By Grace Johnson, March 16, 2021
Humanity has officially had its one-year anniversary existing in a world with COVID-19, among many other social injustices, trials and tribulations. This past year was filled with dark and taunting moments of loneliness and uncertainty, but I can undoubtedly say that one of the things that kept me afloat was my ability to read.
A human being’s mental health is exceptionally sensitive in times of crisis, deficit and vulnerability, such as the pandemic. Reading books during this past year has not only gifted me the opportunity to theoretically escape reality, but also a way to live vicariously through a character living a much more adventurous and colorful life than my own.
When Cal Poly Pomona first announced that its doors would soon close to the student body, I was initially in a state of denial. Thoughts raced through my head at a million miles-per-hour with tormenting things such as losing my beautiful friendships, not being able to learn properly, moving back into my parent’s home, being unable to fully live out the college experience or losing my job.
Sure enough, the month of March trudged on and my friends moved home, I moved home, I lost my job and it was harder than ever to focus on school. The cherry on top of this harsh reality was that not only did my school close, but so did the world. Restaurants were no longer open, shelves in stores were empty, so many people were losing their livelihoods, homelessness increased, violence increased and the streets of my home looked like a ghost town. The light at the end of the tunnel was becoming dimmer by the day and I realized I was spiraling into a pit of depression that I feared I would never climb out of.
Getting ready each morning felt like a daunting task and I soon found myself feeling too weak to crawl out of my bed, even to eat or drink water. It didn’t help that the first thing I reached for each morning was my cell phone. I sat scrolling through hundreds of social media posts that only made me feel worse than before, wishing I was someone else, wishing I lived near my friends and realizing that I was losing my motivation for everything.
This spiral continued on for months, until one day I decided I couldn’t bear to look at my phone anymore. I deactivated all my social media accounts, decided to filter out friendships and focus on the most enduring ones and proceeded to pick up a book. I read the entire novel in one day. I came to the realization that after finishing the book, I felt refreshed and excited because for a blip in time, I didn’t once think about my sadness, loneliness or the pandemic.
I began, what you might call, a reading rampage. I did not watch any shows, I never watched the news, I was behind on current things events; but I didn’t care. I felt uplifted and my vocabulary was growing along with my newly blossoming mental health. My friends danced on the pages of my books and I began to feel that the colors of my imagination were uplifting me out of a place I didn’t think I could escape.
I know that we are I am not alone in this because according to JAMA Network statistics, depression symptom prevalence was more than three-fold higher during the ever persistent COVID-19 pandemic when compared to data from the prior previous year. This unfortunate burden has exceedingly fallen upon those associated with greater risk of depression symptoms before the pandemic began.
Furthermore, the lack of sociability due to stay at home orders, social distancing and unemployment caused suicide rates to skyrocket. According to America’s Health Rankings, suicide rates reached an astonishing 14.8 deaths per 100,000, approximately 48,573 deaths due to suicide in just 2020 alone.
As much as reading these statistics was discouraging for me, to know that so many individuals felt alone and lost hope, there is still light for those who are fighting the good fight. Studies have shown all across the board that reading is one of the healthiest things you can do to stimulate positivity in your mind.
Reading can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, fear, self-loathing, loneliness and intimidation. The beauty of having this knowledge during this time for me was that reading is effortless during a pandemic. All you’re required to do is keep your pajamas on, light a candle, curl up under the covers and open to page one.
Once you do that, and allow your imagination to blossom, your thoughts stop revolving around the reality you’re facing and open the doors to a new world of appreciating the small things, like the ability you have to read, write and think.
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