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.