How Reading Saved My Life

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I’m sure most of you read the title and wondered how melodramatic I could possibly be. And the answer is very. But isn’t that the point of writing? To make simple thoughts rather complex? To make the mundane extraordinary?

I happened upon the art of writing when I was twelve years old. Sure, I had read a book before, but I was never passionate about it. I did it because my mom wanted me to, or because I was a goody-two-shoes and always did what the teacher asked. But in seventh grade a few things changed. Like many of us, I began to realize that I wasn’t exactly like everyone around me. In elementary school we all seemed so convinced that everyone could be friends, but by the time puberty hit we realized we couldn’t; we were all very different. We tried and tried, over and over, but soon quit, allowing  the molds forming around us to become more permanent. In growing up, we lost each other.

For me, that was a difficult concept to grasp. The more I grew into myself, the more often I found myself standing alone. I felt misunderstood. I felt as though I didn’t have a friend in the world, though later I figured out this was all very untrue.

Coping with these feelings proved to be a rather difficult task, but one day I found a remedy; a temporary relief from this restlessness within my being. I began reading the Harry Potter series, and to be frank, I only did it because I thought carrying around the big books made me look cool and studious, or something along those lines. I was mechanical at first—20 pages by noon, 10 more before the school day ended, and then as many as I could when I went home (after I finished my homework of course). And then slowly, I began to fall in love.

I began to tear through the pages because I needed to know what happened. I needed to learn more about my friends. I laughed with these misfits, I anticipated their every move, I wept with them, and I celebrated their victories. And as the world around me seemed to shift and become foreign to my adolescent mind, I learned lessons through the use of literature. It equipped me with insight. It allowed me to be more understanding of those around me.

I learned that depression isn’t the taboo condition I thought it to be. I learned that being different isn’t a death sentence to your social status, and that having a passion for something can lead you to do greater things than you ever imagined. Reading helped me to cope. It helped me to learn. It helped me to see beyond the fraction of the world I had witnessed.

When I feel the pull of loneliness, I find my hands reaching for a new adventure, for new friends to teach me their story. A new drama that signified something more relatable. Dystopian societies that teach about prejudice. Mysteries about conquering your inner demons. Books about someone’s seemingly average life, containing unusual struggles, giving us hope that maybe we aren’t so strange, and that we too can be astonishing.

Reading befriended me in one of the most vulnerable times in my life. It filled a void within my heart until I felt justified in my own sense of self. Without the stories and characters I have lived vicariously through, I don’t think I would be the me that I am today. Perhaps I would be far less dramatic, and maybe a little less nerdy, but I guarantee I would be far more confused by the people around me, and the reasons we act in the ways that we do. So, cheers to books and to saving yet another life. May we always read, write, and express ourselves – even when we’re afraid to.

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