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Consuming Challenging Media


Do you do anything differently when you are going to be consuming a piece of media that contains material you know is going to be difficult?

For example, my book club is going to be reading a book with a lot of child abuse in it this month. I'm excited about the author and think it sounds like it will be very good, but I'm expecting it to be a difficult read. My plan is to only read it at home when I feel comfortable. I also have a different book for before bed that is less likely to have my brain wanting to have nightmares. I'm also starting early to give myself plenty of time.

It got me curious about how other people deal with these sorts of scenarios.
If it’s something I really want to do?

- I up my stress-management skills to the HILT (not just waiting until I get hit, but bleeding stress waaaaaaay in advance, and during, to both soften the impact of the hit & to be training my reactions/response).

- Ditto (I wish we had a better word than the ooey gooey “self care” 🤢🤮) Self Care. Back to basics! Eating, sleeping, bathing & dressing the form, clearing the mind, balance balance balance the mental/ emotional/ physical/ social.

We’re talking every day is a spa-day / dojo-day / tell it to the ocean day/ snowday; & making extra effort to be loving on those around me (rather than talking/acting first, thinking second! Regrets & Apologies soon after)

The upside is that those are all things that make my life better ANYWAY… but are above and beyond normal life and living. I have to apply it all reeeeeally consciously. Or reap the whirlwind.
in the book club setting, i don't push myself. i do book clubs for nerdy fun and therapeutic social interactions. if it isn't pleasant, what's the point? it has worked for me to be briefly honest that i am feeling psychological blocks. my fellow book worms have had diverse reactions to my open honesty. but the reactions have all been supportive. one fella gave me gently edited synopses of the parts i didn't put through. a few of his summaries even provided me food for healing thoughts.
I just finished reading Stephanie’s Foo’s memoir, which was challenging, but also incredibly interesting. Arguably I read it for ‘fun’, but I went into knowing that it was going to be a difficult read. And I’m padding it with a couple of other completely different genres before I’ll consider hitting that area again.

When I’m heading into that kind of territory, I need to be really fussy about when I read, and the stuff surrounding that activity. I can’t pick it up before heading for work, or catching up with friends. And it does require a bit of ongoing awareness of how it’s impacting me, and if/when I need to set it aside and go to the gym to sweat the shit out, or switch the playlist in my car to something a bit more cheerful to balance stuff out!!

Reading it before bed works for me, because I have nightmares irrespective of whether I’m reading Trainspotting or Winnie The Pooh, so I couldn’t GAF about trying to avoid nightmares anymore!

Tbh, there’s pretty distressing content in a lot of the books I read, and I usually find it hardest to cope when it’s both realistic and unexpected. If I feel like something is distressing too much, I don’t persist without a lot of journalling. That’s about knowing my limits.

I don’t like (read: hate with a slightly deranged passion) voyeuristic content that relates to my own experience. I don’t continue with cheap thrills. I’m fussed about the quality of what I’m reading, and I’ll usually read some reviews before anything I read. Anything that’s just mass-produced Melrose Place quality, I don’t bother (yeah, I’m looking at you, Dan Brown).

I use literature as a form of creative therapy. I very often go away and journal about themes or perspectives I’ve been reading about, and insights it’s given me into my own situation. And I very often find myself exploring perspectives I’ve picked up from books in therapy. Themes or situations that I relate to, particularly with characters that I don’t relate to, are a constant source of personal growth for me.

There’s also been some books I’ve put aside for distressing content, but then gone back to and devoured in a single sitting years later, because suddenly the perspective is relevant or cathartic. So I’m very liberal with my ability to abandon books, no matter if I’m 10 pages in, or 10 pages from the end (which I where I quit with Jude The Obscure first time round - I know, right!?).

And I have no qualms about putting a book aside and starting something new, because very often that’s about my headspace rather than the book itself, and my headspace changes dramatically. I’ll come back to stuff if/when it feels right, and feel no obligation to finish books whether they be reading challenges or time-wasting or apparently brilliant or fantastically popular!

In a book club situation? I’d probably be grateful for insight the others have, if they’re likely to have intelligent things to say about it. But I’d be equally comfortable rocking up and saying “Hell no, didn’t read it, was fking with my head” if I decided it wasn’t good timing.
I don’t usually have too many issues with being bothered with what I read. I think that’s just from getting very desensitized because I read some seriously screwed up things.

But the two things that help me the most when I do come across something harder is:

1. Make sure I have a light and fluffy book or two for right after.

2. To bookend the chapters as I go with other kinds of content, usually something light but doesn’t have to be. So I read a chapter, get on TikTok for a couple minutes, read a chapter, look at pretty pictures on instagram or whatever, but that helps to keep me from getting sucked in emotionally.
I'm almost 50% done, and it's going well. I think it helps that everything awful that happens in the book isn't unexpected.