The List of Books That Saved My Life

The List of Books That Saved My Life

These words traveled through time and space to save me.
August
August
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The Bell Jar? Really? I can hear you groaning. Stay with me. I discovered The Bell Jar when I was 15. I was in Barnes and Noble, looking for a book to take me far away from my teenage angst. This book did not exactly take me away from it, rather it plunged me further inside myself, deep enough to bring my pain and confusion to light.

1. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar is a semi-autobiographical story about Esther Greenwood, a character based on Sylvia Plath herself. Esther Greenwood is a successful college student in New York on an internship. Despite her bright future, she feels lost and sad, bored by the men she dates and the events she’s supposed to attend as part of her internship. During a photo shoot, something you’d think would be exciting and fun for her, she starts crying for no reason at all. I related strongly to this. My smiles felt stale and forced. I always felt like I was on the verge of falling apart. Esther Greenwood seemed to have similar problems to me. I had just been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, so having my Esther's similar thoughts and feelings typed out so clearly on the page was refreshing and relieving. I was not, in fact, alone.

Here are some quotes from the book that describe Esther’s battle with depression:

  • “I guess I should have reacted the way most of the other girls were, but I couldn't get myself to react. I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”
  • “All the heat and fear had purged itself. I felt surprisingly at peace. The bell jar hung suspended a few feet above my head. I was open to the circulating air. ”
  • “I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, "This is what it is to be happy.”

2. This is How by Augusten Burroughs

This is How is a book that stands apart from usual self-help books. It churns out advice weaved in with the author's own interesting and funny experiences. The frank, dry sense of humor paired with the blunt advice makes for a book that cuts straight to the heart. Burroughs isn't messing around. He cares about you in that stubborn, angry way. You're going to get happy, find love, and be successful as if his damn life depends on it because he's just not giving up on you. He knows what it feels like to be misunderstood. He knows what it feels like when chipper people tell you that it can't that bad or if you'd just smile, everything would seem brighter. Burroughs knows this is bullshit. This book is full of real advice for real people. By the time I read the book, I was considering my career, lost between what I wanted to do and what others wanted me to do. This book showed me that there are weird people out there just like me who don't fit perfectly in society and that we are welcome and needed. Burroughs writes in the voice of a friend who wants the best for you. He was a friend when I felt like I had none.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

  • "This is how you survive the unsurvivable, this is how you lose that which you cannot bear to lose, this is how you reinvent yourself, overcome your abusers, fulfill your ambitions and meet the love of your life: by following what is true, no matter where it leads you."
  • "But feelings, no matter how strong or “ugly,” are not a part of who you are. They are the radio stations your mind listens to if you don’t give it something better to do. Feelings are fluid and dynamic; they change frequently.
  • "Miracles do happen. You must believe this. No matter what else you believe about life, you must believe in miracles. Because we are all, every one of us, living on a round rock that spins around and around at almost a quarter of a million miles per hour in an unthinkably vast blackness called space. There is nothing else like us for as far as our telescopic eyes can see. In a universe filled with spinning, barren rocks, frozen gas, ice, dust, and radiation, we live on a planet filled with soft, green leaves and salty oceans and honey made from bees, which themselves live within geometrically complex and perfect structures of their own architecture and creation. In our trees are birds whose songs are as complex and nuanced as Beethoven’s greatest sonatas. And despite the wild, endless spinning of our planet and its never-ending orbit around the sun–itself a star on fire–when we pour water into a glass, the water stays in the glass. All of these are miracles."

3. The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness By Elyn R. Saks

The Center Cannot Hold is a memoir about a woman with schizophrenia that did not let her illness hold her back. She is a professor, lawyer, and a psychiatrist. Saks writes about experiencing her first symptoms of schizophrenia as a young child and up until her first suicide attempt as an adult. While this book stands alone as an inspirational story of a woman who refuses to give up despite crippling paranoia and hearing voices, as well as disorganized thought and speech, this story was especially helpful to me as a senior in high school and in the beginning of college when my symptoms of schizophrenia were worsening due to stress. I wasn't diagnosed yet, and this book was a vital clue that helped me piece together my experiences to form a diagnosis and finally get the helped I needed. Saks discussion of her paranoia truly hit home because that is something I've struggled with as a young child, and hearing someone else put my vague free floating fears into words was eye-opening. I learned that my life was not, in fact, normal. No one else saw the monsters I did at night. No one else was terrified and unable to sleep, convinced people were trying to kill them. When I realized this, I was able to reach out for help.

These are a few quotes by Saks that stood out to me:

  • "Don’t focus on it,” she said. “Don’t define yourself in terms of something which even many highly trained and gifted professionals do not fully understand."
  • In an interview: In a way, I had a very good and normal childhood. I had loving and caring parents. But I had a lot of quirks or problems when I was growing up. I had phobias and obsessions. I believed that there was a man standing outside of my window every night, waiting to break in and kill us all. A lot of kids have that fear, but mine lasted for years and years.
  • “My good fortune is not that I've recovered from mental illness. I have not, nor will I ever. My good fortune lies in having found my life.”

4. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen


Girl, Interrupted is a memoir about a girl with borderline personality disorder who goes to stay in a mental hospital at 18, intending to stay for only a little while. However, she stays for around two years, meeting interesting people and musing on what sanity and life really mean. I first read this book in 9th grade, and I was struck by the bravery and honesty of the protagonist. Sure, she was a wallflower, but so was I. I wanted to be just like Susanna, friends with the interesting people, standing around when the big exciting things happened, writing down what they meant and how they happened. Five years later, having read the books many more times, I was hospitalized for psychosis. I thought about Kaysen's stay at a mental hospital and began to view the story differently. Maybe I was not supposed to write about everyone else. Maybe I was supposed to write about myself. The world can go on without me, and people will write about it, but me? If I am gone, then my story must end, too. In my darkest moments, I remember that I thought I was just a wallflower, too, but my story is important. I must go on, writing and living. Girl, Interrupted made me feel understood, valid, even important. I was just a sad girl, too, but maybe someone would hear my story and find the strength to go on like Kaysen's story did to me. I was inspired, but more than that, I found purpose for my pain as a young woman living with mental illness.

These are just a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

  • "Was everybody seeing this stuff and acting as though they weren't? Was insanity just a matter of dropping the act? If some people didn't see these things, what was the matter with them? Were they blind or something?"
  • "In a strange way we were free. We'd reached the end of the line. We had nothing more to lose. Our privacy, our liberty, our dignity: all of this was gone and we were stripped down to the bare bones of our selves"
  • “Was I ever crazy? Maybe. Or maybe life is… Crazy isn’t being broken or swallowing a dark secret. It’s you or me amplified. If you ever told a lie and enjoyed it. If you ever wished you could be a child forever."
Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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A Senior's Last Week Of High School

The bittersweet end.
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Well, this is it. This is what we've worked so hard the last four years - who am I kidding - basically what seems like our whole lives for. This is the very last week we will set foot as a student in our high school's hallways. As most schools are getting ready to set their seniors free at last, it all begins to set in - the excitement, the anxiousness, and also the sentiment and nostalgia.

For seniors, the years since our first day as a freshman at the bottom of the high school totem pole have seemed endless, but as we look back on these last few weeks, we realize that this year in particular has gone by extraordinarily fast. It was just yesterday that we were sitting in our classrooms for the very first time, going to our 'last first' practice, and getting our first taste of the (very real) "senioritis". With all that's going on in our lives right now, from sports and clubs, finals, and the sought after graduation ceremony, it's hard to really sit down and think about how our lives are all about to become drastically different. For some it's moving out, and for some it's just the thought of not seeing your best friend on the way to fourth period English; either way, the feels are real. We are all in a tug of war with the emotions going on inside of us; everything is changing - we're ready, but we're not.

THE GOOD. Our lives are about to begin! There is a constant whirlwind of excitement. Senior awards, getting out of school early, parties, and of course Graduation. We are about to be thrust into a world of all new things and new people. Calling our own shots and having the freedom we have so desperately desired since the teenage years began is right around the corner. Maybe the best part is being able to use these new things surrounding you to grow and open your mind and even your heart to ideas you never could before. We get the chance to sink or swim, become our own person, and really begin to find ourselves.

Things we don't even know yet are in the works with new people we haven't even met yet. These friendships we find will be the ones to last us a lifetime. The adventures we experience will transform into the advice we tell our own children and will become the old tales we pass down to our grandkids when they come to visit on the weekends. We will probably hate the all night study sessions, the intensity of finals week, and the overpowering stress and panic of school in general, just like we did in high school... But it will all be worth it for the memories we make that will outlive the stress of that paper due in that class you absolutely hate. As we leave high school, remember what all the parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors are telling you - this are the best times of our lives!

THE BAD. The sentimental emotions are setting in. We're crying, siblings are tearing up, and parents are full-out bawling. On that first day, we never expected the school year to speed by the way it did. Suddenly everything is coming to an end. Our favorite teachers aren't going to be down the hall anymore, our best friends probably won't share a class with us, we won't be coming home to eat dinner with our families...

We all said we wanted to get out of this place, we couldn't wait, we were ready to be on our own; we all said we wouldn't be "so emotional" when the time came, but yet here we are, wishing we could play one more football game with our team or taking the time to make sure we remember the class we liked the most or the person that has made us laugh even when we were so stressed we could cry these past few years. Take the time to hug your parents these last few months. Memorize the facial expressions of your little sister or brother. Remember the sound of your dad coming home from work. These little things we take for granted every day will soon just be the things we tell our college roommate when they ask about where we're from. As much as we've wanted to get out of our house and our school, we never thought it would break our heart as much as it did. We are all beginning to realize that everything we have is about to be gone.

Growing up is scary, but it can also be fun. As we take the last few steps in the hallways of our school, take it all in. Remember, it's okay to be happy; it's okay to be totally excited. But also remember it's okay to be sad. It's okay to be sentimental. It's okay to be scared, too. It's okay to feel all these confusing emotions that we are feeling. The best thing about the bittersweet end to our high school years is that we are finally slowing down our busy lives enough to remember the happy memories.

Try not to get annoyed when your mom starts showing your baby pictures to everyone she sees, or when your dad starts getting aggravated when you talk about moving out and into your new dorm. They're coping with the same emotions we are. Walk through the halls remembering the classes you loved and the classes you hated. Think of the all great times that have happened in our high school years and the friends that have been made that will never be forgotten. We all say we hated school, but we really didn't. Everything is about to change; that's a happy thing, and a sad thing. We all just have to embrace it! We're ready, but we're not...

Cover Image Credit: Facebook

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My Dead Friend, Tony: Second Half

Twenty-six year old Mary is trying to make it big in the radio industry, despite the chaos from living with a middle-aged, raging alcoholic man who also happens to be dead.

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After sobbing for a couple of hours in the gas station parking lot, which had become one of my new pastimes, I guess I drove to the beach. I don't remember getting there, or being there. I must have gone swimming, because the next morning I woke up to wet clothes and chattering teeth. Chocolate was smeared on my face. I was grateful that I ended up in my car with all of the doors locked. Even through my complete dissociation, at least I considered personal safety.

I wanted a hot shower, so I drove home. I wasn't the least bit surprised when I walked through the door and saw Tony sitting casually in the armchair, drink in hand, with no pants on.

"What happened to you?" he said.

I ignored him and went straight to the bathroom. "I'm taking a shower, don't bother me." I said before slamming the door.

For once, Tony let me shower in peace. Maybe he could tell I was finally at the end of my rope. Maybe he felt bad. So bad that he left for good, and I could go back to having a clean apartment, or not cry every hour. I let the hot water burn my skin until I turned into a lobster.

I got out of the shower and put on my pink fuzzy robe. I opened the bathroom door as the hot steam rolled around me as if I were an evil villain entering from the depths of hell. I turned the corner and jumped. He was still there. I'll never get used to seeing a grown man sitting in a dark corner, lounging in his underwear.

"So, I listened to your answering machine while you were out of town. Your boss called," he said.

"I told you not to do that anymore." I glared.

"I can't help it, Mary. The messages play automatically!"

"Plug your fucking ears, then!"

"Where's the fun in that?" He chuckled.



Anxiety jolted through me like a tranquilizer. Oh yeah, that's right, I have a job at the local radio station. I totally forgot. And I'm expected to be at this job five days out of the week with written material: public service announcements, pop-culture segments, sports commentaries, what have you. The station was small and run-down enough to where I had to write everything myself, because my boss couldn't afford to hire anyone else, although the tech-guys helped me every now and then.

I didn't even know what day it was. I sank into my bed. Barney was propped up on my pillow, good as new. How'd Tony get his hands on a sewing kit?

"What did he say?" I asked softly.

Tony handed me his drink. A whiskey sour. I took a sip. I couldn't understand where he got his alcohol in the first place, since I never bought any for him.

"Hmm, well, he said if you don't show up tomorrow, you're fired."

"Cool. Anything else?"

Tony nodded and ran his fingers through his hair. He looked at me gently and smiled. A tear ran down his face. Why was he acting like a dad from an after school special?

"He said you're one of the best writers on the team, and he doesn't know why you're throwing that away."

"It's all your fault, that's why. I'm going insane because of you," I said.

"I know. I'm sorry, Mary, I really am."

He got up from the armchair and made me a drink of my own. I don't think he realized that as a former addict, alcohol wasn't really the best thing for me to have. But I appreciated the gesture. I took it, since everything else was going to shit. He sat back down and beamed at me.

"I have an idea, Mary," he said.

I scoffed. "You have an idea?"

"Yep. And I think it's a pretty damn good one, if I do say so myself." He took a sip of his drink and blotted his moustache. I waited. He took a deep breath and exhaled.

"So, you're failing at your job. That's okay, we've all been there." He laughed.

"And, I like to think I'm a pretty interesting guy. Charming, you could even say . . ." He stirred the drink in his hand. I watched as the brown liquid and ice clinked against the glass. "Charming" wouldn't exactly be the word I would describe him as, but I let it go for the time being.

"Okay, so?" I said.

"Don't you see?!" he exclaimed. I shook my head no.

"Mary! Write a segment on me!!!" He shot up from the chair and paced across the room, his hands flying every which way.

"You can talk about what it's like living with a ghost, such as myself. I really do put ya through the ringer, huh? You can interview me. Hell, we could even have our own radio show!" He clapped his hands together. I sat in silence. He looked down at our puke-stained carpet and twiddled his thumbs.

"I thought too, ya know, it'd be something we could do together. Something fun. It'd sure beat goin' at each other's throats all the time, don't ya think?" He smiled again.

I mulled his idea over in my head. The thought of presenting this to my boss made me want to throw-up. "Yeah, hey Bill, sorry I haven't come to work in I don't know how many days. I got this cool idea though, about this dead guy living in my apartment I could interview. He's pretty charming!"

And how would this work, even? It's not like Tony could come to the office with me. Or . . . could he? He'd never mentioned anything about leaving the apartment. But then again, where were all his booze coming from?

I took another sip of my drink and tried to picture doing a show with him; what that would even look like. It would be funny, probably. He had his moments. It could be philosophical, too, if he wanted to talk about what dying was like and what happens to you after the fact. Scientists and psychic mediums everywhere would eat this shit up.

Holy shit. Maybe Tony was onto something. This drunk lunatic could actually help me out. This could potentially be the perfect scenario. Doing a radio show with an actual dead person? It would be groundbreaking! It would be the talk of the town or the entire world, even. What if I made money from this? What if everyone who's ever doubted me would finally believe me? MethHead Mary was telling the truth after all! I'm not crazy!!!

A smile formed on my face.

"Okay, fine," I said.

Tony leaped in the air from excitement, giggling like a schoolgirl. The whole apartment shook. He started pacing again and muttering to himself. I'd never seen a purer side of him before. It was almost cute.

I guess I was helping him, too, in a way. I didn't know what it was like to die or be dead. I'd never asked him. It was probably lonely. Maybe that's why he drank all the time. Maybe having a platform to talk about it was something he'd wanted.

"Cheers to that!" he said.

We clinked our drinks together. He downed his in one gulp and made another, then downed that one, too. I went in the kitchen to grab some notepads and pens, and brought them out to the living room. I sipped my drink. We sat cross-legged on the floor and bounced ideas into the wee hours of the morning.

The sun eventually rose and I got ready for work, which meant pulling my hair up and putting on pants that were not flannel pajamas. Tony was passed out on the floor, snoring. I smiled. I put a blanket over my dead friend and walked out the door, hoping to God that I still had a job.

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