I read somewhere an interesting analogy regarding the relationship between our intellect and emotions. Our intellect is like a monkey riding on the back of an elephant. The monkey thinks he’s the boss, barking out directions to the hard-headed elephant who pays no attention, charging up and down the jungle.
When it comes to my depression, the elephant is Godzilla. Elephants are big; Godzilla breathes fire and destroys major cities with his tail.
I’m still learning how to approach my monster without being crushed. A man can run only so far.
“I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility . . .” –William Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1800)
There are two things in my life that have gone well together for a number of years: writing poetry and going to therapy. I have maintained since high school that my art and mental health battles have greatly defined my identity and place in the world.
Both my poetry and depression have roots in emotion, which is why I took a liking to Wordsworth’s quote about “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.”
I see parallels between these activities. In the calmness and safety of a therapy session, I am given tools to deal with my emotions. The session provides moments for me to recall emotions of varying degrees; my poetry, meanwhile, serves as a vehicle for my thoughts and feelings as they’re expressed within the confines of the text.
To take it a step further: the time and place of a session is the container (the event). What we discuss and how I feel about it are the contents (the-tending-to-the-event). The structure and layout of a poem is the container (the form). What I’m saying and how it’s expressed are the contents (the-tending-to-the-form).
At the end of most sessions, I share a recent poem with my therapist. This has far-reaching practical applications. It’s beneficial for my therapist and for me.
Each informs the other: my poems help in my treatment and my treatment sessions help me strengthen my poetry. My therapist serves as a guide to living well and writing well. He’s my interpreter and editor for both life events and my artistic choices. He can tell from a poem my overall mood in the days surrounding its composition. This can be pleasing one time and troubling the next. (Ironically, what I leave out or try to avoid—in both therapy and writing—is significant regardless of my noticing it.)
I see no immediate end to the journey that is my therapy. And as long as I have my wits about me, I’ll continue writing poetry. Wherever my feelings take me, I’ll submit myself to the process—and have plenty to think about as I carry on.