How Poetry Helps Me Cope With Mental Illness

Written by  in category 
July 13, 2017
writing, poetry

Creative outlets can be extremely powerful to help cope with hardships. In 2015, I turned to writing, specifically poetry to help me through some of my more difficult times. Along that journey, I started writing not just when I was distressed, but all the time. Whether happy or sad, there was something extremely cathartic about putting my feelings on paper. And I’m not alone, it turns out.

Poetry, Art, and Mental Health

An article from Psychology Today states, “In 2010, a review of existing literature on the benefits of the arts (music, visual arts, dance, and writing) by Stuckey and Noble considered more than 100 studies, concluding that creative expression has a powerful impact on health and well-being on various patient populations. Most of these studies concur that participation and/or engagement in the arts have a variety of outcomes including a decrease in depressive symptoms, an increase in positive emotions, reduction in stress responses, and, in some cases, even improvements in immune system functioning.”

Pretty convincing if you ask me. Now, this may not be true in 100% of the cases, and it is definitely unique to each person. I have friends and colleagues who use music, writing, coloring, you name it as a form of creative expression. As is the case for many of us, our minds are typically focused on analytical tasks all day and we rarely have the opportunity to seek out the creative.

Personally, I have been writing since the beginning of 2015. I even recently published my first volume of works (which you can purchase here). It doesn’t sound like I’ve been writing for very long, but it feels incredibly natural: as if I’ve been doing it my whole life. There are spurts of electricity that spark through my mind and I get the urge to write. It doesn’t always come easy, but there is always a sense of gratification when I’ve finished a piece.

The Powerful Affects of Creative Expression

In an article from The Good Men Project, it speaks to a study in which, “The authors especially emphasize the health benefits of expressive writing, movement-based expression, music engagement, and visual arts therapy. Confirming proven therapeutic effects, Stuckey and Nobel state that arts ‘heal emotional injuries, increase understanding of oneself and others, develop a capacity for self-reflection, reduce symptoms, and alter behaviors and thinking patterns.'”

Powerful. Imagine a world where we harnessed this power for good and didn’t stigmatize it. Who says that people can’t be writers, artists, and musicians in their free time? Who says that being a scientist, technologist, office administrator, or accountant prevents someone from exploring the creative? As a society, we so often separate the two worlds. Time to bring them together.

In My Dark Moments

When I’m in my darker moments, I don’t tend to write uplifting poetry. But that’s the poetry I like to mostly keep to myself. Sure, I’ll share some here and there, but largely speaking, I reserve those works. But every so often, when I’m in a dark place, I see the light peeking through a crack and it brings me to a place of optimism. I like that place.

You only see me 
when I’m on my knees,
begging for help,
howling pleas;
But you don’t see
how strong I can be;
You don’t see me.
~ A. Hanna

It is a place that reminds me that no matter how bad things may seem, there are blue skies on the other side. And it is just a matter of time before I get to those blue skies. It isn’t always easy to believe it, of course, but by allowing myself the freedom to create, to express myself through writing, I am more likely to find those elusive rays of sunshine. And that’s what I love about writing. It opens up emotions that I may not otherwise realize are there…optimism, for example.

But I must say, even writing not-so-happy poetry helps me connect with my emotions. It helps to put a face to the monster that is clawing at you. And that is powerful. Even if dim, it shines a light on that feeling, that emotion. And sometimes that’s all you need to be able to combat it.

What Does This Mean For You

This is just my story. I talk to people all the time who have found different outlets for their emotions. But creative outlets seem to be among the most powerful, the most liberating. And the best part? You don’t have to be a “creative type” to do it. You just have to start.

If you want a copy of Here It Goes, my first published volume of works, click here to get it on Amazon.

Alex Hanna

Alex Hanna

By day, Alex works as a technologist. By night, he runs Challenge the Storm. Suffering from depression and anxiety, himself, he dedicates every day to help one single person. Something as small as putting a smile on someone else's face may have a bigger impact than you think.

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