This is a post for those of you out there who are struggling. Mentally. Physically. Emotionally. Or all of the above.
I’ve written about my own battles with mental illness to an extent on Sidechick before. I have been living with depression and anxiety for nearly my entire life, whether I knew to call it that or not. I’ve been so depressed that my body lost the will to pick itself up and walk outside. I’ve watched the world go by through a window because I wasn’t able to go out into it. My anxiety has kept me from sleeping many nights, my cyclical thought patterns tap dancing in my head. It has kept me from meeting people and experiencing things. It has caused me to break down in public and it has caused me confusion when I thought I was so sure. It has gripped me. It has thrown me. It has ruled me.
Although right now, I am coping incredibly well (possibly the best I have ever have in my life), I know that depression and anxiety doesn’t just go away. The higher up I feel the closer I am to falling. And in times when I’m not sure what to do and I can no longer cope, I seek comfort in words. Words are honest. Words don’t hide anything. Words ground you. Words kill you. Words bring you back to life. And many times when I have been past the point of no return seemingly, words have brought me back down to earth. They have soothed me in ways I didn’t think were possible.
I used to think self-help books were a crock of shit. And sometimes I still do. But there are some I have found that have been able to provide solace for me in some of my darkest of moments. I have compiled a list of them for you, in case you need them. I hope something on this list speaks to you when you need it the most.
- If You Feel Too Much by Jamie Tworkowski
I’ve been an advocate for the organization, To Write Love on Her Arms since I knew what it was. I have vaguely known what the organizations strives to do since high school, but it wasn’t until fairly recently that I picked up the founder, Jamie Tworkowski’s book. It is a collection of essays about mental illness, suicide prevention, and warm fuzzies. If you feel alone, this is a great book to read. Jamie is so honest in his emotions here. He is vulnerable and he is not afraid of it. Depression makes us afraid. Sometimes of things that we can’t even name. There have been many times during bouts of depression where I have started crying out of fear, but I’m not sure what I’m afraid of. Jamie writes this experience into existence and for anyone struggling with mental illness, knowing someone else has experienced what you are experiencing is comfort enough.
- Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love From Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
I am a huge Cheryl Strayed fan, so it was very natural for me to reach for this book after reading Wild. Cheryl Strayed used to write an advice column called Dear Sugar where readers could write letters to her and she would answer them. This book is a compilation of those letters and her responses, and they are incredibly poignant. Cheryl Strayed is like your cool aunt who knows exactly what to say when you need to hear it most. She’s no bullshit. She’s honest and some of her responses will kick your ass. But sometimes that’s exactly what you need.
- You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living An Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
The name is stupid. I will be the first to admit that I didn’t even want to read this book at first glance. The book itself is yellow. There aren’t many things I dislike more than the color yellow. Especially when I’m depressed. It’s too sunshiny and happy. Fuck that. Also I am not a badass. I am curled up in the fetal position halfway through a family size bag of Doritos and I don’t remember the last time I showered. But I gave it a chance, and it might be the best self-help book I’ve read. Jen Sincero has a way of looking at the bright side of things, but not in a way that is annoying. She leads you to the Kool-Aid and makes you thirsty. She writes in a way that makes you realize your worth and importance and your potential. This is extremely hard to do when you feel like you aren’t worth anything and you aren’t important and you have no potential. I know the title makes it sound stupid. But take a note from your elementary school librarian and don’t judge a book by its cover.
- Any book by Brené Brown
Brené Brown is a genius. I’ve read all of her books multiple times and her writing will hit you directly in the feels. She has a way of making you like yourself a lot more than you ever have. She writes in a way that makes you feel like you aren’t the only one feeling the way you do, and she makes vulnerability not so scary. As a person with a tough exterior and a very gooey center, I can say that taking her words to heart and putting them into action can change you. Change the way you approach things. Change the way you interact with people. Change the way you feel. She’s a little “self-helpy,” but her wisdom is important.
- Fuck Feelings: One Shrink’s Practical Advice for Managing All of Life’s Impossible Problems by Michael I. Bennett, MD and Sarah Bennett
Another yellow book. I’m sensing a pattern here. This book is a no bullshit guide to not getting fucked up by your feelings. I was hooked from the first chapter titled, “fuck self-improvement.” Michael Bennett is very matter of fact and this is kind of a gritty look at all the shit that can go on in a person’s head. If you need a swift kick in the ass and someone to not beat around the bush, this book is for you. Like I said before, sometimes that’s exactly what you need. Don’t read this book if you are looking for sympathy or someone to be gentle with you.
- When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön
Pema Chödrön is a Buddhist teacher and scholar, so if you aren’t into Buddhist teachings and philosophy then this might not be for you, but otherwise it is a beautiful look at what to do when things are crumbling around you. I picked up this book when I was in college very shortly after I started going to therapy for my undiagnosed depression and anxiety. I constantly felt like I was falling apart and I had no idea how to cope. This book kind of led me through that and gave me some hand holds for when I felt like I was slipping. There is a lot of Buddhist terminology and philosophy in this book, and sometimes it can be annoying to wade through, but overall this book has been very helpful for me.
- You Can Be Happy No Matter What: Five Principles for Keeping Life in Perspective by Richard Carlson
This was the first self help book I willingly read. One of my best friends in college suggested it to me when I was going through a particularly difficult time during my freshman year and I painstakingly read it. And I thought it was stupid and that I wasted my time reading it, mostly because I didn’t want it to make sense. I was content with being upset. I was content with being depressed. I didn’t want help, so the first time I read this, it did nothing for me. When I was ready to take in the information it had to give me, I absorbed it like a sponge. The title makes it sound super cheesy, but I’ve read this book at least 7 or 8 times at this point, and I am always able to pull something new from it. That’s how you know it is a good book. Also if you deal with anxiety or even Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, read Carlson’s other book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.
There are more self-help books out there than these and you might not find anything you want to read on this list, and that’s okay. Seek out your own comforts when you are ready to do so. Find something that speaks to you. Find something that reaches down into your body and shakes you awake. Something that helps you realize what you need to do to overcome. It’s okay to not feel okay. Your feelings are valid. There are so many people feeling the same way you are. Hang in there.