Reading in the dark

5 minute read

Content warning - Depression

Reading is my favourite form of escapism. Whenever everything gets a bit much, I grab a blanket, a cup of tea and lose myself in a book for a few hours.

I'll often be too engrossed to notice the sunlight slowly fading. I'll just stubbornly carry on reading, the book getting gradually closer to my face, squinting to make out the words. At some point my partner walks in, sees me peering at my book in the dark, and flicks on the light.

Why are you reading in the dark? You'll ruin your eyes!

As soon as the light goes on, I'm aware of how hunched over the book I am, how much easier it is to read now that I can actually see the pages...

I think most people have experienced this. It's a lot easier to talk about shared experiences so I'm going to use it as an analogy.

I've battled with mental health since I was about 13. I used to say 'struggled with' but that sounds too passive. 'Battled' makes me sound strong and badass. Like a warrior.

Xena the warrior princess running

Even though I've been battling this for nearly two decades now. I'm still far too hard on myself when I'm depressed.

I know that I have cyclic moods, and I know that how I feel is often disconnected from reality and out of my control. But it doesn't stop me from being really hard on myself when I'm not functioning at my best. It's hard to think rationally and be kind to yourself when the equipment you use for thinking isn't working properly.

To go back to the book analogy.

Sometimes I'm doing GREAT. Everything is wonderful, more than wonderful. The light is blazing bright, I'm speed-reading my way through stacks of books. I'm the reading champion, no one has ever read as fast as me. I read three books that morning. I love them all. I post reviews of all of them on the internet. Everyone's super impressed with how many books I can read.

But gradually the sun starts to go down.

I don't notice at first, I'm too busy reading. But it gets harder to work out the words. I slow down. I realise that I've only read one book that evening. Come to think of it, I didn't even really enjoy it either.

I don't look around and notice that the light's going out, I just try harder to read, It's definitely me. I'm the problem.

Only one book! You read three books the other day. Why aren't you concentrating. Try harder.

The sun carries on going down. It's getting really hard to see the pages now. I only manage a few chapters.

Everyone thinks you're so good at reading books and you're not. You're a fraud. Everyone's going to find out.

It gets darker and I can't really see my book anymore. I tell friends I'm struggling to read. They try to help.

'Here, try this one I loved it.'

I really try to read it, I try for hours. I can't.

It must be your fault. They managed to read it. They loved it. What's wrong with you.

Eventually it's pitch black. I can't see my books at all. I can't even remember what I liked about reading in the first place. I just want to sleep.

This is where the analogy falls apart a bit. Because there's no one who can flick a light on for you at this point. God I wish there was.

I've been in the dark quite a few times now. Sometimes I see it coming and I can switch up my routine, do some self-care and catch it before it gets too bad. Sometimes I'm too busy focusing on getting stuff done and I don't see it. This time the light was all the way out before I realised I needed help. I spent two days in bed because it hurt too much to be awake and almost took a handful of sleeping tablets when I couldn't sleep anymore. (there's no analogy to sugar coat that one).

I got some new meds the week before last and the light is very much on again. It's very clear to me now that I was struggling to do things because the light was out.

I'm writing this for two reasons.

Firstly as a reminder to go easy on myself. Sometimes it's going to be easy to read, sometimes it's going to be harder. We can't expect to always be as productive as our best days. Our productivity doesn't define our worth.

I'm also writing this for anyone that's trying to read in dim light at the moment. If you're battling please don't be hard on yourself. It's not your fault. Let yourself put the book down for a while, see if you can get that light on.

Also. If you need someone to talk to, please reach out. I'm always here and happy to talk.