Poetry Saved My Life
This story or article, or whatever you’d call it has been sitting in my drafts for months now. I’ve struggled to hit “publish,” because if I did, I would be openly admitting to the world that I have been battling depression for a while now.
Although it is being challenged, the world has still not quite reconciled the fact that masculinity and struggles with mental and emotional health can co-exist. But that is an article for another time. In spite of the attitudes about mental health and the judgment I may possibly receive in writing this, I’ve decided to hit “publish.”
I have struggled with depression since I was 8-years-old. For almost 25 years, I simply accepted it as a fact of daily life — a knife thrust through my heart and a demon in my mind, destined to be my companions to the grave. I was often filled with thoughts of suicide.
About a year and a half ago, a series of events caused me to do some deep personal reflection. I realized I hadn’t become the husband, father, or man I knew I wanted to be. I felt worthless. I had fallen short in so many areas.
Something needed to change.
I began making adjustments in my life, in the way I treated others, and in the way I treated myself. Things were improving. Yet so often these little monuments of improvements would be crushed by the unforgiving waves of depression.
One step forward, two steps back.
I desperately wanted lasting improvement. I wanted an improved quality of life. I needed to address this head-on. I needed to face the constant battle that existed in me and stop sweeping it under the “I’ll do better next time” rug.
Searching for ways to understand myself
With this new found clarity and resolve, I began on my mission of trying to find ways to better understand myself, my emotions, and my depression.
The journey led me to a deeper and more committed meditation practice, to speak with a therapist for the first time in my life, and to establish the habit of performing what I call periodic mental scans of my physical and emotional well-being (something I would do several times a day).
The journey also led me to poetry.
Throughout middle school, high school, and college, I had always enjoyed the poetry units we covered in English and Writing classes. I loved the creative and self-expressive process associated with the medium. However, as much as I enjoyed it, I never viewed it as anything beyond a part of school that I was required to do at a given time. That all changed after a particularly hard experience.
Not knowing where to go, or how to even understand the storm swirling around inside me, I opened up my laptop and started writing. This is what came out:
When I was done writing, I felt a little better, and more importantly, I actually understood myself a little more, something I hadn’t felt in years!
The next time I slipped into a depressive spell, I wrote this:
Again, writing poetry helped me breathe a little easier. It didn’t cure me, nor did I expect it to, but finding a way to creatively express what I was going through helped me take some vital steps in healing from trauma and depression.
I continued to write. Every poem (I didn’t publish all of them on Medium) freed me a little, every poem seemed to add a little more color into the dark world I had existed in.
Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge that depression is a complex and extremely individual experience. For some, it can be overcome. For others, it will be a lifelong struggle. It is usually not just one thing, like poetry, that helps. It’s a combination of nutrition, exercise, therapy, medication, creativity, and a host of other things. However, for me, writing poetry has become one of these key elements.
Here are three ways writing poetry has helped me:
Poetry helped me acknowledge what was going on inside of me
So often, I felt like there was a ball of pain in my chest welling up, ready to pop at any moment. It hurt so bad, but I didn’t know why. I struggled to understand it. Well, the truth is, I don’t think I ever tried. Rather than understanding it, my bigger concern was to push it away or bury it so I could just get through another day.
When I started spilling what was inside out through my fingers onto paper, the pressure started to subside. Feelings flowed into words and those words helped me understand.
I imagined the pain I felt to be like a ball of several pieces of tightly coiled string. As I started to write, it would be like pulling on the end of one of the threads and unwinding the ball just a little. I could understand what that one piece meant and why it was causing me pain.
I would write more so I could pull on the ends of other threads and I would understand more. Before I knew it, the pain that I thought was going to explode lay in front of me, and I could see each piece for what it was.
Poetry helped me clear my mind
As I deconstructed my depression and pain through writing poetry, it began to clear a mind that was once choked by darkness and confusion. Although the words on the paper may have felt dark, the byproduct was light in my mind.
The more I wrote, the freer I felt. The mental chains that once felt like they could never be loosened were replaced by thoughts of creativity and hope.
Those chains aren’t gone forever, so I continue to write. With creativity as my sword and hope as my shield, I continue to fight them off and clear the way for better things.
Poetry gave me a healthy creative outlet
Studies have found that writing and creativity help individuals manage negative emotions in a healthy way. Along with many others, creativity has helped me express my emotions and talk about trauma that I found too difficult to verbalize.
“When we are involved in creativity, we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.” — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
I am not going to pretend that depression isn’t something that I battle everyday, because it is. But I am stronger and in an infinitely better place than I have ever been in. Poetry has quite literally saved my life and maybe it can help you too.
If you are suffering and are having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800–273–8255.
Originally posted on The Writing Cooperative.