Unexpected Ways Poetry Made My Life Better

TRIGGER WARNING: I DO BRIEFLY TOUCH ON EXPERIENCING SUICIDAL THOUGHTS

The word ‘prom’ conjures images of a glamorous night of celebration shared between a peer group who have shared the stress of schoolwork, teen drama and exams together. Long dresses which glide along the floor, folds of expensive material and dates’ arms slung around each other come to mind. Perhaps this is simply the rose-tinted image I have gathered from endless cliched American high school movies where the bullied girl turns-up to prom looking every inch the movie star whilst the ‘mean girls’ suffer the worst night of their lives. I wouldn’t know what a real-life prom looks like because I have never been to one. Not even my own one. Anxiety made sure that I stayed away. I could not bare the thought of going and having to endure an evening with my bullies.

Secondary school and especially the last year of GCSEs was really difficult for me. By year 11, I was depressed and plagued by suicidal thoughts. School felt like a prison where every negative thought I had was heightened to unbearable levels and my fear of failure was magnified, even encouraged, by teachers who wanted good grades on their record. I was swamped with self-doubt and tortured myself with imagined scenarios with my disappointed parents which I was convinced would occur if I did not get the results which were expected of me.

Alongside the pain of academic expectation was my growing sense of anxiety. My mum had to drop me off directly outside the door to my school and pick me up from the same location at the same time everyday because I was so anxious about being outside rather than within the safe confines of my own home. The voices of my bullies ricocheted around my head all day everyday whilst I was at school and snide looks in the locker-room was all it took for my self-confidence to take another battering.

Regular meetings with the school therapist were my only saving grace. Whilst talking out loud to her was a struggle (as I explained in my previous post ‘What Is Wrong With My Voice?’) she encouraged me to express my feelings in the form of poetry. The words began to pour out of me and became a significant source of communication between me, my counsellor and my head of house. Whilst my peers teased me for how quiet I was and how little I spoke, this very fact became my strength in regards to my creativity. Though I have never been loud or outspoken, this has never meant that I have had nothing to say. In fact, it almost felt like I saved-up all of my thoughts and insight for my poetry which allowed me to explore the depths of my mind like nothing else could.

Poetry slowly allowed me to gain some confidence. Writing poetry gave me a sense of achievement and the encouragement of my counsellor and head of house made me believe in the words I was writing. Poetry restored within me a sense of identity which had been dwindling away from me for years. I found my own unique voice which I was not frightened to use, unlike my verbal, spoken voice.

In many ways, I see poetry as both my therapy and my passion. This may seem unusual because therapy is frequently portrayed as something which is impossible to enjoy, a chore or a source of heartache. However, whilst poetry can bring many hurtful feelings to the fore of my mind, the creativity which is intertwined with the act of writing makes it not only bearable but beautiful.

Grounding Yourself to Beat Anxiety

Anxiety and panic attacks can rule their sufferers’ lives. For years I avoided certain situations because I worried about having a panic attack in public and not being able to calm myself down. When you are in the grips of a panic attack it feels like the terror is going to swallow you up and you will never be able to battle yourself out of that suffocating trap which anxiety puts you in. Anxiety thrives on making you feel powerless and stifling you so that you feel that you will not be able to regain control of yourself or your life.

Over the years, I have tried so many techniques in my attempt to fight back against my anxiety and panic attacks with varying success. One tool which I have found useful in loads of situations is grounding myself. I’m aware that ‘grounding yourself’ seems quite vague and appears like a very abstract process, so here I am going to list all of the reasons why you should consider growing your ability to ground yourself if you suffer with anxiety, stress or panic attacks.

1) It can help to stop the spiralling thoughts of catastrophic thinking

Personally, when my anxiety takes hold, I find that my mind accentuates my emotions and begins to imagine worse and worse scenarios which I could find myself in if I don’t escape from my surroundings immediately. This feeling of urgently needing to flee and my fear of the dramatic situations which my mind conjures has led to me turning down many opportunities over the years, as I have opted to avoid whatever triggers my anxiety rather than confront these issues. However, the process of grounding myself has helped me to re-centre when I have felt panic take hold in public because it reminds me of the realities of the situation. Rather than letting myself get carried away thinking that my surroundings are a threat to me and that I need to instantly escape, I look around and force myself to mentally list all of the little details which I can see around me. This brings me back to the present moment and stops my mind taking control of my body and plunging me into a panic attack.

2) It brings focus to your senses rather than what is triggering your anxiety

Your senses are what root you into the moment and they are your primal tools to help you assess a situation. When you feel the strangle hold of anxiety tightening around you, think about the things which you can see, hear, touch, taste and smell. For me, focusing on touch really helps me to ground myself back in reality, hence why I always pack fidget toys in my bag no matter where I go. Focusing on the texture of whatever I have in my hand diverts my attention from the thing which is triggering my anxiety and gives me a sense of peace and calm as my world narrows down to my own personal sphere which is contained by my senses.

3) It slows time down

Often when I am anxious everything seems immediate and every one of my emotions feels like it needs my urgent attention. However, reconnecting my mind and my body and mentally prioritising taking one moment at a time stops the rapidity of the moment. By putting time in perspective and slowing your reactions down, you can rationalise the situation because you allow yourself to be still and regain your composure. Grounding yourself roots your emotions back into symmetry with your body, meaning that you take away your anxiety’s power so that it can no longer manipulate you at will. 

If you want to learn more about grounding yourself, here are some sites which I have found personally useful whilst learning about the technique:

Helps for Grounding and Balancing Your Energies – this article lists specific methods of grounding yourself

What is Earthing or Grounding – this gives a medical review of the benefits of grounding yourself

6 Ways To Ground Yourself When You’re Feeling Anxious – this blog gives you a step by step guide in how to use grounding in order to combat your anxiety

RECOVERY

QUESTION: is the idea of ‘recovery’ helpful?

I have mixed feelings about recovery. Whether it is a help or a hindrance when so many people present it as an ideal which feels distant and unattainable to people who are in the midst of any type of illness. Sometimes when people reference recovery or being recovered, it just makes me feel more lost and hopeless than I was before. However, other times it can inspire me and give me the courage to keep moving forward with the comfort that others have weathered similar storms.

What is probably most frustrating to me about the idea of recovery is that it is so vague by virtue that it is subjective and hard to pin down in what it means to each of us individually. There is no specific route or journey that will lead you straight to recovery, the same steps and challenges do not work for anyone. Recovery does not look the same for everyone either, leaving me in the strange position of never being entirely certain of what I am aiming or working towards, meaning that my motivation begins to dwindle behind my uncertain mind.

Whenever counsellors or therapists have mentioned recovery to me I have felt myself recoil into my seat. Even the word seems so intimidating and far off in the distance. Also, I find the use of the term frustrating because who has the right or the knowledge to determine exactly what recovery is, what it looks like and what the time period for recovery should be? However much I want there to be a finish line I also do not know who I am without mental illness because I have let my mental health define me for so long. How do I separate myself from the characteristics of my illnesses and how will I know when this process is complete and I have recovered?

This post is a mess of rhetorical questions and abstract thoughts but what I have learnt from it is that I need to narrow down the specifics of what I am striving towards and what progress I will be satisfied with so that I could call myself recovered. Abstract and vague goals only lead to more frustration and motivation leaving me like a deflated balloon.

“I wanted to tell her that I was getting better, because that was supposed to be the narrative of illness: It was a hurdle you jumped over, or a battle you won. Illness is a story told in the past tense.” – ‘Turtles All The Way Down’ by John Green