Of all the terrible symptoms of depression, the worst one for me was the way it sucked the enjoyment out of everything I once loved. I could no longer feel the release that a hard workout at the gym gave me after a tough day. Spending time with even my best friends was more exhausting than fun. All my greatest passions became things that I used to do — just as the driven, enthusiastic person all my loved ones had once known became someone that I used to be. Possibly the most frustrating thing my depression snatched away from me, though, was my love for reading.
When I was younger, I practically inhaled books. I'd sit up in my room for entire weekends at a time, knowing that my internal promises of "just one more chapter" were completely empty. Once my depression set in a few years ago, though, the urge to consume page after page vanished. I went months on end without reading a single book. I'd try to get into a story, then find my attention wavering. I couldn't focus on the words. I couldn't care about the characters or their struggles. Rather than thinking I wasn't reading the right books or that I had a mental illness that was causing all this, I assumed that I had simply "grown out" of reading. So I did what my depression had been pushing me to do: I gave up.
Rather than thinking I wasn't reading the right books or that I had a mental illness that was causing all this, I assumed that I had simply "grown out" of reading. So I did what my depression had been pushing me to do: I gave up.
I clearly remember the moment I bought Brandon Sanderson's original Mistborn trilogy, probably because I said, "Screw it, why not?" out loud when I clicked the button that would add them to my Kindle. The novels had popped up as a recommendation for me, though since I hadn't bought any books in quite a long time, I couldn't figure out why. In fact, I couldn't even remember the last time I'd read a true fantasy book. All I had to go off of were the books' reviews, just about all of which were raving about how good these books were. Everyone spoke about the unique magic system, which involved different metals giving different abilities to people who had the power to use them. The multi-dimensional characters and the complex world they lived in had also garnered a lot of attention. All the signs pointed to this being a series that would be impossible not to love, but I just wanted something that would make me feel something, anything other than apathy.
At the time, the state I was in seemed normal. I couldn't fathom the concept that there were people out there who weren't tired all the time and could actually be motivated enough to clean the house and do things they enjoyed. But looking back, I was in a very, very dark place. I was bored out of my skull, but I didn't have the energy or the motivation to get out of bed. My brain was too foggy to be creative, which is the worst thing that can happen when you write for a living. I e-mailed my boss and told him I was sick with the flu, ashamed of having to admit the truth. Logically, I know that my brain is a body part, and that body part was very, very sick. But at the same time, I felt like he'd think what I thought about myself: that I wasn't sick; that I was just lazy. So lazy that I couldn't even bring myself to brush my hair, so lazy that I chose to lie in bed with a grumbling stomach because the idea of getting dressed and taking the two-minute walk to the supermarket was more excruciating than being hungry. So because I couldn't bear to do anything that involved leaving the house, I shut myself out from the world and started to read.
It wasn't long before I was finally in a place other than the tiny apartment that I hadn't left in days. I was absorbed in an ash-covered world that lay beneath a red sky, its people suffering under the oppression of a god-like leader. I found myself connecting with fictional characters who felt more like friends, especially as it was revealed that they were struggling with their own mental problems.
I saw my anxiety reflected in the young heroine Vin, whose difficult past left her constantly wondering who she could trust and when she was going to be abandoned or betrayed again.
I saw my anxiety reflected in the young heroine Vin, whose difficult past left her constantly wondering who she could trust and when she was going to be abandoned or betrayed again. I saw the person I was trying to be in Kelsier, the thieving hero who had survived a hellish prison and escaped: something that no one had ever done before. He was left grieving and knowing that he lost his mind a little bit during his ordeal, but still, he always smiled and encouraged his friends to keep their spirits high even when things looked utterly hopeless. While my own struggles were obviously nothing compared to what many people (both real and fictional) had dealt with, I saw bits of my own life reflected in the actions of the main characters. Like Kelsier, I had spent an exhausting amount of time and effort forcing myself to be cheery for the sake of other people, even when I myself felt like giving up. On the inside, though, I was more like Vin, constantly looking over my shoulder and questioning myself and others.
As I continued reading, I realized that something strange was happening to me: I was enjoying this. I felt like I was going on a grand adventure, and I remembered that this was what I used to feel when I was younger and discovering the Harry Potter books for the first time. Even before my depression hit me like a truck, such an emotion was something I hadn't experienced in years. I devoured the first book, then powered through the second and third books so fast that I wasn't sure which events had happened in which novel. The whole time I was reading, though, I was feeling things. There were points in which I laughed out loud, many others in which I sobbed until my eyes were red and puffy. My brain felt clearer, and the strange weighted blanket that seemed to be holding down my emotions had been peeled back.
It might seem silly to some to believe that something as simple as a book series would be the secret to digging a person out of a deep, dark hole of apathy and exhaustion. In fact, I would be lying if I said that these books cured my depression. But they did give me the boost I needed...
It might seem silly to some to believe that something as simple as a book series would be the secret to digging a person out of a deep, dark hole of apathy and exhaustion. In fact, I would be lying if I said that these books cured my depression. But they did give me the boost I needed to get up and actually do things, including going to therapy and getting on the medication that I needed to really stop letting this illness run my life. For so long, I'd felt as though I was drowning in a bottomless ocean. Mistborn wasn't the rescue ship that came to pull me out, but it did give me the brief gulps of air that I needed to stay alive and know that there was hope. Its power to make me feel real emotions again reminded me what life could be like if I got the help I so desperately needed. For the first time in a long time, I was invested in something, even if it wasn't myself (yet).
Since that day when I decided that I had nothing left to lose by giving reading one more shot, I feel a lot more like me again. I still have days in which washing my hair feels like a grand accomplishment, but they're becoming less and less frequent. I'm stepping out of my comfort zone more, and my friends aren't so shocked when I accept their invitations to hang out. And I've read over thirty books since the start of 2016 (including most of Brandon Sanderson's other works). If your depression has caused you to lose interest in reading, please know that there is hope to be found in the pages of some book out there that is just waiting for you to discover it. Although my depression never made me suicidal, it did kill the parts of me that I loved most. Mistborn was instrumental in bringing me, the real me, back to life when I thought I'd lost myself forever.
Images: Averi Clements