It is universally accepted that literature helps when dealing with mental illnesses. Books distract the reader, taking him away from the darkness of the mind. Studies have been conducted, papers written, and everyone draws the same conclusion – reading is good for people, but it is especially healthy for people battling with mind disorders.
What most don’t know is that reading is not always a solution, but can also be a cause for mental discomfort. Just like with everything else, there are two sides. The pros I’ve already said are well-known and proven to be successful, but not a lot is heard about the cons. That is why I’m here today to discuss some of the more negative aspects of reading with mental illness, and offer some advice on how to cope when they arise.
If you are a reader that has and/or is still dealing with mental illness, you know how difficult sometimes it is to get yourself to pick up a book can be. It’s even more difficult to find the motivation to even consider reading when times are low. Like a book slump, but taken to the extreme. The constant ‘I should be reading‘ thoughts make it even worse, at least for me, because they bring an much unnecessary guilt to the already full table of negative emotions. All those books on the shelf staring you down, the looming TBR pile that somehow keeps growing larger and larger, the discarded e-readers, the cover reveals and excerpts being released and practically every kind of activity in the book community taunts you, makes you feel even worse because I’ve fallen behind, out of the loop and who knows whether I’d be able to get back into it again. Reading becomes a kind of chore, a responsibility that you can’t help but ignore. All of this is exhausting on both mind and body, and it takes away the single-most important thing that books are for – enjoyment.
Maybe you’ve seen the common ‘cure’ for book slumps and book hangovers being to Just Read. A lot of the advice I’ve seen floating around is to keep pushing until the reading vibes come back. But wouldn’t that make you even more miserable? Personally, forcing myself to read only makes me unhappy, because my reading rate is so slow, and everything is simply lacking. This, unfortunately, greatly influences my thoughts on the book at hand. More often than not, I find myself loathing what I’m reading whenever I metaphorically ram it down my throat. That’s why, whenever you don’t feel like reading something (or anything at all) – put it away. At least for now. In such cases, it is important to know when to keep going, and when it’s time to back down.
What you can do in these cases is distract yourself. Think about what you’d rather be doing than reading. Find solace in your other favourite activities. Maybe even take up new ones. Reading books is not the only form of entertainment, and despite what people say, there are other ways to Read.
The simplest, easiest way is to listen to audiobooks. Usually, they require less of your attention as the story is narrated for you. Whether you’re getting some work done, taking a stroll, travelling somewhere, or simply laying down and relaxing, audiobooks are a great way to keep the pressure of reading down when you don’t feel like actually reading a book yourself.
Granted, mental illnesses are hard-hitters and sometimes you might be too stressed to even listen to an audiobook. That’s when you know you have to step away from literature for the time being. I find that movies, especially book adaptations, work miracles. That way your mind is engaged, but not too preoccupied and the mental disorder has a lesser chance of getting to you. Plays are also quite the good option, as they’re literally books said out loud. (That’s an awful definition, but let’s just roll with it.) No matter which of the two you chose, it’s still a better option than shoving a tome of War & Peace down your throat. (Or, you know, any other book.) If those don’t work – and even if they do – you could still just binge-watch a tv show or two. The cinema and theater, Netflix and even YouTube are great for keeping yourself busy and entertained at the same time. (Sidenote: watching crackvids on YouTube is the most therapeutic activity ever. Instant uplifters. I highly recommend them!)
Fanfiction is a good way to keep yourself reading whenever your motivation for actual books is down. You’d be surprised how reading about the same two people falling in love in a thousand different ways can urge you on to pick up reading again. There are some absolutely amazing pieces out there that do not feel at all like reading a fic, but an actual novel in its own right. Plus, these are your favourite characters, if anyone can brighten your spirits – it’s them.
Taking the deep plunge is not always the best idea, so do try to go slow whenever you’re just getting back into reading again. Light novels are a good option to start with – maybe some beach read or a short contemporary are a nice way to ease into the activity. But what’s better, at least in my view, is picking up a graphic novel. That way you’re still reading (and you can still add them to your goodreads count) but they don’t add too much pressure on you. And they don’t necessarily have to be the deepest, most profound ones out there. It can be anything – even those magazines with comics inside that you loved as a child. Just remember to take it easy.
It is important to remind yourself that books are not going anywhere, despite what the ringing in your head tells you. Reading is not a competition – there are no winners and losers. If you don’t feel like reading – don’t make yourself miserable by doing it. You’ll still be a reader, despite not having the energy to read all the books you want to at the moment. They’ll be waiting for you when you recharge.
Just because you still haven’t gotten to that new release you’ve been meaning to read in so long that isn’t so new anymore doesn’t mean you’re a bad reader. Just because a friend of yours has read more books than you this year does not mean you’re lagging behind. Everyone reads at their own pace, and they read whatever they’re in the mood for. Sometimes it’s okay to even not read at all. You don’t have to beat yourself up because you haven’t picked up a book in days, weeks, or even months. It doesn’t mean you will never read again. This is a temporary set back. It Shall Pass.
If you read until the end – thank you! I hope you found this educational and, most importantly, helpful. Feel free to share your own ways of coping with reading and mental illnesses as well! 🙂