Rambling Thoughts on Reading and Anxiety

I haven’t picked up a book in over a month, but it’s been more than a year since I really felt driven and motivated by reading. I open a book, I read a few pages or sentences, I set it aside. I can’t focus on words or find joy in stories. I scroll through Instagram, I watch Netflix. I pass the time in meaningless ways.

Last week, I bought a copy of Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith, a book that’s been recommended by some of my favorite bloggers. It promises everything I love in a novel: quiet introspection, beautiful language, and a female protagonist who works in a library. It’s a lovely, slim volume with deckled edges, and the text takes up only about half of each page with generous margins. I held it in my hands and thought “yes, this seems manageable.” And then I set it aside for another week, saving it for a snowy Sunday, my first day off in more than two weeks.

That snowy Sunday finally came, and I woke up thinking “Today’s the day I read a book!” I made myself a cup of coffee and curled up with a blanket… and watched Gilmore Girls. I went to Bae’s house. I came home. I ate lunch and watched 30 Rock. Now I’m sitting in my bed with my book an inch from my knee, and I can’t bring myself to open it.

The longer I go without reading, the harder it is to start. What if I start reading this book and I don’t love it, and I can’t get into the next book, or the one after that? What if I don’t love reading anymore, and a vital part of my self is gone? I’ve always defined myself as a book nerd, and what if this core piece of my identity is no longer true? And what if everything I’ve ever thought about myself is no longer true? I can’t pick up a book when it feels like doing so might make my self-conception collapse. My therapist calls this kind of train of thought “catastrophic thinking.” I know it’s irrational, but I am paralyzed by all of these what-ifs. How does such a small thing, a thing that should make me feel happy and relaxed, get bound up in so much anxiety? Yet any sentence containing the word “should” makes me anxious — because what does it mean when the things that “should” actually “don’t?” Possibly it means something’s broken, and I’m not sure whether it’s me or the world. I don’t know which prospect is scarier.

I’m not quite sure why I’m writing this, except that this is the first time I’ve felt the urge to do any sort of writing in months. I’ve been curled up inside a cave in the pit of my stomach, unable to connect with my partner, my friends, or my family, but if I’m feeling this tiny impulse to extend myself outward in some way today, then maybe I should do it. Because even though I’m terrible at reaching out, I miss all of you. So tell me something. I’m not asking you to tell me how to overcome all of my hang-ups, because I suspect that’s just going to take time and small steps and hard work. But tell me something that made you laugh or lifted your spirits or eased your own anxiety lately. As for me, Mari Andrew’s Instagram illustrations about art, friendship, and self care always warm my heart.


39 thoughts on “Rambling Thoughts on Reading and Anxiety

  1. Hey! Hi! I haven’t lost my reading mojo, but I deal with a lot (LOT) of anxiety issues, and I’ve totally lost my writing mojo, so I relate to a lot of this. Hang in there, chica. Even if books aren’t the thing getting you through right now, you’ve got other stuff to turn to…and you are still very much you!! And honestly, I’m totes jealous you have time to watch Gilmore Girls, because I just started season 1 but my kids never give me enough time to watch more 😉
    Something that made me laugh and forget ALL my anxiety for a short while was the 2016 Hater’s Guide to the Williams Sonoma Catalog (Google it, I think it’s on Deadspin). Get ready to laugh til you cry. Then google the ones from past years for added hilarity. 🙂

  2. I feel this so much, so I’m glad to read your rambling, relatable thoughts. I’ve put down over half the books I’ve had time to start in the last few months for similar reasons, have the same feelings about my identity re: reading, and fall into the same chain of anxiety because of it. It’s so unsettling but also feels very trivial so it’s hard to talk about. I’ve also had the ol’ therapist talk about catastrophic thinking 😉 I wish I had more fuzziness to send your way, but I’m giving you a big hug and https://www.instagram.com/weratedogs/ for good measure.

  3. exact same thoughts here. what helps me to get out of the slump is the goodreads challenge and children’s books. the first reminds me when i am falling behind and the latter takes the pressure off myself. even if i read only 52 baby books with less than 52 words, so what? the accomplishment is there and it helps.
    it also takes us anxious types to make a world, hugs your way🎈

  4. Ah, my old friend catastrophic thinking! Screw him. Yes, it’s got to be a him because no woman could make us feel so bad. And, quite honestly, isn’t it the men in the news and the world who are feeding this mental plague?

    I’m not in your exact space with reading, because I’m reading lots, but it’s only backlist, authors I trust implicitly to help me escape. My blog reading is a much harder thing. I can’t seem to care much about any of it.

    Sorry, you asked for positive. Last weekend I FINALLY planted the 75 tulip bulbs I bought back in Sept. Yes, you can plant bulbs here in Dec! It was such a little thing, bit it was the “doing” that made me really happy. At the risk of getting sappy, I hope your love of reading is just like my tulip bulbs- dormant for now, but will come back into bloom when the time is right. Big hug, dear girl…

    • It’s definitely the men in the news who are ramping up the anxiety. It’s funny, I just saw a Buzzfeed article about how people are reading less/book sales are down because of election stress.

      Your garden is going to be so beautiful come spring! I love tulips, and I can see how doing a thing like that can feel really good. Haha it’s funny that you made that comparison; I have an orchid that’s been dormant since July, but I noticed new buds a few days ago. I’ve been watching it like a hawk, as if it’s a metaphor for my life; if it blooms, maybe everything isn’t garbage, but if the buds drop, all is lost.

  5. Cooking shows always relax me…particularly A Chef’s Life with Vivian Howard on PBS. Her voice just soothes me right to a calm place.

    Catherine shared her feelings with me following the election and I offered to send her my toddlers and my flood damaged house…assuring her they would distract her from being able to think much at all…about anything other than getting through the immediate tasks of the day! Happy to ship them all to you too!

  6. Ah, I read this and felt a very hard “same.” I’m still reading, but I’ve been there — reading less and less until it feels impossible to go back. As far as feeling better, t’s a trend now, but coloring has always helped me relax. I also make wreaths/crafts and that helps, too. Basically anything I can do with my hands or while I watch Netflix!

  7. I’ve gone through slumps here and there and just general bouts of not really wanting to read. Sometimes it comes from reading a book that I want to read but just can’t get into and sometimes I’m just really not in the mood to read. I try to go with the flow and not force reading on myself. I want it to be something enjoyable so if I’m not in the mood, I’m not in the mood. I do find that if I’m in a slump, reading something that I love helps a lot. For me a book like Anna and the French Kiss, or Outlander, or even just some of my favourite kids books can help kick a slump to the curb. And eventually I get bored with watching movies and Netflix and just need the quiet of a book. Hope you can get reading again soon!

  8. I think you’re really brave to share how you’re feeling and admit your fears to yourself and your readers. I wish I had great words of wisdom, but I don’t. I think many of us are feeling a lot of anxiety with everything that has happened this fall. I’m sorry it has added to your reading drive. I do believe that the love of reading isn’t something that you (or anyone) will lose forever. It will return to you. Maybe when you least expect it. As someone, much older I would also advise to be forgiving of yourself!

    Playing with my 1-year old grand daughter always lifts my spirits.

    Have you thought about listening to an Audible?

    • I really struggled with whether I should publish this post are not, but reading comments like yours have made me feel so much less alone. The enjoyment of reading is starting to come back. And I’m not a huge fan of audiobooks, but podcasts have been lifesavers over the last few months 🙂

  9. Ah I feel your pain and am sorry you’re experiencing such a wild slump( I hope you get back your reading self soon! What helps me when I can’t bring myself to read is comic books. It doesn’t demand so much concentration and it’s a bit like watching series)

  10. I have been there. Lord, have I been there. All i can say is that reading will come back to you. It may not be any time soon, but it will come back. It may take years. For me and my struggles with anxiety and depression, reading tends to be a sort of all or nothing campaign. Either it’s my preferred form of escapism and is literally all I do, or I can bear to do it at all. Good luck.

    • It’s starting to come back. I don’t know if it’s because the meds are kicking in or because some of the major things that were causing my anxiety and depression have passed, but my mind is more peaceful, and I’m starting to enjoy things again. Comments like yours have made me feel so much less alone, and I thank you deeply.

  11. I think a lot of us are experiencing a reading paralysis. For me, it’s due to the election and the feeling that whatever I am reading feels frivolous compared to what’s going on in real life. I’m trying, though. I set a reading goal for 2016 and in order to meet it, I need to read like 4 more books this month (!). Hang in there. Don’t feel any pressure or stress from your readers; we’re always here for you whenever you’re ready. And if you don’t like the first book you pick up post-hiatus, don’t worry! It’s not a cosmic sign. You’ll be back.

  12. So sorry to hear about the slump – it’s the strangest and most unsettling feeling when you (temporarily) lose something that defines you. When I was pregnant last year, the various changes happening, nausea and accompanying low level anxiety combined so that I didn’t pick up or read a book in about 10 months. Which is the longest I’ve ever gone in my own bookworming life. Everyone kept telling me that being a new parent would mean I couldn’t read again anyway – which didn’t help – and I felt like I was having a huge identity crisis. Then, after feeling like I honestly would never pick up a book again, I found my way back in one day when I wasn’t even thinking about reading. I read one of my favourite books by a favourite author – Hilary Mantel’s ‘Beyond Black’. I’d read it twice before but it felt like a security blanket because I knew I’d enjoy it, I knew the words wouldn’t let me down and it sort of took away the ‘decision making’ part of reading again. Then I did a couple more re-reads and suddenly I was off again and now I’m back to my usual levels of bookish voraciousness despite having a near-toddler.

    I’d say that you should treat yourself gently and take away all pressure. Be assured that your bookishness will come back and that it’s dormant, not extinct. And perhaps try revisiting something you already love? Good luck with it, Leah, So looking forward to when you’re ready to be bookish again.

    • Treating myself gently isn’t one of my strong suits, but I’m trying to learn. And I started to find my way back to reading a few days after writing this post. I started a new job, and I realized scrolling through twitter for an hour on my lunch break every day was going to get old fast. So I opened my book and started reading, and nothing terrible happened. I finished it and moved on to the next one, which I’m really enjoying.

  13. I hate that something you love is giving you so much anxiety and stress!

    I think that a lot has happened personally for you in the last year and a half. And I think a lot is going on in the world that is big and anxiety inducing. Together they’ve made a bit of a perfect storm for you. I think a lot of people are feeling the way that you are feeling – unmotivated, confused, sad and unable to participate in things that used to bring them joy. I think a lot of people feel that those things seem hollow right now.

    And I think it’s OK to feel like that. You need to cut yourself some slack! Allow yourself to watch Netflix (there is so much quality programming on Netflix right now!). Eventually, I have no doubt that reading and books will bring you joy again.

    Things that have brought me comfort recently? Gilmore Girls! Christmas movies! Arrested Development. The Good Wife. Stranger Things. Seriously, I love TV and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with hiding out with your TV friends for a while.

    Also puppy or kitty snuggles where available. And wine.

    Be kind to yourself.

  14. I’m happy to read your rambly thoughts any time. 🙂

    I think a lot is going on in the world right now, which just adds to whatever is going on in your own day to day life… and things can so easily snowball from there. I’ve been on a reading hiatus myself, and it’s SO hard to get back at it. I’m a believer that things will come back around, and one way is to JUST START, and the other is to JUST WAIT IT OUT. Either work, in my experience.

    Working through “the stuff” is a good first step, and this post seems like a great thing to do. Hang in here, give yourself a break if you can, and work to find the little daily joys, whatever those may be for you. Reading will come back around when you’re ready, and until then, we’re all here… whether you’re reading or not.

    • I actually managed to “just start” a few days after writing this post. I started a new job with an hour lunch break, and I realized I was going to get very bored scrolling through twitter for an hour five days a week. So I opened my book and started reading, and it was fine. And now I feel like I’m back in the saddle. Thanks 🙂

  15. I felt like this so much this past spring and summer. I started DNFing liberally and reaching for fluffier reads, and that helped a lot. And allowing myself not to read if I didn’t want to. Strangely, the election hasn’t had a dampening effect for me like it has with others. I think with us being part of the LGBTQ community, I just feel more determined to not let it affect the things I enjoy.

    • I think fluffier reads, or something outside the usual is a good idea. I bought a book of poetry because the spare, just-a-few-words-per-page format seemed appealing, and I’m wondering if YA would be fun — since it’s not what I usually read, there isn’t pressure to enjoy it and it feels less threatening. You are strong and wonderful, and I’m so glad you’re not letting the craziness destroy your happiness.

  16. This has been me for the past several months. I am finally making it through a book that is holding my interest. It is REALLY hard to get started back after you put it off for awhile. Kind of like going to the gym. I think that’s our brain as a muscle being lazy, you know? But, you can do it! And if you don’t, that’s okay!

  17. This post is so honest and brave. As someone who also struggles greatly with anxiety, I definitely relate to “Catastrophizing.”

    I hesitate to recommend a book as something that lifts my spirit when that’s something that’s contributing to your anxiety, but this is more art than book – The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman. It’s a collection of her beautiful paintings with very short text about all the beauty she finds in the small things in life. It’s lovely and always lifts my spirits.

    And you may already be following her, but https://www.instagram.com/sarahandersencomics/ always makes me smile.

    • I really wasn’t sure whether I should publish this post, but it wound up making me feel so much less broken and alone.

      The Principles of Uncertainty sounds really lovely; I’ll definitely order a copy. And Sarah Scribbles is my favorite thing 🙂

  18. Just reading this makes me happy. Not happy to hear what you’re going through, but happy to “hear” your voice-I’ve missed it so.
    I’m in the catastrophic thinking group as well and I don’t have much insight, I’m afraid. The only things that help me are finding things that make me happy. Even if it’s only for a few minutes. Cute animal pics, funny videos, movies I have watched over and over, nature, baking…
    I’m listening to audio books more because I can squeeze them in to my commute. When I get home, it’s harder to curl up with a book when all I want to do is stare at the TV.
    Sending hugs!

    • I tend to have trouble getting into audiobooks, but podcasts are a godsend on my commute. I’ve had to stop listening to the more political ones lately because they make me anxious, but there are a handful that always cheer me up. Thanks 🙂

  19. I’m really happy to hear from you! Thank you for sharing. I’ve had a little bit harder of a time prioritizing reading lately, but that’s a different feeling, I think. One thing I’ve done that’s brought me a lot of joy this year is really getting into the holidays. My husband and I are both introverts and often happy to stick to our routine, but having something to celebrate and look forward to is nice 🙂 On the reading front, I’m wondering if a re-read might be comforting for you, although I also sometimes fear I won’t love a book as much on a second read, so that might instead be more stressful. I have a hard time imagining giving up reading and blogging, even when I’m busy enough that they stress me out, because they do feel like part of my identity. That said, reading this post, I certainly feel like your personality and the things I admire about you as a person and a blogger shine through, regardless of your current reading habits.

  20. I read this post on my phone when you published it, and then I went blank. What can I tell you that you don’t know already? You’re an amazing person, and many of us have gone through what you are going through. It’ll pass. The only way through is through it, and it sucks, but at least you’re writing about it – something many of us didn’t do back then. I hope you’re having a wonderful Christmas time with your beloved ones, and I hope that your new job (congrats!!!), Dan, and all the people who love you are making things easier for you. You know where to find me.

    Elena xxx

  21. Sorry that you’re going through a difficult time. I went through a similar situation when I was pregnant with my son. NOTHING made me happy, not reading or watching tv or movies that I usually love, nothing. It was a really dark time for me, and looking back on it, I probably had undiagnosed depression (which I didn’t know could happen at the beginning of a pregnancy. I just thought I was messed up). The hardest part was not picking up a book for three months. It literally made me feel nauseous whenever I tried to read. Just know that you are not alone. Find a support system and keep talking about it.

    Now for something that may cheer you up. On NYE I saw La La Land and it changed my life. I don’t know if you’re into musicals or classic Hollywood movies at all, but this film perfectly captures the art and beauty of classic Hollywood musicals. There are sad parts, but they’re touching and cathartic. There are also laugh out loud funny moments and tap dancing scenes that will fill you with joy 🙂 And if you have already seen it, I hope you loved it as much as I did! ❤

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