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The Books That Help Me Face the Anxiety That Used to Keep Me at Home

I live with anxiety and depression on a daily basis. This is something I have to live with for life now, which I haven’t quite accepted yet. This also makes the thought of traveling to the other side of the world quite daunting. I’m scared of leaving the handful of extraordinary friends who understand me and love me despite everything. I started to think about when I was at my worst and what got me through it, other than those wonderful people. When I was at the peak of my breakdown, the thought of leaving the house would reduce me to tears. During this time I couldn’t find comfort in anything. I couldn’t focus on TV or movies because my thoughts were screaming so loud I couldn’t even hear what was going on. I couldn’t confide in friends because I believed they hated me and wouldn’t miss me if I was dead. Everything was dark and pointless. However, one day I had been shopping with my mother and happened to stumble upon a book. A real, paperback, bright yellow book. This book was “Mad Girl” by Bryony Gordon.​​

“Mad Girl” is the story of Bryony growing up with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and trying to have a normal life while thinking inside that you’re losing your mind. I fell in love with this book from the moment I started reading it. She faced similar challenges to ones I had come across in my short 25 years of life. She spoke in such a refreshingly honest light about these issues (abusive relationships, self-destructive behavior and mental illness) and how it somehow always seems be reflected badly upon us when we actually had very little control over it. It was the first time ever that I felt like someone else in the world understood how I was feeling and that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t “going mad” after all.

Bryony is so open about her journey and her mistakes. She spoke about her attempt with antidepressants and how in the end therapy and meeting her husband slowly made her feel better. Reading about Bryony’s experience made me feel better and worse in some respects. It was amazing to read someone’s thoughts which were so closely related to my own. But it also made me quite sad in the fact that Bryony had very supportive family and friends and I felt at the time I didn’t have anyone who really understood and supported what I was going through — but I hadn’t in fact really tried to tell anyone. That’s when my journey of being open about what I was going through really began.

After finding such comfort in “Mad Girl,” I began searching on Amazon for books in a similar field. I wasn’t really sure what genre it was, but I knew I needed more of it… now! I finally clicked on “Reasons to Stay Alive” by Matt Haig. I had heard of this book before, as it is in fact extremely popular. However, all the images I had seen of the book tended to just show lists of things, so I assumed it was a book full of listed reasons why this world is so amazing. Oh how wrong was I? I bought this book during a very distressed episode, and I think the poor woman in Waterstone’s feared for my life due to the title (and possibly rightly so). I cried all the way home, made a cup of tea, curled up in bed and began reading. I had never ever felt such a rush of emotion in my life. It was as if Matt was sat on the bed next to me, explaining what was happening in my brain and that it was in fact, normal. He explained that he too had felt like he wouldn’t make it through the next 10 minutes of the day, never mind be writing a book about it years later. He explained that every single person has a unique brain, but they can all “fail” and “break” in different ways. He explained why depression is so difficult to open up about, describing my thoughts and fears almost word for word. He also suggested why it’s so difficult for our loved ones to accept it and handle it. For the first time, I felt like what I was feeling was perfectly OK. I wasn’t going mad, and I wasn’t alone. I read this book from cover to cover in about 12 hours and sobbed uncontrollably for most of that time. Not because the book was sad, but because it was so unbelievably full of hope. It gave me hope that maybe, dying wasn’t the only way for this feeling to go away. There was, somehow, a way to feel better.

At this point in time, I had only opened up to one absolutely irreplaceable friend about how I was feeling, and luckily he was the most supportive and accepting person I have ever known. He encouraged my reading, which then encouraged my opening up to others. I had to be honest with the people around me, and if they were true friends, they would listen and help however they could. I’ve read this book about four times now, whenever I feel a dip coming, I read it and feel less alone, and today I’ve started reading it again. I can’t express my gratitude for Matt sharing his story with the world — because it saved my life, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

​​After finding these two books, I couldn’t stop reading. It was the only thing that stopped my thoughts drowning me and made me see light, somewhere in the distance. This might not be the end of me. I decided to join the local library — that way I got to read books for free but I had to leave the house to get them. It took about 30 minutes of standing at the front door before I plucked up the courage to walk to the library, but when I got there, there was the saying, “Everything is going to be alright” displayed in lights on the front of the building. I am a big believer in signs from the universe, and the comfort I felt in this reduced me to tears once again. I walked inside and heading straight for the H section in search of more from Matt Haig. This time it was a fiction book that I found from him. “The Humans.”

“The Humans” is one of the most wonderful books I have ever come across. It’s a fictional story about an alien that has been sent to Earth to destroy a family who may have discovered the most unbreakable formula in the world and could basically lead to the end of civilization. But that is not the main point of the story. The story is really about the alien’s journey into human life and trying to figure out why we do all the seemingly pointless things we do as humans — for example: love, wear clothes, live with animals whom we can’t communicate with, the list is endless. It is such a touching and humorous tale of what it truly means to be human and that although it is extremely painful at times to live in this world, it is worth it for those exact things. Again, Matt reduced me to tears for the majority of the book but not for a bad reason. Matt has an incredible ability to write experiences so full of hope and compassion for other humans who may be suffering. Reading these books encouraged me to share my experience; they helped me have the courage to finally go the doctors and accept the help that was available out there, which then led to me finally beginning to feel better and realizing my dreams of travel, love and connection with other people.

After joining the library, a friend from work also brought me a huge pile of books to help distract me from my thoughts. Not only did fiction help, but I also started to realize I liked to research and started planning things for my trip to Florida. Researching and planning helped occupy my time and help me feel productive. I’ve said in my previous posts, Disney World truly was a magical place that made me feel alive again and inspired me to continue traveling. That is when I started to research other places you can travel to and finally booked my flight to Australia. But now I’m faced with the fear of taking all of this with me to Australia. What if I get hit with a wave of depression? What if no one around me understands what I’m going through? What if my anxiety strikes and I can’t leave my hostel? What if I get hit by a bus or my plane crashes? The reality is, all or non of these things could happen. But they could also happen here in Preston. So I started to think of things I can take with me that will comfort me while I’m 12,000 miles away from the people I love — and the list started with my books.

Have you found any books that have helped you through your struggles? Please comment below and let me know!

Follow this journey on Travel Bear.

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