Recovering from depression, one book at a time

One student describes how reading novels again relates to his recovery from depression.


CONTENT WARNING: This story contains mentions of suicide and self-harm that may be triggering for some readers.

Growing up, I always had my nose in a book. I’d make weekly trips to the library and come out with a stack of books so tall it hid my face. 

I’d read pretty much anything. Science fiction adventures, high fantasy, murder mysteries, it didn’t matter as long as it wasn’t boring. Toward the end of middle school, I expanded my reading habits to other media when a friend introduced me to manga. It quickly became my preferred medium, although I still read prose novels regularly. 

I was an avid reader throughout the first two years of high school, but not for the reasons I once had. I still loved reading, but now it also provided me with an escape from myself. 

I’ve been depressed since I was 13 years old. I’ve self-harmed and I attempted suicide in middle school. I couldn’t stand myself. It felt like I couldn’t do the simplest of tasks correctly and I was destined to be a failure at life. 

Reading gave me a distraction from all of that — I can’t think about how much I hate myself if I’m wrapped up in a book. 

Two symptoms of depression are losing interest in hobbies and an inability to concentrate. As a result, I stopped reading prose novels altogether in the middle of my sophomore year of high school. 

It was easier to hold onto manga because it relies heavily on images and took less brainpower to read. I tried to get back into novels a few times, but to no avail. I just couldn’t get my brain to focus on the walls of text long enough to make any headway. 

So I gave up. 

And for a while that was just fine. Even when I started seeing a therapist and got medicated, I had little interest in reading novels again. 

I tried again last year, thinking if I read novel tie-ins to the comic books I like, I’d somehow be able to power through. It worked briefly. I finished the first book in the “Green Lantern: Sleepers” series by Christopher Priest. It wasn’t a good book, but I finished it. 

A few weeks later, I sat down to read the sequel and didn’t get past page 38. 

Maybe the first time had been a fluke? I went back to giving up. 

But after a while I wanted to try reading novels again. This time, I thought rereading something from middle school or high school might work out better, and because Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series was getting a TV adaptation, why not start with those books? 

That worked out a lot better. 

It took a while but I reread the first two books in the series last summer and I’m rereading the third one now. I’ve also started reading “Star Trek” novels. 

At first, I didn’t think much of what this meant, I was too busy enjoying myself. But while I was reading, it occurred to me just how far I’ve come since middle school. I’d been feeling better for a while now thanks to medication, but being able to focus on novels and enjoy them was when it really hit me that I am recovering. 

There are still days when I feel empty inside and don’t want to be alive, but those days are less frequent. I’m never going to be the same person I once was, and I don’t want to be. But getting my old favorite hobby back feels good, and I’m looking forward to discovering new books and continuing to improve my mental health.  

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