I’ve found self-help books have been a great resource to draw on in times of need. I firmly believe that there isn’t a single human experience that someone hasn’t been through before you and usually, someone has had the good sense to write about it.
These days, it’s even easier to access advice, support and ideas online but for me, there is something very comforting and reassuring about holding a self-help book in your hands. If I’m feeling down, even carrying a favourite text in my bag is sometimes enough to get me through the day.
When I was very ill with depression, I liked to hang around the self-help section at Central Library in Liverpool. I found it calming to be surrounded by so much knowledge and support. Before Borders closed at Speke Retail Park, I got similar effect from their ‘Mind, Body and Spirit’ section. You do need some balls to be seen frequenting these departments, but if you can get over the embarrassment, there is some juicy fodder to be had.
NHS waiting lists can leave you high and dry for months if not years. There’s not a lot you can do if you are waiting for therapy apart from try and stop yourself getting worse. Self-help tools can be invaluable in helping you to look at your situation in a different way, or teach you different coping strategies. I’ve found the advice and suggestions in books to be just as helpful as counselling or other therapies. There are even a couple I will credit with changing my life!
My all-time favourite has to be Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers. I discovered this in my early twenties and the basic premise is that it’s pointless waiting until you feel more confident to attempt difficult or scary things. You have to go for it anyway and the confidence comes afterwards. I credit this book with kicking my ass big time. Since reading the book I felt able to take dance classes, perform in shows and even do stand-up comedy. Yes, believe it or not, in between episodes of depression I can be quite funny!
Another favourite is ‘Cognitive Behavioural Therapy For Dummies’ by Rob Willson and Rhena Branch. I was on a waiting list for CBT for over 6 months and ended up so bored of waiting, I ordered this from Amazon. What an eye opener this book was. The idea behind CBT is that people form ‘core beliefs’ about themselves and the world from early life and experiences. This then translates into thinking patterns which can be unhelpful, unrealistic, irrational and limiting. The book shows how the way you think affects the way you feel. There is also an accompanying workbook in which you can practice the techniques. As I read through the various ‘thinking errors’ people make I was amazed that I made EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM! It was as though someone had shone a light inside my head and written down all the rubbish that was going on. It was sobering in the extreme. No wonder I felt like crap. I was excited to have found something that I could completely relate to, but it also temporarily increased my anxiety. If EVERYTHING I was thinking was causing me grief, what on earth would I think about if I was able to change it? Would I still be ‘me’? My problems had been so severe for such a long time that I’d started to think that’s who I was. I spent a lot of time trying to implement the principles of CBT until my therapy came through and it made a massive difference. The big changes didn’t start to happen until I had my weekly appointments, but I gained so much self-awareness of my thought processes from the book. It was so useful that I think it should be available on prescription.
A late entry into my self-help league tables are the books of Geoff Thompson. These were recommended to me by a dear friend and I heart them immensely. One I found helpful is Shape Shifter, which looks at the practical and emotional changes needed to get from where you are now to the person you want to be. Also, The Elephant and The Twig is a particular favourite. In India, young elephants are trained in obedience by being tied to an immovable object like a tree. They learn that no matter how much they try, they cannot escape. When they grow up, elephants can then be tied to a twig and not even try to break free. This relates to how we feel trapped and constrained by situations, people or forces which are not really holding us back in the way we perceive them to be. Geoff’s style is so laid back that his books are a fantastic read. It’s as though he is speaking personally to you.
Also, ‘How to Master Anxiety’ by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrell was extremely helpful as it explores in great detail, the mechanics of the anxiety response. It explains in very concise clear terms how your body is not trying to fuck you over, it’s just igniting a primitive ‘fight or flight’ response that was designed to protect you in a life-threatening situation. Luckily, we are not in danger from woolly mammoth attacks any more, but your body is a fairly stupid piece of machinery in many ways. It can misread the signals from any anxiety-inducing thought or situation and the next thing you are having a panic attack. Once you know what’s happening, it lessens the power anxiety has over you and can help stop it escalating. Knowledge really is power.
It is interesting that even though I rate these books so highly, they are not all displayed on my main bookcase. I’ve hidden them out of sight, due to all the previously mentioned stigma about admitting to mental health problems. But hey, if I can link this blog to my facebook page, surely I can ‘come out’ as a self-help book reader? I think I can.
What are everyone else’s favourite self-help books?