Books have always been a huge source of comfort for me. When I find myself facing challenges, my immediate response is to find a bunch of books on topic. This approach worked for almost everything. However, when I scanned the library shelves for a book to help me understand my own mental health challenges, I came up flat. Half the books were too triggering for me to finish and the other half were too in-your-face about all the things that were apparently wrong with me.
When it comes to finding books about mental health, many of the suggestions that we get are just bullet points telling us everything that is wrong with us. I’m sure that there is a time and a place for books like that, but when I was depressed and lonely, all I really wanted was some company.
Please know that taste in books is as unique as fingerprints. These are just some of the books that kept me company.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
In the wake of her mother’s death, Cheryl Strayed made the decision to hike more than a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, from California up through Washington State. She tells the story of the journey that healed her with such bravery and honesty that it is impossible not to be cheering for her every step of the way. Reading Wild was incredibly cathartic. For anyone who wants to escape, this is the book for you.
Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things by Amy Dickinson
Amy Dickinson is the writer behind the “Ask Amy” column and a panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me. In her second memoir, she discusses the challenges of family, coming home, and parenting with humor that will make you crack up. What struck me about Strangers was her decisiveness in making choices that worked for her and her life. It was a well-needed reminder for me that I am the one in control and I can change things up any time I want.
This is How by Augusten Burroughs
I could write a mini-series reviewing this book and still not have enough space. Augusten Burroughs is my favorite author, hands down. His works include 7 memoirs, a novel, an essay collection, and this semi-satirical self-help book. I love every single one of his books, but for this blog’s purposes, I am recommending This is How. As the title suggests, it does tell you how to survive many different scenarios. What struck me was a poignant chapter about suicide in which Burroughs distinguishes between wanting to die and wanting to end his life. For him, it meant ending one life and starting a whole new one.
Laughing at My Nightmares by Shane Burcaw
In his hilarious memoir, Shane Burcaw describes his life as a 21 year old with spinal muscular atrophy. In comparison to This is How, this book is significantly lighter and does not focus directly on mental health. Reading Burcaw’s honest, witty memoir is like the paperback equivalent of sitting down with him in a coffee shop and swapping stories. Nothing says “you are not alone” quite like reading Burcaw’s stories of chasing his friends around in his wheelchair.
The Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
Full disclosure: When I was sixteen and suicidal, I read a whole bunch of books about the funeral industry. This was my attempt at conquering my challenges via books, and I would like to think that it worked because for about three years, I really wanted to become a funeral director when I grew up. Doughty tells the story of her time working at a crematory, which I promise is not as morbid as it sounds. If anything, Doughty’s books reminds us that even things that seem scary are not all that scary after all. Ironically reassuring, this book makes the list because it is amazing the things that end up saving our lives.
Be Different by John Elder Robinson
You would never guess from reading their books, but John Elder Robinson and Augusten Burroughs are brothers. In Be Different, Robinson describes growing up with an Autism Spectrum Disorder in a time when the diagnosis didn’t exist. This is one of three books about his life with Asperger’s, and by far my favorite because he talks about the skills he learned on the fly to help him lead a successful life. Robinson is absolutely unapologetic and reassuring. You will walk away from this book believing that anything is possible.
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