Reading and Writing as Self-Care

NB: This post was originally published on 8/11/2017. I’m migrating some old posts from my previous author website and WP won’t let me change the date of publication to reflect when I actually wrote the post.

CW: This post contains ableist language. I’ve since realized how harmful using these terms can be, and am working hard to keep them out of my vocabulary.

It’s been a bit, dear readers. But on this blog I’ve always been pretty transparent about the fact that these posts are an occasional pursuit compared to my full time obsession with churning out other content like…I don’t know…my dissertation, my podcast, my novels and short stories (including “H&D Plumbing,” which is forthcoming from Fireside Magazine!).

Anyway, this is one of those occasional times when I feel like I have something to say that is best said here and not on Twitter or Facebook or even Instagram.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what writing means for me, and what reading means too.

I read voraciously as a child, but after my B.A. I’d read so much and so widely in my favorite genres that I started to feel like I’d read all of the good stuff and had only the slush pile to pick through for the rest of my life.

Of course, that cynical thought was really naive–I’m currently awash in amazing work by amazing writers. But it FELT true, and so I started reading a little bit less. And then I started an M.A. program, and read a bunch for school but very little at all for fun.

And that, my friends, basically destroyed me. 

Last year, at my wits end with anxiety and stress and insomnia that skyrocketed right after I graduated with my M.A. and only got worse and worse leading up to some major exams I had to take for my Ph.D program, I started seeing a therapist. She asked me what I do to relax and take care of myself, and I shot off a few rote answers like “drink tea,” “do pilates,” and “take deep breaths.” All of which are great. Really. But over the course of weeks and months, my therapist helped me realize that engaging body and mind in something you’re passionate about is also immensely beneficial to well being. My creative outlets and passions, the first things–along with exercise–I had been in the habit of letting drop when life and work got busy, help me acknowledge that my anxiety is real, but that it’s lying about what matters. They help me process this crazy world and my place in it. They help me get things out of my head and sleep at night.

So I’ve been making an effort to amp up my creativity when I’m feeling out of sorts, anxious, and exhausted.

And, guys? I think it’s working.

See, I’ve been doing the Goodreads Reading Challenge for a few years and I’ve noticed something interesting this year. When life gets hectic and stressful and insane, I READ MORE and, when I’m smart, I WRITE MORE, TOO.

I’ve given myself permission to turn to a good book, even when there’s something else I need to be doing. And let’s be honest: I’m a doctoral student and instructor–there’s ALWAYS something else I need to be doing. But that impulse to bury myself in a story–be it someone else’s or my own? That’s my body telling me I need a break. And I intend to listen from now on.

My insomnia isn’t magically gone, but I am getting more sleep.

My anxiety is still there, but I can still breath and relax and think about the future without turning into a vicious tangle of stupid emotions–even when there are PLENTY of reasons turning into a vicious tangle of stupid emotions would be a perfectly legitimate response to life right now.

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