In a recent post, I mentioned that I have depression. I’ve been prescribed medicine (which wasn’t for me); I’ve self-medicated with alcohol (which obviously is not a good idea). I’ve also said previously that I don’t want to really go into details or wax on about what I’ve experienced, mostly because I don’t want a negative or sad-making or specifically triggering post to be a focus on my blog.
One of the hardest things about depression and mental illness is talking about it and reaching out to others for help. But I truly think that’s a huge proponent of living with depression and anxiety and the journey towards a better headspace. Of course, it’s an ugly double-edged sword. I can know rationally that the negative thoughts I’m having are bullsh*t. But they’re still there, they feel so real in the moment, and they can prevent me from doing anything close to selfcare.
Sometimes, all I’ve had are other people’s stories to get me through. Some of these books I’ve read during the very worst of it; all of them I’ve read when I’ve been feeling more positive and sure of all the good in my life. I love and appreciate all of them to varying degrees. But the biggest reason I appreciate these books is because they showed me I’m not alone. These books are well written and contain depressed characters that feel real and lines that are like a clenched fist in my chest – and it’s because the words ring true.
If you live in the US and you or anyone you know is in crisis or feeling suicidal or just needs some emotional support, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website. They have a chat feature and a lot of resources to get you started with getting help or getting help for someone else. For help internationally, I found this website to be a good resource: iFRED.org.
I’m sending hugs to all of you out there. I hope at least four happy-making adorable sweet kind incredible things happen for you today. For myself, I played with two kittens named Matilda and DC, I read outside, I wore a favorite shirt that reads “the ocean made me salty”, and I watered my two plants which I just repotted and they’re kicking butt. Grow my little greenies!!
Ok, so without further ado, here are my Top Five Books that Have Helped Me Personally with Depression:
1. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Synopsis: Sylvia Plath’s shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity.
Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.
I only read this last year, and a part of me wishes I had read it during my own college experiences. It’s very silly, but I was fascinated that someone from the 1950s would have the exact same thoughts as me, about college and marriage and hoping to be hopeful, about feeling so lacking, sudden waves of inadequacy, and the fervor of new friendships. There’s quite a bit of humor in this book (“There is nothing like puking with somebody to make you into old friends.”) and I truly appreciated Esther’s plodding along acerbic nature. I also loved what was shown in the relationship with her mother, who at one point rather absurdly spouts, “I knew you’d decide to be all right again.” If depression were a decision, whelp, this top five wouldn’t exist for one. This book can be extremely hard to read, it holds nothing back, but it was a validation for me, and frankly a lifesaver. Sometimes, you just need the words in your head to be reflected on a page before you from someone else’s hand to really let it sink in. That it’s not all just in your own lost and scared mind.
There are snippets of hope in this book, and it ultimately leaves off hopeful, but I also love this quote:
“But I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure at all. How did I know that someday―at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere―the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?”
I always, in some part of me, feel that way. But I’m working on it. There will always be another lovely book to read. This I know.
2. It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
Synopsis: Ambitious New York City teenager Craig Gilner is determined to succeed at life – which means getting into the right high school to get into the right job. But once Craig aces his way into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School, the pressure becomes unbearable. He stops eating and sleeping until, one night, he nearly kills himself.
Craig’s suicidal episode gets him checked into a mental hospital, where his new neighbors include a transsexual sex addict, a girl who has scarred her own face with scissors, and the self-elected President Armelio. There, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety.
Ned Vizzini, who himself spent time in a psychiatric hospital, has created a remarkably moving tale about the sometimes unexpected road to happiness.
My relationship with this book is ongoing. I was 14 when I first read It’s Kind of a Funny Story and I have an awful confession to make. I got so angry at the protagonist I stopped reading for a bit. Why did I get angry? Because he checked himself into psychiatric care after having suicidal thoughts due to huge academic pressure. I was actually jealous – because in my young mind I was thinking you can just do that? Check out? Take a break? Of course, Craig’s experiences are not a break, he did the right thing asking for help, and I eventually went back to the book and read it with a better mindset. And I’m rereading it now before I finally watch the movie. It’ll be interesting to see how much I relate to Craig now, and I was surprised by some negative Goodreads reviews (there are several important problematic issues I missed as a kid), but just from the first chapter, I’m glad this book exists. I think it’s a good book to make this subject more easily accessible, especially for teens. But it’s definitely got some flaws in it that are also good for prompting discussion.
“I look so normal. I look like I’ve always looked, like I did before the fall of last year. Dark hair and dark eyes and one snaggled tooth. Big eyebrows that meet in the middle. A long nose, sort of twisted. Pupils that are naturally large – it’s not the pot – which blend into the dark brown to make two big saucer eyes, holes in me. Wisps of hair above my upper lip. This is Craig.
And I always look like I’m about to cry.”
3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Synopsis: The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, Perks follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.
This is a hugely polarizing book and I understand why. Charlie’s writing style is choppy and often simplistic and can definitely be read as pretentious. There are so many important issues stuffed into this tiny book that perhaps some are not as well developed as they could have been. But I’ve read this book several times and watched the movie A LOT and I just love these kids. They read very real to me and, especially in the movie, I was glad Charlie had such a good friend group; I always wanted that, too, and while reading this book, it’s almost like I’m also living that part of Charlie’s high school experience. I think the movie, also written and directed by Chbosky, is actually better than the book – I mean, it has our queer punk super-awesome messiah in the form of Ezra Miller as the perfect Patrick. These kids are going through so much, but there’s still quite a bit of humor sprinkled throughout. It’s just a beautiful and emotional ride for me, every time.
“There’s nothing like deep breaths after laughing that hard. Nothing in the world like a sore stomach for the right reasons.”
4. Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
Synopsis: R is having a no-life crisis—he is a zombie. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he is a little different from his fellow Dead. He may occasionally eat people, but he’d rather be riding abandoned airport escalators, listening to Sinatra in the cozy 747 he calls home, or collecting souvenirs from the ruins of civilization.
And then he meets a girl.
First as his captive, then his reluctant guest, Julie is a blast of living color in R’s gray landscape, and something inside him begins to bloom. He doesn’t want to eat this girl—although she looks delicious—he wants to protect her. But their unlikely bond will cause ripples they can’t imagine, and their hopeless world won’t change without a fight.
So, I remember just a few short months before I became aware of this book’s existence, I was all like to my friend “Ahahaha, I prefer zombies to vampires, because you couldn’t evvvvver romanticize them. They’re merely ever symbols for our rampant consumerism/fear of globalism/mass contagion, fear of EACH OTHER. No one could romanticize zombies and do it well and make me feel things!!” Joke was on me, my dudes.
This story is Romeo and Juliet with zombies, and the zombie pandemic is our depression, our apathy, our blindness to the suffering of others. LIKE OK YES feed this need I didn’t even know I had, Isaac Marion. The language in this book is f///ing BEAUTIFUL. I picked it up because of my aforementioned challenge to the universe, and my love of zombies/ horror/ apocalypse across all media, and I couldn’t put it down because every other line was like a heartbeat, like Marion and R plucked my heart from my chest, cradled it, stroked some life back into it, shoved it back through my ribbies and said “there, you see?” The love story was amazing in part because Julie was fully realized as a person. And just. Everything. I loved it all. And it made me feel so much more hopeful about humanity as a whole. About how we can and do save each other.
I can barely restrain myself from sharing only three excerpts!!
“I want to change my punctuation. I long for exclamation marks, but I’m drowning in ellipses.”
“In my mind I am eloquent; I can climb intricate scaffolds of words to reach the highest cathedral ceilings and paint my thoughts. But when I open my mouth, everything collapses.”
“I look down at myself, but I don’t need to. I can feel it. My hot blood is pounding through my body, flooding capillaries and lighting up cells like Fourth of July fireworks. I can feel the elation of every atom in my flesh, brimming with gratitude for the second chance they never expected to get. The chance to start over, to live right, to love right, to burn up in a fiery cloud and never again be buried in the mud. I kiss Julie to hide the fact that I’m blushing. My face is bright red and hot enough to melt steel.
Okay, corpse, a voice in my head says, and I feel a twitch in my belly, more like a gentle nudge than a kick. I’m going now. I’m sorry I couldn’t be here for your battle; I was fighting my own. But we won, right? I can feel it. There’s a shiver in our legs, a tremor like the Earth speeding up, spinning off into uncharted orbits. Scary, isn’t it? But what wonderful thing didn’t start out scary? I don’t know what the next page is for you, but whatever it is for me I swear I’m not going to fuck it up. I’m not going to yawn off in the middle of a sentence and hide it in a drawer. Not this time. Peel off these dusty wool blankets of apathy and antipathy and cynical desiccation. I want life in all its stupid sticky rawness.
Here it comes.”
Yeah, I’m in tears, but they’re such good ones.
5. Hold Still by Nina LaCour
Synopsis: An arresting story about starting over after a friend’s suicide, from a breakthrough new voice in YA fiction.
dear caitlin, there are so many things that i want so badly to tell you but i just can’t.
Devastating, hopeful, hopeless, playful . . . in words and illustrations, Ingrid left behind a painful farewell in her journal for Caitlin. Now Caitlin is left alone, by loss and by choice, struggling to find renewed hope in the wake of her best friend’s suicide. With the help of family and newfound friends, Caitlin will encounter first love, broaden her horizons, and start to realize that true friendship didn’t die with Ingrid. And the journal which once seemed only to chronicle Ingrid’s descent into depression, becomes the tool by which Caitlin once again reaches out to all those who loved Ingrid—and Caitlin herself.
Even though my Top Fives aren’t really in order, this is my number one book that explores and sensitively conveys an accurate story of depression, loss, and grief. LaCour is one of my favorite authors, and this is the second book of hers I read, cementing my love for her. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful and I never felt like the narrative was trying to be manipulative or shocking, unlike with Thirteen Reasons Why. I think Caitlin and Ingrid’s story is made all the more powerful by the use of Ingrid’s diary. It makes sense how Caitlin initially doles out each entry slowly because of her pain and to hold on to Ingrid a little bit longer. It’s devastating and relatable to read Ingrid’s words, but I appreciate so so much that there isn’t some grand reasoning behind her depression.
“You might be looking for reasons, but there are no reasons. The sun stopped shining for me is all. The whole story is: I am sad. I am sad all the time and the sadness is so heavy that I can’t get away from it. Not ever.”
This is not an easy book to read, whether or not you have depression, but it’s important and it definitely gave me comfort. And that’s one of the most important aspects of reading for me: even if the subject matter is difficult, the writing and characters carry me through and comfort me.