My Eat, Pray, Love Poetry Retreat

A major heat wave hit NYC on July 20 and the heat was long-lasting. By July 23, the temperature had dropped back down to 74 degrees, but the humidity had already settled so deeply into my home that I was living in a permanent sweat. I was nursing a headache on my couch, unsticking my clammy back from the fabric and sliding onto the carpet. The next day, I would be boarding a plane to Houston for a poetry retreat with Sabrina Benaim and Clementine von Radics. As I sat there with my hair dancing in the musty air of an oscillating fan and tears running away from my eyes, I had no idea how I would muster the energy to create, to socialize, to exist. 

I have been learning how to live with depression and anxiety for about a year now. I am realizing now that I have struggled with anxiety for much of my life. As for the depression, she’s a new tenant in my limbic system. Or maybe she just started wearing new clothes, acting out a bit more, feeling a bit more brazen and bold. Maybe she changed her hair color to morose shades of blue and gray. Maybe she put a blindfold over my eyes — or maybe she just took it off. Gabor Maté, an esteemed Canadian physician, once said that healing is actually the capacity to hold pain. The problem was that I was holding so much that I didn’t know if I could fit all of it in my carry-on. Ideally, I shouldn’t have felt compelled to lug all that baggage with me down south. Depression, however, had become a twisted little friend of mine — a blanket that smothered me so intensely that I learned how to breathe with fabric pressing down on my lips. I didn’t know how to let her go.

When I touched down in Houston, I did not feel any immediate relief. There was no immediate magic, so I won’t romanticize my experience by saying that there was. Instead, there was crippling anxiety, and lots of it. Even though everyone was so friendly and warm, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was not connecting with them. We each selected a question to answer on the first day, and I tackled the most existential one (naturally, since I was in crisis): “Who even are you anyway? Answer in two minutes.” After fumbling over my words for two minutes, I answered the question without really answering the question at all and I felt horribly embarrassed. That night, I listened to my two roommates giggling and felt disheartened by being so close to the joke but not quite there.

I can’t pinpoint when the veil started to lift. I can’t tell you when I started letting in the good. But once I did, I couldn’t stop. My palms turned up, my ribcage swung out from my body like an open gate, my heart swelled like a sponge, and my ears felt like those of a newborn baby. This kind of creativity had never come so easily to me since I was in middle school. My dreams came to me in verse, the thoughts pouring out of me the next morning like a monsoon. I did not realize how long my self-worth had been in a drought.

Oatmeal. Tacos. A gorgeous long-haired weiner dog named Mabel who imprinted on a particular pair of my underwear. Lone Star Beer. Never Have I Ever. Morning hours of silence. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Late-night confessionals. Tears, all kinds of them. Validation. Validation. Validation. Love. So much love. Words. Beautiful people with even more remarkable souls. 

Sabrina read my tarot and immediately remarked that I was going through something that I needed to let go. She showed me that my cups were full, that I was full, that I could be all that I am even though I am not quite sure who that person is. I’ve never felt more visible in my entire life. All of a sudden, I realized that I was breathing without a blanket over my face anymore and that the fresh air tasted so good. Depression had become such a close friend of mine that I had forgotten how lovely my dear old friend was: me.

Sabrina read my tarot

And I have hope.

There is a fire in my soul

That has been working hard to keep me warm

But for so many moons

My heart has felt cold

And now I am sweating,

The icy mountains of my thoughts melting

I may not have him anymore

But I still have me.

And now I am shaking

I have felt gone for so long 

I have been hurting so long 

And maybe I am not there yet

Perhaps I don’t know 

What there looks like

What there smells like

What there feels like

All I know is that I have not felt 

this much oxygen in my lungs 

Since last September

And the air feels good.

And so does a life 

Free from chains of guilt and regret

I do not know who I am

Maybe I don’t need to 

I simply am

I simply exist

All I need writ in my DNA

I am Teresa

And perhaps that is all I need to know.