Self-pity just doesn't work

I read a lot as a kid. I really enjoyed taking my mind to imaginative worlds, feeling the fear, anger, and relief of the characters as they faced existential and relatively insignificant obstacles. I really loved the challenge of trying to figure out what direction the plot would take, and often could not put a book down.

Then I kind of just stopped.

Around middle school, when my hormones had a different perspective on how I should live my life, I fell out of love with reading. I think the reason, at least partly, was that the books we were required to read for school did not interest me anymore, and so my mind created this emotional disassociation with reading as a whole. Whether it was a textbook, novel, or biography, for school or for fun, I could not pull myself to finish a book.

I knew I wanted to read, I knew that there were extensive benefits to my mental health. The overarching gain in knowledge is matched with a improvement in cognitive ability, which was a concept I never lost touch with. However, every time I tried to start a book, I would get one chapter in, three chapters in, two thirds in, but I could not finish a book.

At the beginning of 2018, I set a goal to read one book every two weeks. I failed miserably.

I bought books and started books, but I couldn’t finish a single one. I failed miserably.

I don’t like failing at things that are entirely within my control. At the beginning of 2019, I decided I was going to read 1 book a week. A lofty goal. Especially after years and years of absolute failure to reverse this mental block that had been created by the structure of school.

I had to have a plan. How could I jumpstart my brain to getting back in love with reading? How could I trigger my brain into allowing myself to stare at and engage with a piece of paper and not a glowing, active screen that I had become frighteningly addicted to?

When I got to my parents home for the holidays, I went to look at the bookshelf in my childhood bedroom, and sticking out just far enough to catch my eye immediately, was a book that captured my entire imagination as a child.

Hatchet, by Gary Paulson.

The book, in a nutshell, is a 13-year-old boy who finds himself alone in the Canadian wilderness after a bush plane pilot had a heart attack. He faces an array of obstacles ranging from injuries, wildlife, weather, and overall the lack of security that modern society has built for us to avoid the terrors of nature. Thankfully, he is saved by an off chance gift from his mother, a hatchet.

It’s hard to fully associate my love of nature and the outdoors with my early love of this book, but I think that reading this book thoroughly as a child multiple times helped me build a love with the idea of being outside, and to not necessarily fight nature and the terror that can come with it, but appreciate it and learn to live with it.

While the book is certainly aimed at young people and had a somewhat unrealistic amount of obstacles, (like what are the real chances buddy gets stomped by a moose, then that same night gets leveled by a tornado) I could not put the book down. I flew through the book, but there was one point that really stuck out to me.

Early in Brian’s ordeal in the bush, after healing from the crash, finding food, water, shelter and other essentials of life, Brian is faced with a new set of obstacles originating from the bush, he started to pity himself and the situation he found himself in.

He began to feel sorry for himself.

“He did not know how long it took, but later he looked back on this time of crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn't work. It wasn't just that it was wrong to do, or that it was considered incorrect. It was more than that--it didn't work.”

This moment in the book resonated deeply with me because I think it is relatable to everyone, including me and the situation I was in before reading this book. Whether you are dealing with a life-threatening injury, a natural disaster that just flipped your life upside down, only increasing profits by 4% when you had anticipated 6%, or you can’t figure out how to beat your dad in ping pong. We all face situations that occur due to circumstances that are more or less, out of our control. We face moments where it can be easy to pity ourselves for the unlucky probability of having to face that situation, but as Brian said it best, it just doesn’t work. It isn’t that it is inherently wrong to feel this way after finding yourself on the wrong side of the natural world at that moment, it just doesn’t do anything to help propel you past the immediate situation. We always have the opportunity to look at what we still have, and find a new path to move forward.

Assess the situation and figure out the best course of action for you to heal, live in a tent for a little while, find a new way to cut costs, wake up an hour earlier and practice ping pong every morning for a month. We will all face situations that arise due to the randomness of nature, but the only person that you can depend on entirely to get yourself out of the situation is yourself.

My reading situation wasn’t existential or even remotely threatening, but I was faced with a situation where I could pity myself for being unable to read a book, but that wouldn’t work, so I created a plan to move past the situation.

A funny thing happened after I finished Hatchet, I couldn’t wait to start and finish my next book.

2 down, 50 to go.