2 books that helped me through the hardest time of my life
Reading is an incredibly powerful tool when life gets tough. It offers an opportunity to hear a different perspective we wouldn’t otherwise arrive at through our thoughts. And the harder things get, the more important this mechanism becomes, and it’s something I benefited from during the hardest time of my life.
After my Mum was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer, my world was rocked. Not only was I facing the possibility of losing my Mum, but it also challenged some unsustainable beliefs I’d held since my Dad took his life ten years earlier… it really did hit me for 6… I was operating in unfamiliar territory without a belief structure, I was anxious, I’d lost my optimism, and I was frustrated that my mind wasn’t working the way it used to.
One of the things that helped me to feel better was reading. I was looking for any way to feel better, whether it be by doing chores, exercising, catching up with mates, or trying to understand why I was feeling the way I was. Even listening to conversational podcasts helped me immensely, and whilst I know that some people don’t like him, there were two Joe Rogan Podcasts that put me onto two cracking books that helped shape my recovery narrative, and ultimately, influenced Running for Resilience as we know it today.
As mentioned at the end, I’d love to hear about what books you’ve found helpful for mental health. If some pop to mind, please leave a comment below. Even if you want to double down on the books listed, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Book 1: Lost Connections by Johan Hari
The premise of this book is that mental health struggles aren’t just a chemical imbalance in the brain and that we have more control over that balance than previously thought. The thing that grabbed me about his book was the introductory story, where Johan finds himself critically and acutely ill in a foreign country:
“In that moment, I finally understood for the first time why, throughout this journey, I kept thinking about that day when I got terribly sick in rural Vietnam. When I yelled for drugs to stop my worst symptoms, the extreme room-spinning nausea, the doctor told me: "You need your nausea. It is a message, and we must listen to the message. It will tell us what is wrong with you." If I had ignored or silenced that symptom, my kidneys would have failed, and I would have died.
You need your nausea. You need your pain. It is a message, and you must listen to the message. All these depressed and anxious people, all over the world, they are giving us a message. They are telling us something has gone wrong with the way we live. We need to stop trying to muffle or silence or pathologize that pain. Instead, we need to listen to it, and honor it. It is only when we listen to our pain that we can follow it back to its source, and only there, where we can see its true causes, can we begin to overcome it.”
I think this resonated with me because it told me that my pain meant something, it wasn’t just a lingering thing with no rhyme or reason, it had a purpose, and because it’s a symptom, there is a cause, and if there’s a cause, there’s a solution. Johan Hari is a great writer, he relies on academic resources and critical thought, and whilst he might challenge traditional theories, he does so responsibly and in the pursuit of truth. It’s a book I’ll read again, and it’s one that, in arguably my weakest moment, gave me the confidence to keep doing things that would make me feel better as time went on. Too long, don’t want to read?
Book 2: Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins
Look… full disclaimer… this guy is not everyone’s cup of tea and gee whiz he’s a character. But bloody hell, if you lean into him, he’s a great source of inspiration. The premise of this book is how despite his upbringing, he was able to lean into his weaknesses and condition his mind for the things life can throw at us. He certainly lives by his word and whilst A LOT of what he says should be taken with a grain of salt, his broad messaging is true: we are more capable than we think, and through struggle there is growth.
The thing that hooked me with this book is the idea that we have control over how we react to pain. We can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond and how we prepare. He’s hard-nosed, and maybe he over-simplifies things in some people’s minds… but at my weakest point, I needed a strategy I could go all-in on, and his book gave me a blueprint to break the cycle of how I was feeling. Now, before you dive in and read his stuff… maybe watch the below video to see if he’s up your alley… geez he’s different… and there’s a bit of profanity, but if you give him a chance, reading his book can teach you something.
It’s important to note that the above books aren’t the best books on mental health, they were books I came across at a particular time in my life, and they helped me immensely. Since then, I’ve continued to read similar books and I continue to get so much from them. So please, have a geez at the below list to see if there’s any that might be able to give you the perspective you need to endure the pain you’re going through, comprehend the pain you’ve been through, or prepare you for the pain you’re yet to experience.
I could keep going for ages… even books that offer a bit of perspective like the happiest man on earth are great for mental health. But instead of doing that, are there any books that you’ve found instrumental in improving your mental health? If so, please leave a comment below!
Just. Keep. Moving.
One of the most powerful books I read is The Body Keeps Score which explores the link between mind and body and how our experiences shape the way we think and behave. Not light reading, but insightful - fundamentally changed my thinking.
And if you don't like to read, the audio books are great too :). I read lost connections but listened to Hari's latest book Stolen Focus and really enjoyed his narration :)
One of the barriers to people reading these books I feel, is because they are in the "self help" section. I think this section needs to be changed to personal development.
Have you read Man's Search for Meaning? Another very good book. I loved the Happiest Man on Earth, it made my heart so full and his survival was amazing.
There are some pretty good fiction books too, with deeper meaning. Matt Haigs the Midnight Library, I just couldn't put it down. Boy Swallows Universe is another good one by Trent Dalton. The Improbable Life of Ricky Bird is also fiction with was deeper themes going on.
How good are books though! :D