How I Use Writing Poetry to Settle My Anxiety
My Love of Poetry and the Spoken Word
I love the rhythm, clever rhyming or not, the artistic use of language and the honesty. I find that poems are able to disclose more than the words themselves.
A short poem can take the reader on a long journey, especially when compared with a book of fiction for example. There is a need to set the scene, introduce the character and then tell the story. I’ve found that poetry is able to do all of that in a verse, sometimes less than that.
There’s also the theory that poetry is, at times, introspective. It tells us more about the writer than other forms of creative or informative writing that are usually extrovert-leaning with exception to autobiography.
How My PTSD Presented Itself
I don’t remember writing anything in particular in school, but I do remember loving to read and listen to poetry and other classics. I thought it was brilliant although I never would have admitted it at the time.
When I first started to show symptoms of PTSD, I became very unwell very quickly. I hadn’t experienced anything like it, even as a child who had just been rescued from an abusive household and it made me suicidal almost immediately.
I was so anxious I could barely talk and I was gradually deteriorating. Suicide was the only thing on my mind.
I worked on and off for the first year and attended meetings with an occupational therapist who was really struggling to help me. At that time I wasn’t taking any medication, I was so anxious I could barely talk and I was gradually deteriorating. She was trying to find activities I was able to do to try and distract myself from these severe symptoms but I just couldn’t see it. Suicide was the only thing on my mind.
We talked about exercise, attending the gym or walking. We talked about crafts, drawing and painting. We might have even talked about writing but nothing seemed to help, not even in the moment, never mind the long term. Meanwhile, my mind was whirring with flashbacks, negative self-talk and high anxiety, and I suffered awful nightmares and cold sweats too.
How I Started Writing Poetry
After taking a few steps back, I was becoming severely depressed as well as anxious. I decided to drive 300 miles to stay with family as a safety measure. I was quickly directed to the GP, then the crisis team, then the intensive treatment team. They were all fantastic, so understanding and helpful. I remember one of the nurses asking me about writing because I struggled so much with talking. Even if it was just to explain my symptoms or, if I was up for it, to be creative because they knew of people in my position that it helped.
I thought about it long and hard and decided that I could write out a list of my symptoms but that would be all. I didn’t have the courage to write about what was happening in my nightmares and flashbacks nor did I have the skill to write creatively. I recognised it to be a good idea all the same.
With all the general noise in my mind of anxiety and worsening depression, I was aware of words repeating themselves and possible conversations or parts of took centre stage. As the twisted and turned, I tried rhyming them and then the rhymes would repeat themselves until I had to write them down.
That was it. I wrote my first poem. It was one side of a conversation I wish I could have had with my mum. I was asking her how she could live with my dad, the man who abused us both so ruthlessly before my siblings and I ended up in care as a result. And yes, it felt good. It felt good to think of the words I wanted to say, to type them out and then to read what I had written, even though I knew they would never reach her, maybe that made writing possible.
One poem became ten poems very quickly, all stored in my phone so I decided to get a Word document started. Each poem I wrote was either half a conversation or an explanation of my world. Each one was a little different and induvial and absolutely me.
That was it. I wrote my first poem. It was one side of a conversation I wish I could have had with my mum.
Writing Became a Way to Cope With My Anxiety and Depression
I just feel calmer when I write. I can feel my breathing slow, my palpitations seem to settle and my mind is more focussed than any other time. Maybe it’s the fact that I have to concentrate on something, so my mind can’t run away with itself and get lost in anxiety and negative thinking. Maybe it is the fact that I am expressing myself in the only way I know how.
I showed my cousin who is a DJ and MC, we’re very close but he is distant enough for me to feel safe showing my poetry to. He was so positive and pushed me to write more, he seemed to love the rhythm which is high praise from an MC.
It took a long, long time to show anyone else my verse due to the content. Because my poetry was expressing some very dark content, it was difficult to share with family, but eventually, I gained the confidence to do so anyway. I created a poet page on Facebook to share my work—this explained my story to people I knew and offered support to those I didn’t but suffered in a similar way to me. The feedback again was so positive.
I can’t be sure, but I believe in the last six months I have written over 500 poems, mainly about mental health and my journey, across 7 collections. I have also written approximately 50 poems that were either rhyming gifts for friends or commission pieces. I’ve even tried my hand at poetry about animals, politics and various things that I have found distracting or interesting along the way.
I never thought I’d say this but I love writing and I love writing poetry and I truly believe it is good for me.
Who knows? Maybe it will be good for you too?
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