My greatest fear last year was being on the receiving end of a deadly bite from a Tsetse fly in the wilderness of Tanzania. It can transmit sleeping sickness (!) which causes swelling in the brain and is fatal if left untreated. I spent weeks agonizing over the what-ifs, my mind all too eager to offer worst-case scenarios on a platter. And now, 9 months into 2020, that particular episode feels like a walk in the park.
I have an anxious disposition and I cope by reading books about anxiety in particular and mental health in general. In the words of Eleanor Morgan, giving the beast a name means you can tame it. Shared experiences, coping mechanisms and biological explanations help me (somewhat) tame the anxiety beast.
2020 has been relentless. Life without a pandemic was no piece of cake. Life with a pandemic feels surreal and doubly (sometimes triply) challenging. In no particular order, here are 7 books to help you cope with this nightmare of a year:
- Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh: This is one of the first mental health books I read (way back in 2014). It’s a memoir featuring cute and quirky drawings (first published on Allie’s blog). It’s funny AF and relatable.
I’ve always wanted not to give a fuck. While crying helplessly into my pillow for no good reason, I would often fantasize that maybe someday I could be one of those stoic badasses whose emotions are mostly comprised of rock music and not being afraid of things.Allie Brosh – Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened
2. On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety by Andrea Petersen: The author talks about her experience with anxiety as well as the biology of anxiety. This book was more technical and scientific (which is expected since Andrea is a science and health reporter) and has a lot of inputs from top neuroscientists.
Anxiety is related to fear but is distinct. Whereas fear is concrete and imminenet, anxiety is, “sustained uncertainty”. It’s a chronic sense of uneasiness about a vague future, a gnawing worry about what may or many not happen.Andrea Petersen – On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety
3. Anxiety: Overcome It and Live Without Fear by Sonali Gupta: I read this one in June of this year while dealing with a particularly strong bout of anxiety. The author is one of India’s leading clinical psychologists. It’s a well written book that sheds light on anxiety from an Indian perspective. There’s still a lot of stigma attached to mental health in India. Hopefully, this book and others like it will normalize mental health conversations. The author also talks about the pandemic and the isolation & overwhelming feelings associated with it. I would recommend this book for newbies who are curious about anxiety, mental health, coping mechanisms and therapy.
People who are constantly catastrophizing find themselves hyperalert, hypercautious and, at the same time, continually ‘wired’ to small micro-cues which results in a sense of exhaustion.Sonali Gupta – Anxiety: Overcome It and Live Without Fear
4. How to Survive the End of the World (When it’s in Your Own Head) by Aaron Gillies: A humorous anxiety guide which is relatable AF. I like the fact that the author calls (some aspects of) evolution stupid.
In evolutionary terms our amygdala was vital to our survival. It’s the reason we evolved from cavemen into the Netflix-obsessed, skinny-jeans-wearing monsters we are today.Aaron Gillies – How to Survive the End of the World (When it’s in Your Own Head)
5. Anxiety for Beginners by Eleanor Morgan: I LOVED the cover of this book. It’s what drew me to it. I saw it in one of the bookstore windows in Bangalore and I had to have it. I have underlined (yes, I’m a monster) and stuck post-it notes all over this handy little book that validates me and my anxious little brain. This books is about Eleanor’s own experience with anxiety as well as an investigation into what might be contributing to all our collective anxieties.
Let me tell you about intrusive thoughts. It’s like having schools of those feet-exfoliating fish darting through your cerebrum, nibbling away at your sanity.Eleanor Morgan – Anxiety for Beginners
6. Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig (TW suicide): The first chapter in the book talks about how Matt was severely depressed and how he came close to killing himself. This is by no means an easy or light read but there’s something uplifting in the way this book is written. Matt asked people with mental health struggles what keeps them going and collected their responses via the hashtag #reasonstostayalive. He included some of these responses in the book and honestly it’s quite moving.
The price for being intelligent enough to be the first species to be fully aware of the cosmos might just be a capacity to feel a whole universe’s worth of darkness.Matt Haig – Reasons to Stay Alive
7. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb: A therapist’s memoir about therapy with her therapist. You read that right! It’s theraception, y’all. Kudos to Lori for being so vulnerable and open about her own therapy sessions and struggles. Lori also talks about her different clients and the particular challenges (some of which are truly heartbreaking) they face. Reading this makes you realize being human is a messy affair and we are (mostly) all in this together.
It’s common for people with traumatic histories to expect disasters just around the corner. Instead of leaning into the goodness that comes their way, they become hypervigilant, always waiting for something to go wrong.Lori Gottlieb – Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed
I hope, dear reader, that you find these mental heath book recommendations helpful. Let’s fight this beast together.