Some days are just plain gloomy. You get up, you do your best to stay positive, but the dark matter of life has a different plan. You are swallowed up by a mood that mercilessly holds you down. You can’t seem to swim back up to the surface and get the light of day to shine on your face.

There are times in life when thought patterns are so thick, so heavy, that you will not be able to get out from under them. So don’t. Instead of trying to push up and out, side step into a different world designed by someone else’s mind. What I’m saying is, open a book.

When I was 23 years old I was the most “depressed” I’ve ever been (photo above from then). It was autumn and I was renting a room in Park Slope, sleeping on an air mattress, and working as a waitress at The Hog Pit in the West Village. In January I would be going back to New York University to finish my undergraduate degree. Until then I was saving cash in a high heel in my closet and biding the time.

I hated Park Slope. There was nothing for me there and the fact that the whole neighborhood was on a slope gave me terrific anxiety. I was between worlds, and I felt terribly lost.

At The Hog Pit a cute, slightly dangerous seeming young man with longish hair would swing by and drink Heinekens at the bar regularly. He was friendly with the bartenders. He reminded me of Ethan Hawk circa Reality Bites – had that whole troubled 90’s grunge thing happening. I was totally digging it.

Little did I know he was a coke and oxycontin dealer and was “working” when he came by the bar. And honestly, little did I care. He and I started dating.

This is not the story of me dating a drug-dealer and getting further into a depressed state. It’s the story of me running into another troubled soul that reflected my own pain back to me. He was really incredibly sweet. He had had a tough life. This was the best option he knew of for himself. He literally slept with a gun under his pillow. And had a pit bull he had trained to poop between cars so that he didn’t have to pick it up.

We would go to Pianos on the Lower East Side together and drink free beers at the upstairs bar, because he knew the bartender. He would ask me to marry him regularly. One day I said “sure” and we told his bartender friend we were secretly engaged. But we both knew I didn’t mean it.

Then one night he got mad and he threw something against the wall and kicked his dog. And I knew I couldn’t date him anymore. So I broke up with him, and we went our separate ways.

At this point I was depressed enough to consider getting on anti-depressants. There didn’t seem to be a way out. I was binge drinking and doing nothing productive. All my choices were just pushing me further back under the surface. Then I had an idea: I should read the entire Harry Potter series.

I knew that living inside my own head was not serving me. And I had heard that Harry Potter was wonderful, magical, up-lifting. So everyday from then on, whenever I wasn’t preoccupied with something else, I was reading Harry Potter: On the R Train; at night lying on the stupid air mattress; even when it was slow at work I’d have it propped up in the order window.

Little by little, the gloom that had saturated my mind was pushed to the side as images of friendly dragons, Quidditch matches, and the secret chambers of Hogwarts filled my imagination. I could taste the butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmead. I could feel the chill up my own spine as the Death Eaters closed in on Harry in the tunnel near his home. I could feel the promise of the power of love that Dumbledore held. And I sort of had a crush on Sirius Black.

By reading I was able to interrupt the spirals of mental negativity and shift my thoughts into a whole other world. I engaged my imagination in a healthy, fantastical way. And things started looking up. I found an apartment in the village, just south of Washington Square and brought my wad of cash to the manager to cover the deposit. I got excited about learning again. I was off into a new beginning.

Moral of the story? When you are stuck: Read. When you are drowning in gloom: Read. When you feel hopeless: Read. When there’s nothing you can do to change your situation: pick up a book and read. 

Yesterday I was feeling bummed out so I read the entire book The Alchemist on the subway and before bed. You know how I feel today? Full of hope and possibility.

Does this make sense? Has a book ever saved you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments if you’re willing to share…

And please forward this email to anyone you think might benefit.

Read on, friends.


4 thoughts on “To Escape Gloom: Read Your Way Back to the Surface

  1. Good suggestion AK! When I was similarly at one of my lowest points in life, probably age 25 or 26, I needed something consuming like your Harry Potter books, so I learned to play the 5-string banjo. It helped for sure.

  2. I like the compassionate view of the ex-boyfriend as another troubled soul and the reflection of pain. I love the detail of him training his dog to poop between cars so he wouldn’t have to pick it up though I was sorry to read he kicked the poor thing. Great post, honest, insightful and the photo matches the essay’s mood. Cheers!

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