I’ve struggled with my anxiety since I was a teenager. Like many aspects of my mental illness, I didn’t even realise this was something that other people didn’t have to deal with. I thought that everyone was subject to paralysing terror at the smallest of things and plagued by thoughts that kept them up all night. I genuinely believed that this was just another facet of life that no one brings up, like that one stubborn chin hair that keeps reappearing.
But since learning more about my anxiety, I’ve come to realise how deeply it’s embedded in my daily life. Even now, when I’m in a place where I can manage my anxiety and live my life, it sneaks through into the most surprising places.
I’m an avid reader who would gladly give up any social plans to stay home with a good book. I began wondering how my anxiety comes out in my bookworm tendencies, and I noticed the following:
My friend reads over one hundred books a year. I think her aim for this year is one hundred and fifty. I’m in awe of her and the pace with which she reads. I’m a slow reader in comparison, aiming for a measly sixty-five books this year.
I asked her how she reads so fast, and she says sometimes she is skimming the pages. I realise that I never do that. I read every single word on every single page. I’m so worried about missing something, even a single word.
If I’ve read a page and can’t remember it clearly enough, I’ll go back to it. This means that reading takes me a while, as I’m often checking myself as I go. I’m constantly quizzing myself as I move through a book.
I have so much respect for people that can leave a book unfinished. If they’re not enjoying something, they simply put it down. I don’t seem to have the strength to do that. I will force myself to finish a book no matter how painful it is. I will also always finish a series. It’s not that I think it’ll get better, but rather that I can’t stand the thought of something being incomplete.
This means that I’ll read something slowly and almost make it a chore. But the good thing is that this makes me a bit more selective with reading, as I tend to enjoy most things I read! Or I just convince myself of that to feel about it…
As I said, I tend to enjoy most of the books I read. But even so, I sometimes think of criticisms for them, or ways they could be better. I’ve read books that I didn’t think were particularly great, and yet I give them a 3* review. That is the lowest I’ve managed to go.
I don’t know if I’m afraid of fans of the book coming after me - which I’ve seen happen - or hurting the author’s feelings. These are bestselling novelists, and I’m sure they don’t look at every review. Yet it just feels terrifying to leave a review under 3 stars. I wish I could be more honest.
I have a terrible habit of over-empathising with characters in books. It means that I feel everything far too strongly, and a sad scene is enough to ruin my day. This also means that when they’re going through an intense scene, I can’t put down the book until it’s resolved. Even if I’m exhausted, I’ll keep reading until I’m assured they’re all right. If I try to sleep before then, I’ll lie awake for hours in a panic until I surrender to the book once more.
I started reading fantasy this year which is when this became a real issue. Before then, I mainly read ‘sad girl in her twenties’ books, which don’t contain too many cliffhangers or characters in real peril.
I can’t bear the thought of being somewhere that I could read and not having my Kindle with me. What if my train gets delayed? What if I end up waiting for ages at my appointment?
This drove me to download the Kindle app onto my phone, so I can always read as long as I have my phone on me. It’s not ideal, but it works for those unusual moments.
This fear also makes me put far too many books on my Kindle before a trip. You just never know when you’ll finish a book. Rationally, I know I could then just get new books at that point, but what if I can’t? What if I have no access to WiFi or 4G? You just never know. So I have about a dozen extra books on my Kindle at all times. And yet I’ll still find something new to read instead of those books.
No, these are not ‘symptoms of anxiety’, but just little ways that my constant fear and worrying had merged itself with my adoration for the written word. Reading is both my biggest joy and my biggest source of stress, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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