I’ve always loved reading, so today I wanted to share with you 5 books that have been incredibly important to me in my mental health journey as a teenager dealing with mental illness. Let me know what books have been impactful in your journey in the comments below – I would love to hear about them!
- The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
This book isn’t actually specific to mental illness, but it introduced me to Carrie Fisher – an incredible Bipolar disorder and addiction advocate – and that changed my life.
When I found this book I felt very alone and unseen, but reading this was like seeing my brain laid out on a page. Someone else thought like I did, felt like I did. I’ve gone on to read all of her other books which range from entertaining to informative. And they are all hilarious. Carrie Fisher’s ability to turn a phrase is totally unique and unrivalled.
- Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi
When I finally realised I had problems with food and restriction, I was struggling to wrap my head around it. This book helped me understand the severity of what was going on, and again made me feel less alone. It also helped me to understand the way I thought about food was not normal or healthy and how much it was hurting me, because I got to see it from an outside perspective.
I will warn that the details in this book are potentially very triggering and not necessarily helpful to those grappling with disordered eating, so a warning there if you are considering reading it.
- Sedated: How Modern Capitalism Created Our Mental Health Crisis by James Davies
This book was important to me as I started to be a bit more sceptical and analytical of the major narrative on mental health and the mental health system. I’ve had my fair share of unhelpful and downright damaging interactions with the psychiatric complex, and I started to question how we view, understand, and categorise mental distress, but it’s hard to find any research or information out there that even slightly criticises the accepted narrative. This book not only verbalised new ways to consider these issues but also provided evidence and further studies to explore. Of course, I don’t blindly accept everything in this book either – that would be counterproductive. But it was a huge relief to discover it and really helped me form a foundation for reimagining how we consider mental health and mental health systems within the wider social context of a capitalistic society.
- 4.48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane
This is actually a play not a book but I’ve only ever read the full script, not seen it performed, though my class did perform extracts as part of coursework, which was another interesting experience.
In late February/ March 2020 I was experiencing my first mixed episode and it was truly overwhelming and terrifying. Sitting at my teacher’s desk in the drama studio I was scribbling something resembling poetry across several sheets of paper and one of my drama teachers caught a glimpse. They had been doing a truly incredible job of looking after me (something way above their pay grade) but I think by this point they were at a loss for what to do or how to help me process what was happening to me.
However, upon seeing what I was writing this teacher remarked how it reminded her of Sarah Kane’s work. My teachers had a debate over whether to show me the play or not – after all it’s true it could have definitely triggered me further – but without much else to do, they gave it to me and told me to read it and come up with ideas of how it might be staged (a tactic that provided me a task to complete which was very helpful).
I read the play and it was the first time in days that I felt anything close to calm or focused. The disorganised, brutal admissions of a mentally ill mind came to life around me and made perfect sense while the world around me seemed to make less and less sense.
It made me feel seen in ways I had never experienced before, and also helped me realise that creativity doesn’t have to be neat nor does it have to conform to people’s sensibilities. My expression is mine alone and it can be as raw as I choose.
I will say please use discretion if you’re going to read this and perhaps have someone on stand-by in case it affects you because it is very raw and cuts to the point of pain in a way I don’t think many of us are used to. Also I’d provide a trigger warning for pretty much everything for this one, but especially for self harm, psychiatric trauma, and suicide.
- People, Places, and Things by Duncan Macmillan
Again, this is not actually a book but a play (can you tell theatre is my passion yet?) and I’ve never seen it performed. Emma – the leading lady – is my absolute dream role.
This is basically a play about a woman’s journey through rehab and addiction into recovery, and I discovered it while still in active addiction but while I was still in denial. I related so much to her and her words; it helped me come to terms with my own addiction. And it gave me hope for recovery.
Like 4.48 Psychosis some of the lines feel so deeply true it was almost jarring. And the innovation of the structure along with how it could be staged filled me with ideas and excitement for theatre all over again.