How Discovering Poetry Helped Me Recover From Depression

Readers appeared to understand what I meant when I wrote about my deep depression. I realised that this was a way I could talk about my own emotions
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About eighteen months ago, I became suicidally depressed.

I stopped socialising, I worked as little as I could and I spent most evenings drinking spirits until I passed out, usually on the floor.

There was nothing in my life that made me feel good, not even writing, which as a cheap hobby was something I had always used to make myself feel better.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to write something that made people feel, and in September 2014 I did just that. As the “creative one” in my family, after my grandmother died it fell on me to create and read a eulogy. I needed something appropriate to her memory, something humanising and respectful, a sad piece, but also words about how she had been alive. I spoke to my cousins and my sister and collected memories about our nan. When I had a few pages, I picked and rearranged and added to these memories to create a speech about her that caused warm smiles amongst the many tears of the packed chapel.

With that eulogy, I did what I had wanted to do my whole life: I made words do something important. I expressed my loss and the loss of my family and helped people to feel. How, I wondered as time went on, was I going to top that?

Throughout my childhood, adolescence and the first decade of adulthood I wrote every day. But after that eulogy I started slowing down. For me, “literary success” didn’t mean a hardback book with my name on being sold on a high street, it meant connecting with people, it meant being able to put into relatable words an emotion that is big and scary but universal.

And at my nan’s funeral, I’d done it. I moved a roomful of people to laughter and to tears. Afterwards, tens of people I had never met before (or hadn’t met since childhood) told me it was a eulogy my nan would have felt expressed her perfectly. This was what I’d wanted to write for. To express something I had felt so that other could people feel it too.

Years passed, and I cynically and cluelessly tried to write fiction I thought might be popular, but no one wanted my overwrought attempts at Game of Thrones meets The Bible or Dubliners meets the rural West Midlands. I started trying less, and then I stopped trying at all. My professional life and my romantic life slithered downwards, too, and I also lost my hair.

I had a severe breakdown, ended up highly medicated, unemployed and middle class homeless (i.e. couch-surfing). I didn’t know how – or why – to move forwards. I got a job waiting tables in a hipster pizzeria and eventually found somewhere for me and my dog to sleep. And then, bit by bit, as I became more stable, I began scrawling notes to myself, memories of how I’d felt at my lowest, contrasting what was gone with where I had arrived at and where I hoped I was going.

I’d type these notes on my phone as I walked my dog, while I sat on the toilet, whenever I had a spare moment. Then, after a while, I looked through the thoughts and ideas, all of them insights into the big and complex feelings I’d been experiencing, and realised that what I had were the backbones, or the seeds, of poems.

I hadn’t really tried to write poetry before, but it has always been something I’ve enjoyed reading. When I pored over the images and memories of unhappiness – and my escape from it – I found that my feelings were expressed in a way that made sense. The honesty and rawness of the notes – coupled with careful editing – made poems that affected the few friends I tentatively showed. Readers appeared to understand what I meant when I wrote about deep depression, and they laughed when I wrote about my clueless – but optimistic – adventures in dating. I realised that this, poetry, was something I could use to talk about my own emotions in a way that people understood. I didn’t need death to write expressively. Poetry was something I could do.