What Reading Fantasy Books Taught Me About My Anxiety and Depression

I have always been a lover of fantasy. There is something appealing about grand adventures, a dark force personified, sensational abilities, battles and a happy ending. The details change, but a lot of fantasy has these basic elements, and I fall in love with it every time.

Real life seems so much more messy in comparison. There is no singular goal of a grand quest we’re on. There isn’t an evil general we can blame for all bad things, or a wise old wizard showing us the way. We don’t have these sensational abilities. Very few of us are put in situations where we feel heroic — there’s usually no big mountain top and battle cry moment. “Happily ever after” doesn’t seem to exist.

During my first bout of deep depression, I stopped living my own life. Instead, I lived the lives of characters. Physically, I went to school, did my homework, ate and slept. In between all of this, down to when I was walking through the hallways of my high school, I was reading. During this particular time, my escape was the series “The Wheel of Time” by Robert Jordan. Fifteen thick books were able to fill the gap times in my life, and the funny thing is, I started noticing real life again because of the books. More important than that, I was finding strength through the books. The characters overcoming their trials helped me access my own strength again.

J.R.R. Tolkien (“The Lord of the Rings”) and C.S. Lewis (“The Chronicles of Narnia”) both wrote how they wanted people to read their books, and then look at the world around them with more wonder as a result. They wanted their books to amplify the reader’s perception of the real world. (Fun side fact — they were also best friends).

So, let’s look at the real world again.

1. Singular Goal/Grand Quest: 

Defeat depression? Live a good life? Find the meaning of life? OK, we’ll come back to that.

2. Dark Force Personified:

Depression and anxiety, I’m looking at you. The crushing presence, the feeling of twisting blackness, the real life dementors sucking the soul from you and trying to keep you from living. You may not be a physical being, but I will smite you nonetheless.

3. Entourage: 

We may not have wizards, but we do have grandparents, teachers, coaches and various other mentors. We may not have a knight who has sworn to protect us, but we do have friends who will fight with you until there is no fight left. I may not have a magical talking cat, but my dog can always make me smile. And even in the times when we’re separated from them, alone in the dark cave of depression, they are caring for you and possibly trying to dig through the cave in to get to you.

4. Sensational abilities:

While there are people who are able to do astonishing things physically or artistically, I want to focus on those who are sensational emotionally. Those who have depression fight back the dark every single day. You’re the dam holding against the dark tide, the line of knights keeping the black army from reaching the city of your heart. Do you know how much strength that takes? How much bravery? You are amazing!

5. Heroic Mountain Top Moment: 

I think it would be easier if real life worked this way. There’s a big moment of adrenaline when the only thing on your brain is defeating the dark and protecting loved ones and you do some big heroic thing. Real life is so much harder, because you’re defeating and protecting in little ways every single day. Instead of a quick sprint, you need the endurance for the marathon. But, that also means there are a million times a day you do something heroic. It can be as simple as getting out of bed. Some days, that’s an act of bravery for me.

We’re all heroes of our own stories. We all have our own battles against some form of darkness. We all have the potential to be brave, the strength to keep fighting another day. While “happily ever after” may not happen, “happy” is still possible, and can be reached.

Oh, look, I just found my quest.

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” — G.K. Chesterton

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