“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!