I’ve struggled with depression since my early teenage years and have a long track record of not managing it well. (Hello, alcohol!)
But these days, although it still impacts how I move in this world, I’m much more proactive in dealing with it and not allowing it to swallow me whole. One of the ways I achieve this is by reading about it.
Books are a salve for the soul. I could be exhausted with eyelids that feel like fifty pound weights and still manage to get at least five minutes of reading in before I go to sleep.
In the spirit of full transparency, that habit has been doubly important the past few weeks as I wrestle my way out of a rather soul-sucking depressive spiral.
Here are the books I’ve read, will read, or am reading that have helped me through these rough patches that I get.
Depression is funny like that. You use all the tools at your disposal to pull yourself out of the muck and then the next time depression pops up to say hello, total amnesia. Wait, how do I handle this again?
So I read and re-read books to jog my memory and reactive the better functioning parts of myself that are currently buried under a pile of “blahs.” And because so many of us in the sobriety world also struggle with mental health issues, I want to offer this list to you in the event you should ever need it.
It’s in no particular order so start wherever the spirit moves you.
- 1. First, We Make The Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson
- 2. Feeling Good by David Burns, MD.
- 3. The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson
- 4. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
- 5. Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig
- 6. The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon
- 7. Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
- 8. Dopamine Nation by Dr. Anna Lembke
- 9. Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari
1. First, We Make The Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson
Sarah Wilson is an Australian author and occasional TV personality of “I Quit Sugar” fame. She is also a bit of an anxiety-riddled mess and I mean that in the most loving way as a member of that same tribe.
Her book wowed me. She’s clever, honest, and really did her homework in this book. Wilson discusses her own history with anxiety and the journey she’s gone on to manage it along with Hashimoto’s disease.
I didn’t know anything about Wilson before reading this book. Hell, I didn’t even know she was the “I Quit Sugar” lady. But by the end the book, I’d adopted her as a mentor of sorts. Wilson gives you the raw and gritty side of anxiety and doesn’t bombard the reader with platitudes or neat little solutions.
Anxiety and depression are not like that. They’re messy. And so is she. What she does offer is a realistic, inspiring, and motivating approach to tackling anxiety and understanding it.
I came away from this book not only feeling empowered to reclaim ownership of my brain and body from anxiety, but with a stronger understanding of why it exists in the first place. Nothing in this book will cure you of anxiety (sorry). Maybe you can never do that.
But I finished the book at peace with it. And what a relief that has been!
Get “First We Make The Beast Beautiful” by Sarah Wilson on Amazon.
2. Feeling Good by David Burns, MD.
Dr. Burns is a pioneer in the field of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I first came across this book on Mark Manson’s website and he dubbed it as what “three months of with a CBT therapist would be like.”
And since I’m living in a country where proper psychologists are tough to come by and even tougher to afford, that synopsis sold me.
Manson wasn’t wrong.
I did CBT a few years back, but depressive amnesia is real and I’d forgotten all my tools. This book is a goldmine of information and practical exercises to help you manage your depression and life. I’m working through it currently.
Every section is a wonderful splash of cold water to the face. Depression is such a greedy, black hole of a thing. Even when you know better, it can STILL catch you off guard and drag you down with it.
These activities and concepts are great at helping you snap out of it. To see you depression for what it is and empower you to do something to change it. What’s not to love about that?
Get “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” by David Burns, MD on Amazon.
3. The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson
Speaking of Mark Manson!
I’m a huge fan of the whole “anti self-help self-help” genre and Manson was certainly my entry point. I think it has something to do with my sense of humor. I like whip smart, witty people with a side of lovable snark.
Which, on the strength of the title alone, he nails.
Reading Mark Manson is like sitting next to your incredibly smart and sarcastic favorite cousin and basking in his infinite wisdom. I love this book because it will bring you down to earth.
If you’re struggling with depression and feel like you’re drowning in self-help books that are doing more harm than good, this book will help.
Even if that’s not the case, anyone who is on social media these days is likely being bombarded with exaggerated and unrealistic expectations of creating/defining/building a good life.
We are being sold a bag of bullshit every time we hop online and people are suffering. The premise of Manson’s book is that we only have so many f*cks to give in this life, so it’s crucial that we pick them wisely.
It’s a guide to happiness that is unapologetically rooted in reality and I love him for it.
Get “The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck” by Mark Manson on Amazon.
4. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
For anyone struggling with depression, anxiety, or self esteem issues, the internet can be a bit of a cesspool. In fact, research has shown a correlation between social media use and depression, especially among young people and adolescents.
One way to nurture your inner world is to re-evaluate your relationship with your online one.
Newport is a tech nerd and professor of computer of science who understands firsthand the impact that technology is having on human beings. At the core of his work is a desire to help us learn to use technology to achieve our goals without allowing it to use us.
I haven’t done the full digital declutter from this book because I rely so heavily on social media for my blogging business but I am slowly chipping away at my personal use and discovering systems to limit my social media use to professional purposes primarily.
It’s a really eye-opening book. There are so many ways that gotten trapped by our technology that should seem obvious to us, but really aren’t. This book helps you step back and take a birds eye view of what our technology addiction is doing to us.
Here’s a video to whet your appetite.
Get “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport on Amazon.
5. Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig
This book is in my queue and comes highly recommended by a bazillion people. It is Haig’s personal memoir of battling with depression and the journey he took to come out the other side a healed and different man.
I’ve heard Haig talk about his battle with depression and find him incredibly endearing and relatable. To connect back to Cal Newport’s book, Haig’s most recent work addresses the impact of technology on mental health and how it contributes to depression and a whole host of problems we face on a daily basis.
In this rough and tumble world of instant gratification and hyper-connectivity, it’s important to read books that beg us to opt out, even for a moment. Rediscover reality and visit for a bit.
Here’s a short feature of Haig discussing his latest work on BBC.
Get “Reasons To Stay Alive” by Matt Haig on Amazon.
6. The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon
This is big, heavy, beautiful all-encompassing book about depression. Solomon examines the topic from the medical and personal side. And… it’s a lot.
If you read this book, you’re going to go on a journey. He digs into every nook and cranny of depression from medication, to therapy, alternative treatments, the history, cultural aspects, and its darker depths.
But Solomon emerges and reading this book helps you believe that you can too. It’s been awhile since I’ve read The Noonday Demon and it’s on my list of re-reads in the upcoming months.
It won the 2001 National Book Award and has been garnering accolades ever since. It’s a hefty 600+ pages, but worth it if you’re feeling at the end of your ropes or are just incredibly interested in all things related to depression and mental health.
Get “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression” by Andrew Solomon on Amazon.
7. Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
Daniel Gilbert is a psychologist, best selling author, and sharer of my surname (a distant cousin perhaps?). Although not explicitly about depression, Gilbert’s book addresses the the science behind what makes us happy and how we are innately terrible at predicting what will, in fact, make us happy.
He’s also funny. What’s that? A witty academic who shares my surname? We MUST be related.
Gilbert dives into what happiness is (and isn’t) and why we often get it wrong. I’ve included it on this list because I think it’s important to understand the inner workings of our brains and emotions when dealing with mental health issues.
Much of our depression is rooted in our perception of what is or isn’t making us happy. What if we could understand happiness differently? How could that impact our inner and external world?
And if nothing else, it’s a fascinating topic by an incredibly smart, and well-researched individual who may or may not occupy a distant branch in my family tree.
Get “Stumbling On Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert on Amazon.
8. Dopamine Nation by Dr. Anna Lembke
When I first stumbled upon Dr. Anna Lembke’s “Dopamine Nation,” it was through her fascinating discussion on the Huberman Lab podcast about dopamine and its role in addiction. The insights she shared resonated deeply with me, especially considering my own struggles with depression and a history of using alcohol to deal with it.
So of course, I had to pick up her book.
In “Dopamine Nation,” Dr. Lembke, a psychiatrist and addiction expert, delves into the complex world of dopamine – the neurotransmitter often dubbed the ‘feel-good’ chemical in our brains.
She does such a good job of explaining how our pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain, both natural human tendencies, are amplified in today’s world, leading to an imbalance in our dopamine levels. This imbalance, she argues, is at the heart of many modern-day afflictions, including anxiety and depression.
What struck me most about this book is its blend of scientific rigor and relatable storytelling. Dr. Lembke uses real-life case studies from her clinical practice to illustrate how easily we can fall into the traps of overindulgence and addiction, whether it’s to substances, social media, shopping, or even work. Her approach to these stories is compassionate and non-judgmental, which I found incredibly refreshing.
She’s also completely open with the reader and talks about how she fell into a similar trap with badly written fantasy novels of all things.
The book is not just an exploration of the problem, though.
Dr. Lembke offers practical and actionable advice on how to restore balance in our lives. She introduces the concept of ‘dopamine fasting,’ a method to reset our brain’s reward system, and emphasizes the importance of embracing pain and discomfort as a necessary part of the human experience.
This perspective was eye-opening for me, as it shifted my understanding of how to cope with depression and anxiety.
Check it out “Dopamine Nation” on Amazon.
If you’re interested in listening to the podcast that sold me on buying this book, here it is:
9. Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari
My journey with Johann Hari’s work began with his eye-opening Ted Talk in 2016, “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong.” His statement that “the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety – it’s connection” struck a deep chord within me. At that time, I was grappling with my own alcohol abuse, and his words were such a lightbulb moment for me.
“Lost Connections” builds on this profound insight, exploring the broader landscape of depression and anxiety.
Hari challenges the conventional wisdom on these mental health issues, arguing that they are not solely caused by a chemical imbalance in our brains.
Instead, he presents a compelling case that depression and anxiety often stem from a disconnection in various aspects of our lives: from meaningful work, from other people, from meaningful values, and from nature.
What makes this book so impactful is Hari’s blend of personal narrative, rigorous research, and interviews with leading scientists. He shares his own journey with depression, making the book incredibly relatable and authentic.
Hari doesn’t just diagnose the problem; he also offers hope and solutions. He discusses how reconnecting with the things we’ve lost can lead to profound healing. Something I appreciate as a person who has struggled with these issues for as long as I can remember.
Get “Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions” by Johann Hari on Amazon.
And if you’re interested in hearing that Ted Talk I referenced earlier, here it is.
Don’t have enough time to read them all?
I have a solution for you. My “want to read” list is seemingly endless and I know I don’t have enough time to get through all of it. If you’re in the same boat, I highly suggest trying the Blinkist app.
It’s a fabulous resource. They have a very extensive library of nonfiction texts that they’ve paired down into 10-15 minute “blinks.” You can read them or listen podcast style. What I personally like about Blinkist is the way they break the book down into key insights and takeaways.
I feel like I have a solid grasp of the concepts when I’m done, there’s a highlight feature, AND if I feel inspired to read the entire book, I can easily purchase it from the app.
If you want to check Blinkist out, they offer a 7-day free trial. Give it a try!
Oh, hey! Have you visited the Soberish Sobriety Journals Page?
If you’re into journaling (and you definitely should be), but don’t know where to start or what to write about, don’t forget to sign up to receive your free journal prompts in the form above.
Want more structure? I’ve got two digital journal prompts available on the Sobriety Journals page that will give you 100+ pages of journal prompts and workbook pages to help you work on the emotional stuff that comes with sobriety.
Looking for a print journal? No problem!
There is a print version of the Soberish Early Sobriety journal available on Amazon called Write Your Recovery.
If you do purchase it, please rate and leave a review! It helps other people know that this resource is out there AND it lets me know if what I’m doing is working for you. My primary goal is to be helpful to you so if there is anything you’d like to see done better, I’m all ears.