Updated: Nov 6
When I was sixteen, writing poetry was a purgative experience. Scribbling expressions of anger and fear was how I dealt with being powerless. My once peaceful home was being ravaged by a constellation of mental illnesses: my brother’s schizophrenia, my mother’s depression, and my emergent bipolar. Chaos devoured my mind. I carried a terrifying physical pressure in my chest. Writing served as a release valve. It saved me.
Poetry and bipolar have been steadfast companions throughout my life. Creative writing is intertwined with my mental health recovery. Along with regular therapy, medication, and a supportive network, poetry keeps me functioning. It helps me thrive by serving five purposes: self-reflection, solidarity, education, resources, and hope.
Those days of teenage logorrhea were not wasted. They enabled me to identify confounding emotions. Self-reflection leads us on the path to self-acceptance. It enables us to make meaning out of our experiences, which is, as most philosophers agree, the great task and purpose of life.
Those of us with mental illness have a great burden to carry. Yet, I believe it develops deep empathy and compassion within us. When we write and share our stories, the resulting connection we can provide to others is immeasurable. Connection is essential to humanity. It is the number one thing that prevents suicide.
Sharing our writing furthers education, thus reducing stigma by revealing the ubiquity and urgency of mental illness. Shining a light causes language and perception to shift. Brain disorders are now being understood as diseases (instead of moral afflictions) and as a public health issue (instead of a private matter). When stigma is reduced, people feel less ashamed about reaching out for help.
When writing about mental health, it is a best practice to include resources. The list might include the essential Crisis Text Line (741741), the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), NAMI, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy techniques. These are specific, creative ideas to augment what our medical providers recommend, which may include talk therapy and medication. For some, these resources will be a starting point, an essential doorway.
Hope exists. Our aliveness is evidence! Research on neuroplasticity affirms the brain’s capacity to create new neural pathways, to essentially “rewire” itself. Mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and gratitude can tap into our brain’s powerful resilience, boosting our positivity so we can better manage our symptoms. Contemplative writing may enhance this process. When we put our stories down on paper, our biggest struggles can breathe and transform into our greatest assets.
Poetry is about perceiving beauty and creating a pithy arc that reveals truth. For me, the practice is still purgative: in order to glean the luster of truth, I must first clear out the emotions that obscure it. Something mystical happens in the act of writing: as your ink pours forth, so does your light. Honesty has an alchemizing effect that transforms pain and separation into compassion and connection.
Marie has been writing poetry for 30 years to cultivate resilience and mental health. She has published in the Paterson Literary Review, Tiny Seed Journal, High Plains Register, The Writing Cooperative, and numerous chapbooks. Her poetry was recognized by the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards and Wyoming Writers. Pink Sunset Luminaries was published in 2018. mishiepoet.medium.com. mishiepoet.com.