It’s hard to get over a nervous breakdown. When you’re stuck in the midst of it, it feels like nothing will ever be normal again; there’s no way back to life.
When I had a breakdown, I stopped sleeping, eating and reading. The sleeping was the worst part, closely followed by the reading. The eating, I wasn’t really bothered about one way or the other. Whenever I had been depressed before, I had always found solace either in sleep or a book – or sometimes days of alternating between the two. Not being able to read horrified me. I felt like my brain had become stuck in molasses, unable to think or function.
After what felt like endless trips back and forth to my GP, I eventually ended up on the right dose of the right medication, and the fog in my head began to clear slightly. Although my sleeping didn’t improve, my ability to read returned. I realised that although medication would allow me to perform basic daily functions, if I wanted anything more than that it was down to me to sort it out; the offering from my local Community Mental Health Team didn’t stretch further than awful, torturous group therapy sessions three times a week that often made me feel worse. And so, I did what I do best: I went book shopping.
These are the books I treasure, the ones I read as my recovery. They helped me to recover not because they were 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 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, the top is almost twice as thick as the bottom of it. Here is one of my favourite quotes from the book:
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. Inevitably there is some story in a newspaper of a man who has suddenly gone mad with a shotgun, of a woman who has driven herself and her young children over a cliff.
This is madness writ large; this is a breakdown of dramatic force but 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 prioritise my purchase of fish oil capsules, and usually have a couple of months’ supply stashed away somewhere.
Stephanie Merritt has suffered from depression since her teens, and when she was 29 she suffered so badly with post natal depression that she almost killed herself. Strangely, I didn’t know this book chronicled her PND until I read the back of the book in order to write this post. I remember it being a book that so clearly described my feelings at the time. Here’s a quote:
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. To believe that life – your life – matters, that what you have to offer is worthwhile, when you are least able to feel it, requires nothing less than faith.
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, including dosages, and took myself to Boots to buy them all. My bedside table was covered with bottles, and for the first time in weeks they contained things that might actually help, instead of sleeping pills and temazepam.
It sounds like a very flippant book, and the F word is repeated ad infinitum – but actually, the premise of the book makes sense and the concept was something that stuck with me throughout my recovery. My copy of the book is very battered and dog-eared now!
These books, published 10 years apart, chart Marya Hornbacher’s chaotic life. In Wasted she tells the story of her experience of anorexia at the age of 23; in Madness she goes on to tell the story of how she was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Whilst I am lucky never to have been diagnosed with either illness, and haven’t experienced a lot of what happens in them, these books are so magnificently written and large chunks of the text resonated with me in a big way.
I put my head down on the table and cry. Because it’s happened again. I’m found out. I’m damaged. Fucked up. Broken. A fraud. I knew he would figure out sooner or later that I was impossible to love. And now he has, and I love him, and I’m certain he has tried, really tried, to love me back. But trying to love me is too much for any sane person to bear. I watch their backs, one by one, as they walk away.
I loved both of these books, despite their having little in common with me in terms of diagnosis or symptoms. Hornbacher is such a brilliant writer, I would recommend these to everyone.
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.
The book encourages you to figure out what was wrong in your life, and what you need to change in order to allow you to recover. It’s an interesting concept with which I know many may well disagree, but for me it hit the mark. Looking back now, I can see that I didn’t truly recover from my breakdown until I had made some fundamental changes to my life.
When I was mid breakdown, I took great comfort in reading the words of others who had been to the place I was trying to drag myself from. I’ve always taken refuge in books, and during the first months of my illness, when I was so ill I couldn’t read, that was possibly the worst torture of all. Once I was on the correct medication and began responding to it, I knew I couldn’t rely on medication alone to get me well again. I spent hours in book shops looking for memoirs of depression. I didn’t want to use my computer at all, so I didn’t order from Amazon; instead I pored over book shelves looking for books that looked like they might be on my chosen subject. When I visited other towns, I spent most of my time in their book shops. I built a collection of books that I devoured, one after the other, trying to figure out what these people had done to solve their problem. I tried everything they tried. And eventually, I began to recover properly. This post shows six of my favourite books, the ones I’ve kept despite limited space and several house moves, because they hold memories for me. There were numerous others; even books I found badly written or off the mark, I continued to read just in case they held the secret.
As it turns out, the secret was within me all along; I just had to find it. The books definitely helped though, and I would recommend them to anyone struggling with depression or to recover from a nervous breakdown.