Hi, my name is Emma and I have depression. I always have. I was diagnosed with clinical depression at eleven, but it existed in me long before my mother took me to the doctor to treat the mental illness she so kindly passed down to me. I’ve been lucky; it didn’t take me long to find the right medication to stabilise my chemical imbalance. With little tweak every few years, I’ve been able to live a relatively happy and balanced life. But, as anyone with depression can tell you, medication is not a cure, it’s simply a treatment. My chosen cocktail of antidepressants and therapy is effective, but it doesn’t erase my mental illness entirely.
There are still days when my depression creeps back in like that orange fuzzy monster from Looney Tunes — whose name, according to Google, is Gossamer — and sits right on my chest in the middle of a sunny, otherwise happy day. On these days, I’ve learned to accept the unexpected return of my gloom and take care of myself, knowing that tomorrow I’ll probably feel better.
Reading — along with hours of reality TV — is something that has always made me feel safe, especially at my lowest. When I’m feeling down, the type of book I’m interested in reading shifts a little. My ability to concentrate on long, complex prose or story lines kind of vanishes and I’m left wanting to read the book version of a rom-com.
I’ve often wished I had some sort of “what to read” guide on my depressed days, and over time I’ve come up with my own. Below are my suggestions of genres and titles that I’ve found comforting and palatable when feeling blue.
1. The greats of young adult lit
Sometimes it’s soothing to read a predictable storyline or a book with characters at an age that felt simpler. I’m a bit biased, but anything by Sarah Dessen has always brought me great joy, my personal favourite being The Truth About Forever (all links via Bookshop.org).
Take your pick of a title by some of the other YA greats like Rainbow Rowell or John Green, or dig in to teen series like Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard or To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han.
2. Memoirs by funny women
Too much humour can feel forced when depressed, but wit can go a long way.
Pick up a book by some of the wittiest comedians of our time, like Bossypants by Tina Fey,
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me by Mindy Kaling,
Yes Please by Amy Poehler,
or Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, & Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong.
3. Short stories and essay collections
It can be hard to focus on one thing for too long when it comes to depression. Enter short stories — the perfect anecdote for not having the energy to stick with the same characters for 200+ pages. Some personal favourites include One More Thing by B.J. Novak, She Was Like That by Kate Walbert, and Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory by Raphael Bob-Waksberg (creator of BoJack Horseman).
Similarly, essay collections can be useful when you’re in no mood for fictional stories of love or character development of any kind. Sometimes just the cold, hard facts processed and dissected by intelligent and cunning minds can help distract from a poor emotional state for hours. I recommend We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby, Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino, Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit, or Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (sorry not sorry for the female heavy, feminist-slanted options).
Bonus: The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan — a collection of both short stories and essays by a brilliant Yale graduate who tragically passed away too soon.