One of my favourite aspects of reading is a book’s ability to transport me to virtually any time and/or any place. I live for that vicarious sense of existence. But what do you do when you read a book that transports you to a bad time and place?
I recently finished a memoir about a student’s experience at a school I myself attended. This may be mellow dramatic to say, but my three years at this junior high were the worst years of my life. Sure, in the grand scheme of things I have had much worse events occur; however, as far as cumulative misery goes, those three years win.
It has been 12 years since I left that school. I’m a well-educated, rational, relatively-successful adult. In many ways I am the polar opposite of the sixteen year old girl who graduated from that school. What’s more, I thought I had put all of those old feelings of inadequacy, failure, and despair behind me.
It turns out I just buried them deep. I didn’t work through them.
Imagine my surprise as I grew more and more morose throughout January the further into the memoir I got. It doesn’t help that the protagonist’s story mirrors mine to an eerie degree. It doesn’t help that the book makes such valid points about students being invisible and inconsequential if they’re not helping schools attain their ultimate goal: earning good numbers. It also doesn’t help that I’m quite personally invested in the story even though I know there’s a happy ending.
All of my old panic came roaring back turning me into a basket case. The only solution available to me was to confront those old feelings head on and convince myself I wasn’t a loser then and I’m not a loser now. My life has meaning and focus. I am worthy of happiness.
Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly appreciated the story and ideas expressed in the memoir. And I realize that I was going to have to deal with these feelings sooner or later since they were still very present—they were simply buried. I am much more centred writing this than I was even a week ago.
This isn’t the first book I’ve had a visceral response to in a not-so-positive way and I know it won’t be the last. I’m a pretty self-aware person, I’m good at analyzing my emotions and behaviours and realizing something has thrown me off kilter. I also won’t take any BS from myself, so I usually manage to get to the heart of the matter. But what about those people who don’t excel at self-care? I know the trigger warning debate is old, but I have a newfound appreciation for them. Yes, I knew when I started reading this book that it was likely going to stir up memories I would rather let lie. I had absolutely no idea it would put me back in that negative head space.
I’ve walked away from this reading experience have learned a lot about myself, our schools, and my close friends. And with a strengthened respect for reading and coping mechanisms.
Has this ever happened to you?