Libraries are such fantastic places and with the arrival of the pandemic, I haven’t been able to visit them regularly like I used to. Out of all of my structured weekly routines, visiting the local libs is the one that I miss more than anything else. In all of my years of dealing with depression and anxiety, this is the only resource that I have had in my life that has helped me with my mental health in a plethora of ways.
As I’ve mentioned before in this segment, self-care for me is about much more than taking a bubble bath or drinking a glass of wine. It’s about working from the inside out to enrich the day-to-day with as much joy and peace of mind as possible, which sometimes means focusing on the things that may make one greatly uncomfortable at first. For me it, it was having to look inwardly to determine what my main triggers were and ways to better cope through them. Eventually, it led me to the library and that’s when our lifelong companionship began.
Last year in April, I chatted briefly about how exactly the libs helps me out, which you can read here, and that inspired me to return today to add a few more benefits to the list!
A Quiet Place to Escape
Because I am an agoraphobe and I am also restricted to the house (pre-quarantine) due to my physical health, sometimes I get so exhausted from being in one place all of the time. So, to counteract the boredom and stifling nature of being confined to a single, solitary area, I began to visit the library weekly, on Fridays and/or Saturdays. It’s the perfect place for me to hang out because it doesn’t make me anxious to stay there for prolonged periods of time, and due to how familiar I have become with the building, layout, and staff members, it doesn’t cause my typical agoraphobic triggers to arise either.
It’s quiet enough to where I can find a cosy spot either in a big, comfy chair or at a table with a warm-light lamp and read or sketch. Yet, I can also put on my headphones for the extra bit of distraction and zoning out, and most of the time my music doesn’t bother other people (I listen to classical music and it tends to be loud via the headphones, unless I have a headache or am focusing on something specific).
Another bit I adore is that no one bothers me in turn. I’m not sure why, but whenever I read in public, so many people view it as an invitation to disrupt or disturb me. People will walk by and strike up a conversation—never about my book—and it makes me so uncomfortable. It’s even worse when people try to flirt or hit on me—usually male or masculine folx—because of the way they make their attempts. However, at the libs, no one bothers me at all. Sometimes I’ll get a person who chats with me about a particular book I’m reading or paroozing, but they are kind and it’s always super brief. I appreciate this so much because it allows me to concentrate on this time that I have specifically set aside for myself and I’m not left feeling on edge or overtly paranoid. Dare I say, it even helps to relax me (I’m horrid at relaxing; in fact, I hate that word with a passion).
Access to Research Materials for Free
Due to the sheer volume of materials that are available at the local libs, I almost always have all the research items that I need for whatever writing project I am working on in that moment, and it feels so great to know that it’s all free. I’m a pretty low-income human, so I take whatever resources I can with much gratitude and appreciation.
For example, I’m currently working on an oceanic Polynesian-inspired fantasy novel and there was a lot of study that went into getting the foundation for this narrative down. All of the books and references that I used would have cost me at least a couple of hundred dollars (nonfiction marine biology and anthropological Pacific Islander books are expensive as hell, holy Kheb), yet with my libs membership, I was able to check out all of them for free!
Yesterday I began outlining a new fantasy novel that involves a lot of botany and I’m so excited to dive into the research aspect of it (one of my favourite parts). I went online and browsed the library catalogue to see what they had available and placed a bunch of stuff on hold. Once more these materials would have cost me tons of money that I don’t have to spare if I didn’t have access to the local library.
This is beneficial to my mental health because my dream in life is to become a published author and being able to craft stories without worrying about the cost that goes into it is a huge burden off of my shoulders. It provides me with an opportunity to pursue this dream wholeheartedly and that, in turn, makes me feel productive and enthusiastic about life, which prevents my depressive episodes significantly.
Another way that it helps is by providing me access to new release fiction titles. Since I am a book blogger and reviewer, I do enjoy reading and discussing new titles. Currently, I don’t do it as often as I’d like because I have a lot of older stuff in my backlog repertoire and also because sometimes newer titles have a ridiculous amount of hype to them. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that I outright loathe new releases because that’s very much not the case. Keeping up with the latest hits does help me stay and feel connected to fellow bookworms in the book blogging community and it’s something that I’m quite grateful for.
I’m a socially awkward and even at times anti-social human. Face-to-face interactions are excruciatingly difficult for me, and I always come off so awkward online (in chit-chats) that I probably drive people away. Nonetheless, when we have a shared interest, such as reading the same new book, it allows for some cohesive foundation for conversation and this has helped me to build new friendships that are very near and dear to me. They help me feel less alone and depressed, which wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my libs and access to these new books.
Freedom to Be My Neurodivergent Self
Last but not least, one of the biggest ways that the library helps my mental health is by allowing me to be myself one-hundred-percent of the time.
I mentioned this briefly over on Twitter recently, but I have Autism. I’m high functioning, but more often than not, I tend to go into this thing called Safe Mode. It’s where my mannerisms and speaking are rather childlike. It happens to make it easier for my brain to process through high levels of stress. Occasionally, I’ll stay in this mode even if the stress passes, at least for a couple days after-the-fact. It developed over time due to trauma and now it’s just a natural part of my identity and who I am. In the past, I used to be very ashamed of it and felt people would view me as being unintelligent or mentally unstable, which is not the case at all. If anything, I actually understand even more complex things much more efficiently while in this particular state of mind.
Even so, it impacts my voice, my behaviour, my mannerisms, the way that I speak, and it even heightens a few of the physical impairments that I get, mostly with my hands. The library staff at the one that I frequent is well aware of my condition(s), so I don’t have to force myself out of this mode (which sometimes has really negative effects on my depression and anxiety) to make others around me comfortable or to prevent myself from being bullied/made fun of out while being out in public. No one at the library (other patrons) seem to care at all as long as we’re not bothering each other.
It’s such a humongous relief to just be myself without any bit of fear or apprehension. I never realised how relaxed and at ease I am when I’m in Safe Mode and I’d love the opportunity to embrace it whenever it arrives. I know that it’s happening for the benefit of my mental health and allowing it to simply do its thing is critical for the maintenance of said mental health. So, having these positive interactions and experiences in Safe Mode has allowed me to embrace it and not shy away or fight it when I’m in public places outside of the libs.
Additionally, because the staff knows me so well, they’re able to recognise if something does go astray (for example if a severe PTSD episode occurs or if my brain feels overwhelmed and I lose the ability to function properly without assistance, which is extremely rare, but it does happen) and contact my caretaker (Madame Gabs, who is also a regular of the libs) immediately. Quite a few of them are actually trained for helping people like me, which is another thing to take comfort in. If these episodes do ensue, it never changes how they perceive me when I return. They treat me like they always do and… I honestly cannot describe how incredibly welcoming and wonderful that feels.
For people living with mental health illnesses and for some folx that have Autism, having certain routines and techniques that help us when we are feeling our worst or experiencing a Bad Day is an extremely vital element to self-care. That’s why I have so much gratitude for the library and all the different ways that it has helped me and the many ways it continues to do so, even during a pandemic (which shall be shared in an upcoming post!).