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Thursday, November 03, 2016

#avalonreads On the Theme of Escapism

The theme of escapism has bubbled to the surface in my recent readings, and may partly also account for my lack of writing - of book reviews, or blog posts on any other subject. (I would at least post on Instagram, but my camera is not working, hence some silence from me in that realm.) I keep immersing myself in reading, with some reluctant physiotherapeutic exercise as an accompaniment. Have I sunk into reading as an escape?

I'm no stranger to escapism, be it the neutral activities of watching YouTube documentaries non-stop, or playing game after game of Sudoku, or those almost socially-unacceptable addictions to alcohol and cigarettes. It is a way I dissociate; numbing myself and thereafter becoming someone else that is not me, and it means distancing myself from the pain and anguish I accumulate within every day. These activities require very little thought, and because they are mindless they seem even more dangerous as addictive means of escape.

I've been quite disciplined, focusing on, apart from the necessary chores of daily life, exercise, reading, and writing (in my journal, minimally). But sometimes I read excessively and instead of exercising and whatnot. I hardly nap anymore, which is necessary for managing the symptoms of fibromyalgia. I've noted my obsession with reading in earlier posts, but obsessions need not be addictions. I should stop clicking post after post after post on websites, or finishing one chapter after another and another, in a way that gives my day little manoeuvre for other activities.

I read this story on New Yorker, Relive Box by T. Coraghessan Boyle, which reminds me of spec-fic novels by a favourite author of mine, Margaret Atwood. The Relive Box is a console that allows you to experience in virtual reality, user-specific times in your past. The protagonist often relived till dawn, and it affected his work because he wasn't sleeping. That sounds like me when I delve into a video game. I would start at 8pm and the next time I looked at the clock, it would be 10am.

The Noonday Demon (which I'm almost halfway through) covers the correlation between depression and addiction. Andrew Solomon expounds on the nature of addiction and includes his own propensity to indulge in substance abuse. He writes:

"It gives me a kind of blissful energy and a sexual exuberance and a feeling of superhero power that are quite fantastic. I get to the point of being unable to string together a sentence and I don't care if I never string together a sentence again. I realise that the solutions to everything are simple and straightforward. Being high on cocaine breaks up your memory enough so that the past can't haunt the future. The chemical happiness of a good hit of cocaine feels completely uncircumstantial. I can remember sitting around with a numb nose, thinking that if I could freeze life in that second, I would do so and stay there forever. I almost never use the drug, but the idea that I would never want it is ridiculous. I fell in love with cocaine in those first minutes of rush. The spectre of imbalancing my brain and the devastating hangover are all that keep me away from the cocaine high."

How is substance abuse different from the high of reading and gaming, when all these activities allow us means of escape? I just finished this novel The Less Than Perfect Legend of Donna Creosote by Dan Micklethwaite, which is a light read about a woman who spends her lonely nights in the fantasies concocted by books she has read, of which there are so many that her floor is tiled with them. She has another deeper hidden addiction than reading, but the way she turned mere reading into a substitute for all else, is scary enough for me to stop and rethink my own obsession with reading.

The discipline required for activities such as exercise and personal grooming, is something I built and depended upon a lot for my recent recovery. Without it I would hardly be as ambulant as I am now. I have never been disciplined, even in childhood I didn't have a fixed bedtime. Although the symptoms of depression and fibromyalgia are often counter to what discipline requires of me, I have to fight them daily; on good days it feels like I'm canoeing against the current, on a bad day it feels like I'm pushing a boulder off of me. Sometimes I lose, then I go to bed and try again the next day. In such a climate, reading is my respite, but I have to force myself to consume it within set limits, so that I can at least brush my teeth daily.

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