Through my life, one of the only hobbies that I have kept up with is reading. I have gone through phases of playing the violin, colouring, collecting various items and completing puzzles, but reading has been pretty much the only thing that I have stuck by since I started to properly read as a young child.
One of the first books that I ever remember reading is Philip Pullman's 'Northern Lights' (or 'The Golden Compass', depending on your philosophical point of view); even as I sit here writing this, I can still see my original copy of the book sitting on my shelves. Even over a decade after first reading the book, Lyra stuck by me as a character because she was one of the first depictions of a strong female lead character I remember seeing in the media as a child. She was rarely afraid, loyal to her friends and always determined to complete her journey; I was always a shy child, but Lyra had many personality traits that I aspired to possess.
Like many people, I also developed a strong attachment to the 'Harry Potter' series. As I became older and started using social media, I was able to connect to a whole new group of people; in my everyday life, I never really fit in. I was quiet, a rule-follower and I found it so difficult to navigate social relationships through my childhood. But when I was able to connect to people and talk about my passion for books online, I felt like I was not really alone.
When I was 14, my great aunt passed away from an aggressive strain of cancer in her brain. After this, as well as certain things that happened with my social relationships around the time, I fell into a rather deep depression that lasted until I was 17. Particularly towards the end of this time, before I started to seek medical help, I lost my enthusiasm for life. I stopped caring about what happened to me, I stopped respecting my body and caused quite severe damage to it, including planning my own suicide. I was barely sleeping and I found it incredibly hard to maintain my relationships with the people around me. But the one thing that I did not lose my passion for was books. I found that even during my worst bouts of depression, I could still easily pick up a book and start reading. In fact, I think I found it easier to read, as strange as that may sound. Because even when my problems in the real world felt too much to handle, books gave me an escape from the real world. I could fall into these fictional worlds, and even for just a little while, I would start to feel better, because it gave me the strength that if these characters could survive their traumas, then so could I. Character such as Celaena Sardothien (from the 'Throne of Glass' series by Sarah J Maas), Feyre Archeron (from the 'A Court of Thorns and Roses' series by Sarah J Maas) and Sonea (from 'The Black Magician' trilogy by Trudi Canavan) all stuck by me through the difficult times. Celaena went through horrific conditions in the slave camp at Endovier, Feyre survived PTSD from her time Under the Mountain and Sonea rose up from poverty to become one of the most powerful magicians in the Guild. They gave me the strength to keep on fighting my own battles, even when I wanted to give up.
Finally, I just wanted to mention the Booktube community. Booktube is an area of YouTube where people who love books can discuss various stories as well as creating content inspired by books. Creators such as Booksplosion (made up of Christine Riccio, Jesse George and Kat O'Keefe), Natasha Polis and Sasha Alsberg (who I actually found this forum from on her Instagram story) showed me that the book community was so much bigger than I thought, that there were people who loved books so much that they wanted to share that with the rest of the YouTube community and allow others to express their thoughts and feelings on different stories. They managed to extract laughs and smiles from me even in my darkest times, and I honestly don't know what I'd do without them (even though I've never met them and would probably cry if I did). They also inspired me to be more open about my love of books on Instagram and Tumblr, and it has led to me finding a whole new group of friends.
From writing all of this down, I can now honestly say that I don't know where my life would be without books. Without fictional worlds to escape to and people to share this with on social media, I honestly don't know what I would do with my time (probably go outside more). Books are the reason that I was able to keep hoping through my dark bouts of depression, because if these characters could keep on fighting, then I could too. Now that I am on the road to recovery, I can look back at these past 4 years and be so grateful that I had all these amazing stories to read because without them, I don't know what my life would be like now.