2015: Reading, Anxiety, and Being Present

The new year is already one month old. As I discussed in my last post, there’s been a lot of change in my life recently and I’ve been quite slow in my adjustments. The new year is no exception. Hence the fact that it’s already February 2nd and I am only just now sitting down to think about the year ahead, or the next 11 months rather.

I haven’t given much thought to personal reading or writing goals. I’ve not even thought much about what I’m planning for this blog (very professional, I know). There is a reason for this, though. When your job is reading, analysis, and writing, three things you love most dearly, there is always the risk that your work anxiety will spill over into your personal enjoyment of books and (non-academic) writing. In academia, you’re not only likely to suffer from writer’s block, there’s also the chance of falling into a reader’s block. The blank space on the page as well as the pages already filled up with text can become quite terrifying. I am gradually learning to manage my anxiety, and although it has been a long process, one thing I’ve learned is that I can’t hide from it.

This blog, a commitment to reading and writing that is separate from my academic life, will hopefully give me an outlet to find focus and peace in reading and writing. I know it seems quite contradictory, to give myself extra ‘work’ in order to alleviate anxiety. But I am hoping that this space will help provide support and structure to my reading and writing life. Too often I use reading as an escape, which has its usefulness but which can at the same time be a detriment to the management of anxiety. I am also guilty of burning out and shunning all written words, allowing myself to wallow in the wilds of Netflix for much too long. It’s difficult to find a balance, but one of the most helpful methods I have for dealing with my anxiety is practising being present.

Being present also means being kind to myself, acknowledging how I’m feeling and not letting it consume me. When I’ve had a bad day ‘at work’, instead of grabbing my sweets and taking to bed with Netflix, I want to be able to say to myself, ‘That’s ok, bad work days happen, but let’s just try a bit of reading to get the brain working again’. And the great thing about reading for pleasure is that I don’t have to worry about how it will fit into my thesis or my career. I can let my mind use the book for whatever it wants, just be present with the words on the page—and more often than not I still find myself with plenty of interesting thoughts worth talking about on this blog. I love talking about books, writing about them and even analysing them. Sometimes my anxiety can get in the way, blocking out that wonderful feeling of joy, the very thing that lead me straight into academia where I can read and write about books for a job.

I will certainly be working on my anxiety as it relates to my work, figuring out how to avoid falling prey to its overwhelming power in the first place. Meditating, creating healthy work routines, and practising self-love are all important parts of the process. But I’m also hoping that committing myself to reading for pleasure and writing about books just for the love of it will help to slow the spread of my anxiety, remind me how much fun reading can be and give me a space to do what I love that is safely removed from the professional pressures I feel in academia.

And so this year my only hope is to keep reading and keep writing. I have no reading goals—I don’t care if I read ten books or one hundred. I just want to keep doing what I love.