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Return to Health - the Healing Power of Poetry

In 2014, whilst awaiting hospital treatment for Anorexia Nervosa, I had reached a darkness like no other. I felt distant, exhausted, numb and was beginning to feel completely hopeless. Feeling this way made it impossible for me to engage with the outside world. My family were caring for me the best they could, from my brother wrapping me up in blankets when I was unable to feel warmth, to my auntie taking me on short drives, trying desperately to bring me some sort of happiness.

It was during one of our drives that we stopped at a local antique shop. We share a love for rummaging around antique shops, finding all kinds of treasures, only being ill, takes most, but not all, of the joy away.

Like always, I went straight over to the books, spotting the ‘Poetry Books’ sign out of the corner of my eye. I made my way over and began to search the slightly slopping shelves, bursting with hundreds of dusty, old and of course, well loved books.

I ran my finger across the rows of books, looking at the different colours, fonts and sizes, each book was so different from the next, yet, each merging into a perfectly imperfect book shelve. Without even realising, I was looking for the smallest book, I still do. I find it overwhelming to focus on large amounts of text and well, there is something about a pocket sized book that draws me in.

Amongst the large, heavy books, there it was, a small, dusty book with a very worn edge, I thought the book must have been well loved or perhaps unloved, I will never know. Regardless I picked up the book and as always, I opened a page at random. I have always believed in signs and I guess this was a little way of trying to find one. The book was ‘Starting the Day’, by Kathleen Partridge, 1942.

The page I opened was a poem, on first reading the poem, I felt moved and well, a little spooked too. Like I said, I am a firm believer in signs but this seemed too relatable to be true. Even the title itself, ‘Return to Health’. I read the poem and the words were as though they were spoken from a future self, or the hope of a future self. Like the poem, I felt as though hammers were thumping inside my head and I wanted nothing more than hope, health and joy.

I do not know if it was the words used, the timing or the way I read it but I had an overwhelming feeling that the world was telling me ‘you will be okay’. I found comfort and hope in what felt like so long without either.

I read the poem about three or four times whilst standing in the same spot I found it in. Meanwhile, my auntie was searching the antique shop for the book section, knowing full well, that is where I would be. She found me and I remember the shocked look she had, both surprised and happy to see my smile return and glimmer of light in my eyes. I told her over and over again about the poem as I continued to read it.

A few weeks later, I received a phone call from the hospital, a bed had finally become available and I received a date for admission. After months of waiting, of feeling the loss of hope and the dark place I was in grow, I cannot begin to express how much this phone call meant.

From someone who finds reading quite difficult, I never could have imagined how much poetry would help me in my recovery. There were times during my stay in hospital that I was unable to use technology, yet I was in most need of distraction. The poetry books gave me a distraction and more, starting with this one. I carried this book around with me everyday, I read all of the poems, some over and over again, until I felt something, until I managed to escape, if only for a moment.

I would take note of my favourite ones and sometimes write them down, doodling alongside the words. When my parents would visit, I would read the poems to them, at least one per visit. I could not take in much conversation but they could see the light the poems gave me, especially, ‘Return to Health’.

Of course, a month or so into my stay, the small poetry book, became more worn than ever and so my parents revisited the antique shop. They brought me four more poetry books, each small, each with an oh so, antique shop smell. I cried when they gave them to me, the first tears of happiness in so long, it was beyond thoughtful and truly meant the world. My parents could not fully understand what I was going through but this small gesture meant that they were trying, that they were there and that they loved me.

From then on, I continued to take a small poetry book everywhere with me, even now, if feeling anxious, or simply in need of a distraction, I quite often return to these books, return to this poem. I cannot help feel this poem has resonated with the paths my journey has since taken, from finding interest in books and flowers, to conversation and view.

Since tweeting about this poem on World Poetry Day, I have received messages and comments from others who have been touched by this poem, I am happy I have been able to share this with you and like the poem reminded me, there is always hope, there is always light.

Author's Bio


Nicole Williams, Health and Social Care graduate, personal wellbeing blogger at Nicole’s Journey, Time to Change campaigner, passionate about increasing mental health awareness and action. As well as Nicole’s Journey you can follow Nicole on Twitter and Instagram.

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