I love making lists. I have molskine journals all about my house all consisting different subjects of lists (fav music, recipes, people I love, places, things I love, things I want, etc.) My absolute favorite lists, however, are To-Read book lists. And let me tell you, there are some helpful books out there. There are some especially helpful books out there for those struggling with mental illness.
I’ve lived with depression and anxiety for years and recently discovered reading helps me deal. When I feel incredibly low. I’m talking can’t get out of bed. Non-responsive to my best friend and husband, Alex. Feel like life is pointless. Can’t eat because I just can’t be bothered to get up and actually cook a meal. Feeling like nothing will ever get better. I can only manage to grab my phone, open my library app, and listen to an audiobook. That’s right. I can’t even muster up enough energy to read some days. Some days all I can do is close my eyes and allow someone else to read to me. And that’s okay.
After reading all of these books, I practically ran around shouting about how great each is. These are some of the books that have helped me the most over the years in no particular order.
- Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
This book meant so much to me this winter when I was struggling just to get out of bed. I literally spent days in bed, getting up only to go to my doctor appointments and then return home to lay down. It was around that time that I discovered I could get free library Audio books so I read nonstop. This book made me feel like a person again. Matt Haig talks about his own struggles with mental illness and how he got through it. The days of emptiness, the feelings of worthlessness, the not wanting to die but not really caring to continue on living. All of it. This is my number one reccomendation if you’re experiencing a major depressive episode or anxiety.
You will one day experience joy that matches this pain. You will cry euphoric tears at the Beach Boys, you will stare down at a baby’s face as she lies asleep in your lap, you will make great friends, you will eat delicious foods you haven’t tried yet, you will be able to look at a view from a high place and not assess the likelihood of dying from falling. There are books you haven’t read yet that will enrich you, films you will watch while eating extra-large buckets of popcorn, and you will dance and laugh and have sex and go for runs by the river and have late-night conversations and laugh until it hurts. Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.
- Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
If Carrie Fisher, the Princess of Alderaan, can be honest about mental health, then anyone can. This book is inspiring for me because Carrie Fisher opened up about how even though she “had it all” she was still depressed and struggled. I thought it was really brave of her to be so honest about her fight throughout her life, being under constant public scrutiny. Best of all, she does this with humor. She shows you that it is okay to laugh. Rest in peace, Carrie, and thank you for all you did for us ❤
I thought I would inaugurate a Bipolar Pride Day. You know, with floats and parades and stuff! On the floats we would get the depressives, and they wouldn’t even have to leave their beds – we’d just roll their beds out of their houses, and they could continue staring off miserably into space. And then for the manics, we’d have the manic marching band, with manics laughing and talking and shopping and fucking and making bad judgment calls.
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy by Marie Kondo
I think Marie Kondo is onto something when she says that when we get our houses in order, our life falls into order (paraphrasing). I felt so much relief when I got rid of all the items that were weighing me down without even realizing it. It felt like a huge burden had been lifted after I started tidying. I simply couldn’t stop for weeks! Now I have a different mindset about what I bring into my home. I follow her simple rule and ask myself, “Does it spark joy?” If not, it doesn’t come into my home. This has lead me to me more picky about what I do with my time and my food choices as well. Seeing our apartment clean and tidy made my messy life feel cleaner.
The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.
- The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
I like this book because it is practical and gives plenty of ideas about what one could actually put into action to become happier. This book isn’t exactly geared towards depression, but I still believe it helps. Gretchen Rubin talks about how she had it all but still felt like she could be happier. In her book she talks about the year-long project that she started completely dedicated to becoming happier. By virtue of reading, it also gave me permission to care about my own happiness without feeling selfish. She provides practical advice as well as new ideas of how to think about a situation.
I enjoy the fun of failure. It’s fun to fail, I kept repeating. It’s part of being ambitious; it’s part of being creative. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly
- Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Honestly I should just start a whole separate blog post as to why I love Harry Potter so much. These are my all time favorite books. The reasons I turn to HP is because I’m reminded that good always triumphs evil and that everything will be okay in the end. I learn more about myself every time I read Harry Potter. I have so many favorite quotes. Sticking with the theme of mental health though my favorite quote is from Hagrid:
No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it. What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.
- Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
This book of poetry is everything. I devoured it in one sitting. Rupi Kaur’s poetry makes you wish you’d written it yourself. This book is about being broken and finding the strength within to love yourself whole again. There is no need to say more, you just need to read it.
most importantly love
like it’s the only thing you know how
at the end of the day all this
where you’re sitting
nothing even matters
except love and human connection
who you loved
and how deeply you loved them
how you touched the people around you
and how much you gave them
- You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie
Sherman Alexie’s work is poetic, hilarious, heartbreaking all at once. In his memoir he talks about his love/hate relationship with his late mother and working through his traumatic childhood. What I identify with in this book is the fact that we can, both, love and despise our family members, that the grieving process never truly ends and that’s okay and that we can choose different lives for ourselves but still love our family. What I loved most about is the absolute truth that he speaks. And by him speaking his truth, it inspires me to speak mine.
Listen. I don’t know how or when
My grieving will end, but I’m always
Relearning how to be human again
- Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
I have a lot of existential anxiety and the thought of losing a loved one can cause me to have a full-blown panic attack. This book is about exactly that, but Atul Gawande has a way of talking about it that isn’t completely anxiety-inducing. He talks about what’s wrong with the way we, in the U.S., look at old age and how we can change our institutions to provide better care for elderly, chronically and terminally ill folks and allow people to be the author of their own lives with respect and dignity. When it comes down to it, this is a book about what we really want in the end of our lives.
You may not control life’s circumstances, but getting to be the author of your life means getting to control what you do with them.
- Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
Jenny Lawson is hilarious. She reminds readers that it is okay to not be okay but also that one day we will be okay. She is honest about her struggles with mental illness and how it has dragged her down in the muck but also allowed her to appreciate her good days to the absolute fullest.
I’m having one of those rare days where I love people and all of the amazing wonder they’re capable of and if someone fucks that up for me I will stab them right in the face.
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower By Stephen Chbosky
I read this book when I wasn’t actually depressed, but on my way to Disneyland, The Happiest Place on Earth! The reason I love this book is because it reminds me to go on adventures and make memories and to appreciate those fantastic moments when you can completely feel every detail of every second and just want to soak it all in. Thse are the moments I try to remind myself of when I’m in the thick of it all.
And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.
- Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
This memoir is about working and middle class white family and community in a rural Appalachia. Reading this reminded me a lot of my hometown, Aberdeen, Washington. Though I wouldn’t say it’s exactly the same, there are a lot of similarities and I felt like I was reading about my neighbors and family in some parts. What really resonates with me is the complete transparency that J.D. Vance tells his story with. When I read an author bearing ones soul, I feel more inspired to be honest with myself and others.
When I look back at my life, what jumps out is how many variables had to fall in place in order to give me a chance.
- PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives by Frank Warren
PostSecret is an ongoing project that Frank Warren started in 2005 where you mail in a secret on one side of a postcard. The secrets are then shared on his blog and in books he compiles. Thse confessions make me feel less alone. They solidify my suspicion that everyone has something they are hiding and there’s no reason for me to go around being ashamed constantly. They make me feel braver to read these people’s secrets.
Favorite Frank Warren quote:
Every single person has at least one secret that would break your heart. If we could just remember this, I think there would be a lot more compassion and tolerance in the world.
Thanks for reading and I hope that if you’re dealing with mental illness that you find these books helpful and remember that it is okay to ask for help. Also Life Hack: you can download a FREE library card app to read! It’s called Libby by Overdrive and you just link your library card with it. It’s fantastic because I can’t be bothered to get up and out of the house most days, so I just read e-books and listen to audiobooks right on my phone! Yay! Hope that helps 🙂
What are your favorite books to read when you’re depressed/anxious? What has helped you through tough times? Leave a comment for any reccomendations, please! 🙂 And add me on Goodreads! Kaitlyn (Bannister) Davis.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255