Poetry is a Process: Using Words to Cope with Mental Illness

by Lora Mathis

Poetry, to me, is about so much more than creating something beautiful to read. It is a necessary coping mechanism. It is a way to understand. It is a healing process.

I grew up in a household which did not believe mental illness existed. My family had a much easier time ignoring my depression than talking about it. Because of this, I am private with my pain. I do not talk to doctors about it. I have never been to therapy. I have never taken medication for my mental illness. I am terrified of admitting that something is wrong.

After spending so long swallowing my feelings, my initial instinct when breaking down is to pull away from everyone, not reach out to them. I view my breakdowns as something I have to sort out alone. I talk to friends about being sad but when I’m in the middle of a breakdown, reaching out feels impossible. I fear that in asking people for help, I’ll worry and annoy them.

This is not the most productive way to go about healing. I require validation. I need to be heard. I need to know that I am not alone.

Poetry has always listened to me and allowed me to sort through my feelings. When I am breaking down, it is there to expel the jumble of suffocating feelings in my chest. Poetry is the patient friend whom I never feel guilty for opening up to.

I have spent so long ignoring my breakdowns and expending effort into making sure no one knows it exists. But poetry allows me to be honest. It is the rawest version of myself. Through it, I have shared the parts of myself that hurt the most and realized that others can relate. Poetry has allowed me recognize that I can hurt and still be worthy of being heard, of being loved. It is more about coping than anything else. The work I am creating is above all, about being heard.

Lora Mathis is a poet and visual artist who co-runs the zine press ink/paper press. Their creative work has been featured in The Fem Lit Mag, Words Dance, and Vagabond City Lit. They currently live in Portland, Oregon, where they are the Visual Arts Curator for Where Are You Press.

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