Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are. When we are sick and resting at home or in hospital, when we are overwhelmed and can’t take a holiday, or when we have a global pandemic happening and have to stay where we are to stay safe.
When life gets too much we can retreat into familiar places and stories that give us comfort, and which feel better than the place that we are currently living in. Escaping into a book is the perfect balm for a tired soul in need of rest from yourself, your life and the world. We all need a break both for our mind to rest and from our mind’s constant whirring and worrying, decision making and deliberating.
Reading gives us the same escape from everyday life that a holiday would provide. If you are anything like me, or with a chronic condition, you know that your problems still follow you on holidays. The only escape from this life and body is through the portal of reading about someone else’s life and experience. That experience, however, may be completely different or very similar to your life and that can give both comfort and relief in its own way – a blissful distraction or a comfort in knowing that you are not alone in your circumstances.
There wasn’t a specific book that helped me survive that time, it was more the act of reading itself that became a life raft allowing me to stay afloat and keep my head above the water… I believe this is one of the great powers of literature; to comfort, to console, to allow a tiny oasis of, not exactly pleasure, but perhaps we could think of it as respite when we might otherwise drown in a sea of pain. I was reading for distraction rather than life lessons…― Cathy Rentzenbrink, Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books
When we are all worn out, exhausted and battered from the difficulties in life or the ongoing breaking news, we don’t always crave a new and exciting story. We just need something to still the constant rush and slow us into a gentle stroll. Sometimes, it’s the predictable nature of a book; knowing that the ending is a happy one and clear closure of a story. In days where we rarely have closure or certainty it is nice and comforting to relax into a place that provides this feeling.
“The very way that fiction works – the process of conflict and resolution at the heart of every story – means that novels are full of people encountering challenging situations and, usually, surviving them. Books are a masterclass in how to carry on.”― Cathy Rentzenbrink, Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books
Rereading books we love reminds us of who we used to be too, our old familiar selves that we may have lost along the journey. It can be hard to remember in the midst of pain and concerns, what we used to be like, but by rereading books we can be reminded of our young carefree self devouring a book series and discussing it with our friends or where we were when we first read it. Rereading also shows us how much we have changed; how all of our experiences have shaped us, and therefore our approach to the story. We may look upon the characters with more grace, forgiveness or relatability than our younger self.
“A good book, when we return to it, will always have something new to say. It’s not the same book, and we’re not the same reader”― Anne Bogel, I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life
When a chronic condition takes place in our life, we often need to create time in our day to rest and restore our energy. One of the fastest ways for me to do that is to read – my body instantly sinks into the seat, my shoulders drop and I forget the world I am in and dive into another life. Taking my mind off my world and directing the attention elsewhere means my brain is not focused on my body, and what it is or isn’t doing properly, or what is hurting and causing suffering. It is as though my mind has been taken out of my body and my body can rest and restore without being constantly investigated or antagonised.
When we have a chronic condition, sometimes our lives can shrink to accommodate the new lifestyle and needs. While we may not be able to work or study or travel or leave the ‘hospital in the home’, reading becomes the perfect way to learn and explore – not just a new location or adventure, but about and within yourself too. It allows us to get out and about, experience things we may not be able to do, learn about what we do and don’t like, open ourselves up and test the waters, try on new lives and create possibilities we can implement into our own lives.
“I can tell you why I inhale books like oxygen: I am grateful for my one life, but I’d prefer to live a thousand—and my favourite books allow me to experience more on the page than I ever could in my actual life.”― Anne Bogel, I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life
So lets live a thousand lives while we rest and restore ourselves. We need to spend time in our imaginations to relax and escape, create, plan and dream, and foster hope. These are the things that help us get through the difficult and stressful times.
If you are out of practice and not sure where to start, browse your local library or bookshop, Goodreads or #bookstagram, and check out my Book Therapy series for anything that might pique your interest!
I hope you can take some time in your day or week to pick up a book and become immersed in a story that is a delightful comfort for you.
Go far and wide, my Readers, I’ll keep the light on.
Matt Haig is a brilliant writer and human being who is constantly investigating and questioning the effect of modern life on our mental health. He is a huge advocate for mental health wellness, and has shared his experiences through his multiple fiction works and his non-fiction books.
I would love to introduce you to The Poetry Pharmacy. If you are a poetry beginner, or a literary lover, I am certain that you will find joy and comfort within these pages.
The perfect book to be reading at the end of a long winter that is about to bloom into spring.