How to read when you don't feel like reading

for the sad times

One of the most annoying things about having a brain that doesn’t listen to you is that you can convince yourself that you hate the things you actually like. I’ve had clinical depression probably my whole life. I see a therapist every week. I am (well) medicated. I am doing okay. My therapist warned me that after we sold my novel, after this big momentous occasion, it was likely that I would enter into a depressive episode. I hadn’t had an episode for the months leading up to the sale. It was nice. I was distracted. I was too stressed to hear my brain. The brain is incredible like that, in its ability to block us off from our real problems in order to focus on something more pressing. Then I sold the book and my job exploded (ha!) and here I am, standing in what is probably a mild episode that I’m just going to have to wait out.

I’ve only ever come up with one good metaphor for entering a depressive episode. It’s not perfect.

Imagine you are standing on a platform on top of a trap door. The platform is above a pool, but it moves around like a spacecraft. You, on the platform, can only see what’s in front of you. You cannot see where in the pool you are. Then, suddenly, the trap door will open seemingly at random, and you will be wet and in the pool and unhappy. You never know, though, if you’re going to land in the shallow end where you can still work and breathe and feel mostly okay, or if you’ll land in a place where you can’t breathe at all, a deeper place. All the work people with mental illness do can raise the floor of the pool so you rarely drown, but it doesn’t change the fact that sometimes the trap door is just going to open and you are going to be wet.

I have gotten a little sidetracked here, but all of this is to say that it is really hard to read books when you are dealing with other things be they depressions or sadness or money anxiety or just trying to do all of these endless chores that adults have to do to be alive. It’s hard to consume art when you’re tired. Art asks a lot of us. It asks us to think about the world in a broader way. It asks us to question what we know. It asks us to think about the decisions we’ve made and will make. This is sometimes too much. I just finished a novel that I had to struggle through the back half of not because it was a bad book (it was good!) but because I am so tired. My brain hurts. I am sleeping 10 hours a night and waking up exhausted.

This is not the best place to read for pleasure, is what I’m trying to say. I am too tired to read. I realized yesterday, as I read something on my phone for work, that this might be a relatable place. That what I do in this space might be helpful to hear.

I re-read.

I go back to comfortable books that I could read in my sleep, that I can zone out for full sections and still hop back into. Sometimes that book is Housekeeping, which I’ve written about here before.

For this dip in the pool I’m going back to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Toni Morrison’s Sula, where I hope to find refuge and comfort, where I hope to hold on until I’m lifted back to a place where I’m ready for something new.

Painting is by Alexei Harlamov, “Literary Pursuits of a Young Lady”

Loading more posts…