I have been fairly open about my mental health struggles. I have suffered from anxiety and depression for basically my entire life and was eventually also diagnosed from C-PTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder) stemming from emotional trauma. Basically, the inside of my head is one big battle zone and it’s really not fun. But I do have to say that this blog has helped me a lot since it provides a good creative outlet and some structure to my life. I am also very grateful for all of the support you’ve all given me, because that is one of the things that keeps me going on bad days.
That said, this is Mental Health Awareness Week, and May is Mental Health Awareness Month (which is kind of perfect, because May is always the worst month for me in terms of my mental health). So I thought I would share some books that I love that address mental health issues. A few of these are books that I identified with and helped me. but there are also books on this list that I just found interesting because they feature mental illnesses I do not have. I love reading books that give me some understanding of different experiences because they hep me be a more open-minded and empathetic person, and I think that’s really important.
(I’m just going to put a content warning for depression, anxiety, family trauma, and suicidal thoughts. I discuss those things both in relation to these books and my own personal experiences. Please do not feel like you have to continue reading this post if you are sensitive to those things.)
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
I read this book fairly recently, and wow this really spoke to me. This is about a woman who chooses to end her life and ends up in the midnight library. There, she can choose to go back to decisions she made and see if her life would have been worth living if she had chosen differently. The entire time I was reading this, I couldn’t help but wish this was a real thing. Because I definitely struggle with feeling like I went wrong somewhere in life and I don’t know what happened.
But I also really felt this one because I have been severely depressed most of my life. I have dealt with anxiety and suicidal thoughts for pretty much as long as I can remember. And I can’t say that I’ve had a particularly good life. I definitely wish I could go back and change some things (though my issues stemmed largely from external trauma, so I’m not sure if I could make things that much better for child me). But I am intimately familiar with the “my life sucks, I would like it to just be over please” voice in my head. Fortunately, I’ve fairly recently found better ways to deal with that, but it’s still there sometimes.
I just really connected with this book. For most of the novel, I couldn’t help but think how nice it would be to just get a do-over. And then we got to the message of this book, which is that no version of your life will be perfect. So you have to stop wishing for those alternate realities and try to be happy with the one you got. It’s something I need to do better with, and I think this book did a great job at showing that.
A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman
If you haven’t heard of this incredible book, it is about Ove, an elderly man grieving his wife. He decides that living is no longer worth it, and decides to just end it. But every time he attempts it, he gets interrupted by his very annoying neighbors who basically force their way into his life and give him something to care about. Which he absolutely does not want. And he’s mad about it.
This book just really made me smile. Because, despite the dark subject matter, it is also cute and hopeful. I cannot tell you how many times in my life I have seriously thought about ending it. It is a truly terrible place to be, and it took about twenty years for me to pull myself out of it. So I know how that feels. I also know how it feels to have one tiny little thing stop you (even though you resent it for doing so).
For me, this book kind of shows how little sparks of joy make more difference than anything else. If someone had actually noticed what was going on and told me “don’t do it”, it wouldn’t have helped nearly as much as someone getting me a coffee one day just to be nice. Same with Ove, his neighbors make it a habit of bringing him food, and it kind of helps him dig his way out.
I was honestly still in that place when I read this book, and I think it helped me a lot (even if I didn’t see it). Not only did it give me joy just from reading it, looking back I think this is where I started noticing the little moments of good in my life. At least a little bit. I think we can all be better at not letting each other fall too far, and this book is a great reminder of how just being kind can save someone else.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
This is one of those books through which I learned more about an experience completely different from my own. The protagonist of this book has a fractured self. It is not spelled out in the book, but my impression is that this is, or at least closely resembles, dissociative identity disorder. Which I had heard about before reading this. But it was fascinating to read from a firsthand account.
Again, this is way outside of my own experience, so I can’t say anything to how this portrayal of this specific mental illness is done. But I do know this is listed as semi-autobiographical, and the author is non-binary, so I would assume it is similar to their experience. And it just made me think more about experiences such as this and what it might be like to live with a fractured self.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
If there is one quintessential novel about depression, it is The Bell Jar. It has been a while since I have read this (probably more than ten years), but I still remember it as the book that made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my struggles. Part of why it took me so long to begin to pull myself out of that hole is that my emotions and thoughts were dismissed, and I was gaslit into believing I was crazy and it was all just my fault. I’m sure you can understand that will really mess a kid up.
I came across this book by accident. Honestly, it was probably on some list of books cool girls read – because I desperately wanted to find a way to both read and also fit in. This book didn’t make me cool. But it did put words to what I was feeling and those words were not “it’s all in your head, just get over it”.
I honestly don’t remember much about this book. But I do remember it was around this time I developed a tiny little voice in my head that keeps reminding me what I was going through was not okay. Might not have been as loud as the harmful intrusive thoughts, but it was enough. It was enough to feel like I wasn’t completely alone, if only for a little while.
As I’m sure many people will tell you, this book does a really great job of describing what depression feels like. And I know I’m not the only one that was helped by seeing their feelings expressed by someone else.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Clearly, I grew up with a nice handful of mental illnesses. And while I have found some ways to deal with them (and I’m getting better every day), one thing that has honestly been the hardest was/is coming to terms with the source of my trauma. Because society tells you that your family is supposed to be your safe space. My family is my emotional war zone, and I was always told it was my fault and no one else had any responsibility for my issues (which is super shitty, and if you’re going through something similar it is absolutely not your fault).
So reading stories where families are the source of trauma, and then seeing characters recover from that trauma and escaping said family, has been helpful to me. It gave me hope that one day I might be okay. I am aware that my trauma was not what you tend to see as trauma. I was never sexually or physically abused. But making me believe that my thoughts are wrong is abuse and caused massive trauma. Not saying one is worse than the other, but that is important to understand, because I think emotional and psychological trauma is a lot more common than people see.
In this book, Celie goes through so, so much trauma. And survives. I think that is so important both in providing hope for people who have experienced trauma and helping people who haven’t understand what that can feel like. Because trauma can affect every single aspect of your life, and I think we should all be more open to recognizing and understanding that.
What’s on My TBR
Anxious People by Frederik Backman
Have I mentioned I have really bad anxiety? Because I do. And yes, I have tried anti-anxiety meds and they really don’t work for me. (Basically, I started to not care about anything. And then I got really anxious again because I wasn’t doing anything and it just snowballed. If they work for you, that’s awesome, and I totally support that, but they made me feel like a panicked zombie.)
Anyway… I just love the idea of this novel. I totally get that anxious feeling where you don’t want to be a burden, but you just want someone to see you. I think Backman did a great job with A Man Called Ove, so I am very excited to get to this one.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
I love Yaa Gyasi. So, so much. Homegoing is one of my favorite books of all-time. This seems like a pretty big departure for her, but I am very excited to read this. The main character is a scientist studying the source of all of the suffering around her. Her family has suffered from depression and addiction, and she is trying to learn why.
This just seems like a really interesting – and maybe hard to read – book, and I am very curious to see what Gyasi does with this. If it’s even half as good as Homegoing I know it will probably destroy me. But I’m going to read it anyway!
Alright, that’s it for this post! I hope you found some inspiration to read some books about mental health and learn more about it.
If you suffer from a mental illness, just know that you’re not alone. You are strong enough to get to the other side (anyone who tells you you’re not is lying, even if that person is you). You might feel damaged or broken, but you are still so valuable. Keep reminding yourself.
I do have some exciting – and unrelated – news to share! I recently opened a bookshop, and you can go and buy books, but also shop my curated collections of my personal favorites AND all of the books I’ve read for my reading experiments.Click here if you want to check out my bookshop!