“Poets are among the most fearless of writers when it comes to self-revelation.” – Richard M. Berlin
There is a wonderful book about the intersection between mental health and poetry that I strongly urge every poet to read. It’s called Poets on Prozac: Mental Illness, Treatment, and the Creative Process. The book’s premise is that, contrary to popular belief, madness does not inspire creativity in poets. The book is comprised of a series of essays from published and well-read poets that have struggled with mental health and their very personal take on how mental health, and consequent healing through medicaton and other therapies, has affected their writing.
What’s even more unique about this collection of essays is that it features each contributing writer’s poetry before, during, and after treatment for mental illness. More often than not, the writing of the poet had improved. They were able to tackle subject matters in their poetry that they’d previously been afraid to explore. Because of their increased attention span, they were able to stay with a poem longer, pulling it through the rigorous edits necessary for publication. And, of course, they found the motivation and courage to publish.
It’s been a couple months since I read that book, but like any book worth reading, I find myself thinking about it, going back to it and re-reading parts, highlighting new quotes. It’s the first book I’ve read that doesn’t romanticize the connection between poetry and mental health, the relationship between the poet and her writing. I started to consider both my work and my illness–previously two separate entities–in the context of these essays. How had my anxiety affected my writing? And the more important question: how had my recovery improved my writing, if at all?
Below is my own essay, written as if it could be published alongside those authors in Poets on Prozac. While sharing my story isn’t exactly something I delight in, I do feel that it needs to be done so that we can begin to lay the groundwork for a safe place to talk about mental health. As always, sending my love.