When I was released from hospital on September 3, 2014 I had a vague sense of what was wrong with me – something called Depression – and the smallest flicker of hope. These two factors were enough, though, to spark my recovery.
In a very real way, my meeting with the hospital’s counselor, G.G., the following day was Day 1 in my recovery. In our brief twenty minute meeting, I was given:
- the name of the agency that helps me to this day, the Canadian Mental Health Association;
- an introduction to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) through a sheet of paper with a mood chart on it; and
- mention of something called Mindfulness.
I consider myself fortunate that, although brief, my meeting with G.G. was so productive. At the very least, it gave me a label to attach to my illness, Depression; but it also gave me something much more important, a distraction from my illness realized through my online research. G.G. had given me the search terms and Google helped me find some answers.
There are millions of pages on the internet that are about Depression although not all of them relate to mental health, and millions more that discuss Mindfulness. The volume was overwhelming and often contradictory, so I soon found myself restricting my search results to viewing medical sites, university sites and government sites. I visited hundreds of sites, clicking from page to page. If I discovered something substantive, I printed it, eventually amassing several hundred pages spread throughout a series of binders. But it was not easy. I was still in the arms of Depression, still suffering from the cognitive impairment that is a part of that illness, that much of what I researched was beyond my ability to comprehend. Those sites, I bookmarked and revisit from time to time.
My binders represent the beginnings of my self-healing library. To it I have added ebooks, printed books, audiobooks, and apps, as well as a significant number of YouTube videos and journals. Each, in its own way, has helped in my recovery. I present a brief introduction of some of them here for you.
Although I do not own Depression: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed by Lee H. Coleman, I recommend that newly diagnosed depressives or those with a depressive in their lives locate, and read, a copy. It is a book I wish I had known about upon my discharge from the hospital. The book is not meant to be a definitive explanation of either the illness or its treatment, but it does give the depressive a roadmap of sorts to explore both. In the book, you will find a concise description of the illness and an equally concise description of the treatment alternatives. The reader is given suggestions on how to find a mental health professional, what questions you should ask and what information you should provide. The explanations of the various forms of therapy are short, barely scraping the surface of what they offer, but the mystique of the acronym is removed. There is comfort, I think, in seeing in print all of the various methods available to the depressive to get help, and comfort in knowing that if one technique is not working, there are others to explore.
The first book I bought was The Mindful Way Through Depression by Mark Williams, et al. I bought it simply because it had two terms mentioned by G.G. in our brief meeting – mindful[ness] and depression – so I had fairly low expectations. The book was a delight. My copy of the book is filled with highlighted sections and hand-written remarks. As my recovery has improved, I have gone back to it and discovered additional ideas that I initially missed as well as reinforcing those ideas which have helped me with my recovery.
It taught me very valuable lessons. The first lesson is one that I think a great many of us forget, namely that thoughts are not facts. They may be facts but they are as frequently likely to be fiction. Once you understand and accept this simple premise, you can begin to free yourself from the tyranny of your thoughts. The second thing the book taught me was that much of my life was conducted on autopilot. I spent so much time ruminating and brooding about the past, that the present was lost to me and passed me by without my noticing it. Why, the book asks, spend so much time in thoughts about something that has been and gone. Why not simply just let those thoughts be on their way while you go about the business of healing. For me, this was especially telling because I could not seem to let go of the past, but the book showed me a way to do just that.
I so enjoyed the book that I bought the companion books Mindfulness by Mark Williams et al and The Mindful Way Workbook by John Teasdale et al.
The second key book in my library is Hyperbole and A Half by Allie Brosh. The book is a selection of comics from the website of the same name. I first discovered Ms Brosh’s work through a post on Buzzfeed, 21 Comics That Capture The Frustrations Of Depression. The link to Ms Brosh led me to her post Depression Part Two. I was so moved by that comic, that I stayed on the site to find Adventures in Depression, Together, these two comics present a very moving and sensitive portrayal of the illness that can only be achieved through lived experience of the illness. Both comics are featured in the book alongside a host of quirky and overblown anecdotes you really must read. When I heard myself laughing at the comics, I knew I was recovering.
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig and The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon are next on my list of key books in my library. Very different in tone and portrayal, each book makes, it clear that these author’s “get it” through personal experience. I have read Mr Haig’s book a couple of times, and look forward to reading it again. It is filled with wit, despair and honesty and is very accessible. More importantly, it gave a new word to use when describing my illness, depressive, that does not have the taint that the word Depression has in our society. I have read Mr Solomon’s book and genuinely believe that the opening paragraphs capture my experience with depressive episodes as accurately as any medical tome. The first time I started to read them, I had to put the book down because I recognized too much of myself in them and was not ready to see myself exposed like that. It is a thorough exploration of the illness on a vast scale and well worth the time if takes to read.
The photo for this post is of a few of the “adult” colouring books I have. Together they, and a few more I have accumulated since the photo was taken, are key elements of my library. I rediscovered the joy of colouring in a group therapy session when our facilitator gave us a mandala to colour and a package of colouring pencils. Each of us took an almost guilty pleasure in colouring our mandala, and the silence, interspersed with laughter, was a joy to behold. The experience showed me that colour, and colouring, was something I had missed for too many years. I switch between my colouring books depending on my mood, going for the chaos in Color Me Crazy when my mood is chaotic or for the order in The Big Book of Mandalas when I feel less chaotic.
A more recent addition to my library is The Upward Spiral by Alex Korb. Published in 2015, the book is up-to-date with recent advances in the neuroscience of Depression. I initially borrowed this book from my local library and liked it so much I bought my own copy. The book makes it clear that there is no single fix for Depression; however, a series of small meaningful changes in your actions can lead to big benefits in combating Depression, the small steps mantra we repeat to each other when we see one of us struggling.
Each of the foregoing books has played a role in advancing my recovery. And there are many more that I have not discussed here, books by Rick Hanson and Norman Doidge that explore neuroplasticity, and books by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Sharon Salzberg that explore mindfulness. And I am sure there are many other books that I have yet to discover, books that you may be aware of. Perhaps you could share your books in the comments.
About John Dickson
A lifelong battle with Major Depressive Disorder resulted in a suicide attempt. That attempt taught me the danger of being silent about my personal struggles with mental health. I've had to learn to be more open about my struggle. I now choose to reach out with the hope that someone will be inspired and end his/her own silence. I'm a dad, a blogger and a new convert to the power of social media.