For the Love of a Good Book: Overcoming Mental Fatigue
My mom, Diana, has this endearing way of summarizing books she’s read or movies she’s seen by reducing entire plotlines to who’s in love with whom. As someone who’s studied the craft of storytelling, I have a hard time hearing great works of art being reduced to a couple of sentences like this. (Sorry, Mom!)
But when my mom started telling me about a book she’d finished the other day, I let her summarize away. Why? Because of her health issues, this was the first novel in more than two years that she’d been capable of truly enjoying. My mom, who has pulmonary fibrosis, has endured incapacitating pain from spinal surgery, coughing fits, and deteriorating lungs that have left her gasping for air. Her illness and its effects had robbed her of her joy of reading and prevented her from getting lost in a good book. Stories “lost their beauty” and “ability to absorb me and take me away,” my mom said.
Someone might think that a person suffering from a chronic illness would enjoy having all the time in the world to read. But that’s not case. A prolonged illness and major surgeries can leave someone with so much pain, with so much fatigue and exhaustion, that they aren’t able to focus on what they’re reading — even if it’s a gripping, bestselling novel.
At my peak literary pretentiousness while a college senior studying creative writing, I teased that my mom liked reading only romance novels, specifically Danielle Steele, as if it were an insult to suggest. “I never read Danielle Steele!” she adorably retorted. (Ten years later, I appreciate the importance of a good beach read.) In truth, my mom doesn’t read those thick, formulaic paperbacks found in the greeting card section at the grocery store, and sometimes we even swap beloved tales.
Case in point: The aforementioned novel my mom recently finished (and recommended to me) is Asha Lemmie’s “Fifty Words for Rain,” a complex, postwar story that Publisher’s Weekly has called “epic” and “twisty.” My mother says she loves its use of metaphor.
I, too, love metaphor; maybe I inherited that from her. Furthermore, my mom seems to have passed down to me her positive use of narrative escapism. She’s used this escapism as a healthy coping mechanism for as long as I can remember, and I’ve found that strategy to play a central role in my adult life, too.
When I’m overwhelmingly bored with the monotony of daily life, a story saves me. When I’m full of anxiety thinking about how many things I could or should be doing, a good book distracts and grounds me. I’ve been lucky enough to form my days around narratives, having studied literature in school and now being a writer and working in marketing.
I wouldn’t call my mom bookish, but like me, her mental health benefits from a good read. And now that she can finally relish her books again, I’m elated for her. I know how important stories are to the both of us.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.