Last week a friend I’m endlessly grateful for reached out and I shared that I’ve been struggling. Out of the blue the next day she sent me this poem from Maya Angelou:
Touched By An Angel
We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.
It pulled me away from myself and reminded me that in the murky muddle of mindless monotony there are these peaceful pockets of beautiful serenity. It reminded me how powerful our words are.
Often when I share my emotional state with friends there’s immediate concern and confusion in their response. Even if it isn’t intended the conversation usually leaves me feeling guilty and shameful for having the feelings that I have. This isn’t a criticism. I get it, it’s really hard to respond to. We don’t talk about mental health enough to know how to effectively respond to someone who’s struggling.
A lot of our instincts (remind them how hard others have it, of all those who would be sad if they were to take their life) are well intended, but at least in my experience those responses tend to make things worse. If I share my emotional state with someone I’m not looking for a fix. I don’t know what I’m looking for, maybe some form of comfort?
I think the idea to use poetry as a way to offer support is genius. Of course, it’s not as if this is an easy feat in a conversation. I don’t expect everyone to memorize poems to spit out anytime someone opens up to you about their issues. I think the best thing you can do in the moment is really listen to what the person is saying and let them know that you’re there for them.
If that doesn’t feel like enough, then maybe when you get home recall a poem you know or search for a new one. When we don’t know what to say, there are so many poems already written that can express the sentiment we want to convey.
If the person struggling isn’t a poetry person, just checking in unexpectedly can be a big mood booster as well. My bestie has been sending me motivational quotes, memes, or simple texts saying that she’s there for me the past few weeks. It means the world and even in my darkest moment if I get that text I’m reminded that I can still come out of it for a moment and manage to smile.