I am an avid reader. Ever since I learned how to read, I have gobbled up books like they were going out of style. I love reading in a serious way. It feels like a meal for my mind. It relaxes me, it gives me a sense of accomplishment to start and finish something. I love the feel of a good book, the weight of it, the pages under my fingertips. I bought a copy of Pride & Prejudice many years back, not even because I like the book all that much, but because I loved the printed edition. The thinness of the pages and the size of the book was perfect. I still get weird lovey feelings about that particular book when I think about it.
Not too long ago, while on a major reading kick, I mused huh, I wonder if people take vacations just for the sole purpose of reading? Like…a read-cation.
Ding ding, nailed it. Sadly, I was not the first person to come up with this brilliant marketing term. A quick Google search of the term will reveal that many of my fellow bookworms have already thought of this. You can go on retreats to places all over the world just to read books. Do you need a special name or trip package just to do that? No, but I think the appeal is that you’ll be alongside fellow book nerds and you can commune over your shared love of books.
I have about 2 weeks left here in New Zealand (more on that later), and I am somewhat saddled with guilt. Not over the 2 weeks, but that, as of now, I haven’t really explored much of Wellington. That’s okay right, because I’ve 14 days of nothing-but-time to wander around and see all there is to see. Plenty of time!
Except that I am depressed. Yeah, I said it.
Let me rewind. Some of the people that are the nearest and dearest to me have been wrestling with the spectre of chronic depression for most of their lives. I know and love those people. I’ve seen their struggles, and know that it is an illness that takes a tremendous amount of support and energy to handle. I do not have chronic depression.
And yet, I find myself, always having been the early riser, not getting out of bed before 10 AM. Never in my life have I done this. Most days, showering seems like the biggest task I am able to manage. Maybe doing laundry. I am constantly exhausted, no matter how many hours I’ve slept the night before. I will leave the house to do the necessary things, like go to the dentist or the bank, but most days I just stay in. I usually get up, make some food because I know I need to eat something, and then end right back up in my bed. I feel like my body is made of lead, and the next two weeks here feel like an eternity.
But then there is reading.
The last few months have seen a serious drop off in my ability to concentrate. My mind is just always elsewhere, I can’t seem to focus. About 3 weeks before I was due to come to New Zealand, I started blasting through books. I made massive lists to check out from the library, lists of Kindle books that I’d be able to access from here, and had every intention to blow my yearly reading goal of 60 books out of the water. Over the month that I’ve been here, I haven’t read a single book.
Everyone told me, when this whole grieving process started, that I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. That it was okay to just be in my feelings. That I shouldn’t put so many expectations on myself. Frankly, I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about when they said that. I thought they meant it’s okay to be sad or don’t feel bad for being sad. That’s what I was hearing. That didn’t scare me, because I’ve never been afraid to be sad…for a little bit, that is. I cried, hard, violently, and spontaneously for about a week straight after I learned of Chris’ death. But then the crying stopped, and it all kind of seemed okay. I was still melancholy, and then I took that camping trip that I wrote about. That was very helpful to sort of cauterize the jagged hole I was left with in my heart. Ever the energetic optimist, I’m pretty shit at being sad for a long period of time. Ever since that trip I thought I’ve been doing alright. Naively, I thought I was kind of, well, over it.
Whether it’s been active or passive, his death has been on my mind since I got here. I brought a picture of him with me, thinking it would be sweet to take him places, but I can’t bring myself to even look at the picture. On these leaden days where I sit in my room, sometimes I pull out one of his t-shirts. I’ve kept one in a Ziploc bag, so I could preserve his scent, and I just shove my face into it and cry a horrendous amount of huge, ugly fucking sobs. And then the tears stop, and I just sort of lay there, and I think that maybe I’ll feel better now that I’ve had a good cry. What I didn’t know, when all of this happened, when I heard everyone’s advice, is the intensity of feeling that humans are capable of, and the stamina of those feelings is absolutely terrifying.
I’ve decided, for a variety of reasons, but my mental and emotional wellbeing being one of the larger ones, that I’m going back to the states. I refuse, on principle, to go back to Arizona, so I’m making my way to Nashville, TN. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to live, and my reasons for that will be divulged later, but in short, that’s what I’m doing. I’ve got got two weeks left in the Land of the Long White Cloud, and I want to make them count. That’s the traveler in me speaking there: make it count! That thought is immediately echoed by everyone’s advice: don’t be too hard on yourself.
Over the last few days, I’ve started reading again. Getting reading mojo back is tricky, as you really have to start reading just the right thing for your mood. It has to be something that grabs your attention quickly, and ideally, it’s a fairly quick read. Just to whet your appetite. When it comes to reading, I stand by the age old adage of if you don’t eat, you don’t get hungry. I’ve started with The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks. It’s a work I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time, and now I’m wondering why I waited so long to read it. As I predicted, it was just the right choice, and now I’m hungry for more.
I’m taking the don’t be so hard on yourself advice that everyone has given me, and applying it to these next two weeks. For the next two weeks, I will be on a Wellington Read-cation. A few days ago, I moved my reading from my bed to the living room, after I showered and made pancakes for myself. It felt good. Small, but good. Two days later, I walked to one of the coffee shops near my house and sat there reading for 5 hours. Maybe in a few days I will take myself and my next book down to the beach and have lunch there. Maybe I will just find a park bench to sit and read in the sun. I’m resisting my natural inclination to go, go, go, and instead, start small. People will ask me what I did and saw in New Zealand, and I will happily say that I read a whole lot (and got a cavity fixed), and that’s okay. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Happy trails, and happy reading x