Why I took a break

Oh boy…this post here…it took me months to write this text and share it.  Sometimes I don’t even know why it is so hard for me to rekindle my blogging-spark. Then again, I do know very well why. I’ve always felt the need to justify and explain myself. Lately, I’ve been trying to focus my energy more on trusting myself instead of wasting it explaining my feelings and actions to others. Nevertheless, I’ve concluded that I want to be honest on my blog and this account. Being honest often entails explanations. The past few months haven’t been easy for me, which ultimately affected my reading and writing habits. As my blog is based on exactly those two activities, I think it’s even more important to talk about my current relationship to books and writing. Reading books and writing has always been a huge part of my life. I have always connected both activities with pleasure, empathy, learning, growth, and escape, which are exclusively positive associations. However, with mental health and personal problems, weeks of isolation in lockdown, and a stressful third year at university, my relationship to reading and writing changed massively.

My last post on this account was made on the 22nd of October. That’s almost a year ago. The past 11 months have been quite challenging for me. If we go back to the beginning, it all started during my last year at university. Being a third-year student isn’t always easy. Being a third-year student during a global pandemic gets quite tricky. The growing pressure to end this degree successfully, the growing number of books I was expected to read as a student of literature, the growing feelings of loneliness, and the growing heaviness of the negative thoughts that infected my brain was getting to me. As an English literature student, reading books was THE essential part of my time at university. I would say it took up two-thirds of the work I had during the week. With 2-3 books a week, I started to ask myself questions like: “Reading used to be so much fun, why are you not enjoying it? You did it last year, why are you struggling now? I used to be a fast reader, what happened to me? Why am I struggling to finish all these books? How will I ever read the whole syllabus in the little time I have?”. I compared myself to others and concluded that I was not a “real” reader anymore.

I was longing for a time-out and welcomed the Christmas break happily. I planned to start fresh and anew once I got back to my student accommodation, but it didn’t work out. Instead, my worries devoured me, but I was too scared to confront my thoughts. I tried to keep up the image of the hard-working literature enthusiast I expected myself to be. In reality, I was exhausted, tired, heartbroken, scared, and desperately trying to keep everything, to keep myself in control by creating unhealthy routines and obsessions. The stress, my personal concerns, and the loneliness of lockdown intensified mental health issues I have always carried around with me but have been able to keep on the low so far. In the early months of this year, I got to a point where I couldn’t ignore them anymore. I realised that if I don’t change the way I treat myself, I will break apart. I had to stop putting myself in the position of the enemy. I had to stop punishing myself, pressuring myself, mistrusting myself, and putting myself down.

It is hard for me to explain this because I don’t know why this happened, but when I was at this low point, I was not able to read books anymore. Opening a book frightened me because I knew it would remind me that I am not in control of myself right now. When I looked at a page, the thoughts in my brain got so loud, I couldn’t focus on what I was reading. The words in front of me were incomprehensible and strange. I had to reread single phrases and words over and over again before I trusted myself that I fully understood what they meant. I found myself in a downward spiral of self-hate, pressure, and fear. My mental health issues got me. Anxious to open a book, I stopped reading completely.

Looking back, I cannot explain how I was able to write my dissertation. The last few weeks at uni went by in a blur. I read the books by tricking myself. I covered the phrases I had finished with a piece of paper, reminding myself that I have indeed understood this page, and giving myself long breaks after finishing another chapter. It took me ages to finish a single chapter and it was incredibly exhausting and frustrating for me but in the end, I somehow managed to finish the books I needed and wrote my dissertation.

I found myself in a downward sprial of self-hate, pressure, and fear.

When I finished university and moved back to Germany to live with my family again, I was once again pressuring myself, hoping that the moment I get home, my ability to read would be back. I was very wrong. It has been three months since I came back and I’m still struggling to read.

I wish it would be different. When I look at all the unread and read books on my bookshelf, I sometimes get sad. I wish I would be my old self. Not afraid of reading, excited for new books, nostalgic and enthusiastic about my favourite reads, and enjoying every sentence of the book I’m holding in my hand.

I wish my ability to read would come back faster. However, good things take time. It will take time until my mental health is more stable again, but I’ve learned that I need to take care of myself and be patient. In October, I will start therapy. I’m looking forward to working on my mental health with the help of a professional. I’m proud because October, which seemed so far away when I was at my lowest in April, is only a few weeks away. And I carried on. I kept opening books and trying despite my fears. I tried to be considerate towards myself this summer which is the most revolutionary thing I’ve ever done. I’ve been trying to break up unhealthy routines. I’ve been trying to trust myself. And I know deep down that I will be okay someday. I will read all the books I want to read and talk about them and write about them just like I always wanted to.

Good things take time.

In those challenging months, bookstagram hasn’t been very helpful for me. Scrolling through beautiful feeds with book stacks, counting other people’s endless reading lists, and seeing how fast other people read only made me feel worse. I felt like I did not belong to this community anymore.

But I want to give it another try. I believe bookstagram is more than counting and comparing how many books we’ve read. I think it’s about sharing your passion and enthusiasm for one of the most emphatic activities human beings can participate in. I’m coming back to bookstagram because I think it could help me and possibly others if I share my experiences. I don’t want it to pressure me. Instead, I want bookstagram to inspire me and help me rekindle my love for reading. Maybe by sharing my journey back to literature, I will be able to overcome my fears.

At least I will try.

One of the first things I want to change on my account is to remove the number of books I’ve read so far this year. I will continue to track the books I’ve read on goodreads simply because I like to know what I’ve read and when. However, I will stop proclaiming the numbers on this account. It’s a common thing on Bookstagram to drop the insane number of books people have read in a year everywhere. Seeing people claim they read 60 or 100, sometimes even 150 books a year only made me feel small and insecure about my reading habits. Moreover, I believe it creates the misleading notion that if you don’t read over 100 books a year, you don’t belong to the community. I know that it isn’t the intention of most bookstagramers to exclude readers by mentioning their numbers. Nevertheless, for me personally, seeing these numbers and competitions over who reads the most and who is the most bookish of us had a negative impact on me. As I want my page to spread positivity entirely, I won’t mention those numbers anymore and you won’t find them on my blog either.

Phew. I feel all the better for getting that off my chest…

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