Career, Mental Health, Reading

Reminiscing on the Act of Reading

How reading helped cultivate inner peace and self-awareness

I spent half a year worrying. No exaggeration — 6 months out of 12, they were spent in continuous worry. It was as if I was drowning and reaching out for a rope to hold on to, but my fingers kept slipping. I wanted to break the surface and swallow a breath of fresh air but I held on thinking, maybe tomorrow will be differentYes, tomorrow. Tomorrow is the day!

Then tomorrow came and the waves crashed over my head once again. And again. And again, and again.

And then, it happened. The tomorrow I was longing for actually dragged itself to me, and it only did so when I willed myself to make a mental shift. I thought to myself, “Okay, breathe. What is stopping you from walking away from this situation?”

As someone who thrives in comfort and security, leaving my full-time, 9–5 job packaged with benefits to walk into the abyss of no plans at the age of 23 was not a situation I was comfortable putting myself into. But, as my partner pointed out, I had the privilege and agency to take charge of my situation. Although it was one of the hardest things I’ve done, I said my goodbyes and walked away.

While processing the fact that I now had to start over again, I took the time to revisit old friends so I wouldn’t get lost in the chaos of my mind. Gently, I knocked on the doors of forgotten hobbies and eventually found a familiar sense of comfort in them. One of these hobbies was reading.

When I think back, reading is a part of certain memories I hold near and dear. The first book my mom read to me was Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, a classic children’s book that cultivated in me an eerily fierce affection towards the moon that I still possess to this day.

Nursery rhymes never piqued my interest, so much so that I would slyly close these particular books when my mom tried to read them to me. I vividly recall rolling my eyes at my older sister who was obsessed with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and didn’t understand why she kept reading and re-reading the same book. For a few years, I never picked up a book as I was too busy creating scenarios using my imagination and acting them out to no particular audience.

The first book I read on my own was an Archie comic. My sister and I were fortunate enough to be the proud owners of 200+ Archie comics that were bought by my dad from a family friend and then gifted to us. These comics were bragged about to anyone who’d listen. At first, I didn’t understand a word of what was going on until one day, as my mom tells me, she caught me giggling profusely while reading a comic. I may have realized the potential of expanding my imagination through someone else’s words because this propelled my interest in reading.

While devouring all the Archie comics I owned, I slowly expanded to story books by Enid Blyton and Susan Coolidge, whose work I particularly enjoyed. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott was also one of the treasured books that I read over and over again. Since then, the act of reading is something I’ve never lost interest in.

Within that 6-month period, however, reading became alien to me. I didn’t have the drive to do anything that would bring me solace. But during the weeks after I left my job, filling my time with the habit of reading helped bring peace to my worried mind. Most importantly, it made me think back and recognize just how much I’ve grown with this habit throughout the years. I believe that being a reader is an ability that requires practice, just like any other. For me, this involves practising active reading, something I’m learning more about these days.

The act of coming back to consistently reading books has also helped me ground myself and create a space of total absorption, allowing me to bring back my childhood tendencies of playing with the words in front of me while using my imagination when appropriate.

I’m someone who dabbles in everything and anything, so much so that I never felt wholly good at anything at all. This was until I recently recognized that being a reader is something I’m increasingly getting better at. I have the patience and interest to do something for hours on end without getting bored, to challenge myself to understand things that don’t make sense to me, to open myself up to new worlds of grief, happiness, excitement, and wonder, to be more empathetic, and to notice and appreciate the details.

The feeling of finding this grounding while doing something you love is scary, nostalgic, magical, and opens a crate jam-packed with emotions because something finally clicks.

Thanks to reminiscing on the act of reading, I also came to the realization that this is something I could pursue professionally through the publishing industry! So this year, I’m excited to continue reading and exploring new possibilities that come from it.

Not all old habits die hard, so I’m glad that reading is the one I came back to.