Health + Wellness,  Here + Now

Reading through Recovery

**Content Warning: mentions of suicide attempt, abuse, self-harm, borderline personality disorder, and PTSD**

The first time I learned how to love, I quickly tied its meaning to manipulation and abuse. From an early age, already too familiar with the world’s indifference to suffering, I externalized the pain that was physically too much for my mind. My behaviour was outed by the very person who drove me to the edge, one pill away from fading to black. And as I sat in a white room, awaiting the psychiatrist who would misdiagnose me, I felt undeniably lost. I went on to receive treatment for months to come. But even when they got the diagnosis right, their solutions were never enough to soothe my broken mind. 

When the personality of my younger self took over, she immediately turned to her old comfort: books. She read and read and read until, just one week later, she had finished three books after going years without. I returned with a sense of serenity that I had not felt in a long time.

A few years later, I was without a therapist, in my second abusive relationship, and had run out of medication with no way of refilling my prescription. I had tried group therapy and yoga and meditation. I had shifted my diet to healthier alternatives. But I was still self-harming, still swinging violently between moods and personalities, and clinging to a limited understanding of my identity with the labels of Borderline Personality Disorder and PTSD. 

What saved my life? Adapting a routine of consistent reading every day. When my mind threatened to dissociate from the pain, the act of reading grounded me to the present, distracting my mind and forcing me to focus on the story in front of me. 

It was a form of escapism and a way to understand myself through the stories of others. More importantly, I learned how I could use who I had become to grow into the person that I wanted to be. Reading became a way of analyzing myself without putting the spotlight on my own shortcomings. It was a way of relaxing my mind without focusing on my body, which at that point, was ridden with chronic pain. It was the most effective tool to calming my mind. 

With mental illness, I have found that grounding acts such as reading provide a buffer from excruciating emotion and allow room for self-reflection that validates pain through mirroring of experiences. As such, reading, to some extent, is similar to dialectical behavioural therapy, commonly cited as treatment for similar disorders. By picking up the right book, you are able to observe emotions, work through certain problems, accept your experiences as valid, and make yourself less vulnerable to intense emotions through an increase in a pleasant action. 

What I’m trying to say is, at least for me, reading is one of the most valuable, yet unrecognized, forms of self-care that I have found to date. For those struggling, it can provide a sense of grounding in an activity that takes one’s mind outside of the pain. For some, it can make us feel less alone in our experiences and prove that resilience is not impossible or a one size fits all. Through fantastical worlds and metaphorical representations of our society’s structure, we can understand our own positioning and learn how to take back our power in ways that make us feel more alive. The stories we consume are more than what meets the eye and while they may not give us all the answers, can provide a sense of hope for the ones within our reach. The stories may end, but as a reader living with mental illness, I’m not ready to just yet. 

If you, or someone you know, is in need of mental health services and looking for support, here are a few local places to contact, or national helplines. 

East York Mental Health Counselling Services Agency: 1245 Danforth Ave Toronto ON M4J 1M8 (416) 640-1934 

Simplevolution Therapy Centre: 503 Danforth Ave (2nd Floor) Toronto, ON M4K 1P5 (647) 493-8944 

Mental Health Helpline: 1-866-531-2600 

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 

Assaulted Women’s Helpline: 416- 863-0511

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