The Power of Fiction

I talked about this some on Twitter yesterday, so if you follow me there, some of this will be a repeat, but I wanted to write a post about it, so I’m gonna and you can’t stop me.

I do what I want loki

Throughout my years as a reader and a blogger, people have asked me for books that had an influence on me. Up to recently, I never had a good answer. All the books I’ve read in my life have influenced me cumulatively, rather than individually.

The fact that I read them adds to my knowledge both of things, people, and myself. In reading about unfamiliar places and concepts, I learn facts and trivia I never knew. That’s a plus but not generally the central goal of fiction, given that sometimes the facts aren’t true (see: historical fiction). It’s a tricky game using fiction to learn from but I think it’s a net positive without a doubt.

Reading books about different kinds of people, from all sorts of backgrounds and various ways of thinking, opens up my mind. It increases my ability to empathize and understand others. For example, I may never truly understand what it’s like to be a minority in America or to have depression, but good novels can get me closer than not having read them can. This is crucial to being a good human in my opinion, because, seeing into someone else’s world like this gives you a view you can’t really get elsewhere.

In reading fiction, I also learn a lot about myself. Though I don’t self-insert, I do recognize bits of myself in fictional characters. In Fangirl and This Song Will Save Your Life, I see aspects of my personal journey, things I had to learn to grow and improve and get to where I am. In seeing characters somewhat like me working through issues, I can reflect on my own life and choices.

Still, there wasn’t one specific book I could point to and say “THAT BOOK! THAT ONE RIGHT THERE! IT INFLUENCED THE COURSE OF MY LIFE!” Now, though, I do believe I’ve found an answer. About a month ago, I read and reviewed Patrick Ness’ The Rest of Us Just Live Here. This isn’t going to be a repetition of my review because I already wrote that. It’s my favorite Ness novel by far and I did love it, but it’s not on my list of top favorite books.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here - Patrick Ness
The Rest of Us Just Live Here - Patrick Ness

What had this affect on me was reading a book about a character with anxiety issues, getting to sit in on his session with his therapist. Despite my wide reading, I’d never read a book that dealt with anxiety on the forefront, and it really has been life-changing so far. A couple years ago, I self-diagnosed myself with anxiety issues after a friend went to a psychologist and got that diagnosis. She and I have always had very similar thought processes and bonded over them. Reading The Rest of Us Just Live Here, I was nodding along with everything Mikey said about anxiety, and I even realized that something I never realized was anxiety (constantly worrying that you’re the least wanted person in any group).

gif i get scared people will leave and then I end up making them leave

Just thinking about the therapy scene, I’m struggling not to cry because of how much it means to me. Here are a couple of the main quotes by the therapist to Mikey regarding his anxiety.

“Feelings don’t try to kill you, even the painful ones. Anxiety is a feeling grown too large. A feeling grown aggressive and dangerous. You’re responsible for it’s consequences, you’re responsible for treating it. But Michael, you’re not responsible for causing it. You’re not morally at fault for it. No more than you would be for a tumour.”

“But if you’re going to obsess about something, obsess about your obsession being a treatable disorder. Obsess about it not being a failure of something you’ve done or something you didn’t do or some intrinsic value as a person that you fail to have. Medication will address the anxiety, not get rid of it, but reduce it to a manageable level, maybe even the same level as other people so that—and here’s the key thing—we can talk about it. Make it something you can live with. You still have work to do, but the medication lets you stay alive long enough to do that work.”

Ever since I read this book, I’ve been thinking about my anxiety in new terms, and I’ve been making a conscious effort not to let it beat me. Before this, one small thing could ruin my whole day, because I would keep harping on it and not let things go. I’d get stuck in a spiral of self-hatred and then, because I was upset, lash out at people, generally because of something tiny and inconsequential. It’s made me more self-aware, I guess, and given me a new way to look at it, which, so far, is allowing me to control my reaction to the anxiety. I’m trying to look at how I feel, why I feel that way, and to choose to react to it in a better way even if I can’t make it go away. So far, it’s working. I know I still need to look into therapy, but I feel so much more hopeful and happy just from the difference this book has made. It may seem like a small thing, but I really do feel transformed.

THIS is why it’s so essential for there to be books about non-neuronormative people. About people from every background, with every skin color, with every disease, every label under the QUILTBAG spectrum, etc. It really matters to see yourself reflected in a way you never have before. It really CAN help, and everyone deserves that opportunity.

gif community emotions

Have you ever read a book that changed your life? What book was it?

2 responses to “The Power of Fiction”

  1. When I read “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” by Ned Vizzini I totally felt this way too, he described depression on such way that was like “whoa, yes, that is exactly what I’ve been feeling and couldn’t find the right words express”. “The Rest of Us Just Lives Here” also appealed too me, dealing with my anxiety is a daily struggle too. About the professional help I really think you should go forward and search for help, therapy has made wonders for me and it’s amazing to have a space were you can talk about anything without judgments.
    Deyse @ Bound with Words recently posted…The Falconer – Elizabeth MayMy Profile

  2. Lyn Kaye says:

    I started to cry when I was reading the therapy episode, because a lot of it just applied to me. In a way, this novel was therapy for me, because the struggle is real.

    And I love how you pointed out how reading builds empathy. It does. When I see people speaking so hatefully on Twitter/real life/FB, etc etc etc, I want to shove a book in their hand and tell them to read and then see if it changes them. I realize that a lot of people have already slammed the door shut, but it also takes years to break down such thinking. It took me a long time to overcome some of my personal issues. I use to HATE gay people – I was taught that they were nasty and evil. But as an adult, I seek out gay fiction, I rally behind people who fight for equal rights, and this year, my NaNo has a gay couple. But this didn’t happen overnight. It was a lot of soul searching, personal confrontation, and breaking away from the cycle of hate (moving out of my hickville small town).

    I loved this post! I love that this is a journey we are all taking together. <3
    Lyn Kaye recently posted…Book Review: FatefulMy Profile

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