You could say I am quite the happy, perky, and positive person. I tend to see the glass half full and also attempt to focus on the positive moments in life. But as a woman living daily with Bipolar 2, there is also a risk of anxiety, depression, and days that make me feel extremely down. At times, these episodes surprise me and come upon me with no warning.
Sometimes my smile hides a head full of worry and concern. Racing thoughts take over and I get in a sudden manic state, where at one moment things feel fine and perfect and at another, things and feelings swing for the worst. Being diagnosed in 2008 when I was just married and worked a stressful newsroom job at The Miami Herald as an editor and writer was in part a surprise and a relief. At the time, I was in my 20s, and although I was an avid reader as a teen, I was in an incredible slump where reading took a backseat in my list of priorities. Then, a good friend recommended Twilight, and shortly after, The Hunger Games series. All of a sudden, it was like a light was shining down on me again.
I made it a priority to set aside time to read, when a book would take over my restless mind for a bit and calm it down. I felt as if the escape into a story was what I needed to quiet down the voices a little bit and make me focus on other things besides my stressful newsroom job and being a new wife. It helped me compartmentalize my feelings. I also found myself journaling more and getting inspired to write more as a feature writer. I also connected with new friends that shared my same tastes and passions when it came to reading.
In 2011, I moved from the newsroom to Where Magazine in Miami and a position as a magazine editor and writer. I loved my job, but it was overwhelming, and I was very thankful for my mood stabilizers daily. During that time is when I decided to start a book club. I joined a couple of work friends interested in getting together, sipping a little wine, and discussing whatever it was we were reading at the time. This helped settle my anxiety because it held me responsible to keeping weekly reading habits, which made me feel grounded and ready for fun discussions with friends.
One of the first books we picked up as a group was the now BookTok famous We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. We had a blast discussing the twisty mystery. Later on, we picked up titles like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. My book club is still alive to this day. I recently read an ARC of Family of Liars by E. Lockhart, and it made me so happy to immerse myself in that world again and dig into the prequel to one of the books that started up my very therapeutic book club.
Now that I’m a high school teacher, even though I am busy grading and coming into the classroom daily, I still make it a priority to read. Saturday mornings with coffee, a book, and my cat has become a weekly ritual for me to escape into a book and decompress, silencing the voices that sometimes creep into my mind and distract me. Those quiet solitary moments are a form of self-care. Even better, my cat Luna will perch on the back of my cozy chair and purr and watch me read. Reading — and pets, of course — is extremely calming, and I am so thankful for all this as a gal living with constant anxiety due to her diagnosis.
Recently, I was reminded how important reading is to calm my anxiety. From November 2021 to about January 2022 I found myself spiraling because I made the mistake of stubbornly getting off my mood stabilizer and not replacing it, and relying just on an antidepressant. The mood swings came back: the ups and downs, the days were I could barely make it to work to a job that I love; the random voices and the sudden tears. Reading, my love, became harder to manage. When I finally had an intake in January and started a new medication, which took some time to work and settle, I was elated to finally pick up a book for me to read again. While I love reviewing books and reading books for various stories, I always have been a mood reader and tend to pick up novels that have themes I am craving. Some books that rekindled my love and kept my anxiety at bay as I recovered were Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto and Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber. You could say a funny contemporary read and romantic adventurous fantasy was just what the doctor ordered. I am forever thankful that reading helps me so much with this condition.
With all that said, thank you reading life. I am so thankful I found myself back to being an avid reader during some of the hardest times of my life. My 20s and 30s were full of important moments: times where I lost myself, where I finally found myself, and where I took care of myself. Now, I surround myself with the right people, I am in a career I love no matter how hard it can get sometimes, and I always have my books. There’s nothing like being surrounded by a TBR full of stories just waiting for me in good times and bad. In the end, books are the best medicine for this girl struggling with her Bipolar 2 and anxiety. Books are always there for us when we need them the most.
Do books and stories help curb your anxiety and stress? Let me know on Twitter @AuroraMiami.