written by Star LaBranche
The short answer to this question is that it’s different for every person. Some people process their emotions through writing quite well and others don’t. How you do so and to what extent is completely up to you. But the long answer is that, for me, writing poetry has been one way to deal with trauma and mental illness in a way that I never have before. But one thing is certain, if you don’t pick up a pen and start writing, you might never know for yourself.
I started writing for fun when I was about 11 or 12. I was years away from the erratic behavior that would cause me to eventually be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but had already experienced some of what would amount to post-traumatic stress disorder. When I started writing, I was feeling uneasy in the world I was growing up in. I didn’t fit in and everyone was very quick to make sure I was aware of that. I found my escape in prose, where I could be anyone I wanted and I opted for someone who accepted, understood, and safe.
I didn’t start writing poetry until I was 16. At the point I first started it felt more like a dare than anything else. I had taken on many other forms of writing but had always skirted around poetry because I was largely afraid of it. I thought it all had to rhyme. I thought it all had to be Ode to a Grecian Urn. But I decided I would give it a try and I wrote my first poem in physics class. It’s a terrible poem, make no mistake, but I was on my way.
When I started, mainly due to my lack of experience, I wrote about a lot of things I had never been through and borrowed feelings from other people and situations. But as I grew, both as a person and a poet, I started using poetry to channel my feelings. I did it so much that soon it became automatic. As soon as I realized I was wrestling with a feeling or emotion, I started writing.
I’m not a psychologist, and am certainly in no position to analyse myself, but I feel that poetry gives me an outlet to explore my feelings, emotions, and experiences on a page, which is a very safe place. Sometimes writing has given me clarity on issues I’ve been through. Occasionally, not until years later do I really understand what was happening when I wrote it. But being able to visualize what is going on in my head and put it down on paper is tremendously helpful when it comes to sorting through feelings and gaining a deeper understanding or a situation.
My advice is simple. First of all, when you start out, your writing is going to be terrible. That’s fine. If your goal is working on your emotions, all you need is to write. You’ll get better as you continue to do so. Also, don’t hold back. Sometimes it’s scary to put all of your emotions out there. Somehow putting them down on paper gives them a kind of life we might be hesitant to give. Sometimes the emotion we’re having is an ugly one that we don’t want to face. During this process, be gentle with yourself. Especially, if you’re writing about trauma. Don’t try to force your emotions out either, let them happen naturally as you write. Above all, accept your emotions for what they are and don’t try to change them. Be authentic, even when it hurts.