Trigger Warning: Mentions of depression.
I lived with depression for a few years. Those years changed me in a lot of ways. I turned inwards, my self-esteem waned and the word ‘pessimistic’ followed me like a shadow. Every person I met openly told me that I was very ‘pessimistic’ and I should change. Their words were unfriendly and hurtful, but they were true.
As time passed, I felt sad and lonely. A cold realization dawned suddenly—my circle of friends was shrinking. Apparently, I had become too negative to even be friends with.
I tried to keep all my friendships from tearing down, but after a while, I gave up. It was difficult trying to make people like me or talk to me or be friends with me. The constant struggle of holding everything together made me weary.
In the midst of everything, I was introduced to a novel called Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer. I decided to read the book. This was a serious decision after a really long stint of avoiding books.
I read through the pages—they were full of words carefully glided across the pale yellow sheets. And they weren’t empty words. They had stories woven into them. They gave life to Kane and Abel and made them real. Kane and Abel were people now, not merely characters.
As I lived through the lives of Kane and Abel, I realized how much I missed reading. Each time I held the book in my hand and turned its pages, I felt contented and all empty space in my life slowly reduced. Each time I read the book, I had the chance to break free from my own world and drift into another.
I read another book after Kane and Abel, and then another, and then another—I was lost in the world of books. Each time I read a book, I became the characters I was reading about, and wandered in their lives. I was no longer myself when I was reading.
I still remember reading Dan Brown books before going to school each morning and then thinking about what was going to happen next as I sat through the long and boring classes. I was always excited to come back home and start reading from where I left off.
I read The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak and learned from all the rules that she had so beautifully put into words. I remember some of them even today. They helped me heal. They helped me understand myself and those around me. I read Tuesdays with Morrie and When Breath Becomes Air and lived the lives of two dying men. I learned from their experience of life. They taught me how small things matter in life. They taught me how to look at things differently.
I started looking at life itself differently. I read books about women— Trafficked, The War on Women, and books by Jean Sasson are only a few of them. The women whose stories these books narrate come from different parts of the world but have struggled in much the same way. Their dire circumstances also resonate with the lives of Pakistani women. I read a lot of fantasy fiction books. They nurtured my imagination. It was fascinating living in the era of dragons, vampires, fairies and magic.
Books were suddenly my freedom. I was reading all the time—when my bookshelves filled up, I started filling my wardrobe with books.
My mom admonished me several times for reading novels even during exams, but I couldn’t stop reading because it made my life so much better. They made up for friends that I had lost, they inspired me, they taught me lessons, they made me a stronger person. But importantly, they were my reason to return to life. I made my place among those who delightedly told others that books were their best friends.
Today, it’s another lonely day. But as I look at three new books neatly piled up on my writing table, waiting for their stories to be told, I don’t feel so lonely anymore. I’m thinking about the new lives that I’ll live. They are, after all, all that I need to get through the day, and maybe even, through life.