Being a voracious reader has always been the core of my personality. Being able to pick up one book after another after another and immediately get lost in the different worlds, cultures, characters’ plights and more has a spectacular element of joy that is extremely difficult to describe with mere words alone. So, when the ability to travel via tales turns into a malevolent force of restlessness and lack of focus, I find myself falling into small pits of depression. That’s how much I rely on the comforts that reading brings to me. It’s how much I absolutely love books. Even so, burnouts seem to be a natural part of being a rapacious bibliophile and every time I find myself in a slump, rather than understanding that it’s a sign from my brain and my body, I get supremely angry and frustrated and so incredibly sad.
That is until recently.
Ever since I had open heart surgery, I have noticed that everything about my favourite pastimes have changed drastically. In many ways, I have completely forgotten who I am as a person. Before the surgery, I was a humongous reader. I dabbled in sketching. I watched anime on a semi-regular basis. My goals and aspirations were as clear as a starry night sky to me. Yet, afterwards, I was faced with a gargantuan black space of emptiness. As I stared at this blank canvas, my mind became filled with question marks and a deep sense of loneliness. While I have undergone moments like this to various degrees in the past, it has never been so all-consuming, and the best way for me to safely work through it was via reading. But what am I supposed to do when the very act of reading fills me with a great sense of anxiety and stress?
Today, I wanted to chat briefly about the significant power that reading slumps can have on a person who relies on it regularly, especially as an act of self-care, and what it could mean when the ability to read starts to evade one like Shaggy and Scooby-Doo evading ghostly baddies.
For the last three to four weeks, every single time I pick up a book and begin reading, I get stonewalled at around ten to fifteen pages. My brain feels like it has reached its limit on being able to focus on the words and sentences and begins to shut down. The sentences are replaced with images of anything and everything except for whatever is unfolding on the pages. Sometimes it’ll be scenes from my own WIPs (works-in-progress) or random scenes from TV or films I have seen recently. On the worst of days, it’ll be memories from my past that were traumatic or extremely difficult to get through, usually where I was left with intense feelings of guilt, shame, or betrayal. It just ruminates on these toxic things. Because of that, I have had to forgo reading altogether. Who wants to remember shitty memories from the long-forgotten past? I sure as hell don’t.
During this intense period of slumping, I felt hopeless. My only other way to process through stress in a healthy way was via driving. However, when you have open heart surgery, you are restricted from driving for at least four to six weeks minimum, usually even longer depending on the procedure and the individual’s healing process. There’s a good chance I won’t be able to drive again until December. Without reading and now without driving, I was starting to feel like I would go absolutely mad (literally) from the stress that was eating away at me. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I spoke to Madame Gabs.
She is so fucking smart and insightful, let me tell ya, folx.
She told me that by forcing myself to try and enjoy something that my body and brain clearly want no part of isn’t going to make the ruts go away any faster but shall only work to exasperate the hell out of them. Rather than force myself to do something I’m clearly not ready for, why not try to figure out just what it is that my mind and spirit are trying to tell me? The answer to this was as clear to me as my love of Sephiroth.
I was too fucking afraid to look inwardly to figure it out, that’s why I hadn’t done it yet.
When you are already struggling with a mammoth identity crisis, particularly one that involves the complete loss of identity as a whole, trying to understand what is causing it can be a hugely intimidating task. Even so, I took her advice. I meditated for about an hour and forced every single thought out of my mind. I relaxed my body as much as possible and tried my hardest to really search my nerves and instincts so that I could hear whatever it was that my body wanted me to hear.
I didn’t gauge anything. Instead, I walked away from that meditative session feeling even more discouraged than when I began. However, later that night when I went to sleep, I dreamt. I had this awesome dream about making an announcement on the socials for a cover reveal event for my debut novel. It may sound silly, but I felt like this was the first real sign I’ve had in weeks. To be perfectly blunt, I have never had a dream like this before. Sure, I dream about crying and then throwing up from the joys of getting my first letter of “We want to publish you!” shenanigans. But never anything like this. To make matters even more eerie, my cover reveal was for a middle grade fantasy novel. I have never written middle grade story and, honestly, I never had the intention because the genre intimidates me, probably because kids fucking scare the wits outta me. Nevertheless, there it was.
When I woke up, without even thinking about it, I had an entire novel mapped out in my brain and the first couple chapters written from beginning to end. It felt as if there was this force yelling at me to stop being afraid of living now that I have a whole heart and many, many more years ahead of me (something I never dreamt would be possible), and to further encourage me to stop being a chicken-shite, I was given a silver platter of material to draw from. I had been talking to Boss Man for weeks to no avail, so to finally get this kind of response had me stunned down to my very bones (if you believe in that sort of thing, which I completely do).
This happened to me a couple of days ago. I took the last two days to set up a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) gig so I can stay motivated to keep working on this new project that infested my brain out of the blue and then I looked up some diverse middle grade books that I had always wanted to read, adding them to my library hold list.
Today, for the very first time in four agonising weeks of feeling utterly lost, alone, and hopeless I was able to pick up a book and read past fifteen pages. Granted, thus far I’ve only made it to page twenty-four, but the point is that I was finally able to read again. Not only that, I remembered everything that happened, and my blood is coursing with excitement to make a fresh pot of masala chai and to sit down and read some more.
I honestly believed that I had lost my passion for reading for good, which wasn’t true. Instead, my body, brain, and even my spirit understood that I was struggling with something very deep and profound. It knew that reading was a method used to run away from my fears rather than face them and so it prevented me from running. I was impatient and miserable the whole time, but I’m also supremely grateful that things worked out this way.
In addition to figuring out some existential life hubbub, the reading rut also gave me an opportunity re-connect with my love of anime. As I mentioned above, I’ve been a semi-regular watcher. What that translates to is that I’ve been in a devastatingly long anime-watching pit pretty much for all of 2020. Aside from random bursts where I was able to sit down and binge-watch a few titles, being able to consistently check out episodes has been a grotesque chore. Yet, with reading out of the way, I have been able to take my time watching anime comfortably and I’ve been watching a few episodes of various serials every single day. That small sense of routine with my second impassioned pastime has been a saviour in these times of severe stress and solitude.
I guess the point of this long ass prattling post was to say that no matter how much reading slumps and bookish burnouts can frustrate us and cause us sadness or irritation, sometimes it’s just our bodies’ way of saying, “Slow the fuck down and deal with this thing.” It may not even pertain to a specific issue or problem. Alternatively, it can just be telling us that we need a change of pace or environment for reasons that we may not understand quite yet (e.g.: reconnecting with other hobbies). If the existential identity crisis I was having is pulled out of the picture for a moment, then it’s easy to see that my reading rut helped me to better understand how much certain hobbies mean to me (anime watching and writing) and which ones I really didn’t care for anymore but stayed attached to due to unnecessary sentimental (i.e.: keeping the past alive) reasons; that it was time to let some shit go. There are many Yucks to reading slumps for sure, but they also have their moments of Yays, and I shall always be appreciative of that, as well as more open-minded about them should they arise again in the future.