Last week—for the first time in a good six months—I had a few bad anxiety days. (Realistically, this was brought on by an excess of booze during my holiday to Morocco, so erm… potentially my fault). To pick myself up, I decided to indulge in a spot of bibliotherapy. The following are my favourite 4 books to read on a bad day—all very different, but all with something important to offer.
“Depression is also… smaller than you. Always, it is smaller than you, even when it feels vast. It operates within you; you do not operate within it. It may be a dark cloud passing across the sky, but—if that is the metaphor—you are the sky. You were there before it. And the cloud can’t exist without the sky, but the sky can exist without the cloud.”
Part memoir, part guide to a life well lived, Reasons to Stay Alive is exactly what it says on the tin. If you’ve ever suffered from anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts, I implore you to buy a copy, find a scenic bench, and dive in.
I read this book at the lowest point of my life. My memories of that time are foggy, but I can clearly remember feeling breathless at how succinctly Haig described exactly what I was experiencing. Frankly, this isn’t just a book for people suffering – I’d advise buying this as a gift for your loved ones, if you want to help them understand how anxiety feels.
Read when… you’re at a low point and need to be reminded: things will get better.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Frankl was a Jewish psychologist, working in Vienna before the outbreak of World War 2. His background provided a unique lens through which to experience the horrors of Auschwitz. With the keen eye of a trained professional, Frankl carefully noted the behaviours and outlooks of his fellow prisoners.
Man’s Search for Meaning details both his experiences in the camps and his psychological findings. In particular, Frankl focuses on how to find meaning in the most horrific circumstances. One of his most interesting observations is that those prisoners who strove to comfort others were the ones who survived the longest.
But there are many other lessons to be learnt from this beautiful book. My most important takeaway is probably the idea explored in the quote above—that regardless of your situation, your attitude will always be a freedom nobody can take from you.
Read when… you’re looking for perspective, wisdom and inspiration. A friend sent me this shortly after my Dad died, along with a bumper crop of malteser chocolate bunnies (win). At that moment, it was the most perfect gift I could have received.
“It’s as if I think mental illness is something I might grow out of, like puppy fat or having an imaginary friend. I want to shake my thirty-year-old self by the shoulders and say, ‘No, Bryony! OCD is not an imaginary friend. It is a very real enemy, and very real enemies do not just disappear if you ignore them, you blithering IDIOT!”
Journalist Bryony Gordon chronicled her hedonistic twenties in The Wrong Knickers, but in Mad Girl, she details an altogether more agonising reality: the debilitating onset of OCD, anxiety, bulimia and depression.
Admittedly, it doesn’t sound like the most uplifting read—but Gordon writes with such honesty, dark humour and general effervescence that I alternated smiles with tears on almost every chapter.
Gordon also illustrates a Very Important Point: someone going through a mental health crisis isn’t always… obvious about it. Your colleague/daughter/friend might be presenting to the world as a successful journalist with party-girl sparkle, but the reality is often very different.
Gordon’s style probably isn’t for everybody—but then, I’m a huge fan of a) being upfront about my mental health and b) joking about sex. By all accounts, so is Gordon, so five stars from me.
Read when… you need something to put a smile on your face. Gordon’s writing is the literary equivalent of having a Thursday night drink with your most entertaining pal.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Like the book itself, I’ll keep this one short. The Little Prince is poignant, wise, and utterly joyful.
But ultimately, this choice is less about the book’s content and more about the place this childhood classic holds in my heart. I think most of us have a book like this. If you’re having a bad day, dust off a copy of whatever your childhood/teenage favourite was, make a hot drink, and lose yourself in an old friend.
Read when… the adult world is too much to bear.
Thanks for reading – let me know in the comments what your go-to bad day book is.