Rupi Kaur on Home Body, depression and the viral photo that changed her life
Overwhelmed by sudden fame, the bestselling Canadian poet worried she may never publish anything again
This story is part of Sound of Mind, a CBC q series about mental health and the arts.
Originally published on Dec. 2, 2020
As far as poets go, Rupi Kaur is a rock star.
Her first two poetry collections, Milk and Honey and The Sun and Her Flowers, have sold millions of copies each, have been translated into nearly 40 languages, and have garnered her more than four million Instagram followers.
But despite this success, the bestselling Canadian poet says she felt empty. Her accomplishments weren't fulfilling her anymore and she worried that she may never publish anything again.
"Sometimes you don't even know you're in the midst of something terrible until you look behind, and you're like, 'Oh, shit,'" Kaur said in an exclusive interview with q host Tom Power.
She eventually worked through her anxiety and depression to release her third and latest collection, Home Body. But it wasn't an easy journey.
WATCH | Rupi Kaur's full interview with Tom Power:
Kaur says while writing Home Body, the pressure to follow the success of her hit debut Milk and Honey resulted in impostor syndrome — an overwhelming belief of inadequacy that often occurs among artists and high achievers who begin to fear being exposed as a fraud.
"I'm comparing [Home Body] to all of these older versions of me. And I'm like, 'Wow, this will never meet up, this will never meet up.' … And then I'm going to have to live in a cave somewhere because people are going to realize that I'm not the real deal, whatever the hell that means."
In a video posted to Instagram on the book's release date, Kaur explains: "I began writing this book at a time I was completely lost. I wrote in the midst of this fog. I wrote while getting help, I wrote while getting better, I wrote on days I couldn't make it out of bed … Home Body is a love letter to the self."
'Anxiety sort of set in and never really left'
Kaur's feelings of self-doubt and depression started long before she started to write Home Body, she said.
She still remembers the exact moment she realized that success wasn't necessarily the answer to her problems. It all started with a viral photo of herself that, as headlines described at the time, "broke the internet."
Suddenly, I was waking up to tens of thousands of comments and opinions, and 50 per cent of them were threatening my life.- Rupi Kaur
"The anxiety kicked in full force in 2015," Kaur recalled. "It was March or April and this photo that I'd published for a school project — it was of me on my bed, and [there] was a period stain on my bottom and on my sheets. When that photo went viral, suddenly, I was waking up to tens of thousands of comments and opinions, and 50 per cent of them were threatening my life."
After that experience, Kaur said "anxiety sort of set in and never really left."
She says she had never taken the time to address her mental health issues, having been used to spending her "entire life being a bulldozer and just powering through."
A love letter to the self and a celebration of community
In late 2018 or early 2019, Kaur realized she couldn't ease her anxiety and depression on her own, so she signed up for a meditation class, started therapy, and took her doctor's advice to eat well and exercise.
That's when she started her journey — a description she hates to use "because it sounds so corny" — with the help of her family, friends, and her "thoughtful and incredible" readers.
"For me, [Home Body is about] the celebration of my community," she said. "This book couldn't and wouldn't be possible if they weren't there to pick up my broken pieces."
Now, Kaur says she is doing well, recognizing that she needed to open up about her mental health struggle in order to overcome it.
I circle back with Home Body with the realization that perhaps these things will never leave. And that's OK, because I'm OK.- Rupi Kaur
"I realized that unless I [talked about it], I was never going to be able to write anything else. I tried to avoid it. Because I think none of it made sense to me, like, why am I depressed? My life is going in such beautiful directions, I had no reason to be. I think I struggled with that for such a long time. And that was the wall that I was hitting creatively."
Looking back, Kaur says she may not fully overcome her anxiety and depression, but she's much better equipped to deal with her negative thoughts.
"After Milk and Honey came out, that 21-year-old version of me had this very naive idea that I was all past it. That, 'Oh my goodness, I've been able to release it and it's never going to bother me again.' And I circle back with Home Body with the realization that perhaps these things will never leave. And that's OK, because I'm OK."
Written by Vivian Rashotte. Produced by Vanessa Nigro.