How Reading Beautiful Books Reminds Me I’m Not Alone!

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Ever since I was a kid I’ve been a big assed bibliophile. From fanciful fairytales to super serious history books, the written word has enriched my life and given me valuable vocabulary that makes just about everyone close to me give me the 🤨 look at least once a week. (It’s true. Try working “vociferous” into an everyday sentence and see what happens.) 

Living with mental illness can create an incredible sense of isolation. There’s a lot going on in your head which morphs your perception of reality until eventually you’re living in a world that no one else can see. You see slights where others see good intentions. You see darkness where others see light. You see folks frolicking around while you’re sometimes struggling just to get out of bed.

When waves of your worst symptoms start to wash over you, it can feel like you’re drowning alone.

I’ve had a number of experiences that have seemed so odd, so utterly unusual, that I’m pretty sure the cute kids from Stranger Things would probably think I’m describing “the upside-down.” For example, I once had a man make small talk with me and ask me if I enjoyed my job. Innocuous right? Not to me… not when my brain was kickin’ down the door to breakdown number five. 

I was convinced, absolutely, positively convinced, that this man was a spy sent by a corporate competitor to discover inside information about the place I was working for. I couldn’t let it go. I was sure he was tailing me in traffic, following me home, and sending in decoys whenever I visited a public area so he could get people closer to me. At one point, my 27 year old female self actually hid in a clothing rack at the mall while a lovely couple holding hands walked past me. When the coast was clear, I emerged, hair wildly out of place, crumpled shopping bags roped around my arms, and shoppers all around staring at me like I was playing a game of hide-and-go-seek with myself. 

Now, imagine trying to explain that shit to someone who’s never experienced a single symptom. Yeah. Exactly. It’s not exactly dinner party talk. 

When you’ve flown over the cuckoo’s nest a time or two, finding friends who understand your experience is more challenging than getting Jack Nicholson to flash a non-threatening smile.

When you start to feel ultra-isolated, I say: make it a memoir! Our fellow thrivers often share all kinds of details about their illnesses and how it’s affected their lives. Nothing cures loneliness like community and I swear on a stack of Shakespeare plays that I have yet to read one that I don’t relate to on some level. 

Here’s a few of my faves: 

📖 Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel

Elizabeth Wurtzel daringly describes her descent into Major Depressive Disorder and her incredible climb out of the pits during her young life. After searching for solutions, her relationship with a daringly determined doctor and her desire to live a life of wellness immensely inspired me. 

📚 Dyane Harwood’s Birth of a New Brain

Mental health advocate and, dare I say, friend of mine, Dyane’s book is astonishingly honest about her experience with postpartum bipolar and a number of manic episodes. From her relationships to her self-worth, I found myself nodding along more than once. And when you read it, you’ll want to to fight the good fight with her too! 

📖 A First Rate Madness by Nassir Ghaemi

Okay so it’s not a memoir but it’s a biography of some of history’s greatest whose battles with mental illness, Ghaemi argues, made them legendary leaders. Superpowers are only super if you know how to use them and I, for one, found this wildly informative and inspiring read. 

📚 Stephen Fry’s Moab is my Washpot

One of the UK’s greatest comedic gifts, Stephen Fry’s mental health activism is nothing short of inspiring. This, his second memoir, details his early life with wit, wisdom, and just enough humor to remind us all that every day is a new opportunity to make the most of who we are. 

 

I want to hear from you! What books have helped you feel less lonely? Full disclosure: I’m totally going to read them. 

Alicia Gibson1 Comment