Mental health struggles have become a large part of my life in the last couple of years. Only this year have I started to take care of myself by naming the mental health issues I walk with, depression and anxiety, and finding the extra support I need to find more harmony in my life. But even though these are new ways to help myself, reading and writing have always been my barometer for where I stand emotionally.
I have been through short and much longer stretches of not being able to read or write due to depression. This often throws me into a spiral of shame and despair because reading and writing are what I love doing. Books help me learn and relate to new ideas or similar experiences. But in the depths of depression it becomes so much easier to lay down in front of the TV and blast through all the seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, again. Which isn’t to say that can’t be good or what I need at the time. But there is something about losing the ability to read that leaves me feeling hollow.
I’m still learning how to be nice to myself. I thought I would share a few ways that I try to keep reading and writing in my life, even when my mental illness starts closing doors.
Comic Books and Graphic Novels
A friend told me she was having a hard time reading books while dealing with her mental health, so she turned to graphic novels. Instead of giving up on reading all together, I gave this method a try. The great thing about comics and graphic novels is that the illustrations keep me engaged in a way that straight text on the page can’t sometimes. There are a lot of different kinds of stories being told this way, such as memoir, fiction, historical narratives, even classic literature like Pride and Prejudice is getting the graphic novel treatment. Of course if super heroes are your thing, there is a lot to choose from!
Know It’s OK to Read Only Those Two Pages
I spent a long time in academia reading a lot of books/articles in a short period of time. So, when I continually find myself reading only a page or two of a book before my depression addled brain makes me fall asleep, I get frustrated. “This is stupid!” I berate myself, “I used to read so much!” Well, that was then and I have to learn that this is NOW. I tell myself that it’s OK to just read one or two pages. Remember that is one or two pages more than you had read before. Eventually, you will have read all the pages and got what you needed out of the book in the time that you needed to.
Commit to Writing One Page a Day
The thing about committing to one page a day is that it at least gets something started. Something has been put down on a page and can be worked with later. Maybe another day there will be more than one page, but at least every day has a page. A great project that a friend of a friend started this summer is the hashtag #30pages30pics. This is a commitment to writing a page a day for 30 days, then take a selfie to post online after writing. The selfie is a bit of self love and accountability wrapped up together.
Be Kind To Yourself
Above all, be kind to yourself. I know that doing these things keeps me in the loop with what I love. I try not to belittle my efforts by thinking of them as too small or me as weak for not doing more. Ok, I actually think that crap a lot about myself, but I’m trying to stop. It doesn’t help me get better. It takes away my energy and slides me deeper under the darkness and isolation of depression.
I may not make it through a giant stack of books like I used to when I was a student, but I can still keep learning and adventuring in a way that works for me now. Do you have a passion for reading and writing? Do you also struggle to maintain your mental health? How do you deal with it? Let me know.