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Lit Medicine: Books To Save Your Ass (Or Just Your Weary Soul)

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When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with using the I-Ching (specifically THIS version of it) as a tool to help manage my near-constant anxiety. Surprisingly, it really helped — and it still does. For the uninitiated, the I-Ching is an ancient Chinese oracle that helps provide answers about what to do in life’s tougher moments. You ask a question, basically, then the book gives you an answer (you have to toss a set of pennies in the air and record how they fall, then look up a corresponding pattern in the book to get your “reading”). I don’t rely on it as much as I used to, but there’s something incredibly soothing and meditative about the whole routine, and the summaries are generally super-helpful, no matter what ragged emotional state you find yourself in. It may sound a bit woo-woo, but I promise, it’s rad.

If you’re anxious, especially about the state of the world, opt to read Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens. Though it doesn’t really help with the apocalyptic mentality, it does manage to paint an entertaining picture of it.

Identity

Source: noloneliness

Most of my identity issues revolve around being adopted (it can fuck with you, man). I thought I’d read everything there was to read on the subject, but then a therapist recommended a book I’d never heard of: Coming Home to Self. That book saved my hide in a bunch of ways. It’s the closest thing to an Adoptee Life Instruction Manual that I’ve ever come across — I’ve cracked it open multiple times when feeling rootless or unsure, and I’ve underlined, well, just about the entire thing. Seriously, if you’re adopted and you have conflicting feelings about your history or uncertainty about where you belong, you need this book.

My coworker Hannah says she depends on Franny and Zooey and the graphic novel Blankets when she’s having issues with life about figuring out what she’s “meant to do with myself and … ‘who am I, and what is my place?’”

Depression

Source: TruthBehindTruth

When I’m depressed, there are a few different books I might turn to, depending on what kind of shittiness I’m feeling. For shittiness around drinking, addiction, or sobriety, it’s Drinking: A Love Story all the way. Caroline Knapp’s memoir about her passionate affair with alcohol (OK, her alcoholism, and her eventual recovery) is super-powerful and nearly impossible not to relate to.

When I need a broader perspective on mental illness, specifically on the gross black tar of depression, I pull out The Noonday Demon, an “atlas” of all things depression. It’s a huge book but a surprisingly quick undertaking, probably because the entire thing is so fascinating, and useful, and compulsively readable.

And if I’m feeling sad or sorry for myself about being hurt by anything romance or dude-related, I bust out one of my favorite books from high school: a book of short stories called Lust by Susan Minot. The title story is just … perfection. I remember first reading it for an English class, and feeling that stunning smack of recognition – THIS IS ME. It haunts me still, though all the stories in the book are pretty great (and they’re all about men, women, and the minefield of relationships). Highly recommended for your next dating or heartbreak-related freakout.

What are some of the books you’ve used as “medicine”?

When I’m depressed, there are a few different books I might turn to, depending on what kind of shittiness I’m feeling. For shittiness around drinking, addiction, or sobriety, it’s Drinking: A Love Story all the way. Caroline Knapp’s memoir about her passionate affair with alcohol (OK, her alcoholism, and her eventual recovery) is super-powerful and nearly impossible not to relate to.

When I need a broader perspective on mental illness, specifically on the gross black tar of depression, I pull out The Noonday Demon, an “atlas” of all things depression. It’s a huge book but a surprisingly quick undertaking, probably because the entire thing is so fascinating, and useful, and compulsively readable.

And if I’m feeling sad or sorry for myself about being hurt by anything romance or dude-related, I bust out one of my favorite books from high school: a book of short stories called Lust by Susan Minot. The title story is just … perfection. I remember first reading it for an English class, and feeling that stunning smack of recognition – THIS IS ME. It haunts me still, though all the stories in the book are pretty great (and they’re all about men, women, and the minefield of relationships). Highly recommended for your next dating or heartbreak-related freakout.

What are some of the books you’ve used as “medicine”?

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