I was having a bad day. I was agitated, restless and felt like this ball of negative feelings waiting to explode in frustration and tears. I have been diagnosed with clinical depression early last year, have gone through therapy and medication. I have been released from both therapy and medication as I have managed to re-engage with my life. Except its not really gone. Depression comes and goes. I knew as I had been barely sleeping, I had loneliness sitting like an unmovable rock in my heart and I was a ball of anxiety that it was one of those days. While still able to go to work, sitting on my desk wasn’t helping me. I couldn’t focus. The breathing exercises and the progressive muscle relaxation wasn’t working. The world felt noisy. Its noise infiltrated every inch of my being and it was challenging all the control I had. I needed quiet. I searched through all the coping skills I had in my brain bank. Only one thing seemed possible—a walk. I needed to take a walk. Prior to my official diagnosis, when I had these sort of extremely unshakable sad feelings I would take long walks free of companionship or music.
Over lunch break I decided to just walk. As I stepped out and walked down the street, another thought came to mind–a need, a need to be inside a book store. I had time and so I headed to the nearest book shop and looked at every shelf in its well-stocked 3-storied bookshop. As I began my deliberate scan of the book shelves I felt the silence slowly sink in. I felt my pulse slow down, my mind zone in and the world disappear. I didn’t speed through the shelves. I walked through each aisle and scanned the titles. I took out the books that interested me, read the blurbs and the first pages. I had an hour, an hour to go through the store. I didn’t rush it. In time, I found myself solid. My foot felt like it was standing on solid ground. My body felt at ease, no tension in the shoulders and in the back. My whole body almost still and quiet, the restlessness evaporating. Then it dawned on me how true it is that books saved my life. Literature saved me.
I may have been diagnosed with clinical depression only last year, but I had always been depressed. It was no surprise to me though as my mother is bipolar II. I was acutely aware of this void in my heart and the darkness the loomed in my existence. There was always noise I would try to silence. In this trip to the bookstore as a 30 year old, I found myself revisiting my childhood. My childhood was bruised to the point of being numb to the pain. There was a lot of fighting, emotional blackmail, a bad separation, physical abuse, hunger, and poverty. There was also a lot of pretending. Closed up as I was, I didn’t find refuge in relationships. Friendships were strange things to me and people were too noisy (literally and metaphorically) for my being,so when I transferred to a bigger school with a big library I found myself gravitating towards an escape where conversations were unnecessary and being alone wasn’t an issue. I wasn’t a reader when I began my daily visits to the library. I barely understood a word of English then. I would sit in some corner, in between shelves and look at the books before me. I became a reader because of those visits. I became myself within those shelves. Looking back I realize that the lined up books, the inevitable silence of the libraries and the solitude provided refuge to my bruised and battered self. It quieted my soul, filled me with wonder and eventually with words.
To be in the midst of books has always been a place of assurance for me. To discover I am not alone, that somewhere among those shelves was a story quite similar to mine kept me sane. I was not alone. I was not voiceless. I became a reader because I learned to live vicariously through characters. I became a reader because I found understanding in books. Now, even with a diagnosis, even with meds and even with therapy, a walk to the bookstore or library, a walk through a place lined with books—with words and stories—soothes me. In return, I write my own words.
I am known to say poetry saved me, but now, powered with hindsight, I could say books saved me. The written word, even then in its barely understandable form, offered my un-diagnosed, depressed and lonely younger self a way through the darkness. Despite being battered and bruised in all ways possible, I found courage to live and survive because someone somewhere wrote words that made life possible.
So, here’s to libraries, bookstores, publishers and writers! Thank you!