an interview with p.bodi: poetry & mental health

P.Bodi Poetry writes poetry about mental health inspired by her own experiences with mental illness. Here she tells Brenda why she began writing, how poetry has helped her through her own struggles, and why we should all be talking more openly about mental illness.

When did you first start writing poetry and why?

I have been writing since I was a child, off and on throughout the years. I’ve always been drawn to poetry as a form of expression and delight, as well as to communicate what is otherwise hard to communicate, such as mental health.

I only started writing regularly and in earnest within the last year. In the few years before that, I had almost completely stopped writing, in large part due to my poor mental health. So when I started up writing again, it was like coming alive. I feel most myself creating poetry. It is the creative pursuit I am most passionate about, and it provides a method of connection to others, especially through Instagram. In part, Instagram has been a method to hold myself accountable. I made a commitment to post a poem every single day, and besides a few days in late February and early March of this year (when I was experiencing a dip in my mood), that commitment has pushed me to keep creating, for myself and for others.

Poetry comes easy to me like nothing else ever has. It is a passion, it gives me a sense of purpose, and hopefully, it helps others feel seen and, if only a little, more hopeful.

How have your personal experiences shaped how you write?

How I write is entirely shaped by my experience of mental illness. I have experienced tremendous lows. My life, from ages 10 to about 21, was an unremitting, constant low with no relief. It was all I knew. I had never known hope, or happiness, or calm, or connection, or passion. And though I am now in a place where I have come to know these better, I wouldn’t call myself entirely ‘well’ or fully in remission from mental illness. I still go back there. Not quite to rock-bottom, but to a darkness that is familiar in the worst sort of way. It is scary to return to that place. I become scared of myself. And I can never, not for myself or for anyone else, guarantee full recovery, or that there will never be relapses or dips. It is a constant process and constant maintenance.

I have felt despair, rock-bottom, hopelessness, and self-destruction. And now that I have known some of the other side of that, I want to provide a sense of hope for others. Because there is hope. If you are here still, you have the capacity to improve both yourself and your life. It will never be easy, you’ll need help, you’ll need to be an engaged participant in your recovery, but it is possible to change for the better. I never thought I’d get any better than rock-bottom, than treatment-resistant depression, but I have.

My experience of hospitalization due to my depression and anxiety, of multiple suicide attempts, of still heavily struggling with an eating disorder, has given me empathy for others who have experienced the same. My poetry is possible because of empathy.

Why do you think it’s so important for us to speak openly about mental health?

It is important because there is still stigma attached to it. And stigma brings shame, and shame kills. Mental illness is often a solitary experience because of that stigma. In talking about it more and more, others feel seen. A little less alone, and a little more understood.

How has writing poetry helped you with your own struggles?

Poetry has brought me back to life. It is a passion like nothing I’ve ever known. I feel most myself when I am writing, the most connected. It is a way to process my experiences, as well as to transform them and to create meaning. Having a pursuit and a passion like this has given me a sense of purpose; to help others, to provide hope to those who need it, including myself. I write things I need to hear, too. I am not different from anyone who reads my poetry. We all struggle, and we all can provide help and connection, as well as insight into ourselves.

What advice would you give to those suffering with mental illness?

This is hard to answer, because every person is at a different place with their mental health, and treatment is a very individual experience. What works for one person may not work for another, and the wrong treatment can cause harm.

I can only speak to what has helped me. The right medication (after so much trial and error, one error landing me in the hospital with withdrawals), the right people (find the ones who you can share anything with, who will stick around for the tough times. This may take a while, but you will meet them. They’re out there), a passion and a purpose that makes you feel whole (poetry for me, unsurprisingly. You have to explore heavily with this one. You won’t know you like something until you try it, and you can really surprise yourself! Take action, and be open, and never ever stop that exploration. Who knows! Poetry may not be my passion forever!), and of course, professional help. We can’t always do it alone. Therapy has taught me new ways to cope and helped me to become aware of my thinking. Being aware is the first step.

Treatment comes with a lot of trial and error. Finding the right kind for me has saved my life. It is a combination of all of the above; I wouldn’t be where I am if even one were missing. Medication gave me a base to work from, then therapy and fulfilling connection lifted me up to a place where I had enough clarity to develop a passion. And poetry, my passion, has given my life a sense of purpose. And I think we’re all searching for purpose in the end.

Read more poetry by P.Bodi on her instagram @p.bodii

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