Dear friends, welcome to the Words Doctor website.
I would like to tell you a story, to explain to you how the healing power of words came to play such an important role in my own life. In 1997 I was hospitalized, seemingly out of nowhere, with clinical depression. This was the first of two severe depressive episodes I suffered that left me bedridden for months on end.
Whilst in the grips of these episodes I was in acute physical pain and experienced nausea, insomnia, a racing heart and an all-consuming fear that I was in imminent danger. I screamed in terror, gripped my bed and clung to those around me. I felt as if I was on a plane that was about to crash and desperately wanted to die in order to be released from this torture inflicted on me by own body and mind.
When my husband returned to work my mother became my constant nurse and companion. As she sat by my bedside, she took to repeating a particular phrase from the Bible: ‘My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ It was a line she had read to us when we were children, and I took hold of it as a person lost at sea would take hold of a life raft.
I began to recite those words to myself in the style of a mantra. The sonorous beauty of the language soothed me and I learnt to focus on the idea that God’s grace would be enough for me and that in my weakness I would find strength.
I began to be well enough to absorb not just lines, but verses and then whole poems. Poetry was the perfect medium for me when I was unwell. Its brevity was a blessing. So too was the way that it dissolved my feelings of solitude. In reading the words of others I felt less alone.
Poetry grounded me in the present moment and brought me back into the flow of life, providing an oasis away from worrying about the future or regretting the past. This was particularly helpful, as mental illness tends to cripple ones sense of time. Reading a poem demanded my full attention in order to unpack its meaning and enter into a different world, thereby silencing the endless chatter in my head.
I have been well for many years now, thanks to a combination of drugs, therapy and changes in lifestyle – but I feel as if poetry was at the heart of my recovery. It’s no surprise to me therefore that more and more people are trying to harness the therapeutic value of the arts to supplement treatment for conditions including depression, anxiety and dementia. But even if a person is perfectly healthy, I believe an appreciation for the written word can elevate their quality of life.
Nowadays few things have the power to command our full attention and many of us suffer from stress, low mood and an inability to concentrate. Our minds are dominated by work; screens and bills and often we don’t feel like we have the time to pause. Poems, lyrics, letters and stories bring us to a calming standstill, refreshing our perspective and helping us slow down to a more deliberate, conscious pace.