Hiya! Today I’m gonna talk about my relationship with reading!
Why I read, what I look for in what I choose to read, and my roller-coaster, on-off relationship with books and why being an Empath has such a huge effect on my reading.
Let’s start with my on-off relationship with books!
I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember. I don’t really know when I started, just that I was young.
I used to make my mum read the same book to me constantly when I was 2 years old. So much so, that I learned the words by heart and my mum would tell people I could read, and then have me recite the words. I even knew when to turn the pages.
My Nana met my mum in the store once, the whole time she spent looking for her, my Nana was thinking, ‘Would someone shut the brat up’. A kid was screaming bloody murder, chucking a massive tantrum. My Nana finally found my mother, and the source of the screaming: me.
What was I chucking a tantrum over? I wanted a book, and my mum said no.
We didn’t have a lot of money back then, we still don’t, but we were definitely closer to the poverty end of the spectrum back then.
My Nana couldn’t believe it, and she really couldn’t believe that I was throwing a tantrum over a book.
My family have never been big readers, I think mostly because dyslexia runs quite strong in our family, it usually wasn’t until later in life that my family members would finally pick up a book, well, until my generation. So, for my Nana, it was shocking to see such a visceral reaction to not getting a book from someone with her blood.
I can remember my favourite book from when I was about 6-7. It was this picture book filled with 1000 facts. I loved it so much that I learned all the best facts by heart. When I was a teenager and I met my step dad’s best friend, who loved collecting facts as much as I did, we’d go toe to toe. ‘Did you know…?‘, ‘No, but did you know…?‘ I’ve since bought a much bigger version for my nephew who loves learning as much as I do.
From there, my relationship with books has been quite off and on. I think, to begin with, I liked escaping into different worlds.
I had a wild imagination and I loved the idea of magical worlds where anything was possible. I was a kid who created a fairyland under a giant tree in my backyard, believed my childhood friend when she said she had magic stones, and I believed in Santa and the Easter Bunny until I was 12. My mum was heartbroken when I found out they weren’t real. It was the end of my innocence, I would stop believing in magic, so she thought.
I fell in love with the Spiderwick Chronicles and A Series of Unfortunate Events in primary school. Everyone talked about the Harry Potter books, and I was intrigued. But then I saw a kid reading one in class and was so intimidated by the size of them that I was too scared to pick one up.
As I grew up and developed an interest in history, I realized I could learn so much from reading! I read about Ancient Egypt and all their different gods, I learned about mummification which I thought was fascinating, and in hindsight was a sign of my growing morbid curiosity.
In the search for more non-fiction, I started reading books about things I had never experienced, and might never experience. I learned what it was like to be Jewish during World War II. What they had to go through, just to survive.
I was fascinated by Hitler, and so began my disturbing interest in how people, like him, could rationalize with themselves that it was okay to do so many atrocious things. It kicked off my interest in true crime and serial killers.
I went into high school and was so excited to see more books that had once been out of reach for me. I inhaled as many as I could.
And then life got a bit too hard. When I’m really struggling, I struggle to read, I struggle to even pick up a book. My family life was all over the place.
On top of all that, during year 11, I had to pick my Research Project topic and apparently, 16-year-old me thought Genocide was a great idea!
Fucking idiot! I had just learned that World War II wasn’t the only large-scale serial killings of a group of people. I was angry and upset. How did I not know any of this until now? Why had I not been taught this earlier? Why was no one talking about it?
I tell you, reading about people being murdered for no other reason than greed, prejudice and hate was depressing as all hell. I’ve blocked most of it out. I don’t remember hardly anything from what I learned doing that project. I spent most of my lessons messing around with my mates because I needed a distraction from all the horror.
I managed to read on and off all through high school, reading a book here and there. Until my final year, when I finally picked up a Harry Potter book and became obsessed. I got excited about the last movie, I discovered a Very Potter Musical, I lasted nearly the whole series. It’s all I talked about for a year. Until I reached the part in Deathly Hallows when they’re travelling around and I got so bored that I gave up!
After I tried and failed at uni, I started to read quite a bit again. This was when I discovered my love for John Green and magical realism.
I then became friends with a girl from work who loved to read too, we shared our own personal collections with each other, I dived into more of the vampire type of books, I introduced her to magical realism. I tackled a 13 book series! I even nearly finished it! Stopping one book short because it hadn’t released yet, and I just never got around to reading it.
My life turned to shit yet again, I was back in survival mode. I couldn’t read anymore, so I turned to audiobooks. They really helped, and I was able to read again! Until I wasn’t, because life hit me with a big fucking truck, once again. Are you seeing a theme???
Two years ago I started watching the Shadowhunters with my housemate who lived with my parents and I fell in love with the show and it didn’t take much convincing for me to borrow the books from her and read them. I powered through them and fell back in love with reading again and after that…I just didn’t stop.
I bought a Kindle, discovered Overdrive, found out that all the libraries in my state were now connected, and never looked back. I started creating my own personal library, started writing reviews, and made a little home for myself in the book community.
Recently, as you probably already know because I wouldn’t shut up about it, I had a really bad book slump. This was due to some really full on family dramas.
what’s new? It’s the worst one I’ve ever had because I wanted to read, I wanted to read so badly, but I just couldn’t. Even books that were perfect for me weren’t enough to hold my attention.
I was terrified I would slip into another years-long period of not reading. I felt like I had just gotten this part of me back, I didn’t want to lose it again.
Reading is such a huge part of who I am that when I don’t have it I feel like there’s a whole inside of me that can never be filled without them.
Thankfully, I’m back on the reading wagon. I’m not reading anywhere near as much as I once was, but I’m getting there. The family dramas are still happening, but I’m managing to separate myself enough to focus on other things.
So why do I actually read?
I’ve always liked books that made me think, made me question my ways of thinking. I’ve always been someone who soaked up information like a sponge, so long as it was given to me in an interesting way.
If curiosity killed the cat, then I have no idea how I have made it this far, to be honest.
I’m always someone who asks why. Why are things done a certain way, why can’t I do things this way? I was the worst child to give the line ‘because I said so‘ to because I would just blatantly ignore you after that. Obviously, your reason wasn’t good enough if you couldn’t tell me it.
Looking back, I have a great understanding of the world, and the people in it, because of reading. With understanding, comes less fear of the unknown. And with less fear of the unknown, comes less hate. And that is really important to me.
I like being reminded that there’s still magic in the world, even if it only comes in a book format sometimes. I love that whole worlds can come from just someone’s imagination! If that’s possible, then maybe magic is real?
What do I look for in my books?
I prefer books packed with life lessons and to come in the form of YA Fantasy because then I can still have magical worlds. However, I do like a good contemporary.
I look for authors who like to tackle tough subjects and ask the sometimes unanswerable questions. I like to read about morally, unlikable characters, villains who don’t deserve a redeemable arc, those who earn one. I really love characters that try hard to be good, even when life makes it so much harder for them, I like reading about characters who do terrible things to protect themselves or the ones they love.
I like reading books that make me uncomfortable because they make me question myself. Why am I uncomfortable? Is it because what they’re saying is wrong? Or is it because it is making me question something that needs to be questioned?
I want books that shine a spotlight on the dark corners of society, or in the cracks that we keep trying to fill, to hide just how dirty our world is. I want honest, raw and real portrayals of life, whether magical or not.
Nowadays, I’m actually actively trying to diversify my reading. I want to learn as much as possible!
Now, I want to take a sharp right turn and talk about how, when I’m struggling mentally, I struggle to read.
Recently I’ve learned that I actually have quite a lot of triggers. I know, I probably should have worked this out long ago, especially because of the books I like to read.
I mean, they always hit me really hard, but I thought that was normal, or at least was because of how empathetic I am. I made myself experience them because they were important. I didn’t think I was triggered by anything. I’ve realized now, that was a lie I told myself.
Turns out, I’m triggered by loads of things, and that’s why books talking about tough subjects hits me so hard. It’s not just because I’m pretty high on the empathetic scale. It’s also because I or someone I love
okay so maybe the empathetic thing plays a huge role have had to experience a lot of different types of trauma.
You name it, we’ve probably experienced a traumatic event surrounding it! I know everyone’s family is a little fucked up in their own ways, but
sometimes often I feel like my family is all of the kinds of fucked up rolled into one messy package. And maybe it just affects me more because I am an Empath.
So, what’s an Empath?
Empathy is the ability to read and understand people and be in-tune with or resonate with others. Sometimes it is voluntary and at other times it can be involuntary, especially for someone who is a natural empath.
Empaths are hypersensitive people who experience a high level of compassion, consideration, and understanding towards others. Their intense empathy creates a tuning fork effect, wherein the empath seems to actually “feel” the emotions of the people around them.
Many empaths are unaware of how this works; they may have simply accepted long ago that they are sensitive to others.
Whether they realize it or not, empaths share many common traits with other empaths. –Christel Broederlow
When my mum first read about Empaths, something finally clicked. She’s always been really good a reading people, and she’s a deeply emotional person and is often feeling the same feelings as those around her, even if it has nothing to do with her. I was always the same. So she got me to read the same article and all of a sudden, my whole world made sense.
We always knew we were extra sensitive. I have a lot of days where my feelings are all over the place, and I have to work out if they’re mine or someone else’s. I usually had full on emotion days whenever my sister or my mum was especially emotional. That’s why my mum and I struggle a lot when one of us is anxious because we’ll pick up on the other’s anxiety and then we’re both having anxiety attacks.
It’s why I tend to be more understanding of other people’s hardships and feelings. I also know who not to trust pretty early on, it’s just a matter of if I listen to those instincts or not.
I’m very good at making excuses for people’s behaviour.
My mum explains it as seeing someone’s heart. We’re able to pick up on people’s intentions, especially if they change dramatically. Someone can be sweet as pie to my face, but if they have ill intentions behind they’re actions I pick up on it really quick. It’s kind of like a slap in the face. One minute you think they’re being kind and then an alarm goes off in your head that’s crazy loud.
Imagine being hyperaware all the time, like your senses I switched into overdrive. Now you’re not only feeling your own emotions, but you’re also picking up on everyone else’s too.
The best example of how much being an Empath can affect me is when the Paris bombings happened. I was home alone, I wasn’t really on social media at all that night, so I hadn’t seen anything, and I found myself crying non-stop.
My mental health was fine, nothing major had set me off, I was just consumed with this feeling of grieving and sadness and I had no idea why. The next morning at work I checked Twitter and saw what had happened.
The news had broke around the same time I had been hit with emotion. I’m affected most by large-scale things.
The 2017 election was really hard as well. Not just because I knew Donald Trump was bad news, but I could feel the whole world hold its breath and not breathe out again.
It’s like feeling too much, but all the time. You get an overload of information constantly. Sometimes you can be sitting and having a light-hearted chat with someone and BAM, all of a sudden you know about their most deeply hidden secret, one they’ve never even told anyone before. Sometimes, it’s knowing someone’s cheating, or about to cheat. Conversations with me often get too deep, real fast!
I often get a lot of strangers approach me and tell me their life stories and then when they’re finished they’re shocked they told me anything because they don’t usually open up to people.
My mum gets all of this far more than I do because she’s had more practice exploring the Empath part of her, whereas I get too overwhelmed and often shut it down.
I usually find that the people I click with the most and the easiest are empaths. Normally they’re not aware of it, but I can pick up on it the more I get to know someone. My mum is the same, she can pick up on it a lot quicker though.
I know it sounds like bullshit, I’m very aware it sounds like some serious new age crap. That people think I’m just a little extra sensitive. But it’s my truth, whether people believe it or not.
It can be really hard because as an Empath, you’re a bleeding heart. You want to help everyone, but sometimes you can barely look after yourself, sometimes you have to staunch your own bleeding first.
Being an Empath is a huge reason why we have people come and go in our lives. People get hurt because we become really close to them in a short amount of time, but once we’ve helped them as much as we can, we move on to the next person.
I often have to shut off completely. Getting that close to people and then having to move on is painful. I’ve tried holding onto people longer than I was meant to and it only ends up hurting us both in the end. I can’t live like that.
I’ve figured out that in order to help people as much as I want to, I have to do it with something separating me from them. That’s why I want to start up my own Youtube channel eventually. So I can try and help others but have that distance so that I don’t get pulled under all the time.
I think my mum might benefit from that way of helping others as well because lately it’s become clear that she’s not coping with other peoples stuff very well. Neither of us are.
My mum’s been counselling people my whole life, she used to work in a church for a while, and help people that way, but for the most part, it’s just been friends, family and co-workers.
I realized that this all might be why I struggle to read when I am at my worst mentally. Its hard to find books that do not touch on any of the things that trigger me, and those that don’t bore me because I can’t connect with them at all.
Wow! That was a lot longer, and a lot more personal than I thought it would be. But I also think it was good to share.
I’m all about honesty and transparency, sharing my experiences so others who feel the same might not feel so alone.
Are there any other Empaths out there?
Does anyone else struggle to read when their mental health is on a steady and brutal decline?
What’s your relationship with books?
Why do you read?
What do you look for in books?