Why I read and a (small) discussion about mental health.

“who actually reads books anymore?”

*rolls eyes aggressively*

I legitimately hate comments like that written above. You would be surprised at how many times I have heard this. And it makes me so infinitely angry. What motivated me to write this post was a journey of reminiscence.  Specifically, I was brainstorming an idea for another blog post that required more of a reflective slant upon the relationship between my mental health and blogging, when I remembered a class I had earlier this year where we had to answer questions regarding our ‘lifestyle’, so to speak, for a research methods class. Now, I absolutely hated this class, mainly because the lecturer was constantly making very inappropriate remarks to students and he legitimately had no idea how to teach effectively. His classes were exactly the same every single week – to the point that we knew what he was going to say and when he was going to say it. It was a fun predictive game you played with your friends on FaceBook messenger during his classical monologues.

Anyway, sorry to go off on a tangent, but one of the questions that were asked included, “how many books did you read last year?”. each corner of the classroom was designated a number range. I obviously went to the range of 50-100 books with three other people, with the majority of people claiming they had read none. You should have heard the comments. I had to legitimately justify why I enjoyed reading for fun. So, this is my public service announcement to those of y’all in the back who refuse to understand the necessity of reading novels for the betterment of, not only your mental health but also your ability to more meaningfully articulate and communicate with the people in your life.

Now, I should preface this by saying that whatever I write is obviously my own personal opinion. We got that? Awesome.

My Mental Health and Reading

I have been quite open and honest about this throughout my online presence here on my blog and on my twitter, but I might just reiterate it for the purpose of this post, and for those who are new and reading this right now. I have been diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder with Panic Attacks, and I do take medication to combat my anxiety as it was extremely crippling and stressful for me (still can be, to be honest). The number of times I had a full blown panic attack at shopping centres or on public transport would astound you – it still astounds me! But I have always been quite an anxious person and, I would have to say, social situations also provide ample stressors and can trigger symptoms of my anxiety.

Reading, fundamentally, became an escape.

One that I could count on. Reading itself was a way for me to just breathe within my own space and within a different world. It catapulted me into an alternate universe somewhere where I was side-by-side with a kickass detective beating down the perpetrators and kicking doors down; I was the Queen of make-believe lands where I ruled with a benevolent fist; I was the assassin who protected the royal family. I became a million different people, met a million different characters, explored vast lands and piloted spaceships. This was the space I was most comfortable in, and it enabled me to ground myself, weirdly, into reality.

When you’re in the midst of a panic attack, the world becomes both narrow and incredibly overwhelming. Everything feels too bright, too loud and the earth is moving too fast and you’re losing your footing and you can’t seem to breathe. It is absolutely horrendous and you’re shaking and you don’t really exist within the reality but within a space where you feel both alone and completely despondent.

Basically, it sucks.

I remember my first initial panic attacks used to be when I was trying to get to sleep. Now, this was back when I was in high school and these attacks were quite muted –  it would take a few years for the attacks to develop to what they became. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, literally thought I was having an asthma attack every night because I felt like I couldn’t get fresh air in my lungs. I didn’t know it was anxiety, but what I would use to do was actually think about the book that I was reading. I would do this thing where I would imagine myself within the world of the book and insert myself in the narrative. I would literally create a mini-fanfiction in order to calm myself down. Unknowingly, books have always been my salvation.

I think my love of reading stemmed from its ability to provide a safe haven for me. So much so, that I created this blog to write my feelings and opinions about books I read. When I say that I read to escape which may seem negative, but by ‘escape’ I mean the freedom to literally go anywhere and meet anyone in the world that I am reading. It’s an immersive experience, one that can stay with you for far longer after you turn the last page. Why I have linked my love of the written word with my mental health is because I don’t know where or how I would be without books. 

Why do you read?

I asked the question, ‘why do you read?’, on my twitter last week (the original tweet can be seen here) because I was interested in how other people perceived reading or the reasons as to why some of us book bloggers do what we do. The comments amazed me, not only with how many of you wonderful people engaged with the question and gave it some real thought, but also how much in common we all have with each other. This community has literally become such a salvation for me, personally, and I do know that I feel so much happier about my own book blogging journey when I’m a part of an actual community. It’s been an incredible experience, I must admit. I even created a pie chart in order to collate the overarching themes of the Twitter comments to my initial question!

As you can see, I divided the overarching themes of the comments into five categories:

  • Orange: ‘other’ or ‘miscellaneous’
  • Green: to explore/experience new worlds/imaginations
  • Blue: escapism
  • Red: for anxiety or stress relief (also just pure relaxation)
  • Yellow: to learn either about different subjects, to gain knowledge of humanity, how to write, etc.

Some answers had overlaps to different categories, but the chart shows that 29.3% of respondents read because of their love of learning. How wonderful is that? This was a tie with 29.3% of answers also demonstrating their love of reading to escape this world and be within the next. The difference between ‘escapism’ and ‘to experience/explore’ was the ways in which people wrote their answers, for instance, those who read to escape would say so emphatically; whilst those who read to explore new worlds wrote that or thereabouts. For example, @Comfort_Reads tweeted: ”It’s my way of exploring the world without leaving my bedroom’. This was then categorised as ‘to explore/experience’ instead of ‘to escape’. I hope that makes sense! But I just thought that this was absolutely fascinating, and also kind of awesome in the sense that we all come together because of our love of books and of reading.

Legitimately, this post was super fun but also exhausting to write. I adore how reading and books bring all sorts of people together, and I love that we can discuss it openly and without judgement. I think I would maybe like to do more posts about mental health in the bookish community, so if you have any ideas or if you want to collab on something, DM me on twitter and let me know! I hope this was enjoyable for you, or that it related to you in some way. I am completely of the mind that we need to speak and be more vocal about mental health in order to aid in the deconstruction of the stigma which surrounds it, so doing this is cathartic for me – but I also want you to know that I am here for you if you ever need me. Seriously.

Well, I’ll leave it there for today, my friends! Until next time, happy reading!

Allie

xx

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27 thoughts on “Why I read and a (small) discussion about mental health.

  1. Thank you for sharing Allie! What an absolutely important post to read especially for those of us who are unaware of what you’re going through and how others might be experiencing it too! Further illustrates how fantastic reading is to so many of us as a way to escape!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you so so much, that means a lot!!! i completely agree! life would be much easier if i could just bring out a book in situations that where i get overwhelmed! i used to have a dog, and he would help so much! i think having another pet in the future will be a possibility, but mum isn’t ready yet after our dog passed! do you have a cat?? omg i love all the kitties! xx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have 2 cats, it really calms me to fuss over them when I’m feeling stressed! Which is most of the time though. Would love access to the cats and books when I most need them, There’s a cat on my knee right now, purring and stinking of fishy cat biscuits!
        Well done again on your blog post and thank you for the ‘follow Friday’ on Twitter too 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Most of my online friends read a lot. My mom always read a lot when she was alive and now my daughter reads a bit when she has time as well. But like you, I read as an escape too. I have Agoraphobia and don’t go out much. I don’t do crowds at all. I haven’t been in a car, shopping center or store in 15 years. I can barely make myself go outside to take my dog for a walk right outside my apartment complex. Panic attacks are a real thing and they are not fun. Reading helps.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so happy that reading helps you! And yes, panic attacks are definitely not fun. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to have Agoraphobia, but I hope the places you visit while you’re reading, soothes you! Thank you so much for commenting, I appreciate it. Take care! Xxx

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  3. Such an amazing post! I know a lot of people who think reading is boring and while I get that not every one is into reading, their comments come more from a place of ignorance. I can so relate to how you connected it to mental health as well, reading is one of the things which makes me happiest in the world honestly and can always alleviate my stress and anxiety. Thanks for sharing and taking the time to write this post 💛

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, lovely! I really appreciate it! Yes, I completely agree with you – it definitely is from a place of ignorance and just really not understanding how we connect as readers to the books that we choose to read. I’m so happy that reading for you also helps alleviate your anxiety and your stress! It’s really wonderful how many of us connect because of this. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment!!! Xxx

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    1. Thank you so so much, my love! I completely understand omg! I am the happiest when I’m immersed in a fictional world haha! it helps me quieten my mind and kind of be at peace for a moment. I hope everything is okay, and know that I’m always here for you! My DMs on Twitter are always open if you need to vent or whatever!!! Trust me, I understand how overwhelming everything can get sometimes. Have the greatest day!

      XX

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  4. My first panic attack came on at night too. I couldn’t breathe and my chest hurt and basically I thought I was dying because my muscles had been continuously twitching that week. I’m glad you found that books help! I heard once that just reading the first few lines of a well loved familiar book releases endorphins to make you happy. I’ve written a bit on my blog about anxiety and going to a safe place.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely understand! The panic can become so incredibly overwhelming that it legitimately physically feels like a heart attack. Oh really?! That makes sense!!! I should keep one of my favourite books near my bed, just in case! Thank you so much, I will check out your blog!!! xx

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I am near tears after reading this post – not in a bad way, but because I’m just so overwhelmed with how much your words resonated with me. You wrote this so beautifully and informatively and I absolutely LOVE this, Allie!

    I’m so sorry that you struggle with GAD and panic attacks. I know that it’s terrible and scary to experience that level of anxiety. Although I’m so very glad to hear that turning to books and reading has been beneficial to you. It has for me as well 🙂 I’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. Besides therapy, reading is the primary way I’ve coped with my poor mental health since I was a kid. It’s one of the only things I can do to let my mind rest.

    It’s interesting – I used to have panic attacks while trying to fall asleep too, but then I would do exactly what you did. I’d think about the book I was reading. I’d think about all my favorite characters. I’d create little imagined scenarios in my head. It would make me feel instantly better and often prevent my thoughts from spiraling too far out of control. I still do this, and I had no idea that someone else did the exact same thing! It’s seriously amazing that being a reader helps our minds even when we aren’t physically reading.

    Being open about my mental health and how books have helped me manage it has been something I’ve been wanting to incorporate in to my blog for ages. This post is such an inspiration to me because I’ve been terrified to start talking about it more, but it makes me feel a lot better after reading this. I really, really appreciate that you shared this and are helping to reduce the stigma around mental illness. ❤

    Thank you again for writing this! I hope you’re doing well and take care 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Brianna! omg thank you so so so much for your kind and sweet and literally heartwarming words!
      I’m so sorry too Brianna; the struggle sometimes to overcome or deal with anxiety and Major Depressive Disorder, but I am so so happy that reading was a way to quite your mind. It definitely has for me, also. I’m so happy that I’m not alone in how I used to and sometimes still cope with my anxiety! my favourite thing to do sometimes is to create little stories in my head with my favourite characters to just help me breathe.

      Go ahead girl! You are definitely so strong and courageous to be who you are and to comment on my post – talking about it is something that you’re already doing, and you doing it freakin’ fabulously! you are a QUEEN! together, we can help deconstruct the stigma that surrounds mental health. You’re never alone, my love!

      Have a wonderful day/night! Don’t be a stranger! Take care too!

      XX

      Liked by 1 person

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