August 11, 2020

How reading changed my relationship with anxiety and depression

College is hard and soul consuming. In between trying to make room for all of the homework and navigating your early 20s, it’s a time of high stress and big life changes.

During my freshman and sophomore year of college, I often found myself a tense, anxious wreck. I lost interest in my classes and found myself skipping to just lay in bed, overwhelmed by the obligations and the work.

At the same time, life outside of the classroom was too much and often seeped into my school work when I wasn’t looking. It became impossible to sleep at night, and as a result, I wasn’t the best person to the people in my life. I felt like a zombie most of the time.

Then, in one of my literature classes, I was assigned to read The Plague by Camus. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t concentrate long enough to read a chapter. I was too anxious and too consumed with everything else to take a moment of my day to read.

Suddenly, I felt a massive loss. I loved to read and I couldn’t even remember the last book I’d read cover to cover. I realized that something was very wrong.

I scheduled my first appointment with a therapist the next day.

In therapy, we talked a lot about different ways to handle anxiety and one of them was mindful meditation. Mindfulness is a practice that’s focused on training your mind to live in the present and be more aware of your surroundings. At first, it was difficult for me to get a hang of, but eventually I found myself enjoying my time with my mind.

Next, I wanted to focus on spending less time on my phone. Social media was making me anxious too and I often felt depressed when I saw my friends out living life while I was stuck at home. I didn’t want to feel that way anymore; I didn’t deserve it.

As a goal for 2018, I said that I wanted to read more books. When I took medical leave this past fall, I finally had the time on my hands to do it. I read 50 books. I read what I wanted to read and found my love of fiction again.

My doctors and nurses often joked that in the entire month I was admitted to the hospital, they never saw me turn on the TV, but they always saw me with a book. To this day, the first thing they ask me at my appointments is about what I’m reading.

Reading is a lot like mindfulness in the way that it takes us out of everyday life and asks us to have a conversation with our mind. It doesn’t include a screen or any social interaction. All books ask is that you be present in the moment with the story and that you allow yourself the open-mindedness to see the world in the way the author presents. And at moments when I feel tired or scared or anxious about the world around me, books are someplace I can go where I don’t have to worry about judgment. I can just be me in whatever way I want to be.

Books didn’t solve my anxiety and depression, but they work as a helpful coping mechanism for my worst days. By rediscovering something that I love, I found a way to re-enter the world again, always with a book in hand.

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