By Lindsey Collins
There is a term (a legitimate medical term), called bibliotherapy, and I think, unknowingly, it might have saved my life.
Bibliotherapy– noun; an expressive therapy that uses an individual’s relationship to the content of books and poetry and other written words as therapy. The basic concept behind bibliotherapy is that reading is a healing experience.
There are libraries that make a practice of prescribing books to people as a form of therapy. The Center for Fiction in New York City actually employs bibliotherapists to give out book prescriptions. I think this might be the most amazing idea.
But back to me, and how books saved my life.
I was never suicidal, but I was angry and confused and hurting. My story is less common than most (at least I think so) but I hope you will still understand. Tragic circumstances took an angry, typical 15-year-old and made me into a walking emotional wreck. Most people who knew me then probably thought it wasn’t a big difference considering what I’d been through, but it was. I am just an exceptionally good faker.
When I was 15, my dad got sick. The disease doesn’t matter, but six months later he was blind. It’s been more than seven years, and it’s a fact that I still have a hard time accepting. When he first got sick, there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t make him better, couldn’t show the doctors how to fix him, and I felt helpless. So I turned to books. And TV shows. Any story I could find with a mystical, supernatural, or mysterious component. I carried books everywhere, weighing down my purse or just in my hands like a personal shield. I needed stories that didn’t require me to think beyond reading the words or watching a screen, and I threw myself in other (fictional) people’s problems. I cried with them, I laughed with them, I pitied them, and I used them. I used them to soften my own problems, the problems lurking in my house that I couldn’t repair. I don’t think I realized at the time, how much my situation was influencing my choices. I picked shows where people had the ability to heal, something I would’ve given anything to be able to do. I picked shows where 16-year-old girls fought monsters, both real and imaginary. In those six months I probably read a hundred books and watched a thousand hours of TV (sleep was not really being a friend at this point). Mostly it’s all a blur.
I’m 22 now. I’ve graduated from college, and I’m looking for a job. Looking back, I think those stories saved my life. They let my mind walk away and showed me that the characters I loved were the strong ones, and that I could be strong too. The stories gave me a passion for reading, characters and stories. Most importantly, they taught me that my circumstances don’t define me. My invisible scars don’t have to hang so heavy around my shoulders, and my anger at myself for being helpless wasn’t worth the weight. Books taught me to notice people. In college I made countless friends because I could see that look I’d tried to hide (you never can, you know)—the one that says, “I’m hurting.” I tried to help and give advice, but mostly I did what I’d been doing for years: I watched and listened and didn’t judge.
You might figure from the title that I am a big believer in therapy, but I’m not. For some it is all that stands between them and a life-changing decision, but for me it just pointed out that there was nothing in my control to change. It made me feel useless. There have been two instances where I sought help from a licensed professional, but they never helped me. One therapist told me that for someone who had been through what I had, I was incredibly well-adjusted, which is ironic, because if I was well-adjusted I wouldn’t have been there. Another tried to get me to make collages—I was 18 by the time my mother convinced me to give therapy (this time for anger issues)—and didn’t seem to appreciate my lack of involvement in the assignment.
So, therapy I don’t really believe in, but I believe in books and stories. Not because they pulled me back from a cliff or told me to go outside, but they reminded me that I still had a life to lead. I could choose to be stuck in my room, or I could go find an adventure. So I chose to get out of my parents’ house and start college. I didn’t move very far away, my adventures in college were tame, and I still read and watched lots of TV, but it was my adventure. My story’s not over yet, I promise. I’m still writing it.
Lindsey Collins is a recent graduate of the University of Alabama. She is a lover of all things nerd and sometimes can’t help how excited she gets about fictional events and characters. She apologizes for being really bad about taking selfies (something she is aspiring to fix). Lately all picture taking has been focused on her new gorgeous nephew—just ask her about him. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @bellelcollins.