When I first read this post by Kelley from Oh, the Books! about how books affect her physically due to cataplexy, I hate to say this, but I thought it didn’t seem quite realistic. Or, it did seem like a real thing, but only something that could happen to a small number of people in the whole world. Of course, I don’t know the actual statistics, but I think it’s safe to say that, even if you don’t have the same reaction as Kelley, there are a lot more people who are deeply, deeply affected by books than I originally thought – and I think I’d put myself in that group.
I’ve talked about my anxiety in the past, and I’ve even talked about how it affects my reading in the past, but I’m going to write another post about the topic anyway!
One of the ways that I get anxious seems to be when I’m overly sensitive to something. For example, I avoid gory, violent movies of all kinds if I can because I tend to get too sensitive about it – when I see a bit character who maybe doesn’t even have a name or any lines die, I can’t help thinking about the fact that that person was once a child and probably has so many dreams they aren’t going to achieve and loved ones they’re leaving behind. Yes, I understand that it’s actually an actor getting paid to spend a day or two on a movie set before moving on, but I have trouble separating that in my mind – and don’t even get me started on historical movies, like war movies, where the actors are representing people that these awful things actually happened to. I’ve been like this for a while, so it’s not something new that I’m trying to accommodate – however, I think my sensitivity is starting to bleed into other areas of my life.
For example, soon after I took a medical leave of absence from school to try and get myself into a better place mentally, I went to a symphony performance with my dad. I was on medication, but it was relatively new, so I was obviously a bit freaked out by the fact that I was stuck in a dark room surrounded by people and I couldn’t get out without practically walking over people. I was trying to handle it, and I think I was doing fairly well under the circumstances, but then the orchestra started playing this piece that was about a young boy having a nightmare about a big violin performance he was supposed to do the next day.
This might seem obvious to some people, but I was a bit surprised when I started getting anxious – apparently, music that represents nighttime anxiety can affect me as well. It’s a sign that the piece was obviously good, since I was so affected by it, but it obviously wasn’t that pleasant for me.
The more I think about this, the more I recognize it happening with certain books. If a character is noticeably panicking in a book, and that panic is written out, it can make me anxious even though it’s not happening to me. I’m sure there are plenty of people who get this, but for me, it feels a bit scarier since it starts the fun cycle of personal anxiety. It’s one of the reasons I both want to and am scared of rereading the Ruby Oliver series – Ruby suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, and I want to reread the book to get a sense of community, but I’m also worried that it might stress me out a bit too much at times.
I also remember how I felt when I was reading Wild Awake, a debut from a few years ago. This was before the anxiety was really an issue, but I guess I’ve just always been an overly-sensitive person. I read this book in the car, on the way to a family trip or something, and I just remember how I would be reading and getting caught up in the difficult emotions of it all, and I would stop reading for a moment to look out the window or something and would feel like I was still stuck in the main character’s head space, which wasn’t a great one. I felt like I was almost drowning in the emotions of the book, which is a sign of a pretty good book and writing for me, but would probably be pretty unpleasant at least if I read it for the first time now.
I’m not trying to say that I’m super-special and no one else is so affected by books as I am – that’s just silly, and everyone experiences books in their own way. Really, I’m just trying to say that everyone has a really concrete experience with reading, whether it’s fangirling, stressing, literally feeling weak in the legs, or any of the other, many valid reactions – and my personal reaction is to sometimes get way too caught up in the emotions of it all.