I love to read as much as the next Books writer at Bustle, but when I'm feeling down — like, really, really down — something happens in my brain that basically turns all text into hieroglyphics. I'm not talking about the sluggish mood brought on by a gray winter day. I'm talking about the mean reds caused by break-ups, bombing the final, getting skipped over for a promotion, or accidentally putting your favorite cashmere sweater in the dryer. Plus, I have a history of dysthymia, AKA the Energizer bunny of depression: my sadness just keeps going and going and going ...
Thankfully, I have a strong support squad and know plenty of ways to manage. No wild secrets here — yoga, running, a sporadic meditation practice, and even avoiding too much gluten helps me combat depression. So I wish I could tell you that reading also works, but I'd be lying. The truth is, reading can be hard when you're down. Beating the doldrums isn't as easy turning a few pages, no matter how good the book.
Still: I don't mind my dysthymiac tendencies as long as they don't interfere with my love of books and writing. For me, a key to thriving is reading. Reading a lot, regardless of my mood. Are some books more palatable than others when you're feeling down? Absolutely. And who knows? These six books contain words of wisdom that just might send your blues packing. Here are six books to read when you're feeling down:
1. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
...or another big novel that depicts the entire spectrum of human emotions.
Smith's epic debut is packed with painstakingly imagined characters whose voices — and stories — seem to spill off the page. Quote that will bolster your mood?
“You are never stronger...than when you land on the other side of despair.”
2. The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon
...or another personal/scientific/psychological investigation of an issue you care about.
Though reading about depression may seem like the last thing to do when you're feeling down, I find Solomon's book, which won the National Book Award, helps me make sense of depression — and the logical part of my brain really, really likes sense, especially when my emotions feel out of control. Plus, Solomon, who writes from personal experience, offers incredible words:
“The people who succeed despite depression do three things. First, they seek an understanding of what's happening. They they accept that this is a permanent situation. And then they have to transcend their experience and grow from it and put themselves out into the world of real people.”
3. So Sad Today by Melissa Broder
...or another essay collection by a writer who gets it.
The essays in poet Melissa Broder's first collection of prose are disarming, hilarious, and understated examinations of what it means to live with anxiety, etc. in the digital wilderness of the twenty-first century. The book was borne out of an eponymous Twitter handle, which offers a nonstop doses of levity, like:
4. Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
...or another book that reminds you of a greater moral imperative.
Coates' slim treatise, in the form of a letter to his adolescent son, interrogates America's obsession with an artificial and damaging construct of race. Coates will remind you of the need and the responsibility to live a conscious, ethical life:
“I believed, and still do, that our bodies are our selves, that my soul is the voltage conducted through neurons and nerves, and that my spirit is my flesh.”
5. Beauty Was The Case That They Gave Me by Mark Lender
...or another collection of poems that uses humor to tackle the heavy stuff.
Leidner, who also published a book of modern aphorisms, is like a stand-up comedian with a penchant for imagery. His best poems unspool as long, gorgeously baroque jokes that will have you texting key lines to your best literati-bud. Here's the opening of "Pearls Before Swine":
If there’s one thing I hate, it’s casting pearls before swine. Therefore, whenever I’m surrounded by swine, I never cast pearls. I hold them back and cast other things that are more appropriate to swine, like acorns, bullets, and pennies.
Then, when the swine are gone, I put the bullets and acorns away, and start re-casting pearls. Then I cast pearls until I run out of pearls, or until the return of the swan. I mean, swine.
6. Sunday Suppers At Lucques: Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table by Suzanne Goin
...or another book that will inspire you to cook something.
I love Sunday Suppers At Lucques because of the way its organized: by season, with menus. And, while I've already mentioned that reading doesn't do much to ward off my depression, cooking does. Gathering ingredients, focusing on clear directions, and having a concrete outcome after my labor that I can share with others is the sort of deeply satisfying experience that reminds me to be grateful, especially when the food I'm preparing is Goin's Date Butter Tart or Young Onion Tart.
Images: Alice Hampson/Unsplash