A black and white picture of a man sitting in front of a bookcase.

Will Reading Fix Your Mental Illness?

Do you know anyone with a mental illness? I do. I know several people battling ADHD, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. It hurts me when they suffer, and yet I’ve noticed something that seems to be helping them.

They’re reading. For the person wrestling with ADHD, a Stephen King novel (he loves The Shining) has helped him slow down and focus on the story. He seems happier and more organized in his life. For the person suffocating from high levels of anxiety and depression, The Great Gatsby and Lord of the Flies have somehow removed the world’s nagging and he’s doing so well now. The person starving from an eating disorder has found relief in Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca and has gained emotional intelligence about what it means to be an outcast and to fight for her strength.

I’m not suggesting that reading is the solution to mental illness, but I do think it’s an incredible tutor for reclaiming your focus, settling your nerves, and learning who you are as a person. It seems to me that the constant “plugged-in” nature of our lives has somehow “unplugged” our brains. The act of purposely turning these devices off and picking up an old-fashioned book is a middle finger to the mental pandemic.

And I’m no different. I’m your absent-minded, lose-everything kind of guy. I’ve built a reputation for misplacing my keys and my wallet, which has earned me the “dingbat” moniker my entire life.

When I open a laptop or my cell phone, I intuit a sense of tension. I’m plugging into the Matrix. When I close those devices, make a cup of tea, and open Boethus or Mrs. Dalloway, I reclaim my persona. I think we all struggle with some form of mental fatigue or illness. Sigmund Freud would probably agree, and if you can’t see your flaws, that’s because you’ve repressed them deep into your psyche. So it goes.

It’s important to note that simply reading the book won’t help. You must give yourself to the work. I wrote about this a recent post called The Hedonic Treadmill of Reading. Check it out if you feel like you’re reading in the shallow end of the pool.

I’ve learned that these people I love aren’t broken – they’re beautiful. I hope they learn to see that in themselves, and I’m grateful that reading is helping them along the way.

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