I have been a reader for as long as I can remember. I can still feel the carpet pressed against my legs as I sat crossed legged with Clifford the Big Red Dog planted firmly in my lap, the early morning sun streaming in through my bedroom window.I remember the colorful pictures and the charming characters, but what I remember most of all was that light bulb going off when I first started to read the words and understand their meaning.That feeling that floods you body when you discover something new, something life changing. I ran down the stairs two at a time, heart pounding, exclaiming in my small five year old voice “Mom! I read it! All by myself!”. That moment changed my life forever.

Believe it or not, I’m not here to talk about reading. I’m here to talk about stories. Stories are what changed my life. Stories are the thing that I’ve built my life around, the thing that has kept me tethered to a world that can be so dark and uninviting. And stories come in many shapes and sizes.

Teenage Woes

Like most in their high school years, I struggled with teenage angst and pain. Nobody understood me. Nobody had been through what I had been through before (cue the awkward hair flip). I fell in love, got my heart broken, struggled with identity, grappled with friendships, all those lovely firsts.

In my times of true despair, I turned to my favorite books. I was thoroughly obsessed with Nicholas Sparks as an author. Those romantic stories of true love overcoming all the odds. Soul mates lasting forever and ever. I would devour them by the shelf and then wait anxiously for the newest adventure.

Were they true? Nah. But it helped me, nonetheless. I read about couples as they made their choices, solved their problems. I learned from both their mistakes and triumphs. And because I was such an avid reader, I felt like I was learning from a friend. Those silly romances allowed me to keep my optimistic nature long after others’ had soured. I am thankful for that.

That’s the beauty in a story. You become attached to the characters. They become a part of your life. And in times of great strife, they can save you.

A Beacon of Hope

About a year after I got married, we had our niece come and stay with us for awhile. She came from a really broken home where she was subject to some awful things that a two year old should never experience. We welcomed her with open arms and spoiled her rotten. She spent the summer with us, and when fall rolled around it was coming time for her to return home. We talked to as many people as we could to try and get her to stay. We knew that we were sending her back to a life of hardship, but there was nothing we could do.

Losing that little girl was more than I could take. I sank into a pretty deep depression, constantly worried about what she was going through. It was then that my husband brought home a game. He came in one day and handed me The Last of Us. “I heard it’s good, you’d probably like it,” he spouted. I resisted, content to sit in my melancholy. Then one day curiosity got the best of me.

I have no doubt in my mind that The Last of Us was my saving grace. It kept me from slipping past the point of no return. I was quickly enamored with it’s storyline and characters. I fed on the relationship that blossomed between Joel and Ellie. I played it all the way through, tears streaming down my face as I came to the closing credits. And you know what I did? I played it again.

The story of The Last of Us consumed my life in those days. It filled the hole that a curly headed toddler left in my heart. It gave me another relationship to invest in. A relationship that was fictional, yes, but that meant so much to me in that time. That means so much to me still. I have replayed The Last of Us around 5 times now and I cry every single time. That story will remain special to me always as a beacon that brought me back to life.

Real Loss

One in every ten couples in the United States have problems with infertility. My husband and I happen to be one of those couples. After a long and painstaking medical process, we were told as a 22-year-old couple that we would never conceive naturally. If we wanted to procreate, we would be required to undergo IVF, an expensive and difficult procedure. We saved up the money with a large help from family and were able to get a round done nearly three years after our diagnosis. We ended up inserting two little embryos with the hope that they would take. They didn’t.

Now I thought I knew what pain was. If I wrapped every single pain I had experienced in my entire life up with a pretty bow it wouldn’t come close to hearing that my babies would never become babies. I had already mourned the fact that we would never have that surprise moment. But never happening at all? Where I had once not even considered it, was now a glaring statue of my body’s failure.

As you might have guessed, a story saved the day. What story? The answer might surprise you. During this deeply emotional time, I binge watched The Office. Yep, good ol’ Michael Scott and the gang at Dunder Mifflin helped me overcome the loss of my embryos.

Let’s face it, sometimes you just need to laugh. And there is always something in an episode of The Office that makes me chuckle. There’s not only humor, there’s love and the uncertainty of whether or not you should chase your dreams. There’s really a lot of facets that bring together an amazingly diverse and interesting show. And it helped me to focus on something a bit more lighthearted when my own feelings were so heavy.

Far Reaching

We are all geeks in our own way. If you are a chef, you’re a flavor geek. Into video games? You’re a gamer. We geek out about tech, franchises, Easter eggs in movies. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called a “potterhead” (proud Ravenclaw #represent). But what I’m a geek about, like really all the way in my core, is stories. I have loved stories ever since I first discovered that I could read so long ago in my little bedroom. And as I have grown, I have discovered that stories come in many different forms.

They come in the traditional form of novels, comic books, magazines, blog posts. The written word that requires your brain to decipher the code into meaning. A story that forces you to utilize your imagination and bring characters to life, give words inflections, paint a scene. These stories that gave me a piece of myself in high school when the world was as tough as I thought it would ever be. A medium that allowed me to be soft in a world that was trying it’s damnedest to make me hard.

Then video games, a source in which many people believe stories don’t exist. Video games are a channel so shrouded in misunderstanding even now. I talk to people who believe that video games are reserved for boys. That they are drenched in violence. That’s not always the case. In my mind video games are interactive stories. They allow you to become part of the action, part of the narrative. I dove so deep into a video game story that it pulled me back from the brink. To anyone who doubts the power that can compose a story in a game I urge you to play The Last of Us.

Finally, television shows. Really just a story acted out on screen. A story that you can come back to week after week, or month after month. Re-watch them and find the little things that you may have missed the first time around. These stories get connected to our daily lives. We find a piece of ourselves in every one.

I’ll leave you with a final thought. What story has changed your life? Was it in a form you expected? 

HEATHER TERWILLINGER is a bonafide nerdqueen and creator of the blog PRIMAGEEK.COM.

She collects more Funko Pops! than you do, slays video game reviews, and, per her blog, “makes it through life one comic book at a time”.