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    22 May 2020

    You Can Now Be "Prescribed" Books For Your Mental Health And These Six Were Meant To Help Me

    Kinda perfect timing seeing as all my worries are just getting worse with COVID-19.

    🚨This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and does not constitute medical or other professional advice.🚨

    Hi there, my name is Clare and all the way back in February which, let's be honest, feels like YEARS ago, I went to see a bibliotherapist.

    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    If you don't know what a bibliotherapist is, or you're curious about the experience, you can read all about it here.

    I was prescribed six books, each with the intent of easing my fear associated with such an unstable future impacted by climate change, international politics and the fires that raged in Australia early this year.

    Here's how they went!

    1. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    I started with Lolly Willowes first because I have a complicated relationship with classic literature. Most of the time, I don't enjoy it and there's only a few novels that weren't horrendously hard slogs to read. And unfortunately, that was also the case with Lolly Willowes.

    The bibliotherapist prescribed it to me to highlight the "importance of becoming your own anchor". During my session I had admitted how lost I felt, because all my future options — including my safety options — seemed to be disappearing.

    In theory, a book about a middle-aged woman leaving her family and defying societal convention, to go and live by herself and eventually become a witch, seemed like a good idea. But I couldn't get into it. I realise that the themes and Lolly's badassery were all there, but I couldn't connect with the central character, so I didn't draw away anything I could apply to my life.

    This book is a slow burn and I became more invested half-way through when Lolly starts to have meetings with the ~devil~, but I can't honestly say this book changed how I look at my life, or left me with any lessons to help with my fear of the future.

    2. The Versions Of US by Laura Barnett

    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    I started reading this one second, because my bibliotherapist said it "questions the influence partners and circumstances can have in our lives and careers". Because of the coronavirus, international travel is extremely hard and even completely banned for some people, a cause of concern because my partner is British and I'm an Aussie.

    In my original bibliotherapy session, I spoke about the implications of having an international partner and what affect that would have on my future. Back then, I was more thinking about what country we would end up in or what we would do when his visa ran out late this year. Now, because of the disease, if he does fly back home, when will I get to see him? Is our future now on hold indefinitely?

    Versions Of Us tells the love story of Eva and Jim in three different scenarios that alter based on the moment where they met (or didn't meet). Essentially it's an ode to fate and shows how tiny little decisions can drastically change our lives.

    This book actually helped me out a lot. It reminded me of the values I've always lived by and the fact that I can't control anyone or anything else. The only control I have is over my own decisions and, as this book shows, that's an immense power.

    Plus, it's an absorbing read so it also gets bonus points for distracting me while social distancing.

    3. Notes to Self by Emilie Pine

    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This one was by far my favourite of the first three. Personal essays aren't something I normally read, but recently I've started to see the value in them. As I discovered, when you pick the right one, it can feel like the author is actually you — like there's someone else who has gone through the same problems, they're in the same headspace and they're telling you that it's all going to be okay.

    Notes to Self brought up issues that I hadn't even mentioned to my bibliotherapist like whether or not to have children. With the current climate and political landscape, my decision sometimes veers very closely to, "No, I'm not going to have them." I worry that, by making this decision, I'll be missing out on something.

    In one of the essays Emilie Pine talks about her own experiences of trying to have children. Of how she changed her mind from a "no", to a "yes" and then making the decision not to have children again. This time the decision wasn't because she didn't want them, but because of the effect "trying" to have children was doing to her relationship and to her mental health.

    What stuck with me though was the resounding positivity of this essay and for that matter, the entire book. It's a simple message, one that I think I need to remind myself of: That it will all be okay and, even if it's not, you can come out the other side of it.

    4. The Girls' Guide To Hunting And Fishing by Melissa Bank

    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    If anyone out there disagreed with what I've said about personal essays previously, then this might be a good starter for you. It's completely fiction, but the way it's written had the same truth and authority that personal essays do — of course, I fell in love with it completely.

    But, did it change my outlook on life? Did it ease my anxiety?

    Well, I'm not 100% sure on that, but what it did do was make me forget all my worries when I was reading it. It only took me a day and a half of intermittent reading to get through it though, so unfortunately, my peace was short-lived.

    Mostly what the book showed me is that relationships aren't stagnant. That as much as we get it into our heads that you find your person and immediately everything is bliss — we change as both individuals and couples. Life gets in the way and alters everything in an instant, including your relationships.

    5. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This book is actually a collection of letters and replies from an online advice column anonymously called "Sugar". It's insightful, heart-wrenching and beautifully written. While I can appreciate that it's a great book that tells the stories of the human condition, I would not recommend reading it in order to ease any anxiety you might have about your future — especially during a pandemic.

    I read this book and I started to apply its advice to my own life, my own doubts and anxieties that have trebled since the pandemic began — and it didn't make me feel safer, it didn't make me feel calm. Instead, it piled on a whole new range of doubts and questions to be answered that I didn't even know I had.

    You know why? Because we're in a fucking PANDEMIC. This is a completely unprecedented time and none of this advice actually pertains to me. There is no situation in this book that is the same as mine and trying to apply these beautiful stories and words to my own life just caused me more stress and more anxiety.

    So, I will keep this on my shelf and when I feel the need, when everything has quietened down, maybe I'll pick it up and and re-read some of the chapters that I need to, but for now, I've got to say, it didn't have the guidance I was looking for. And maybe that's where I went wrong. I read the book looking for advice when really, I should have been paying attention to the stories the advice pertained to.

    6. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

    Clare Aston / BuzzFeed

    This is the first graphic novel I've ever read and I've got to say, I'm glad it was this one. I'm a words-gal, so I will admit that I missed full sentences and the rhythmic cadence of a good piece of writing, but this book reminded me that sometimes, there are visuals that just can't be described in the same way that they can be shown.

    This book has everything on my personal checklist of "what makes a good book": Strong female character, little bit of history, adversity and then character growth — sounds boring in a list, but you get some banger stories out of it. Perseoplis however wasn't my favourite book and I think it suffered from being the last one read on my list — I got to admit going from writing to graphics was a little jarring.

    But, it managed to make me think on the world, count my blessings and check my privilege, because the author definitely made it through tougher times than I've experienced.

    Getty Images / BuzzFeed

    Overall, I can't say definitely one way or the other if this process helped with my anxiety about the future. To be fair, a lot has changed since I saw my bibliotherapist and got my prescription, my complaints and worries now seem so trivial.

    But what was great about this experience, was that it opened me up to different authors, stories and ways of speaking to a reader. While only a couple helped me with my mindset and my fears, all of them allowed me to turn away from the world for a couple of hours and immerse myself in a something other than worrying news.

    Now, back to my regularly scheduled reading!

    If there are any books you think would be perfect to read in a time like this, sound off in the comments below!

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