Last year I read 142 books. To some people, that number is massive and to others, that’s small fries. I was CONSTANTLY reading in 2019. I decided to not give myself a Goodreads reading goal in 2020 because I figured I would keep up my reading pace from 2019. I thought that nothing could ever impact the way I read. I mean, I have twin toddlers and I still get a decent amount of reading done. Like a lot of people, I have struggled with depression for a long time.
I also have premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD. PMDD is an endocrine disorder that, along with some pretty crazy physical symptoms, has massive effects on mental health. I have always been able to turn to reading to help me cope with my mental health. When people were rude because my pain is invisible, I could read to feel better. When it took so long to get a diagnosis, I read to feel better when yet another doctor turned me away. I read as a kid when my dad left and I read as an adult to deal with stress. I’m not throwing a pity party here. I’m trying to show that I have been a reader through some pretty hard things. I thought my reading was INVINCIBLE.
Then 2020 happened.
When Australia was on fire, the book community banded together to try to send help in the ways that we could. Then the House of Representatives voted to impeach our president and the Senate voted to acquit the two articles of impeachment. After that, COVID came. I don’t need to describe that. A lot of us are still in quarantine because of the ongoing global pandemic. George Floyd’s murder, that echoed memories of other Black men who had died at the hand of police, rightfully started protests against racism and police brutality. The protests that started out peacefully were met with violence and destruction. The Iowa caucus was a huge mess. There was a massive explosion in Beirut that killed over 158 people, injured over 6,000 people, and displaced more than 300,000. There were Indonesian floods, riots in Delhi, earthquakes in Turkey, swarms of locusts in East Africa, I guess the Boy Scouts went bankrupt at some point. I think there were murder hornets in there somewhere. There was a mass shooting in Nova Scotia. The pentagon basically told us aliens are real. Two of the royals just flat out quit the Royal Family. Oh yea, Brexit actually happened too.
THAT ALL HAPPENED IN 2020, but there was so much more than that. I just gave you the cliff notes. My problems seem pretty small after I’ve typed all of that out. And, understandably, my mental health and the mental health of so many others have suffered because of this absolute dumpster fire of a year. It’s hard to stay in a positive and healthy mindset with all that is happening in the world. So, that invincible reader that I thought I was? Yea, she’s not here anymore. I am finding it difficult to focus on books and to meet deadlines.
The tragedy of 2020 is tangible and works hard to swallow you whole. But I’m really trying hard to not let it. I am obviously impacted by the things that have happened this year and I don’t know if there is a normal to go back to in 2021. But, I know that I still have the urge to read. I am lucky enough to still have my family and our health. I still want to dive into a fictional world to help relieve the stress and fear that I have that my family and those that I love will be hurt by the events of this year.
So how can we cope? How can we get our focus back so that we can read? If reading is a stress reliever, we need it more than ever. But wanting to read to relieve stress and then not being able to focus on reading, is stressful too. Kind of an oxymoron, right? I just wanted to share some of the things that I have been doing that have been helping me keep my focus on reading during the year that is trying to destroy everything.
DON’T SET GOALS FOR YOURSELF.
There is enough pressure on everyone right now. You don’t need to add to it, by feeling bad that you didn’t read 8 books this month. That pressure can make you shut down. It can make you sit and stare at social media for hours instead of reading something that is proven to help relieve your stress. So stop with the goals. You’ll still be reading, you just won’t feel pressured to do so.
BE MINDFUL OF YOUR THOUGHTS.
I’m not going to tell you to sit down in a meditating position and say “ohm” while you try to clear your mind. If that’s your thing, by all means, DO IT. But I don’t have the time to do it. What I’m saying is that it is a really good idea to start calling yourself out on your harmful thoughts. Thinking things like, “UGH, I'm never going to get this done!” is really damaging to your mental health. It’s not easy, but it is important to forgive yourself for being a human being who makes mistakes. When you catch yourself thinking things like that, stop and ask yourself what that thought is accomplishing aside from bringing yourself further down? Replace that thought with something like, “If I don’t finish this today, I can try again tomorrow. I’m only human.”
DNF BOOKS YOU AREN’T INTO.
So that book you’re reading is boring and you don’t like it, even though everybody else seems to be in love with it. Don’t force yourself to read it if you don’t like it. DNF THAT SUCKER AND DON’T FEEL BAD ABOUT IT. If a book was sent to you by an author or a publisher, and you are HATING it, it is absolutely okay to let them know that you are not finishing it and why (but please do it in a professional and polite way). Not every book is for every reader and that is okay. You’re not a bad person for not liking a popular book.
CALL YOUR FRIENDS.
Zoom. FaceTime. GoogleDuo. Write a letter (seriously, save the postal service because 2020 is trying to take them down too). Talk to people that you love and that make you happy. Being socially isolated has similar negative effects to a lack of exercise and some diseases. Feeling unwell and tired makes us less likely to be able to focus on our reading. Take some time to call your bestie and then get down to eyeing those pages.
GET OFF OF YOUR PHONE.
Listen, I don’t care how you do this but do it. It is so helpful to limit your time on social media. I stopped taking my phone to bed with me and I turned off all of my notifications during certain parts of the day. I spend that time, instead, either with my family or with a book. Social media is ripe with things that will stress you out and make you feel bad about yourself. It’s also a really great idea to block or unfollow people or accounts that bring you down. I’ve started doing that recently and it has made such a huge difference in the way I spend my time online. Not feeling so bogged down from social media has helped me keep my reading pace up.
Look, I know 2020 is rough. And it’s easy to say that you feel bad for complaining because other people have it worse. Other people probably DO have it worse, but that doesn't make how you feel invalid. I once heard someone ask about that saying, “other people have it worse,” if it would be the same if we were talking about PHYSICAL pain rather than mental turmoil. If you break your arm, you don’t NOT go to the hospital because someone else broke both legs. You deserve to let yourself heal mentally. Reading is a way that I heal and is a way that a lot of people get through stressful times. All of that said, taking a few steps to help yourself focus on your reading during this absolute crap show of a year, will help improve your mental health and will help you read awesome new books.
*editors note: Kallie is such an inspiration. You should follow her on Instagram and get to know her through those amazing posts she shares with the #bookstagram community. Her stories are always so entertaining (I love the ones with her twins!) and she has been documenting her journey of learning photography with her new, fancy camera:
Hey folks. I’ve seen a lot of people doing these and I figured I’d jump on the bandwagon. So hey new friends! I’m Kallie Lou. I am an artist from Ohio. I’m a mom of twin girls and two dachshunds and I’m married to someone who just pretends he doesn’t see how many books I buy. I’m the only person that thinks I’m funny and I really want and try to have a green thumb. I can skip backward and my tongue is abnormally long. I’m pretty awkward, but I’d love to chat about books if you want to DM me. I love horror and dark fiction. I usually only watch true crime documentaries and horror films, if I ever watch television. Feel free to ask me anything, I’m pretty chill. @pageandparlor