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How Poetry Helps Me Tell My Chronic Illness and Mental Health Story

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I was in eighth grade when I saw my first spoken word poet. It was during my eighth grade poetry unit, and up until that point, I had never had one of those so-called life-altering moments – until the poet opened their mouth and began to weave a story just by using words and putting them to a rhythm. I was so inspired, we came back from the presentation and I sat down right away and wrote my first spoken word poem, which I then presented to the class.

No one reacted to it except my teacher, who looked me in the eye and said, “When did you write this? Just now? Do not stop.” So I did not.

Over time, my style has changed. It used to be I would write poetry in a rhyme, and now I do not. There has also been a clear evolution in my writing. I used to write about what made me mad. Now I write about anything. One of my favorite poems is one where I explore rhythms of love and the heart.

Writing my poetry has also helped me work through the hard times. Through my general anxiety disorder, my complicated feelings about my trichotillomania (trich) my frustration at my irritable bowel syndrome, and most recently – the hurt, pain, anger, confusion of being diagnosed at 21 with early stage relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.

Poetry has been my life preserver keeping me from drowning in my emotions, but also a megaphone to amplify my feelings and allow for others to hear me – even if I could not express myself regularly. It has provided me an opportunity to express the good and the bad things about being a young person with a chronic illness, about being a woman, about being a human being whose life did not go the way they planned.

It has also given other people hope and a feeling of solidarity, when I have shared my poetry with them – be it on social media, on YouTube, or as a message or a birthday card. I hope that I can, in turn, inspire someone out there who reads this, with the following poem:

I thought I lost everything, but I ended up finding better.

I used to think I had lost all of my friends, but ended up finding the ones who meant the most to me.

I thought I lost all of my plans for the future, but ended up finding out that plans were meant to be flexible.

I thought I lost myself and the identity I used to have, but ended up finding an identity that gives me purpose.

I thought I lost my ability to keep pace with the world, but ended up finding that I like having my own drumbeat better.

I thought I lost my ability to love and be loved, but ended up finding that if they can’t see past the physical, then they don’t deserve me.

I thought I lost my ability to ever be happy again, but I ended up finding my laughter and a whole unexplored world of medical humor.

I thought I lost my purpose in life, but I ended up finding out that it hasn’t changed.

I thought I lost my strength as I have been at my weakest, but I ended up finding that my strength has grown past anything I thought I could ever endure.

I thought I lost my faith, but ended up finding a store of it in me I never thought existed.

I thought I lost my education, but ended up finding that I have interests I haven’t even begun taping into.

I thought I lost my mind, but ended up finding it hiding behind all of the doubts to show itself again.

I thought I lost the battle, but ended up finding the courage to keep fighting to win the war.

I thought I lost everything, but I ended up finding better.

Poetry has saved my life in more ways than one. Maybe, just maybe, this will inspire someone else to grab that floating thought and just let it go.

Follow this journey on YouTube.

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Getty image by AmbientIdeas

Originally published: February 15, 2018
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