The Book of Poems That Saved Me

Disclaimer: This post is actually a story written for my English class, but I decided to share it. Also, the names are changed for privacy reasons.

Ever since I can remember I have struggled with anxiety. It has always been one of my greatest weaknesses. The funny thing with anxiety is it comes when it wants, and there’s no stopping it. There are ways to manage it and cope with it, but it never fully goes away. It has left me curled up in a ball under as many blankets as I can find with swollen and bloodshot eyes from the hours of crying and the feeling of thousands of pounds on my chest. Unable to breathe, speak, or live. Somehow it always comes at the worst time possible, in the middle of a class, out with friends, or right before I fall asleep. After years of sleepless nights and feelings of knots in my stomach, I identified some triggers that cause this horrible feeling. School. It’s not just school alone, it’s the fear of failure, the overwhelming amount of assignments all at once, and the insecurity I have that I am not smart or good enough.

Everyone struggles with school at one point in their life. Everyone gets the same amount of assignments and feels the pressures and stress of school, but for me, it caused so much anxiety school was unbearable. There were good parts to my day and classes I enjoyed, but one class that caused the most anxiety was English.

I never loved writing or reading, but occasionally a book that sparked my interest would be assigned in class and I would be extremely motivated to read it and excel in all the assignments regarding this specific book. After reading most books I lost all motivation to do the assignments, usually causing a long conversation with the teacher explaining to me, “The assignments are what I grade in class. I cannot grade you based on the fact you told me you read the book.” This conversation usually ended with me feeling incredibly frustrated and wanting to do the assignments even less than before just in spite of the teacher.

I never read for fun, nothing ever outside of an assigned book for class making me a very inexperienced reader. I never experimented with different genres and styles of books so the idea of finding a book on my own that interested me sounded impossible.

I struggled through high school with the English books assigned. I used every excuse to get out of assignments and reading. I would have friends summarize what happened or find random websites online to explain the plot of the book so I could do the bare minimum in class. I got by in high school, but college was a new story.

My first English course in college I attempted using the same techniques I learned in high school to get by in class, but my professor saw right through me. She knew I wasn’t reading and that I had no interest in the books she assigned. She singled me out numerous times to answer very specific questions about the readings.

As she looked in my direction and pointed to me, asking “Nina, do you remember the part in the book when she saw a light?” I nodded my head as if I remembered. Then she proceeded with “What about the color? Do you remember the color of the light?”

I thought to myself “Shit. I have no idea what color. Red? Green? I should’ve read. Why didn’t I read? Oh yeah, a new episode of New Girl was on.”

Trying to stall. I looked around to see if anyone in the class would give me a hint and save me from this embarrassment my professor had put me in. My whole body tensed, my palms started to sweat. I turned so red I could’ve stopped traffic. I shook my head as I looked down in complete and utter embarrassment.

She looked around the room and as a whole, the class said “GREENNN!”

Feeling so discouraged and embarrassed, I skipped the next 2 classes. I came to the conclusion reading and English class is not for me and never will be. I knew before I wanted to be a computer science major, but this just solidified the idea that I didn’t want anything to do with English class.

I continued struggling in this course, trying to catch up, but failing and feeling more embarrassed than before. Grades for assignments in this course started coming back with 70’s, then 60’s, then finally just notes that say “See me.”

Seeing my grades fall at a rapid pace while my friends and peers excelled made me so discouraged. I had it set in my mind that I would never get better, I would never do any better and this was it. I am going to fail.

I stopped showing up to classes altogether and stayed in bed and slept, and worried about what I would do next and what would happen. I spent day after day in bed, struggling to get myself up. I was, and still am, incredibly critical of myself, but having my entire class criticize me including my professor was a new level that I couldn’t handle. I hit a low. My self-esteem plummeted. My anxiety skyrocketed. I fell into a hole and I couldn’t dig myself out.

My roommate, Sarah, first addressed the fact I was skipping classes and staying up all night having anxiety attacks. She reminded me the school had a counseling program and there was nothing wrong with getting help. Nicole sat at the end of my bed and explained, “Nina, everyone deals with stress, but you have anxiety. It’s different. You need to talk to someone to help you live with it because it isn’t going away. I see a therapist once a week and I love her. She talks me out of anxiety attacks all the time. Just try it.”

I agreed. She drove me to the health center and told the receptionist I needed to see a therapist because she was concerned with my behavior and habits.

I sat in the small waiting room, filled with white noise machines so no one hears conversations between patients and counselors. Sitting on the table were self-help magazines, lists of apps you can install on your cell phone to help with an anxiety attack, and lots and lots of tissue boxes. I looked around the room and it was scattered with tissue boxes, I probably counted 7 or 8 in this tiny waiting room.

I looked around more and more trying to distract my brain, for some reason, the thought of talking to a therapist made me more anxious than my English class. My mouth was so dry, trying to swallow was painful. Sarah grabbed my hand and held it as we waited. I felt so bad for her poor hand. I was squeezing it so much I could’ve sworn I felt something pop. I felt my whole body heat up my face turned red, not out of embarrassment this time, but nervousness. I just kept looking around at all the self-help posters while shaking my foot so much Sarah had to place her hand on my knee to reassure me everything was going to be ok. That small gesture made me feel safe, she didn’t need to say a word. Just her hand touching my knee made me remember she’s here next to me. It made me forget all the thoughts that were traveling through my mind.

   “Nina, Tracey is ready to see you.” The receptionist called out from behind her desk.

    Sarah pushed me forward and as I looked back at her she smiled reassuring me I was ok.

   I walked into a small room with a few chairs and a large couch. I’m greeted by a very friendly, petite woman. She had the curliest brown hair and fair skin. Her smile and the way her eyes lit up when I came in was so welcoming. I felt safe. She motioned for me to sit on a chair across from her. I sat on the pleasantly comfortable chair as Tracey smiled and asks, “So what brings you in?”

   I don’t even know where to start. “Um, well, uhhh, my roommate says I should meet with someone. She said she does. Hm, I guess my habits aren’t exactly healthy at the moment.” She looks right into my eyes as I speak. I try to not make eye contact, but she makes it incredibly hard not to when she stares at you so much.

   After I finish speaking she nods saying, “Ok. It’s ok. We are going to work on this. You can relax. There’s no need to be worried. We are just going to talk and figure out the best plan for you.”

   She read right through me and could immediately tell I was nervous and uncomfortable, but her soothing voice and calm tone made me feel safe and want to share how I was feeling.

   The rest of the appointment was a blur of crying and everything I had been feeling mixed in with the occasional response from Tracey. I walked home barely able to see through my puffy crying eyes, trying to avoid anyone that came in my path. I thought about how my conversation with my new therapist went. I felt relieved to get all of my emotions off my chest. My roommate was right, I needed to talk with someone and get help, and that it was ok to get help.

   Days went by, then the anxiety kicked in again and I remembered Tracey gave me lists on lists of different coping strategies for when I feel anxious or just down, but the one that I immediately rejected was reading a book, specifically a poetry book. I knew my history with reading and English courses contributed to my anxiety, so reading a book seemed like the absolute last thing that would calm me down during an anxiety attack.

So I decided to go down the list and try different techniques to help distract my brain and alleviate the anxiety. First I tried yoga, but my coordination led me to fall on the floor. Cross that off the list. Then I tried coloring, but my mind still wandered to what seemed to be thousands of things I needed to do. I tried meditating, sleeping, watching TV, talking to friends, writing. Nothing seemed to help relieve this heavy feeling in my chest. I got to the last thing on the list. Read poetry books. I looked over at Sarah doing her calculus homework sitting on her perfectly made baby pink bed and asked if she had any I could read. She handed me The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace. Little did I know this small black book of poems was going to save my life.

I sat there staring at the book. I thought to myself “I’ve tried everything. This feeling won’t go away and I need it to. I can’t live like this anymore. This is worth a shot.”

I opened it up and read the first page. I read “Warning I,” (Lovelace, 1).

“Oh great, a warning. Should I stop? No no, I need a distraction” I thought to myself.

I continued reading on. Flip the page. Another warning. Flip the page. Then comes the first poem. I slowly read each word. Trying to understand exactly what Amanda Lovelace was saying through this poem. I move on to the next, then the one after that, until I reached the end of the book.

I was shocked. Number one, I made it through an entire book and really enjoyed it. Number two, my anxiety was seemingly gone. I had focused so much on the words Lovelace had written that I forgot all about the millions of things running through my brain. I felt relieved. Something actually helped me and it was a book. The thing that had given me so much anxiety before now was saving me.

Since then I started to read poem books. All of them and all the time. I still suffer from anxiety, but now I have my poems to help me through it. I frequently reread this book to help alleviate my anxiety, but also for motivation and to relive that feeling of the first this that helped my anxiety.

I continue to see my therapist, and now write about how I feel. This little book gave me the confidence to want to better myself and learn how to cope with these mental illnesses.

From reading, I started writing. I write everything about my mental health journey. From changing medications, to how I feel, to new coping strategies. I write everything down. I even created a successful blog to share my mental health journey. I love sharing my stories and connecting with others who suffer the same way I do. Writing and reading have become an outlet for me.

This little book of poems changed my outlook on life. It changed my mindset and allowed me to learn how to deal with my mental illnesses. It gave me the courage to share my mental health journey with the world through my blog. This book of poems saved my life.

Xoxo Nina


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