Even the End of the World Is a Chance for Connection in This Poem

“I’ve been hearing the world is ending,” begins Neil Hilborn’s ‘This is Not the End of the World.’ You’d be forgiven for thinking he’s talking about our current political climate, but this is a poem that he’s been performing since at least 2013. This poem isn’t about politics — it’s about mental health issues and self-imposed isolation.

“There are days that I cannot find the sun even though it’s right outside my goddamn window,
when getting out of bed feels like the key in the doomsday machine,
so on those days this is what I tell myself:
Whatever you’re feeling right now, there is a mathematical certainty that someone else is feeling that exact thing.
This is not to say you’re not special;
this is to say thank God you aren’t special.”

 
Hilborn has a lot to say about isolation, and some of it may be a little harsh — but his message is a familiar one: You’re not alone.

Even if you don’t pay any attention to poetry, you may have seen Hilborn perform ‘OCD’ at the 2013 Rustbelt Regional Poetry Slam — it’s made the rounds through social media a few times over on its way to 13 million views. ‘OCD’ is a story of heartbreak through the lens of Hilborn’s obsessive-compulsive disorder. If you’re interested in the story of the poem and its success, Hilborn spoke about it at TEDxTeachersCollege in 2014.

In that talk, he brings up one remarkable change he noticed in reactions to ‘OCD’: people were, unprompted, acknowledging that they shouldn’t use the term OCD to describe their own finicky, particular behavior. The poem made people reconsider their stigmatizing language all on its own.

That’s the potential power of telling our stories — changing minds. Making people realize that we’re human and deserving of respect, too.