The Truth in Poetry: My Story

To describe myself in a nutshell, I am your classic Type-A overthinker. I like things to be just-so, bordering on the line of perfectionism (okay, oftentimes crossing very far over that line). My biggest fear is the unknown – starting as large-scale as the future and as morbid as what happens when we die.

Yes, we dove pretty deep into the personal realm pretty quickly, but if I have learned anything through my own journey of empowerment, it is that honesty is the most important factor.

And the first person you have to learn to be honest with? Yourself.

Face to Face with My Biggest Fear

For as long as I can remember, I have been afraid of death. Now, what little girl thinks about this when she is huddled under blankets at night? Thankfully, I never grew up around many funerals or other situations involving it, but somehow the fear of death always lingered. It still persisted throughout college, but was never on the forefront of my mind as I always managed to ward it off by staying busy and finding time with people I love.

I had confided in a few people, but I could never figure out where it came from. Why was this something that kept me awake at nights, paralyzed in fear? Most times, when it arose in my thoughts under the cover of darkness, I tried my best to block it out. Reading from Dr. Brene Brown’s new book, Atlas of the Heart, last night, it is no wonder why this strategy never cured anything. She writes,

“Avoidance, the second coping strategy for anxiety, is not showing up and often spending a lot of energy zigzagging around and away from that thing that already feels like it’s consuming us. And avoidance isn’t benign. It can hurt us, hurt other people, and lead to increased and mounting anxiety.”

Dr. Brene Brown, Atlas of the Heart, p.11

I always tried to avoid this fear because of how much anxiety it caused, but once I decided to own up to it, the weight lessened considerably. Once I told myself the truth – that this fear was real, it was fair, and it probably wasn’t going away – I felt a little freer.

Working Through Mental Troubles with Poetry

Of course, it was not as easy as realizing on my own that I needed to tell myself the truth. This happened gradually, but none of it could have occurred without poetry.

A few different free-writing sessions come to mind when I think about this journey I have had in terms of facing my fears. What began as a mind-dump, free verse poem ended in clarity I never knew could exist. Once I put my pen on paper, I made the conscious decision to not judge a single thought that came out. It could be rambling nonsense or it could be the best metaphor I had ever written, but there was no comparison – just writing. After filling pages with everything within my mind, I read back through what I had written and the results astounded me. 

It was during those moments I realized my fear was not just about death – it was all of the unknown. In different writing sessions, I confessed not knowing about my future after college graduation and what I wanted to do, being unsure of when end dates are for the distance between my boyfriend and I, and other things that culminated in the same idea. I hated not knowing things. It fit in with my perfectionist tendencies, how I always wanted to know how to do something the best way possible and it bothered me if I couldn’t obtain that level of success. It matched my Type-A planner personality, as I wanted to always be able to map out the best course of action but, naturally, the unknown makes that difficult. Most of all, it made sense as to why I always overthink – I worry about the things I do not know and then it escalates from there.

But none of this would have come to light without poetry. It has always been my tried and trusted method to work through mental blocks and troubles. Feeling anxious about a certain world event? Put the thoughts on paper and instantly it is a relief. Going back to Brown’s book, she writes that “language has the power to define our experiences,” and this is something I emphasize a lot in Poetic Potential. Telling the truth to yourself and putting it into concrete language helps take the power away from the things that worry you. It gives yourself back the power you need to face and overcome these troubles.

How To Use Poetry for Your Mental Health and Truth-Telling Journeys

  • Grab your favorite medium to write with. Maybe it’s pen and paper, maybe your tablet, maybe a laptop. Whatever makes you feel most comfortable.
  • Set a timer. This is important – I believe having a time limit allows you to get the most out in a short amount of time. And it also lets you…
  • Leave no room for judgment. You have to promise yourself you will put down any thought that comes to your head. It doesn’t even have to make any sense. Let prose poetry and free verse be your friends – there are no rules, so you can simply write.
  • Be open and honest with yourself. Don’t be afraid to reread what you have written after the timer goes off. In fact, I recommend rereading right after and also coming back to it at a later point in time. Sometimes, your mind can see right away what is at the root of your troubles, but other times, you need to clear your head first.

At the end of the day, this is all about maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself, first and foremost. Self-love and self-care are even more important than finding someone else you love or care for – after all, how can you care for someone if you cannot care for yourself first? It all boils down to honesty – opening up that channel of communication between you and yourself.

Want to Learn More?

For more insights into my thoughts on poetry and truth-telling, check out chapter 6 of my new book, Poetic Potential: Sparking Change & Empowerment Through Poetry, available wherever you buy your books!

*Disclaimer: Some links are affiliate links, which mean I could earn a small commission for your purchase through that link. Everything is tested and approved by me – I only share what I believe is worthwhile!

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