Adieu, Compulsive Fiction Reading

I think I have come to that saturation age where fictions have stopped being exciting. (God, I sound so old).  

Guys, I am grieving.

I am grieving over the fact that I no longer have the time to read commercial fiction. When I finally do read fiction, I didn’t get the same kind of enjoyment that I used to get as a child (like any addiction, this is a symptom of tolerance, perhaps). Nothing surprises me anymore. I could guess the plot half-way into the novel that by the time I reached the end of it, I felt like “meh, is that it?”

I still remember how Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code amazed me throughout the whole time I was reading it when I was 20 years old. But his latest book ‘Origin’ that came out a few months ago, well, I just didn’t get the same kind of buzz from it. I imagine, if I were to read Origin at the age of 18 or 19, I would get pretty excited and couldn’t wait to discuss it with my sisters and friends. Now? I just went, “Same old, same old, Dan Brown!Can’t you create better stories? Ok… you are good at writing because you are Dan Brown. But why can’t I enjoy it as I used to? Is it you? Or is it me?”  

I was just as upset with the latest book in The Millennium series ‘The Girl Who Take An Eye for An Eye.’ I was disappointed by how simple the plot really is. I used to feel really excited when halfway through the first novel in the series (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) I still couldn’t figure out who the culprit was. I even enjoyed the second, third and fourth instalment of the series. But this latest book felt flat and plain uninteresting to me. 

Is this anhedonia, or what? (Hahah. But my appetite, sleep, function and most of everything else is normal. So don’t worry about me, ok). 

***

Let me tell you how reading fiction used to feel.

I daydreamed about it at school. I prevaricated (read: lied to my father) that I had a kelas tambahan or latihan sukan at school so that I could get my reading time at my school library (I finished the whole Nancy Drew Series in Asma School library. And then I started on other mystery series by Enid Blyton interspersed with the series featuring Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators. All of them were read in the school library. Because at home, I had other academic tasks to do and would not be excused from them by my parents.) I hid library books that I hadn’t finished reading during recess, by placing the book in different shelves (in between revision books far away from the actual shelf it should be placed) so that other students would not be able to get to it until I was done with it. And the reason I did that was because most of the time,  I had reached the quota of books I could borrow and therefore could not borrow any more. And thus, the only alternative I had was to hide the book from other students. (I was bad, bad bad. And I did that while being a school librarian *facepalm*. In my own defence, it was my elder sister who taught me to do it because she too had done the same thing. After all, desperate times call for desperate measures. Hahaha.). 

In MRSM Langkawi, I became a school librarian again so that I could spend my time in the library for, ehem, librarian duties (haha) instead of having to be in  the class for prep.

For birthdays and rewards, I wanted fiction. I saved half my school money to buy fiction every month. The anticipation was half the pleasure. Like I said, I daydreamed about them. 

When I finally got my hands on the book I had been daydreaming of, the happiness was immense and intense. When I finally started to actually read the book, my mind was empty of other things. And I was transported to another land… I was there with the characters… doing all the detecting, thinking the same thing the characters were thinking or speculating, going through the same adventures, the same trials and heartaches and facing the same evil force. And when they triumphed at the end, it felt like it was me who had succeeded. Whenever something sad or something bad happened to me, I would remember to be like the heroes that I read; heroes don’t give up, they push harder until they win, they never give in to the evil force; if they die, they will die with honour while accomplishing a critical mission.

To me, reading fiction was all the motivation and inspiration that I needed.

I didn’t need to read books like “How to be happy in 10 simple steps”…. or “La Tahzan,”… or “Chicken Soup For Whatever”…I don’t think I would follow the advice in such books anyway (I know some people love reading non-fiction self-improvement, self-help and motivational books like that. And as a psychiatry doctor, you might think it is weird that I don’t read books like that. But to be honest, I was never able to finish such a book, alas)

Books like “7 habits of highly effective people”, I could never finish them! If I wanted to be effective, I thought of Sherlock Holmes. If I wanted  to be kind and fair, I thought about Atticus Finch (To Kill A Mocking Bird). If I wanted to push myself to do the right thing and be firm, I thought  about the story of Umar Al-Khattab. 

I was motivated by stories. Not self-help books or motivational books. 

So, a large part of my life was influenced by fiction. And I enjoyed them… so much…. until recently.

Well, actually, when I really think about it, I started noticing my lack of enjoyment since early 2016. I still loved reading fictions in 2016….but the feeling was not the same as when I was a teenager or even as when I was a HO. The level of enjoyment and excitement was not like before. It still gives me pleasure, but it wasn’t as intense. 

Am I becoming jaded? ‘I have read everything, I knew everything, no author can surprise me anymore’ kind of jaded? 

Or am I just finally grown up?  Haha. Maybe all these while, I was still a kid trapped in a woman’s body. And now, my soul finally catches up with my physical body, wrinkles and all. Haha. (When you think about it, books are like my toys. If you ask a girl aged 4 years old about whether or not she would ever find playing with barbie dolls a boredom, I am sure she could not imagine being in the position of not loving barbie dolls ever. Because at 4 years old, that was the only thing she knew to find pleasure in. That was the only thing important enough at that age. Her world is small and limited. And in that limited world, Barbie Doll is the best! But when that girl reaches a certain age, barbie dolls will stop being entertaining anymore. Now, there are video games, and school sports and academic stuff to focus on. So her attachment to Barbie Dolls diminished.  Maybe, I am just like that girl. It’s just that with me, because books are varied by different genres and different characters, it took me longer to detach myself).

In 2016… things happened that made me reevaluate how I used my time (like how I could have died in an accident that happened in Ramadan 2016; and when I survived the ordeal unscathed, I had wondered whether there are things in this world that I am supposed to accomplish that go far beyond fiction reading; things I must accomplish before I can finally meet my Maker) 

And then there was the exam… I took my Part A in December 2016. 

Since then… reading fiction makes me feel guilty. I used to be able to forget everything when I read… but now, even as I am reading Jeffrey Archer or Dan Brown, my mind was thinking about the house chores I haven’t done or the academic stuff I haven’t mastered, or the fact that I should visit my parents this weekend because last weekend I had already stayed at my house reading. It lessened my enjoyment of my fiction considerably because I just couldn’t be as absorbed as I used to. Adulthood, responsibilities… they stopped me from being absorbed… and therefore I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I used to. (Well, make no mistake. I am not saying I don’t enjoy reading at all now. Because I do… reading is still my number one hobby. I just didn’t get as much euphoria with it now.) 

Then, there was also that soft whisper in my heart telling me that I could die tomorrow not accomplishing anything worthy in this life because I was busy reading fiction. That other people got involved in NGOs, doing charities, organising events for the greater good of the community… they were out there doing things that are good for others, that would benefit them in the hereafter. (I really do admire my friend Dr. T… she is so devoted to her NGO. Me? I have issues about committing to an organization. I am afraid of restrictions, ‘kepatuhan kepada pemimpin’ and group thinking and all that. In fact, I have trust issues with any hierarchical organization… I just don’t like it. I will avoid belonging to one if I can help it. But then, another friend of mine who knew my issues had recited to me an old African proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together”. This is why people join NGOs or any organization despite all the hassles! Because they want to go far. Because they know they can’t do much to benefit the society when they are alone. But hah… my aversion to hierarchical organization always rein me in. Each and every time, I just couldn’t do it.) 

I saw people who become the best at what they do because they spend the bulk of their time on their career. For example, maybe I should spend my time by doing a study on some aspect of psychiatry that I can then publish in a reputable journal. Maybe I should spend my time writing a book about psychiatry for lay people. Maybe I should do a vlog in you tube for education purposes. (I followed a few dermatologists who created a youtube channel talking about skin care and busting the myth of beauty products out there, educating their viewers with their knowledge so that their viewers can make better life choices. I mean, that is a very useful way to spend your time, right… by making educational videos and at the same time promoting your service at your practice! Such a clever and business-savvy thing to do!) 

Below is an example of a dermatologist-youtuber, Dr. Davin Lim, whose videos I actually find very educational. He spends his energy on educating the public while at the same time attracting a lot of future clients to his private practice. That is brilliant marketing without being shallow or cringe-worthy.

Look at Neelofa guys! She is so successful. Maybe this is why people become successful… they focus their energy and their free time doing beneficial things that directly or indirectly propel their career and their life forward! 

When Neelofa has an instagram account… that instagram account actually serves a purpose of promoting her product and herself as a brand. 

Look at Vivy Yusuf… her instagram, her blog and her you tube channel all serve a purpose to promote her business.

And that’s why she and Neelofa made the Forbes 30 under 30 list last year! 

Look at us, ordinary people. Our instagram and Facebook accounts are used just for fun. Not for career purposes or anything really meaningful. When Neelofa and Vivy actually update their accounts, there is a higher purpose to it other than simply updating or checking in just for ‘fun’ or just for the heck of it. 

See? We waste our time! Our time and energy are scattered and unfocussed.

Maybe  if I were a journalist or an English teacher or a novelist, I can justify how much time I spend reading fiction because reading fiction would inspire more ideas and improve my language command which I could then use in my career as a journalist/English teacher/ novelist. 

But I am a doctor. I should spend more time reading doctor’s stuff, right? *sigh*

So either I give up reading fiction, or I change my career? 

Or…. I must tell myself that I can only read fiction sparingly because there are other things that are more important in life that deserve my time more. And I have to make myself happy with just that! Happy with just sparing reading. (Can I do that?)

Can I be happy struggling with myself to read journal articles instead of commercial fiction? I don’t know. But the need for me to moderate my obsession is there… especially now that my enjoyment in reading is dimmed by my own realisation that I should spend my time better. That there are bigger things in life other than my own selfish enjoyment. (cognitive dissonance is really wreaking havoc with my ego! I am in the eternal battle between my id and my superego)

This really feels like a relationship break-up, you know. Actually, it’s like a divorce. Haha. (When I think about it, this break-up has been coming gradually for the past few years. I was just never ready to admit it. In fact, the crack started slowly in medical school even as my seniors were telling me that I should spend more time reading Islamic books. I have had attacks of cognitive dissonance on and off since then….but I held on because reading fiction was my first love. But I guess, I grow up now and have become more matured. Like the girl with the barbie doll. Maybe I am more ready to give up fiction now when I never was before.)

  

And therefore now, I am grieving. Because once upon a time, reading fiction has been a beautiful journey and experience to me. I said before how it shaped my character; it gave me my ideals and principles and philosophy. The fact that I could write a blog, compose a poetry and express myself in writing like this… I owe all of it to fiction reading. Once upon a time, when I was a kid, a teenager and a young adult, fiction reading was very important to me and I revolved my time and my life around it. I turned to fiction reading during times of sadness and tribulations as well as during times of happiness. Fiction reading to me is like a toddler’s version of a favourite blanket or a bantal busuk that the toddler needs when his mother is not around. To the toddler, the blanket and the pillow is a substitute mother that calms his anxiety when his mother has to leave him. 

Fiction reading was my emotional crutch. 

So this, indeed, feels like a break-up. Like I am saying good bye to a certain lifestyle I have always known. 

But eventually, everyone leaves their attachment blanket and pillow behind. They have to… in order to mature and break away from their restrictive cocoon. 

But I remember a story that has been told numerous times before that will console my grief. The story of rocks, pebbles and sands and how they all can fit in a glass jar. I admit now, my fictions have been my sands all these times.

 

It’s time to make more room for rocks and pebbles, eh?

 I am really going to do this, insya-Allah. I am so ‘berkobar-kobar’ right now, that I will be surprised if you cannot feel my enthusiasm as you read my post. LOL. 

But for now, I need some time to properly grieve.  *sigh*

Adieu, compulsive fiction reading. Adieu!

 

 

P/S:

I do feel quite moody lately. Is it because of the psychological withdrawal of not reading fiction? Haha. Been restraining myself from reading fiction since the start of the new year. (This is part of my new year resolution!) That means I have not been reading fiction for the past one month! Detoxifying from fiction is really full of suffering, guys. *sigh*

CBT

Now my replacement therapy is this non-fiction I am currently reading, a book on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy authored by Judith S. Beck (she is the daughter of Aaron Beck. Aaron Beck is the father of Cognitive Therapy, which is one of the most commonly used psychotherapy in the psychiatry field) which I had ordered online straight from the UK. So far, I am not bored yet because this is directly related to my work. But Wallahi, there are times when I seriously pine for the next mystery and thriller. 

Ya Allah, grant me patience. Can’t do it without Your help.  

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