How Reading Helped Me Cope With My Anxiety In A Year Of Political Turmoil And Personal Doubt

Share
Ad failed to load

2017 was an anxious year. On the grand, global scale, we saw devastating natural disasters, openly bigoted politicians, predatory men, mass shootings, and the constant threat of World War III, just to name a few. The national mood has ranged from vaguely nauseous to out-and-out apocalyptic. Millennials are drowning in debt and the government appears to have embraced comic book-style villainy. Everyone can find something to feel anxious about.

On a petty, personal scale, I got dumped on the last day of 2016, two weeks before appearing onstage in the play I wrote. It was a year full of artistic achievement and a year full of dread, self-doubt, anxiety-induced chest pains, and weeping inconsolably for the duration of a New Year's Eve party.

Reading wasn't just a leisure activity for me this year — it was a lifeline. Perhaps books didn't fix everything that was wrong with the world at large and my life in particular, but they did help me to keep moving forward after each spiral of panic.

Ad failed to load

And yes, there were a lot of good things that happened in 2017, but let's be honest: the prevailing mood was anxious, if not grim. Looking back on my year in reading, I realize that the books that helped me the most weren't cheerful comedy memoirs or bubbly tales of the anti-grim. They were the books and stories that explored my anxieties to the fullest.

Giphy

The Handmaid's Tale, $10, Amazon

Ad failed to load

Like many, many other readers, I found myself drawn to dystopias and other dark, fictional futures this year. I finally read The Handmaid's Tale, after years of marking it "to read." It had always seemed a little too horrifying, too close to home, so I stuck with Margaret Atwood's other books. But when I finally cracked under pressure and acquainted myself with Offred's story, it was more cathartic than anything else. The Handmaid's Tale no longer seemed like an impossibly bleak future for humanity. It felt like validation: misogyny is real and we need to fight it now before we're all wearing red. Your fears are not groundless.

Atwood's grim warning is even mixed in with a sliver a hope. Offred's world is not our reality yet. We still have time to push back against oppression disguised as "traditional values."

This was also the year that I read Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven in a single sitting. It's more post-apocalyptic than dystopian, to be sure, but it also paints a deadly future for America. Mandel's novel is set in a world ravaged by a super-bug, where a ragtag troupe of Shakespearean actors tour the remains of civilization. Even that felt both validating and hopeful, though: a world in which all of our worst fears are realized, but literature still has the power to inspire.

Ad failed to load

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, $10, Amazon

Then, of course, there were the books which dealt with grim, bleak visions of the past: Markus Zusak's The Book Thief, narrated by Death and set in Nazi Germany, and Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, set in an alternate version of the pre-Civil War South.

Ad failed to load

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, $12, Amazon  | The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, $10, Amazon

Again, these books didn't exactly distract from my anxiety—hiding from the Nazis or escaping a Georgia plantation are, to put it mildly, far more anxious situations than being dumped or performing in a play. But reading about characters escaping and resisting and surviving their hellish environments was enough to put my own problems in perspective.

Ad failed to load

Similarly, I took solace in Samuel R. Delany's memoir, The Motion of Light in Water. The early 1960's in New York City weren't quite the hellscape of Nazi Germany or the early American South, but Delany was a black, gay science fiction writer, at a time when those identities rarely intersected in mainstream literature. Nevertheless, he wrote and published his first eight novels by the time he was twenty-five. His story of struggling to get by, to find his voice, to deal with his own mental health, and to find joy amidst the squalor and the police raids was a constant source of comfort this past year.

The Motion of Light in Water by Samuel R. Delany, $20, Amazon

Ad failed to load

When my anxiety spiked and I felt the need to step entirely outside of my own universe, though, I turned to dragons and talking polar bears. Fantasy has always been my go-to genre for calming an anxious mind. It's not just that fantasy provides an escape (although I do think we're entirely too hard on "escapist" literature). Fantasy provides a larger-than-life world, making it all the easier to see your own demons.

This year I finished A Song of Ice and Fire, which helped me to exorcise my most vengeful moods while also reminding me repeatedly that world history is a large (bloody) tapestry woven of many tiny threads. In George R.R. Martin's world, kings and noble men are not nearly as important as they think they are.

This year I also re-read The Golden Compass and picked up Pullman's newest novel, The Book of Dust. Both are the perfect blend of high octane fantasy adventure, calming descriptions of Oxford, and anti-authoritarian children who question their entire social order. Plus, I started in on Stephen King's Dark Tower series, which ropes an unlikely gang of heroes together to save the multi-verse from destabilizing evil.

Ad failed to load
Giphy

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, $7, Amazon | The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman, $12, Amazon  | The Dark Tower I by Stephen King, $9, Amazon

In the real world, we can rarely fix the injustices of the multiverse by fighting a guy or following our animal soul companions through the cosmos. But reading those stories can give us a little bit of precious, anxiety-reducing hope, no matter how implausible.

Ad failed to load

So here's hoping that 2018 proves to be slightly less horrible than 2017. But no matter what new anxieties we may face in the glorious new year, here's also hoping that we face them armed with a good book.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

7 Signs Your Partner Is "The One," Even If They Have Commitment Issues

There's nothing better than finding that one person you could actually see yourself spending the rest of your life with. However, realizing that your partner has commitment issues can put a damper on things. It may even have you questioning whether o…
By Kristine Fellizar

Bustle's Editors On Jennifer Aniston + Adam Rippon

We've made it to Friday! It's been a pretty hectic week, and the news that Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux are splitting up might have put a damper on your weekend. But, if like many people you have Monday off, hopefully you can sit back and enjo…
By Rachel Simon

Here's Where Your Next Trip Should Be, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

If you've been craving a vacation, now is a good time to take the plunge. According to data collected by travel site Expedia, late winters and early spring are pretty much the best times of the year to go on vacation. Based on average airfare ticket …
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

How This Quadriplegic Beauty Lover Beat Cancer & Became A Professional Makeup Artist

In 2010, one day before she was supposed to start cosmetology school, Steph Aiello was involved in a car crash that left her paralyzed from the waist down with limited ability to move her hands and one of her closest friends dead. She would spend the…
By Sara Tan

7 Common Marriage Rules That Aren't Good For Relationships

When it comes to marriage, everyone loves to give their two cents, and with all the warnings and advice floating around out there, no wonder people find marriage intimidating. Luckily, you don't always have to play by the rules, and there's some bad …
By Carina Wolff

The Infuriating Way Hollywood Movie Sets Are Designed To Make Life Harder For Women

Whitney Cummings is fed up — with the way Hollywood treats women, and in particular, the way the it treats female directors who have children. While the entertainment industry may be working hard to get more women behind the camera, Cummings wants to…
By Casey Cipriani

19 Things Your Parents Told You Were Illegal In The '90s

Kids say — and think — the darnedest things. We have overactive imaginations, adults like to mess with us, and we don't always understand everything we hear. That's why some kids call strawberries "straw babies" — a boo-boo so adorable, you don't eve…
By Megan Grant

Why Uggs Are Never Going Away, Whether You Like Them Or Not

Uggs. The word alone can conjure up memories of teenage years, regrettable outfits, and undeniable comfort. But if, like me, you thought that you've already said goodbye to those fleece-lined tan boots, you can think again. It seems fashion has adopt…
By Lauren Sharkey

I Never Want To Write This Essay Again

I don't know where you were when you heard about Wednesday's high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. I don't know what you were doing, or how you tried to process the news. I do know this: you thought to yourself, not again. And yet, again. Of cou…
By Jenny Hollander

Netflix's New Romantic Movie Will Have You Crying Like It's 'The Fault In Our Stars'

Cancer movies are a heartbreaking staple of Hollywood and have been for decades. It's almost a law of nature: new year, new cancer movie. This year, it's Netflix's Irreplaceable You, a heartbreaking original about a longtime couple who get thrown for…
By Olivia Truffaut-Wong

Here Are All The Terms You Need To Know If You’re Watching Olympic Ski Events Right Now

Every four years the Winter Olympics rolls around to remind me that A) there are so many important Winter Olympic sports, and B) I know virtually nothing any of them. And I know for a fact, I'm not alone, I bet most people don't know what the differe…
By Danielle Colin-Thome

Kate Middleton Made Sales Of This $1 Secret Accessory Spike & She'll Turn You Into A Believer

There's a royal epidemic going on, people. It's one that causes any and everyone to obsess over the royal family's wardrobe and beauty routines, even if it means breaking the bank to look like them. So a frenzy was expected when Kate Middleton report…
By Summer Arlexis

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu Have Matching Tattoos & The Story Is So Cute

Olympic season gives people the feels. From those shipping Canadian ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to Shaun White's gold medal win on Tuesday, the feels are real. Now, there's another reason to get all up in your emotions. Adam Rippon a…
By Shea Simmons

A New Study Says Being In A Relationship Could Change Your Taste In Wine — Here's How

I’d be willing to bet that for many of you, a nice bottle of wine is awaiting you in your near future — and if you’re planning on sharing that bottle with a partner, there might be more to your choice than meets the eye: According to recent research,…
By Lucia Peters

Carrie Brownstein On Why Even The Obama Era Should Have Enraged You

An icy January morning soon after Hollywood's show of solidarity for the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes and almost exactly one year into the Trump Administration feels like a momentous time to be sitting across from Carrie Brownstein. The Sleat…
By Samantha Rollins

Here’s What The Upcoming Year Of The Dog Means For Your Chinese Zodiac Sign

On Feb. 16 the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year, welcoming the Year of the Dog in like the good doggo it is — we hope. A new year means new zodiac predictions for the 365 days ahead. So, what does the Year of the Dog mean for your Chinese zo…
By Brittany Bennett

7 Signs You're Ready To Get Into A Relationship, According To Experts

It can be difficult to tell when you're ready to start dating again. Maybe you're coming off of a bad breakup, maybe you've just been focused on other things. And, ironically, one of the signs that you're ready to be in a relationship is that you're …
By Lea Rose Emery

I Got A Breast Reduction & It Was About So Much More Than The Size Of My Boobs

As a young teenager, I pretty much reached peak physical maturity overnight. One day I was wearing my first training bra a la Lizzie McGuire, and the next I was sweatily fumbling around a Victoria’s Secret with 32DD boobs, trying to summon up the cou…
By Sierra Taylor Horton

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
via Romper

The 15 Best Fiction Books Of February Feature Tons Of Extraordinary Women

When the cold winds of February blow in, there's nothing I want more than to hide under my covers with a good book. Luckily, there's more than a few fantastic new fiction books coming out this month, so the only tough decision you'll have to make is …
By Melissa Ragsdale

17 Moms Reveal The Most Disgusting Part Of Their Pregnancy

Pregnant bodies do weird-ass things. Weird-ass, gross things. I mean, my pregnant body did (twice), and I have long-suspected I'm not alone. So I asked other moms to share the most disgusting part of their pregnancy and I learned that, not only am I …
via Romper