It’s Jan 1st as I’m writing this and scrolling on Instagram reveals one gushing post about 2018 after another. I have actually really enjoyed looking at everyone’s round-ups and humble brags. I think it’s healthy to show yourself your highlights and reflect on how you spent your year! But here’s why you won’t get a 2018 round up from me…
2018 was a bad year.
2018 consisted of some great things – sure! I can find a silver lining in a pile of shit, but basically it was one of the worst years I’ve ever had. It was a year where I learnt brutal lessons; learnt how to grow and rise above poisonous relationships. I essentially just turned into even more of the middle aged person stuck in a twenty-something-year-old-body. It was a challenge. I don’t want to dive into what happened on this space because it’s too long, personal, painful and well, I haven’t quite processed it properly yet… but it was a lot. It involved family and would easily read as a Christmas special script submission for Corrie.
Through times of hardship, we have two choices – to crash and burn or to get on with it. I chose to mostly ‘get on with it’. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have crash and burn moments. In fact, sometimes I feel like 2018 was just one big ‘crash and burn’ sandwich. But, primarily, I chose to ignore the situation that was bulldozing my life in a simple attempt to move past it. Even though you can put a mental block on something, whenever something bad is happening/has happened – it still remains in the back of your mind. It’s like those apps that we forget to close that are constantly running in the background of our phone. Those apps drain our phone batteries and my over-active thoughts were draining me. I researched local therapists to see if they could help. I am a talker and if anything, I felt like talking about the bizarre trauma of my situation might help things. I’d never been to therapy before and I didn’t know how much of a sting my wallet would take… so that’s when I searched for other methods of finding my ‘calm’. It was right under my nose – my books.
As a child, a book would fill me with no greater joy. I liked everything about books. I liked the way they lay heavy in my palms, how the fresh smell of paper and ink hit my nose with every turn of a page and most importantly, how a story could transport me out of my world and into another. I have a massively vivid imagination. I can traumatise myself with my nightmares and be convinced that my dream was a reality until I’ve had my morning cuppa. When I read a book, it’s like I’m watching a film. Of course, how detailed ‘the film’ is will depend of the writer’s narrative – but I will be totally invested. I will formulate what each character looks like, what they are wearing and what their voice sounds like and I will fill in the gaps if the author hasn’t given me thorough character specifications. I fully invest. I know that this is what reading is all about but to me I’m not just reading a book – I’m consumed by the whole tale.
The only film I have ever cried at is ‘Mamma Mia 2’ and ‘The Notebook’ – I was pretty high on the PMS scale and the end scene really hit me at a vulnerable time. And do I even need to explain ‘The Notebook’ sob fest? But, in general, even with the saddest movies, you will often see me with dry eyes. I think it’s because movies don’t allow me to create my own version on the narrative. The character is fully formed and presented to me ‘as is’. I’m not given the capacity to fill in the gaps – the character’s voice is the actor’s voice , their clothes are what the costume department hung out for them and their interiors are all meticulously propped up by the joists of the set. I also can’t separate actors from one movie to the next very easily. For example, whenever I watch the Ellen show I see Dory the fish swimming around in my head and vice-versa. When I watched the new series ‘You’ on Netflix, I saw Emily from Pretty Little Liars with a fresh new wardrobe and Dan Humphrey from Gossip Girl on another crazy stalk. Plus, there’s a wall there – with a book the wall is broken down and when written in first person, I can feel the character’s thoughts as if they’re my own. Basically, if you want me to cry at a story, laugh at a joke or experience a world so far from my own – hand me a book.
I think I read when I feel my most vulnerable. When I have an open slot of time free in my day, I pick up a book. I’ve tried medication for my severe anxiety and while it really helps – it makes me feel like a balloon, floating around in space just waiting to hit the ground again. A book, however, can provide me with the escapism that I need. It can distract me from my current feelings and can even make me feel better. I am suddenly not invested in my own thoughts but in those of a person I’ve never met. It gives me a time out from my anxieties, my worries and the immediate reality. I can press pause. Statistics from last year show a 5% rise in people purchasing books – it’s clear that I’m not the only one who enjoys diving head first into another reality. Most of our lives now circulate around the Internet. We are reading without even knowing that we are on our socials, but the reading is passive. We spend so much of our lives today being passive. From mindlessly double-tapping a friend’s post on Instagram to watching story, after story on Snapchat – are we actually focused on our actions, or just robotically acting out through habit? .
I like the fact that a book is needy. It’s an attention whore. It loves nothing more than to smugly remind you that if your mind is elsewhere, you’ll be re-reading the same sentence for a long time. Today, reading a book takes discipline. Our attention spans are apparently getting shorter because of all the ‘fast’ content that we are stuffing our brains with. But a book insists that I focus my mind on something other than the notifications on my phone. It is one page at a time programming my mind back to my nine year old nerdy state of self. Nine year old me would spend her entire Summer curled up on a sofa reading a book. I’d take my book around like it was the new Gucci purse. It’s no surprise that I fell back in love with reading at the stage of my life that I’m in now. Books can teach us lessons. They can help us learn about new perspectives. We can put ourselves in the shoes of people who we would never otherwise meet. We experience new cultures, traditions and ways of living life that are exotic and real.
Reading became my therapy in 2018. I read thirty two books and filled up an entire bookcase. I tried to read books with diverse subject matters, books that would teach me something and books that would make me feel ‘calm’. While I can’t confirm that my reading habits were totally ‘zen’, they made me focus on other people’s lives and problems. I am guilty of becoming consumed by my own thoughts, my own life and my own misfortunes. But a book can be like the slap on the face that people are too afraid to do. A book can make you live in the moment – but not your own moment. When things became too much for me last year, I found books healing. They helped me understand the complexities of humans. Books helped me further understand our psyche as a species. They introduced me to character flaws beyond those close to me. They made me experience a pain that wasn’t my own. Basically, it was refreshing. Reading makes me feel like I am brushing off the stale cobwebs. It forces me to leave my own emotional baggage at Chapter One. Books are exactly what the doctor ordered and I don’t intend on leaving them to gather dust this year either.
Of course, books will never quite heal a person the same way that a therapist can. But they can open your eyes, soak up the tears with their pages and make you experience something wonderful. And, if it’s not wonderful, it reminds you that your life could be a whole lot worse.