Eighth grade was not a good year for me. Along with the usual teenage angst and social awkwardness, I was deeply depressed and anorexic. I spent a week at the Teenage Psychiatric Ward at the Keene State Hospital two-and-a-half hours from home. This was a harrowing experience and deterred me from seeking mental health care for years. I felt hopelessly alone. I read a lot.
Reading had always offered me solace. I’d experienced depression and anxiety from a very young age and didn’t know how to process my emotions. I would finally be diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in my late twenties, but, back then, help was still a long ways away. My parents didn’t know what to do with me and my emotions. But, reading gave me a positive outlet, a safe place to go, a way to escape my troubles. When I was lonely, I turned to books. That year, I spent many days lying in bed, reading.
About a month after my release from the hospital, my mother and I started reading together. We hadn’t done that in years, pretty much since I’d learned to read. Without discussing it, one night my mom crawled into my bed next to me with her leatherbound copy of Wuthering Heights. We settled under three or four blankets (I was always cold, due to poor circulation caused by the anorexia). We snuggled up close and took turns reading aloud. This became a nightly habit.
Reading gave my mom and me a place to connect, something to share. It offered peace in a tumultuous time. It made us closer again. Reading helped me destress when I really, really needed to. It took me away from my overwhelming emotions and self-doubt. It made me want to live again. Reading with my mom saved me.