On the Topic of: Reading Slumps, Mental Health, and a Global Pandemic

Dear Reader,

The Year 2020 was certainly one for the record books – from the Australian bush fires, to a dramatic American election, and a global pandemic, we certainly cannot say that it was a boring year. If nothing else, we will certainly remember 2020 for years to come.

On a personal level, 2020 was also quite the adventure for me. On March 12th, when the Government of Ontario announced the temporary closure of schools in response to growing concerns about COVID-19, I certainly didn’t foresee the series of events that would follow. “Pivoting” to teaching online was certainly an adventure, it was also exhausting. After mere weeks of teaching online, I found myself constantly feeling burned out, experiencing exhaustion, and generally feeling overwhelmingly anxious. So I made the decision to put my own mental health first, and I took a step back to consider how I could reduce the every day stress and pressure that I felt. A large part of this involved spending less time on my devices – whether it be my computer in general, or social media in particular, I knew that I had to spend less time living virtually and more time enjoying the world around me. But I couldn’t simply walk away from teaching – which led me to the difficult choice of walking away from all things bookish.

Since then, I have experienced a plethora of highs and lows – from living through a quarantine, to getting engaged, and then returning to a much changed in-school teaching experience. One of the biggest struggles I experienced during all of this was the toll on my personal mental health – something that manifested in many ways, one of which was a seemingly never-ending reading slump.

For those of you who are lucky enough to have never experienced a reading slump for yourself, it is essentially the state of not being able to pick up a book and read, no matter how hard you try. Honestly – Urban Dictionary defines it as a reader’s worst nightmare – and they are not wrong. Reading slumps are a time when no story seems to hold your attention, and you simply are not motivated to read. It can happen after reading an amazing novel, or it can occur over time. For me, it happened as I grappled with the startling and often overwhelming new realities of a world thrust into a pandemic it was simply unprepared for. At first, I was frustrated, then simply disappointed in myself, as I tried and failed to finish a book, time and time again.

Then, I returned to school in an in-person setting, and I realized that I was not on my own in my struggles with mental health in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. My students, despite their young age, were grappling with a much changed reality, as were my colleagues. And while I was overwhelmed – exhausted, stretched thin, and discouraged – by the experience of teaching during a global pandemic, I also found myself suddenly surrounded by like-minded individuals feeling the same way I was. And slowly – oh so slowly – I began to heal.

I began slowly – reading fan fictions and short stories, then re-reading some of my favourite novels, and then finally tackling a new read. I’m still not reading as much as I was pre-COVID, and I don’t know if I will ever read quite so much again, but I am finding my way a day at a time – in more ways than one.

So, Dear Reader, if you too are struggling in light of these unprecedented times and tumultuous events, take heart – and take action. Find the things that being you joy, seek out opportunities to learn and grow, and most importantly, take care of yourself and your loved ones.

From your friendly teaching bookworm,
One Page at a Time