Reading Helped Me Through Some of My Darkest Days

Image Source: Emily Page Hatch
Image Source: Emily Page Hatch

“Haven’t you been reading that book since October?” my best friend asked me in March. “No,” I said, “that can’t be.” But I realized she was right. I’d been reading the same book for six whole months, and I wasn’t even close to being finished. This was not an exceptionally long book either, and I loved it so far, so what gives?

Parenthood. That’s what.

With a 2-year-old at home, the only books I read on a consistent basis are the ones that involve a curious monkey and a man with a yellow hat; a cool, wise cat named Pete; a boy and his dinosaur friend; and a family of bears that learn lots of lessons.

With limited alone time and barely any down time, books without pictures have taken a backseat. Could I stay up and read for a while after my son goes to bed? Sure. But I often feel so drained from the day that the pull towards a mindless T.V. show overpowers my desire to read.

Do these sound like excuses? That’s probably because they are.

Honestly, I hate that I don’t read anymore. I used to average about one novel per week. Reading has always been a huge part of my life. As a kid, I’d sit up in bed long after my family had gone to sleep, immersed in The Babysitter’s Club series, unable to put it down. I tore through summer reading books, and obsessed over every word that I wrote in my book reports.

As a young adult, my favorite pastime turned into a lifeline. My mother had died my senior year in high school, and I’d never felt so lost and alone. I knew no one else who’d lost a mother young, and at the time, I was convinced I was the only one in the world.

Then I read Hope Edelman’s book, Motherless Daughters, and eventually Claire Bidwell Smith’s The Rules of Inheritance. Then Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. The Long Goodbye by Megan O’Rourke. And many more. After nodding my head knowingly and weeping through the pages of these powerful books, I knew I was not alone.

Stories about love and loss (and you’d be hard-pressed to find a book that doesn’t involve either) have given me hope when I thought there was none, and a voice when I’d lost my own. Books have always put me in touch with my most authentic self, taught me things I would not have otherwise known, transported me to parts of the world I’ve never seen, and helped me connect to others in a real and deepened way. Reading is the ultimate exercise in empathy, and for me, it’s one of the best kinds of therapy. When I haven’t been reading, my mind and body suffer, just like when I don’t exercise.

My son has never known a life without books. I’ve been reading to him since before he was born, because I’d read about all the benefits of doing so — better communications skills, academic success, enhanced concentration, and other advantages. At age 2, the boy has boundless energy; but give him a book and he’ll sit down to listen, as still as can be. My hope is that as he grows, he’ll continue to be as enchanted with reading as he is now, but not just because it’s good for his brain — because it’s good for his soul. I hope he’ll always love getting lost in stories, because I want him to have the written word as a forever companion through his dark times, and as a source of endless adventure.

As for me, I’m going to finish this book I’ve been on for months if it’s the last thing I do; and make an effort to reconnect with reading this summer in any way I can. (Books from the adult section, that is.)

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