amazon, to edit, format and ultimately produce “Walking with the Beast,” a method that yielded a product more impressive than Jeremy had planned on creating.

“I was surprised when I saw the book, how it looked,” he said. “It was something that I had done and it almost didn’t feel like it. It looked like a book that I could’ve bought in a bookstore.”

Jeremy is quick to note that such a creation was the byproduct of his efforts in striving toward wellness and not a goal. That distinction remains reserved for his personal recovery.

However, the idea that another person might benefit on their journey by picking up his work made the hours he spent on Presque Isle a valuable use of Jeremy’s time.

“It’s a very personal story and I didn’t intend to write it for anything else but to cope,” he said. “I would hope that if one person read it and decided that recovery would be a good idea, then it would’ve been worth it.

“That would be a great honor.”

Jeremy’s book is available to purchase on Amazon. To buy a copy, visit https://www.amazon.com/Walking-Beast-Jeremy-Berquist/dp/1542565340.

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