Friday, August 19, 2016

The Power of Reading on Your Mental Health

For Shattering Stigmas today, I've got lovely Samantha from The Forest of Words and Pages here on the blog! 

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Reading Classics for Your Mental Health

 Around half a year ago, I experienced the worst bought of depression I ever have before. I couldn’t see myself making it through the next 5 minutes, let alone find the strength and energy to take care of my health and actively focus on healing. I discovered a new rock bottom, one I never imagined I would ever hit. Circumstances (insurance) made therapy out of reach for the moment, though I did utilize a few mental health apps that had helpful online support groups. 
 

At some point, I went into a “just let me find a distraction” phase, but the usual entertainment (Netflix and a good portion of books) were out because I was so easily and overwhelmingly triggered by a number of things. I somehow stumbled upon a network of free online courses and amongst them was a class on literature and mental health. It talked *about* books, so I didn’t have to worry about being triggered reading one; the instructors used primarily videos as their tool of instruction which provided a visual distraction and was generally comforting. Perhaps most importantly, they tackled topics in mental health very seriously and always with exceptional compassion. 

One of such topics was bibliotherapy, a field combining psychology and literature that has always fascinated me. While receiving traditional bibliotherapy isn’t possible for most since it isn’t quite a huge field yet, the concept of using literature to work through personal difficulties is something that most book lovers have probably already done at least once in their life, if just on a small scale (think rereading Harry Potter for comfort). 

During the depression section of the course, the instructors used Sense and Sensibility as an example, one of my personal favorites. They discussed the different reactions to pain Marianne and Elinor have, and that discussion lead me to compare my own responses to pain. I found a joy in the course I didn’t think I could feel again, and it gave me an idea: how about reading a few classics I hadn’t before, as both a means of distraction and a means of analyzing the characters in a way that also allowed me to analyze myself in a familiar way?
As far as triggers go, classics are sort of great. You can find a variety of summaries online, all of which can alert you in advance if any part might be triggering. Though there is the possibility something not mentioned in a summary might be triggering, you’ll likely have more of a solid idea of what you’re getting into with a classic (or any really well known work) than other, lesser known books. In a way, I had more control over my reading this way, and control was something I craved at that point. 

One of my first selections was Jane Eyre, a book I quickly fell in love with. Talk about a girl having a rough go of it. Jane’s resilience was exceptionally inspiring, and as I read, I found myself wanting to be the kind of person who, like Jane, would keep trying no matter what. I also read The Secret Garden and learned that indulging in my own pain like Mary did was okay and even necessary sometimes, but healing had to happen if I wanted to grow as Mary and her garden grew. I gave some poetry a go too because I found the rhythm calming. 

Sometimes when you’re in deep depression, there isn’t one ‘cure.’ It takes a holistic approach to get better, to find the healthy space again. I can’t say reading classics made everything better, and I was suddenly happy. In reality, it took a combination of many, many things, including reading classics, to help. Months later, I’m still not sure if I’m comfortable saying I’m happy yet. It almost sounds like a jinx if I do, and I’m not sure if it’s true yet, or if I should even be reaching for that goal when happiness, just like sadness, goes in and out of life. I am, however, significantly better. I’m healthy, I laugh almost every day, my triggers are a million times more manageable, and I’m devouring books across the spectrum with great joy. If you’re feeling depressed or anxious, I don’t know if reading classics will help, but I do encourage you to find help when you need it. Therapy, other professionals, support groups (online or in person), hotlines, friends, family, books, etc. are all good options, and I wish you the very, very best. 

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Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful and personal post with us, Samantha! <3 And I have no doubt people will be able to relate to this. I definitely can. Books have helped me in immeasurable ways, have given me strength and courage when I needed it, have made me feel less alone about certain aspects of my life. And I turn to them in comfort a lot as well. I think I unofficially do bibliotherapy a bit, and I hope it becomes a bigger field because I can't imagine much better than using books to help people. :)

Don't forget to enter the giveaway and be sure to check out Inge's, Shannon's, Topaz's, and Erica's blogs for more Shattering Stigmas posts! :)