Wise Words #17: Poetry, Nutrition, and Mental Health
Through Corridors of Light: Poems of Consolation in Time of Illness
I came across this anthology a few years ago when I had begun to feel better after a long battle with anxiety and depression: I suffered two major depressive episodes in my thirties which have been the defining events of my life. Even though by the time I came across this powerfully therapeutic poetry anthology I wasn’t strictly unwell, I found the poems in the anthology spoke to me.
They are all chosen by sufferers of ill health themselves, and provide words from our greatest writers for our deepest and most private thoughts. The book also shares poems of gratitude and quietness as well as spiritual verse – some of my favourites such as Philip Larkin’s The Trees and Rudyard Kipling’s The Way Through the Woods are included. To misquote the greatest poet of them all, William Shakespeare, poetry can be “balm for hurt minds.” This book has proved balm indeed and a trove of treasures I return to time and time again.
How to Feel Differently About Food by Sally Baker
I read this book last month in my continuing quest to understand more about nutrition and our mental health. For the past five years I’ve been discovering how we can eat for happiness and working with the nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh.
Written by two therapists Sally Baker and Liz Hogon, the book uses their experience of working with clients who have struggled with their relationship with food. They explain in simple steps how the cycle of dieting and failing can be broken and how we can learn to eat for nourishment rather than for weight loss. Top tip: never eat or shop when you are starving! The book’s overall message chimes very much with my own experience of working with Alice: I began to see food as a friend that could help me in my own struggle to stay calm and well -- and even happy. Food can indeed prove to be our medicine and this book is very helpful at explaining why.
Heart in Pilgrimage: A Study of George Herbert by Jane Falloon
The seventeenth-century poet George Herbert is among my favourite writers. In Heart in Pilgrimage: A Study of George Herbert Jane Falloon brilliantly dissects his life and times and makes his poems even more powerful and understandable in the process. It turns out that Herbert struggled throughout his life with feelings of unworthiness and shame: perhaps today he would be diagnosed with depression.
The book includes a commentary on Love, my favourite Herbert poem. The opening lines contrast two voices: a loving and accepting, versus a critical and shamed one. “Love bade me welcome/ But my soul drew back/ Guilty of dust and sin/” That last line seems to me the most perfect description of what it feels like when I’m low. When I’m anxious, Herbert gives me the words to choose between listening to my gentle versus my not good enough self. I also love the fact that the poem was written so long ago. I feel a connection across the centuries and less alone. Learning more about Herbert thanks to this wonderful book has only made him more of a companion for me in times of need.
Rachel Kelly's new book the Happy Kitchen is out now