Book Therapy

Andrew Sullivan —  Oct 6 2012 @ 6:05pm

After a major bout of depression, a Paris Review reader put out a request for "books that will show me why to live and how, and books that will allow me to escape my present torture." Sadie Stein responds:

My first suggestion might seem counterintuitive, and maybe cheesy, but I can only say that it helped me a lot: reading about depression. I do not mean fiction that deals with depressive episodes—at its best, it’s hideously evocative, at worst it risks romanticizing the subject, and neither is remotely helpful—but, rather, things like You Are Not Alone (whose title alone I found very comforting) and, especially, Kay Redfield Jamison’s memoir, An Unquiet Mind. Your exact experience may not correspond to Dr. Jamison’s—she suffers from bipolar disorder—but I found her struggles and her hard-won successes tremendously inspiring and deeply comforting. It is crucial to be with others who understand, and that applies, I think, to books, too.

I happened to hear Dr. Jamison speak once, and she said something that really stuck with me: We don’t tend to hear about, or see, the success stories when it comes to mental-health struggles. Because of the stigma attached, the many, many people who manage to live happy, productive lives are not our poster children. Rather, it is so often the untreated whom we identify with these disorders. You may feel isolated, but you are not alone, and an articulate, compelling reminder of that fact was, to me, a real lifeline.

She also suggests children's literature, short stories, and the escape of genre fiction. Sady Doyle recently shared her own battle with mental illness and how it affected her work.