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Inspiring Mental Health Stories to Savor This Season

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With many of us planning to spend the holidays at home, we might have some extra time to curl up with a good book. Over the past few weeks I’ve been looking for titles that will bring insights, smiles and fresh motivation that will carry me into the New Year.

Thinking about what I’d like to read (or re-read) this season, I put together a list of my favorite books about mental health, adding some brand-new ones I want to explore. I’m sharing them here in case you’re looking for a good read, too — or a last-minute gift for someone you care about.

The courage to keep going, even when it’s hard

At one of my worst quarantine moments, I picked up Jennifer Pastiloff’s book, “On Being Human,” and fell under the spell of her story. Pastiloff worked for years at a job she didn’t love before discovering, pretty much by accident, that she could combine yoga and journaling in a new way — one that would benefit thousands of people around the world. The fact that she did this while dealing with depression, anxiety and progressive hearing loss makes her an even bigger hero in my eyes.

Realizing that you and your family are in the same boat

Edward (Ned) Hallowell is the author of “Driven to Distraction,” the definitive book on ADHD published in the mid-1990s. Nearly 25 years later, he gave us “Because I Come From a Crazy Family,” which answers the question I’m sure many journalists have asked him: why did you choose to become a psychiatrist? This is such a warm, fascinating, compassionate portrait of Hallowell’s family that you’ll enjoy it on its own merits — and you just might see a little of your own family in there, too.

From a traumatic childhood to the international spotlight 

In 2017 I met A.J. Mendez-Brooks, the petite, glamorous, three-time Diva Champion of World Wrestling Entertainment. She was speaking about her new book, “Crazy Is My Superpower,” which I immediately bought and couldn’t put down. During a childhood in which she and her family were often homeless, Mendez-Brooks felt like an outcast — until a diagnosis of bipolar disorder helped her see her difficulties in perspective. She’s a brave advocate for all of us who hope to find unexpected gifts inside our struggles.

Living and leading in an era when mental health was a taboo topic

Winston Churchill called his depression “the black dog,” and with good reason. (In mid-century Britain, the subject of mental health was anything but open.) Yet despite dark episodes that confined him to bed, Churchill led his country through World War II, becoming a worldwide symbol of courage. I’m looking forward to reading “Churchill: Four Faces and the Man,” a collection of essays that takes an honest look at his struggles and achievements.

Lucid, inspiring words that will lift you higher 

Yung Pueblo is one of my favorite poets, and “Inward” is a shining collection of his work that explores the relationship between self-love and unconditional love and the power that comes from knowing ourselves more deeply. This one makes a great gift for yourself or for someone you care about who’s seeking healing and wholeness.

Laughing out loud in the middle of it all

Also on my list is “Furiously Happy,” Jenny Lawson’s memoir, which has been recommended by the book-loving friends in my circle. Also widely known as The Bloggess, Lawson says that the inspo for her story came from wondering if people with severe depression had such a strong capacity “for experiencing extreme emotion that they might be able to experience extreme joy in a way that ‘normal people’ also might never understand.” The book focuses on the challenges of mental illness, but as one reviewer put it, “it’s also about joy — and who doesn’t want a bit more of that?”

Amen. And happy reading to you! Please share what’s on your winter reading list so we can check out your faves.

Getty image via Wachiraphorn

Originally published: December 16, 2020
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