Books that helped me recover from a nervous breakdown
Recovering from a nervous breakdown is a long process. When you’re stuck in the midst of it, it can feel like there is no way back to normality, and nothing will ever be the same again.
I had a nervous breakdown in 2010, and for the first weeks I was unable to concentrate on anything for long enough to even consider reading. As I began to recover though, I began to read more again. I realised that although medication would get me up and moving, able to perform basic daily tasks, anything more than that was down to me. The offering from my local Community Mental Health Team was practically nonexistent, so I reverted to the way I usually deal with things: I read books.
These are the books I read as I began to recover. They helped me, not necessarily because any of them acted as a manual for recovery, but more because they were (for the most part) memoirs of how others had trodden similar paths to my own.
This is author Sally Brampton’s memoir of her breakdown and depression – and her journey out the other side. I turned down so many page corners in this book, as I found so much of it resonated with me. Here is one of my favourite quotes
People generally think of a nervous breakdown as a sudden, cataclysmic event rather than the gradual erosion of a person, a slow and sad disintegration of a human being… for most they happen, not with a bang, but with a whimper.
So much of this book resonated with me. It was in this book that I first read about taking omega-3 oil as a treatment for depression. Brampton describes numerous studies showing decreased omega-3 content in the blood of depressed patients, and I immediately went out and bought some. These days, I still take fish oil capsules every day.
Author Merritt experienced depression throughout her teens; when she was 29 she suffered so badly with post natal depression that she almost took her own life. Despite it being about post natal depression, I remember it so eloquently describing how I was feeling. Here is an example:
Depression is the loneliest place on earth; no one can reach you there, when you most need to be reached, and even the most steadfast, unswerving love of family and friends must remain an abstract knowledge until you emerge enough to feel again.
Merritt mentions supplements in her book too; she is prescribed two multivitamins, omega-3, vitamin B6, zinc, vitamin C and 5-HTP. I made a list of everything she mentioned and took myself to Boots to buy them all. I felt that this book so perfectly explained how I felt, surely the author’s approach to recovery would help me too.
A friend gave me this for my birthday, just as my mental health was beginning to spiral. I only read brief sections of it at a time; it lived on the floor beside my bed for months, reminding me to just say F**k it!
The idea of the book is that we should release our preconceived ideas of how life should be, say f***k it and realise that actually, nothing is as important as we have been led to believe.
It sounds like quite a flippant book, and of course it is very sweary. But actually, I found that the basic premise of the book made sense to me. The concept was something that stuck with me throughout my recovery.
These books, published ten years apart, chart a chaotic period in Marya Hornbacher’s life. In Wasted she writes about her experience of anorexia and bulimia at the age of 23; in Madness she goes on to tell th estory of how she was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Whilst I have not experienced a lot of what goes on in these books, they are brilliantly written and large chunks of the text resonated with me.
This was one of the last books I read about depression. I remember it as a very gentle, calming book that seemed to be more about recovery than illness. Lewis describes depression as a sort of learning experience:
Depression happens to people who don’t listen to the messages which their subconscious is sending them. Severe depression happens to those so wilful that they ignore whatever goes contrary to their conscious desires. If I had listened to myself sooner, I wouldn’t have needed to get depressed.
This book encourages the reader to think about what was wrong in their life, and what needs to change in order to allow a recovery. It’s a interesting concept which may not fit for everyone, but for me it really did resonate. Looking back, I can see that I did not begin to recover until I had made some fundamental changes to my life.