Depression and Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim

There are some blogs and vlogs out there that give stellar, in-depth, and wondrous book reviews: this is not one of them. If you scrolled through the long list of pages here you will find images of books but never reviews of them, and that’s simply because I’ve never felt quite inspired enough to write one. I’ve also never really been sure where to start (or where to end for that matter). What is too much sharing? What is not enough? These are questions I’ve had to ask myself while starting this post but while reflecting on them I realized this isn’t going to be a traditional book review. Instead, I’d just like to tell you what this book means to me.

Depression and Other Magic Tricks is a collection of Sabrina Benaim’s poems that have been put together in a neat little book. The cover art is quiet gorgeous and the thin lightweight structure of the book makes it easy to tuck into a laptop bag on transit rides in the morning (unlike most books I seem to read).

I was inspired to pick up the book after seeing Sabrina’s poems on my newsfeed once more from Button Poetry. I’ve been listening to her stuff for a while now but the resurgence was a prompt to check her out and see if there was anything new. That’s how I found out the book even existed. I grabbed it Sunday night after a day of adventure with family and friends. When I got home I was exhausted from a week on non-stop somethings, where every day had been filled with work, plans, and commitments. I was honestly ready to sleep and it was only seven o’clock. But I tucked in with the book, and an hour or so later I had reached the last page.

While I did not connect with as many poems as I might’ve liked, the shear rawness and honesty in Sabrina’s words is undeniable. Experiences I’ve never had came to life as I read them out loud. She talks quite a bit about relationships that have ended and love that has been lost. She has a beautiful way of capturing her memories and feelings in broken verses, regardless of the length of poems. Some were a few lines, others took up whole pages, texts scrawling from one end to the other.

There is a poem about her father that spoke to my own experiences, even though I’m sure her family circumstances were different. Even without connecting to most of the work personally, I’m glad to have read it. In many ways I believe it will help me understand the people around me. It seems that art has the power to do that.

You see, when I mentioned the book to my mother she was encouraging. I am very lucky in the sense that my mother is not the type to shy away from the topic. She does not put what I’ve experienced in some box that gets tucked away in a dusty garage. We speak openly about things, we explore the difficulties of the past, and we do our best to meet the challenges of the present together. While it would be easy to consider those darker parts of my mind a struggle that past Casandra had to deal with, it is most definitely something that carries forward to this day. It’s just something I’m much better at responding to now.

But what was more important than the encouragement my mother shared was when she told me Sabrina had helped her understand me more. What’s funny about this is I always refrained from personally showing her Sabrina’s “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” because I was worried she would feel I was criticizing her. I was scared every time Sabrina repeats “Mom says…” my mother would feel like she had said the wrong things to me every time I called crying. The fact is, there was never a right thing to say.

But as is the way with viral videos, unknowingly to me, mom had found the poem on her own and thankfully it’s something that helped the conversation rather than hindering it.

I listened to the poem once again after reading it, and I realized it has also helped me understand me more. I love that art, in its many forms, can open up conversations and thoughts that we too often steer away from. Art allows us to feel something with someone we’ve never even met. We share connections to people who live oceans away just by watching or reading the same thing. From what I’ve seen online, many listening to or reading Sabrina’s poems have found themselves in the words just as I have. It’s a beautiful way to find out you’re not alone; it makes the lonely a little less isolating.

Finally, there is one small poem from Depression and Other Magic Tricks that I connected to more than any of the others. It’s amazing how six lines can say so much. On releasing light spoke to me because too many times I have felt like both the hero and the villain in my own story. My own worst enemy is something I call myself on a frequent basis. I am the reason my posts don’t get done on time, and why I’m overwhelmed with all my commitments. I am the reason I hate my body after eating a box of cookies for dinner instead of actually taking the time to nourish myself. As Sabrina says “in my story, I am the protagonist and the bad thing.”

But it’s the last two lines of that short poem that matter most:

“I have to learn to bend the light out of myself.
I can do that magic.”

So much of my journey through mental health has been learning how to help myself. It has taken years to recognize warning signs and symptoms. It’s taken even longer to find effective ways of combatting them. I have had to be the sword wielding princess while I was also the dragon. I have been the ambitious hero while also being the frightful witch. I may be my own worst enemy, but I am also my own hero.

I’d like to thank Sabrina for putting that experience onto a page, even if it was just six short lines, and I’d like to thank her for sharing her story as a whole in this wonderful book. I devoured it in one night and now I’ll be sure to share it with friends. Maybe they’ll find themselves in the words, and then we’ll all feel a little less alone.

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