Grace: Beautifully told, painful quest for mental peace
To spend each day in what he describes as a mental "murk" is as ugly as it sounds.
That so much beauty can emerge from it is just one of the lessons to discover in Dana Yost's first book of poetry, "Grace.''
The beauty is in his telling. Yost gives us a collection of jabbing, succinct poems that tell of his experiences with depression and anxiety. We feel the hurt.
He also expresses his grief over the deaths of the four children in the Lakeview School bus crash, and his sense of loss over the death of his father.
Yost, 47, of Cottonwood, crafted the poems while on a medical leave from his role as editor of the Marshall Independent last April.
"It was therapeutic,'' he said of writing the poems.
His illness has forced him to end a 29-year career in journalism. He started his career writing sports, but his passion for news eventually led him to the news side and editorial desks. He served in an editor's role with the West Central Tribune from 1994-1999.
It was during those years that Yost said his anxiety attacks became severe enough to lead him to medical care. With increasing frequency, he'd get to within 15 miles of home and have to pull over and call his wife, Rae, to get him.
Yost believed there was a physical cause triggering the heart-pounding episodes of panic and hyper ventilation. The first doctor he visited knew better.
He began seeing a therapist, and it helped. He points to the fact that it allowed him to continue the work he loved at a high level. He continued to win a bevy of awards for editorial and column writing, and page design.
But the fast-pace, high-stress environment of journalism only continued to feed the demons of depression and anxiety that wrestled within him.
Worse still, one of Yost's strongest attributes as a journalist has been his ability to empathize with those he writes about. Yet Yost and his staff at the Independent found themselves covering an astonishing run of tragedies and misfortunes, everything from a rash of young people dying in car accidents to a major fire that broke out at Southwest Minnesota State University on the day his father died.
All the while, all of the other stresses that are part of the news business today found him at the editor's desk. He went to court to challenge city officials and a judge for access to public information in separate issues. He managed the newspaper's role in a variety of bitter and contentious disputes -- political, economic and otherwise -- in a rapidly changing community.
And through it all, economic pressures afflicting the industry meant the resources to gather and tell the news kept shrinking.
But it was the Lakeview School bus crash involving families from the community he calls home that slammed him like a left-handed swing to the jaw. Yost was hospitalized for seven days with depression.
He returned to work, and made his next trip to the hospital in a squad car. He was under a suicide watch, and his belt, shoelaces and even the strings in his sweatpants were taken away.
As Yost tells it, there was no way out and no going back, either. "You're done,'' his doctor told him in response to his desire to return to journalism.
Yost said he began writing poems as therapy, thinking he might send one or two to a magazine for publication. He shot a couple of the poems to friend David Pichaske, an English professor at Southwest Minnesota State University and publisher of Spoon River Poetry Press of Granite Falls.
Pichaske realized there was a book in the making, and encouraged him.
Yost said his hope is that the 51-page book of poems will provide comfort to those who know the misery of depression and anxiety. He also hopes they will help others to understand the illness better.
Putting his story on the public stage was extremely difficult for someone whose professional role involved telling other people's stories. But Yost said he has gained a sense of relief in the telling of his suffering.
He continues to write. He said he is feeling better and making progress.
"Grace'' is his quest for the peace that his illness and the tragedies of life have made so difficult for him to find. It is a beautifully told reminder of why that peace is so worth the seeking or keeping.
Any profits from the sale of the $10 book will be donated to the victims of the Lakeview school accident. It is available in local bookstores, via the Web site at www.ellispress.com or by direct order from Spoon River Poetry Press, P.O. Box 6, Granite Falls, MN 56241.