Poetry for Relief: Dealing with Anxiety/Depression

Last year I spent months workshopping a poem about my anxiety, in preparation for the College Slam of Louder Than A Bomb (LTAB).  I’d never talked about my anxiety before then and even then I didn’t call it a disorder… just that I have trouble breathing sometimes. The psych major on our slam team told me it was and I told her maybe.

After I read my poem at LTAB a fellow poet approached me and said “hey, I can really relate to that; I’ve been feeling that way a lot lately. Can you please send me a copy of that poem.”

Today, I woke up after a depressive episode and I was still depressed and the following words were on repeat in my head:

With what I most enjoy contented least
Shakespeare, Sonnet #29

There was a comfort in that: someone else articulating exactly how I felt. It’s why that poet asked me for a copy and it’s why I woke up with Shakespeare in my head.

I woke up today feeling drained… paralyzed… like I wasn’t myself and couldn’t imagine getting back to who I was. I thought about what I most enjoy (being with friends, watching tv, exercising, drinking, eating) and all of it seemed like work.spirits10-801

I wish I could tell all of you I am writing this from a place of content and mental health but I’ve haven’t gotten there yet.

Truth is, I only feel like an off-brand version of myself today: an almost self, but the difference is noticeable.

This, too, is progress.

Truth is, the first thing that got me outside was my need to print Dejection: An Ode by Samuel Coleridge:

A grief without a pang, void, dark, and drear,
A stifled, drowsy, unimpassioned grief,
Which finds no natural outlet, no relief,
In word, or sigh, or tear—

Quick fixes for feelings do not exist, you just have to ride it out. But poetry has always been great company.

It will sit with you in tragedy

and rise with you in catharsis.

I still haven’t gotten my disorder validated by a professional but I’m a poet and I know that some truths trump fact. And more importantly, I know that–for me at least–overcoming mental illness is in “the doing.” It’s making subpar sketches, writing mediocre poetry, and going for a run (no matter how short/sloppy). It’s being around friends, listening to morose music, and being my idiotic self.

I know this sounds like I’m advocating a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mindset, but I’m not. I would never be able to deal with this alone–but I’ve found the world is full of allies.

Sometimes it’s silent understanding: a hug under the water tower, a back scratch, a gif sent on GroupMe.
Sometimes it’s conversation: a place to vent, an exchange of vulnerability.
Sometimes it’s strange: a walk to the cemetery.
Sometimes it’s business as usual: a trip to the grocery store, another episode of friends, a nerdy debate.
And sometimes it’s comfort from singers you’ll never hear live and poets who died long ago.

But no matter what form it comes in, all of this is helping me find the light. And I have to say, for that, I am grateful.

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