Fiction and non-fiction reading, as well as audiobooks, are an essential part of my mental health maintenance program. Like many lawyers, much of my reading focused on academic works within my profession. Educational and vital but not exactly mind-expanding outside of that world.
There was a time when I was into some fiction. I read John Grisham’s early works and was a big fan of Michael Crichton. Somewhere along the line, I stopped. The paradox is that my mental health struggles played a role in that. Why would I pick up a book when I can’t get out of bed? Why would I pick up a book to read through tears when I have no idea why I am crying? Why would I pick up a book when I don’t think I will be around in a year? The sum total of the common depressive thought:” What’s the point”’
When I began my recovery, writing played more of a role then reading. I blogged my anger, pain, and trauma. It helped, and that’s for another column. I, however, still had no interest in reading until I decided to write my fiction two years ago. Because I had written two non-fiction books, I was arrogant in my approach. It’s easy! Anyone can do it. I was so wrong and gave up because, like walking into a courtroom to try a case for the first time, I realized I was not yet borne, when it came to writing fiction.
Several people recommended that I read “About Writing” by Stephen King. In that book, he stressed that it is challenging to learn the art of fiction without reading it.
I began to read and listen to audiobooks nonstop, and not just Grisham type stuff. I read contemporary, classic, romantic, thriller, comedic. I listened, will I jogged. I listened while I drove. I read while I lounged with my cat sleeping on my stomach.
There was no mental health epiphany but a gradual comfort with reading and enjoying fiction for the sake of itself.
Reading temporary takes me out of my world of intermittent worries, obligations, and stress. It allows me to be present in a new uninterrupted reality for a set time every day. I connect and empathize with characters and stories. I have even found myself crying for a character or feeling good when he or she beats the odds. I self-reflect on my own issues when I encounter a character that reminds me of me. Even in the context of a fictional world, characters I identify with allow me to feel part of something more significant at times when I may be questioning my purpose, which is not uncommon as we grow older. This, of course, pulls me back into my world but often with a comforting feeling that many of the things I feel are a universal experience. I don’t feel as isolated.
That is not to say that books should be looked at as an evidence-based treatment modality to pull out of a depression. If I couldn’t get out of bed, I could not be expected to open a book. What I can say is that reading is helpful as a means of diversifying my thought processes rather than fixating on something that can trigger me into a depressive episode.
Think about how reading outside of your comfort zone and professional life may be able to benefit you. Pick up a book. Pick up a Kindle. Give on a listen — just one book. My passion for recovery started one day at a time. My love for books began one book at a time.
By the way, as I write this, I am reading “The Border” by Don Winslow.