What to Read After You’ve Ruined Everything

A reading list for your bunker after you’ve blown up your life.

Sherry Mayle
Nov 10, 2019 · 4 min read
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by Romolo Tavani/Shutterstock.com

I love fucking up my life. Not really, but if you were drawing conclusions based on statistics, you might think so.

Because I’m not a fuck-up. I’m an almost-fuck-up. An almost-fuck-up is a fuck-up who bounces back. Nowadays I’m paying my own rent, side-hustling as a writer, and getting treatment for my mental illness(es). I haven’t broken into anyone’s house in years.

In part, I have books to thank for my life not ending in a nuclear holocaust by now. Specifically, these.

I Need Your Love — Is That True? by Byron Katie

The unspoken belief is that unless people approve of you, you’re worthless. — Byron Katie

So much of our bullshit comes from trying to get other people to love us. You get a handle on that, you’ll have a handle on 90% of everything else.

Byron Katie is the author to help you do this. She’s a self-help guru who went to bed miserable and woke up crazier than a shithouse rat. Since she was happier than she’d ever been, now people follow her around and ask her to solve their problems.

She has a lot of out-there ideas on what it means to be human, but she’s great at getting to the heart of our insecurities.

“Thousands of anxious thoughts appear all day long:

Was I noticed?

Why didn’t she smile?

Did I make a good impression?

Why hasn’t he returned my call?

Do I look okay?

Should I have said that?

What do they think of me now?

It’s a constant monitoring to see if we’re gaining or losing ground in the grand approval sweepstakes.

Those little doubts are rarely noticed, and yet they set in motion hundreds of strategies designed to win favor and admiration — or just to please.”

— Byron Katie, I Need Your Love — Is That True?

Katie has a system for confronting these thoughts you can read more about here.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

I think Mrs. Winterson was afraid of happiness. Jesus was supposed to make you happy but he didn’t, and if you were waiting for the Apocalypse that never came, you were bound to feel disappointed.

— Jeanette Winterson

Is your mom your best friend? Can you not imagine ever feeling rejected or wounded by her? Then this book isn’t for you.

This book is for those of us who had mothers who said things like, When she cried as a baby, sometimes I just wanted to stick a butcher knife in her and put her on the ceiling! I was a fussy baby and Mom never let me forget it.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal is a memoir about finding happiness when your own mother insists there’s something rotten about you.

This book helped me feel seen. Not everyone grew up with the family from Full House. (The universe considered it, but there wasn’t enough hair gel.)

Some of us didn’t escape the violence of mental illness and fundamentalist Christianity. Jeanette Winterson gives voice to us when she talks about her adoptive mother whom she refers to throughout the book as Mrs. Winterson.

When my mother was angry with me, which was often, she said, “The Devil led us to the wrong crib.” …

Mrs. Winterson was gloriously wounded, like a medieval martyr, gouged and dripping for Jesus, and she dragged her cross for all to see. …

All she ever wanted was for everyone to go away. And when I did she never forgave me.

— Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Out of Your Mind, by Alan Watts

What we have to discover is that there is no safety, that seeking it is painful, and that when we imagine that we have found it, we don’t like it. — Alan Watts

For most of this year, I’ve listened to audiobooks by Alan Watts on repeat like a baby sucking its thumb. I’m not concise enough to distill into words what Alan Watts thinks the world is, but it calms me. Maybe it will calm you too.

If you don’t want to commit to a 9-hour audiobook and you aren’t actually in a post-apocalyptic bunker, watch this 5-minute video instead.

Help Your Fellow Fuck-Ups

What books have helped you come back from extinction? Leave a response to help your fellow fuck-ups.

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