By Kiana Smith
“You think your pain and your heartbreak is unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” – James Baldwin
As early as my sophomore year in high school, I’ve been an avid reader. During this time in my life, I was interested in reading anything that would help feed my budding thoughts about my guarded behavior and my somewhat questionable sociality. I still remember the first book I decided to read that was not a requirement for high school. It was Coffee Will Make You Black by April Sinclair. Even though the story takes place in a different time and era, I still was able to make a connection between myself and the main character, Jean “Stevie” Stevenson from the book: That I too was caught in the struggle of finding myself. Questions like “who am I?” or “who am I becoming?” would permeate my mind and they were the beginning of a lifelong process of growing my soul.
Now, as an adult, I know that reading for me means educating and entertaining all of the “selves” that make up me and illuminate my character and personality. On some days I may see myself as a developing feminist reading bell hooks’ All About Love: New Visions or even a book edited by Eve Ensler and Mollie Doyle called, A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer: Writings to Stop Violence Against Women and Girls. I may want to read something that sends good vibes to my soul, whether I’m feeling like a wise and “old soul” adult or a carefree and playful kid; I would read a book called, Some Soul to Keep by J. California Cooper or, I Love My Hair! by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and illustrated by E.B. Lewis. And finally, on other days when I feel like I need inspiration, hope, or to keep an optimistic outlook on life in general, I can read Tolstoy’s Bicycle by Jeremy Baker, Outside Mental Health: Voices and Visions of Madness by Will Hall, or Alive! And Unstoppable: How to Break Free from Dark Shadows by Mark Dale Miles.
Reading can be a wellness tool. I know this to be true for me. And in my Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP®), my wellness tools are essential to me staying healthy. Now with the shelter-in-place in effect, besides the ones we live with, human connection has been reduced to a screen, a text, or a phone call. Even those of us who may refer to ourselves as introverts are still missing some small connection to our communities and to the world. This connection may not always be interacting with another human being, but maybe knowing the fact of just taking up space and really having a keen sense of listening to the hustle and bustle of our communities and what used to be the norm of everyday life.
Being able to still have human connection on a day-to-day basis has not been completely difficult for me because I have my own personal library that can be very therapeutic for my wellness. I can sit by the window in my house or on the front steps and open a book with a cup of tea by my side and let my inner thoughts run wild – raw and untamed is more like it. And you know the feelings you get when you read something that is so true to life? Or arouses your imagination? Gratitude, validation, or you’re not the first to experience disappointment and face challenging times; that it is all a part of life.
So, I ask you to tell me, what wellness tools have you been utilizing? Or better yet, at this moment in time, how have you been able to grow your soul?