What do you do when feeling deeply anxious? Jennifer writes verse

Security remains elusive,

it’s entirely out of reach.

My state of being now

classified,

as a definite safety breach.

‘Security’, Jennifer Marsh 2017

When I met Jennifer Marsh in 2009, we bonded instantly over our long histories with anorexia nervosa and anxiety disorders. Since then, Jennifer’s hard work in healing and reconnecting with her true self has afforded her many joys and allowed her to participate in life once again. She has returned to university after a 25-year hiatus, she has discovered the thrill of overseas travel, and has a precious pup named Heathcliffe, who supports her journey of self-care and self-nourishment. However, as for all of us, challenges continue:

Jennifer shares her story

Due to recent grief, I have found myself back in enemy territory so to speak, with my chronic anxiety disorder, panic attacks, and active stress response all rearing their extremely ugly and unwanted heads. Hence, this delving into poetry and verse.

I’m not really sure ‘what’ to call my writing – I am an absolute novice and know little about poetic styles or forms. I don’t follow any set number of stanzas or lines or words, but it inevitably results in a rhyming of the second and fourth lines in each stanza.

Why write poetry? A release for grief

The grief process over the past 12 months has triggered my anxiety disorder and panic attacks, and thrown me into a state of constant fear and ill-ease. Grief in itself makes the world a different place to what it previously was and you find yourself, even without prior anxiety issues and mental illness, attempting to negotiate daily terrain that is unknown, unwelcome and at times, deeply terrifying. 

During my decades-long history with AN and anxiety, I found myself muted by the illnesses frequently, unable to articulate what I was feeling as the thoughts and emotions were either numbed, or so intense that they were beyond simple expression. 

Now, I find myself in that same place, yet, due to the healing I have already achieved, I know what needs to be done. Bottling up emotions is so utterly damaging and destroying to the true self, thus expression is crucial in whatever form it can take. Hence my ‘poetry’. 

Getting ‘it’ out – enables reflection

After I complete a poem, I read it over and reflect. And there is a definite sense of clarity and calm seeing the words that are my innate self at that moment, in written form.  It’s like a tangible acceptance of my ‘self’ in that moment – it serves to ground me and make me realize, to an extent, that I am not ‘unfixable’ or a ‘lost cause’. The flurry of often horrifically frightening emotions inside the mind DO in fact make one feel that way, so ‘getting it out’ is definitely cathartic for me. Writing verse is a wonderful grounding mechanism.

Getting ‘it’ out – gives voice to feelings

The process of writing in poetry form instead of the usual prose allows me to feel connection with certain feelings and emotions that are too innately painful and overwhelming to face front-on at that time. Previously, emotions may have been released or unearthed but, due to the intensity and depth of feeling they induced, were quickly pushed down and bottled up again without giving them a voice or freeing them in any way. This suppression led me down the path of hidden secrets and was a huge factor in my illness lasting as long as it did.

Getting ‘it’ out – releases the fear

Being able to write out in poetry form seems to bring an element of safety – I can use words and analogies and metaphors that express the depth of anguish and fear and disconnection far more freely than trying to describe in plain prose exactly how horrible I am feeling, and how much I am struggling.

Poetry puts some distance between what I’m experiencing and what I’m sharing, but it is still cathartic and ‘gets it out’.

Later reflection on the poem brings acceptance, and almost a relief and a sense of control – yes, I feel the pain and the panic, and yet I survive; writing the poem provides release; the fear is not kept locked up to destroy me internally, like it once did.

How! When! Where!

As to ‘how’ I write, it just happens! Usually, it occurs during or immediately after a particularly difficult situation/nightmare/panic attack/flashback/memory. I immediately sense that I am too anxious and ‘closed off’, or muted to be able to speak about my feelings and the words just flow in a form of verse. 

If at home, I sit in the garden and write, but if I am out, it will literally be wherever I am, on whatever notebook is with me. I do not do any drafts of my poems, they are simply written from my mind and heart at that precise moment.

Benefits in sharing in a safe place

I have not previously shared any of my poetry, however, I began to send some of my poems to my grief counselor and her response was so encouraging and affirmative that I continued to share with her and decided to share a couple with June also.

My poetry is filed in a private folder on my computer – each poem is dated and I feel that is important for, when I reflect on where I was, it gives me a clear sense of moving forward.

Feeling grounded and moving forward is crucial for me because this is an unexpected place I have found myself in, with the grief unlocking hidden volumes that I had assumed I would never unpack again – and I do not, and must not, see that as being defeated or going backward – it is simply a new phase of an endless growing process.

Our healing journey never stops

Jennifer’s story illustrates the reality that our healing journey never stops. Our journey of self-enrichment never stops.  When fresh obstacles and triggers appear, we learn to push on, and become more able to cope as we gather more self-awareness and self-help healing skills.

The records we pen in our diaries and journals are testimony to this.

Here is Jennifer’s poem, penned as a release when feeling panic-stricken and anxious:

Security

Security remains elusive,

it’s entirely out of reach.

My state of being now

classified,

as a definite safety breach.

I yearn to be free from danger,

Safe, Stable, Sound, Secure.

As the longing grows deeper, desperate,

tortuous threats lay down the law.

Maslow asserts it on the base

of his hierarchy of human need.

Safety is unquestionably vital,

akin to water, to food, to sleep.

I’m supposed to take this leap of faith,

and trust that I’ll be met.

However, this clear and present danger,

has shredded my safety net.

As my insecurity heightens and

every breath is shallow from fright,

the dissonance between

mindset and spirit forms a wall

that keeps out light.

PLEASE enfold my spirit safely,

anchor, fortify, staunchly cling.

Let the Psalms ring true about me,

shelter me SECURELY under Your wings!

                                              – Jennifer Marsh, 2017

(Jennifer lives in Brisbane, Australia)

Upon reading this poem, like Jennifer, I feel at peace within, and hope you do too.

* Next week’s Dear Diary post will feature Anne, a poet, diarist and participant in The Diary Healer.

June Alexander

About June Alexander

I have written nine books about eating disorders since my recovery (my “reconnection with true self”) from anorexia nervosa and other long term mental health challenges in 2006. In 2017, I graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy (Creative Writing). My contribution to the eating disorder field was recognised at the 2016 Academy for Eating Disorders International Conference in San Francisco where I was awarded the Meehan/Hartley Award for Public Service and Advocacy. I am currently a co-chair of the NEDC Steering Committee Evidence of Experience Group, a foundation steering committee member of the annual World Eating Disorders Action Day, and an Advisory Panel member for F.E.A.S.T.

All articles by June Alexander

One Response

  1. Karyn rose baltetsch says:

    Dear Jennifer, l love it when poet meets poet, we have made a connection because like you l write poetry as a way of expressing the inexpressible …and it has been “my way” of finding the things you describe, because there was no other way.
    I also love poetry because it can say a lot in a few verses or lines and it can be very powerful as you said when you look back and remember how you were feeling at that time and see how far you have come, your own poetry can be a comfort and with me l sometimes wonder ‘ did l write that? ‘ and get this sense of excitement mixed in with the knowing that the pain is very real and so will be able to help others. Sometimes along the way when l have been in treatment the idea of having to share something has eaten away at me in anxiety because not only would l be scared of my own voice but scared that maybe it didn’t make sense, but l can truly say my poetry from the heart has made grown men cry, it has opened eyes and ears and has shown a part of the real me who was hidden away for so very long, and it has helped others in their own healing journey so that they can look at something in a different way. Most of my poetry ends with the comfort of those angels wings..not all, as some are just the very raw truth but those ones have helped my team wherever l have been………..now that rhymes. Thankyou so much Jennifer l look foreward to hearing from you more and thankyou to June for tapping into this topic because sometimes it is u derestimated it is truly a gift worth unwrapping, love from karyn braveheart

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