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With Her Nose Stuck in a Book, a guest post by Jessica Burkhart

Reading has always been my thing. When I was six, my parents were barely able to get me out of my “Belle” costume. I didn’t want to wear the fancy yellow ballgown, no. I was all about the casual blue and white dress that Belle wore as she walked through town and carried a book or two in her basket. I didn’t dream about turning the Beast into a handsome prince, but I did daydream about living in a castle with an expansive library. What more did a girl need?

My love of books propelled me through my elementary school days and I devoured every horse book I could get my hands on, since I’d started riding horses in second grade. My favorite series were Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell and Bonnie Bryant’s The Saddle Club. If it was a horse book, I’d read it or had it on my list to read.   

In middle school, I relied on books to help me hide from my peers. And I really did want to hide. I’d developed a case of severe scoliosis and even spending 22 hours a day in a back brace didn’t slow the growing hump on my back. I had to stop riding because I couldn’t move without pain and had trouble taking a deep breath. After a spinal fusion in eighth grade and during the long, painful recovery, I devoured Harry Potter.

In high school, I obsessed over YA and romance novels. I adored works by Megan McCafferty and Meg Cabot. Works by these authors helped me feel less alone as a homeschooler who was already a bit isolated from my peers.

By college, I’d written my first book, TAKE THE REINS, and soon landed an agent. My middle grade novel, about equestrians at an elite boarding school, drew inspiration from books that I’d loved as a kid and young teen. While writing the bulk of my series, the books I’d drop anything to read were Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard and Kate Brian’s Private.

My own writing career had taken off and I was living and breathing books. If I wasn’t talking about them with friends, I was blogging or Tweeting about them. I spent one day a week walking down to my Brooklyn neighborhood’s Barnes & Noble and combing the shelves for new reads or discovering old favorites that I’d forgotten. I bought as many bookshelves as my apartment could handle and even then, they weren’t enough to hold all my books.  

But one night, reading stopped being fun. I’d open a book and be flooded with anxiety. It kept happening no matter what kind of book I tried to read. I thought I’d take a break, catch up on some Netflix and the feeling would surely go away.

It didn’t.

I didn’t want to open a book or keep track of new releases or chat with my friends about the huge plot twist in the latest installment in our favorite series. I stopped visiting Simon & Schuster’s office and loading up my backpack with new reads. Everything I’d loved about books was gone and all I could feel was shame. In my eyes, I was broken. I was an author and books were not only my hobby, but also part of my job. I couldn’t tell anyone about being filled with dread if I so much as even thought about reading. So, I quietly muted all my bookish friends on social media. I deleted the Goodreads app. I stopped going to the bookstore.

It took over a year for me to realize that this wasn’t my fault. My severe anxiety and depression that had robbed me of any desire to read were to blame. I considered myself fairly well-versed in mental health topics, but I hadn’t recognized it in myself.

This pushed me to organize an anthology, LIFE INSIDE MY MIND: 31 AUTHORS SHARE THEIR PERSONAL STRUGGLES. I wanted to gather stories from other authors who had struggled with mental health because I didn’t want another person to experience the shame and feelings of worthlessness that I’d struggled with.

The book sold and hit shelves and I was still just coming around to reading. Books still felt daunting and since I couldn’t stop comparing myself to other writers, I fell into fanfiction. I spent almost a year reading nothing but fics written around my then favorite shows—ONCE UPON A TIME and THE VAMPIRE DIARIES.

Last fall, I picked up a book and started reading. Maybe four or five hours later, I looked at the clock and did a quick check in with myself. Sweaty palms? Nope. Fast heartbeat? No. Nausea? Also, nope. Bookish Jess was back and she has been for almost a year.

I’m reading a book every couple days now. If a book doesn’t grab me, I put it aside and start a new one. I’m thoroughly enjoying the feeling of wanting to stay up all night reading, so I don’t try and slog through any books I don’t like. The Goodreads app is back on my phone and my current “want to read” list sits at 1,045 and it grows each week.

If you lose interest in what you love, you’re not broken. You may be depressed. Do what I should have done: talk to someone. Confide in a trusted friend and seek help. You don’t have to be ashamed of your feelings because it’s very likely that you’re not alone in them. A couple of years ago, I thought I’d never read another book and now, I can’t stop. It took a long, long time, but a combination of medication and therapy helped me find my groove again. If you’re missing yours, there is hope. I promise.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to my book.

Meet Jessica Burkhart

Jessica Burkhart is the author of the Canterwood Crest series, the Unicorn Magic series, WILD HEARTS and LIFE INSIDE MY MIND: 31 AUTHORS SHARE THEIR PERSONAL STRUGGLES. She’s sold over 1.5 million books worldwide. Jess is passionate about mental health. She’s teaching classes online next year with The Writing Barn and hopes you’ll sign up. Visit Jess online at www.JessicaBurkhart.com, Tweet her @JessicaBurkhart and follow her on Goodreads.

Comments

  1. Books are the best friends because they always inspire us to do great things in life and it helps us to overcome our failures.

  2. I commend you for sharing your story. While I know it was difficult, look what a wonderful thing was created by you and you will never know the number of others it helps!! I plan to get LIFE INSIDE MY MIND: 31 AUTHORS SHARE THEIR PERSONAL STRUGGLES on my “to read” immediately!!
    Thanks again for sharing. #endthestigma

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