A tale as old as time: someone who was an avid reader as a child and then lost it once they grew up. I’ve heard a lot of people struggle with this, and I was one of them. As a child and teenager, I devoured every book that I could get my hands on. My school library allowed you to take a maximum of three books out, and you can bet that I always had three on the go. I was on a first-name basis with the librarians and they would often allow me to choose which books they should order next. I was reading every moment that I could, and often this involved books that weren’t appropriate for my age. I read books that confused or scared me, and yet books were always my safe place.
Because books were the one thing I could always rely on. They made sense to me in a world I couldn’t understand. So when I finally found my way back to reading at twenty-two, it truly felt like coming home. I began to remember why I dealt with that heavy bag and strained my eyes to read more in the dark. Looking back, I don’t know how I would’ve coped with my mental illness if I wasn’t a reader.
It feels like I was a lonely child that was always surrounded by people. I have that to this day, that feeling of loneliness down to my gut despite being with friends or family. It’s something that might not make sense to a lot of people, but it was a large part of what formed me. Maybe it came from moving a lot as a child, maybe it came from my personality disorder forming from a young age, or maybe there’s no good explanation.
I felt less alone when I was reading. I clung to characters like they were my best friends, so it’s no wonder that to this day, I over-empathise with characters in books. I didn’t feel alone when I was reading. I spent a lot of time alone at home, and when I was reading the time would fly by, hours would pass in an instant.
That’s an effect that I have to this day. I’ve reached a point where I’d rather stay home with a book than go out and see people, and it makes me feel less alone
The power of books isn’t just in the words on the page, but the community they create. I loved the Harry Potter books, and I got to enjoy being part of a fanbase, sitting in a cinema with bated breath to see how my favourite storylines would play out. Even now, I convinced one of my best friends to read Percy Jackson because I adored it, and now we’ll spend hours discussing and debating it. Sharing a book you love with someone is such a personal act. It’s handing them this vulnerable part of yourself and trusting them with it. But as scary as it is, it’s a chance to love the book even more, as you get to hear different perceptions of it.
Children thrive off consistency, learning that someone will always be there, giving them the things they need for survival. When children don’t have that unconditionality, they miss out on that secure attachment.
I think that for some of these children, books can step in and bridge that gap a little bit. My world often felt unstable, and books helped me to feel a little bit more secure. They were a constant in my world, as I was fortunate to have access to a good library
I knew that with a book, no matter what the issue was, it would feel at least semi-resolved by the end of it. I knew that characters would stay and not disappear from my life. I knew that I could come back to it whenever I needed it.
In that respect, books were a constant in my childhood, and that helped me to hold onto something. I could always lose myself in a book and so I often did.
I used to love Jacqueline Wilson books, I must have read each of them a dozen times or more. She dealt with a lot of tough topics, and looking back some of those were definitely a bit scarring. But they also helped me so much. My parents were very clearly unhappy together, something I had picked up as a young child. But I never shared this with any of my friends, it felt like a heavy secret that was mine alone to carry. Reading about other children who had parents that didn’t get on felt like being able to finally exhale.
When I got a bit older and my personality disorder began to really kick in, I didn’t understand what was happening to myself. Unfortunately, there weren’t many books for teenagers discussing depression, eating disorders and self-harm. I think it’s hard to discuss these topics without seeming like you’re promoting them. But the few books that I did find made all the difference. I hadn’t even understood what self-harm was until I read about it in a book. I didn’t realise it was something that other people did. And whilst it was still so difficult to work through, it allowed me to feel that little bit less alone in my pain. One day I hope to help bridge this gap.
In many ways, books fill the same role that Tiktok or other social media apps do today: they connect you with similar people. They allow you to discover voices and experiences outside of your immediate circle. I didn’t know anyone else struggling with the same things as me, but books allowed me to feel relief in the fact that I wasn’t the only one.
The hardest part of sadness is how trapped you feel in it. When you feel sad, it genuinely feels like you have no control over the matter. As someone with Borderline Personality Disorder, when I feel sad it’s always extreme sadness, and it will feel like I’ve never been happy before and never will again. It sounds dramatic and it is, but my mind excels in making it feel so real and rational to me.
One of the things I love most about books is how they can take you anywhere. I guess this would fall under escapism, as you’re escaping your ordinary life. You’re not trapped in a city you hate, you’re off to Hogwarts or climbing mountains or on a whole different planet. You’re not sad because your friends don’t want to talk to you anymore, you’re off saving the world or you’re the most popular person in this fictitious school.
Books give you the chance to live a thousand lives. They remind you of all the things you might one day get to do, and whilst that won’t include an invitation to Hogwarts, it might include travel doing the job you love and meeting people who finally get you.
Books remind you of how much there is to look forward to, that you should never give up because you have so many pages left in your story.
When I was at my lowest points, I had reading, and I owe it everything. When it felt like I couldn't keep going, the small thought of never finishing the book I was reading, gave me a light in the dark. I can’t imagine my life if I hadn’t been a bookworm and I don’t want to either. Returning to reading has been the best thing I’ve done for my mental health - and not just because it’s got me off Tiktok!
Books were my safe place, and I only hope that one day I can write the books that give someone else the things they need most.
What does reading mean to you?
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.
Would you like to receive my top monthly articles right to your inbox?
For any comments/questions/enquiries, please get in touch at:
I'd love to hear from you!