To say that this year has been a time for reflection would be an understatement. We’ve been propelled into the interior of our homes and naturally the inside of our heads. If Covid doesn’t get you, the politicians will and if not there’s always climate change to dutifully inject some doom and gloom to the (ever-warming) horizon.
This article is for those of us with extra time on our hands but no money to spend and nowhere to go. It’s for anyone struggling to just be with themselves. Because even social media gets boring after 8 hours of scrolling a day… (which I don’t recommend by the way because it naturally fuels our self-reflection fires with a petrol bomb of curated comparison.)
I don’t believe in radical reinvention, happy-ever-afters or ‘cosmic ordering’, I don’t buy into anyone calling themselves a ‘guru’, I don’t even love the whole ‘positive vs. negative’ attitude (it’s reductive - emotions are more complex), and I definitely steer clear from anything remotely cult-like.
Basically, I’m a hard sell in the oversaturated billion pound industry of self-help books; but for good reason - wherever there is money there is bullshit. And confident bullshitters teamed with blind faith is how The Secret by Rhonda Byrnes ended up grossing $300m internationally. This ‘self-help’ book contains advice such as: “Food cannot cause you to put on weight unless you think it can.” It portrays the universe as if it’s some Amazon account you can get anything you want if you order it on prime delivery. If you think the right thoughts you’ll soon have money, health, thinness, oh and you’ll be cancer free. Can the terminally ill, the refugees, and people experiencing poverty escape their situation one vision board at a time? Can we positively think our way out of a pandemic I wonder?
Obviously not. And it’s easy to understand the dismissal of the whole industry. There are also occasional religious connotations, the associated embarrassment or just simply not knowing where to begin. When I was sceptical but desperate for relief I would do the work, do the reading, and remained cautious until I realised the fundamental changes happening when I needed them most. When emotional dips took hold of my mood the good advice I had read previously floated up to the surface amidst a time I felt like I was sinking.
I have to work really hard at keeping my mental health in check and started to view it similar to a career. It’s a lifelong commitment and one bad day at work doesn’t mean you give up working on your career forever. Just as you can be stuck in a dead end job, you can also succumb to a mindlessness slump. It comes easily to the lucky ones, but most of us try multiple different paths before finding one that suits us best… Some of us need three jobs just to stay afloat.
My advice is to be open minded, don’t be ashamed of reading up about the brain, its thoughts and feelings. Remember to refocus on whatever your goal is. Ignore the bad career advisors. Your goal might be to find a tool or two that helps you cope with everyday life, or it might be to let go of past pain, or to view your ‘demons’ in a different way. We all have them.
For some reason self-help books, like perfume adverts, don’t know how to market themselves. It may be because they are selling something abstract - something sensory that you don’t understand until you experience it. So don’t be put off by unnecessarily gendered or over pretentious covers. The feathers, the rainbows, the birds, or the proclamations of M.D. or Ph.D. Self-help is and should be for everyone. Be critical and open-minded in equal measures.
NOTES FOR THE EVERLOST: A FIELD GUIDE TO GRIEF BY KATE INGLIS
Part bereavement memoir, part handbook for heartbreak. This book is for anyone grieving and those who want to be there for someone else who is grieving. It unpacks how grief begins and how it warps with time.
Bereaved parents, anyone grieving, anyone trying to be there for someone who is grieving.
“You’re not wallowing, you’re integrating.”
“We’re a lousy bunch when it comes to tragedy, especially in the west.”
“Delusion can be self-preservation.”
HOW TO COME ALIVE AGAIN BY BETH McCOLL
This was, and is, essential reading for me. It really resonated and is a book I will probably always go back to and read the lists about what is ok and not ok surrounding mental health issues and ‘situations’. If you suspect you may have a problem but you don’t know how to discuss it with friends, therapists or your doctor this book can really help. There is even a chapter called “Templates for talking to a doctor.”
Depression, anxiety, therapy, medication.
“If anything in this book sounds wrong for you… ignore it. Scribble it out. Tear the whole page out, set it alight and use it to set fire to a small log.”
“Exercise your right to choose and trust your gut here.”
“Your life isn’t a trap: your brain is the trap. Which is actually way scarier, and I’m deeply sorry for saying it. But as the old saying goes, you have to know your enemy to squash your enemy into goo. And your enemy is the bad brain habits, trauma, and chemical nonsenses all trapped in your brain egg. Work out what can be solved and what can’t.”
“Wellness is relative.”
“You save yourself, and it’s a life’s work. It’s today and tomorrow and every day after that”
COPING SKILLS - TOOLS & TECHNIQUES FOR EVERY STRESSFUL SITUATION BY FAITH G. HARPER
A practical guide in coping when stressed. I loved how simple, easy to read, and unintimidating this book is. Sometimes I found the language a bit much (lots of swear words, motherfucker!) but I looked past it as I agree with most of the sentiment and the strategies made complete sense to me.
Stress, reactivity, anger, fear
“Spirituality is just purposeful belonging.”
“There are no such things as wrong responses, only adaptive ones.”
“Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it. Lily Tomlin”
“The best weapon you have in managing your own reactions is a real understanding of where they come from.”
LETTING GO - THE PATHWAY TO SURRENDER BY DAVID R. HAWKINS
I was surprised at how useful I found this book. Despite it sometimes focusing on enlightenment and negativity, I found the premise about learning to let go of things invaluable. If you are just starting to read about mental health it might feel quite hefty with a lot of scientific explanation.
Moving on from: grief, fear, desire, anger, pride, courage, acceptance, love, relationships, peace, consciousness.
“The technique is to be with the feeling and surrender all efforts to modify it in any way. Let go of wanting to resist the feeling. It is resistance that keeps the feeling going.”
“As you begin to process, you will notice that you have fear and guilt over feelings…When letting go, ignore all thoughts. Focus on the feeling itself, not on the thoughts. Thoughts are endless and self-reinforcing.”
AM I OVERTHINKING THIS? OVER-ANSWERING LIFE’S QUESTIONS IN 101 CHARTS BY MICHELLE RIAL
Best for visual people who struggle with...(yep, you guessed it) overthinking! It’s the most simple book I’ve ‘read’ as it’s mainly fun diagrams and charts. It made me laugh and it helped me see things clearly when sometimes all the other books have complicated things. This book is ideal for people who aren’t big readers and are visual learners.
Anxiety, overthinking, the paradox of choice.
“What can I do when there is new life or a lost life? Show up and bring food.”
All books were purchased from Pages of Hackney (apart from Letting Go which was lent to me).
70 Lower Clapton Rd, Lower Clapton, London E5 0RN