An Essay from Erika L. Sánchez

When I say poetry saved my life, I’m not trying to be precious or romantic. It’s simply a fact. My depression began very early on–a slow and searing unraveling that came to fruition when I hit puberty. While I had always been predisposed to melancholy, the accretion of my sadness, and the new trauma of becoming a young woman made my tenuous world implode. At 13, my new body threw me into a maelstrom of shame and confusion, and I became suicidal. I hid behind biting sarcasm, thick books, and gigantic T-shirts. Poetry became my constant companion.

As I grew older, there were times I couldn’t get out of bed. Some days I would randomly burst into tears for no reason at all. I’d cry until my head throbbed, until it felt like my eyes would bleed. I had panic attacks. I’d ride trains aimlessly with a blank look in my eyes, scribbling my observations in my notebook. I cut myself and pierced things. I consumed any drug offered to me. In sum, I did everything in my power to annihilate myself. Throughout my mental breakdowns, I recited poems like prayers. To the horror of my mother, I wrote poems on my clothes and bedroom walls.

Unfortunately, my experience as a suicidal teenager is it not unusual. These years are notoriously tortuous and embarrassing for many people. In writing and publishing these pieces in Teenage Wasteland, you are affirming both your life and your voice. Your experiences matter.

After so many years of feeling like a misfit, I now belong to a warm and supportive writing community, which I refer to as my “poetry family.” I couldn’t have imagined this group of beautiful weirdos as I was crying and writing poems in my bedroom while listening to Tori Amos. Remember that there are others out there just like you. Find each other and make the world beautiful with your words.


Erika L. Sánchez

erika sanchez

Erika L. Sánchez is a poet, essayist, and fiction writer. She is the author of poetry collection Lessons on Expulsion (Graywolf 2017) and the young adult novel Brown Girl Problems (Knopf 2017). Her poetry  has been published in Guernica, diode, Boston Review, POETRY Magazine. She has also been featured on “Latino USA” on NPR and published in Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poems for the Next Generation (Viking 2015). Erika is a recipient of a CantoMundo Fellowship, a “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize, and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. Her nonfiction has appeared in Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, and many other publications.