The best books to help you understand mental anguish from inside a body in distress

Who am I?

I’m the author of The Long Haul and Little Panic: Dispatches from an Anxious Life and eleven books for children written under the pseudonyms AJ Stern and Fiona Rosenbloom. I publish a newsletter called “How to Live” where I simplify complex theories from psychology and offer ideas for their practical applications. My work explores the complexities of emotion, addiction, neglect, and issues surrounding mental health. I am prone to write from inside the body, to capture the visceral resonance of the somatic experience and consciousness.

I wrote...

Little Panic: Dispatches from an Anxious Life

By Amanda Stern,

Book cover of Little Panic: Dispatches from an Anxious Life

What is my book about?

I grew up with an undiagnosed panic disorder whose terrifying internal experience created chronic fear that dictated how I could and could not live my life. Knowing something was “wrong” with me, without knowing its name shaped the course of my entire life. As a writer, I am dedicated to exploring hard to articulate emotions. Because emotions are so neglected in our society, kids, like the child I was, will continue to suffer in silence. I write for the parents of those kids, and for those, like me, who grew up pummeled by a constant barbaric sense of terror.

My goal with Little Panic was to write an autobiography of an emotion. I hope I succeeded.

The books I picked & why

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The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression

By Andrew Solomon,

Book cover of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression

Why this book?

I am a superfan of Andrew Solomon’s and I urge you to read absolutely anything you can get your hands on, but this book is the actual Bible for understanding depression from the inside out. 

It seems uncommon that when your life is going well, when everything seems to be working out in your favor, that depression should descend and rob you of all your joy, but that’s exactly what happened to Andrew Solomon. The way he writes about depression is beyond comprehension because it’s beautiful and profound, exacting and sweeping. Reading this, or anything of his, is like getting your organs tattooed with the ink of his experience. This isn’t simply one man’s account of his uncompromising depression, rather it’s a survey and sociological account of depression. Inspired by a 1998 article Solomon wrote for The New Yorker, this book is a wild achievement. Yes, it’s long and often unwieldy, just like life, and just like depression. This book, like William Styron’s Darkness Visible, is an American classic.

The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression

By Andrew Solomon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Noonday Demon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WITH A NEW EPILOGUE BY THE AUTHOR

Like Primo Levi's The Periodic Table, The Noonday Demon digs deep into personal history, as Andrew Solomon narrates, brilliantly and terrifyingly, his own agonising experience of depression.

Solomon also portrays the pain of others, in different cultures and societies whose lives have been shattered by depression and uncovers the historical, social, biological, chemical and medical implications of this crippling disease. He takes us through the halls of mental hospitals where some of his subjects have been imprisoned for decades; into the research labs; to the burdened and afflicted poor, rural and urban. He…


Heavy: An American Memoir

By Kiese Laymon,

Book cover of Heavy: An American Memoir

Why this book?

This wildly important book is about what it takes to become a fully realized black man in racist white America. On top of that already monumental struggle are more struggles: anorexia, sexual violence, abuse, obesity, gambling, the construction of identity, and excavating the self and others, to get at the truth. I’d say that this is perhaps one of the best books on trauma that I’ve read. The sentences themselves, the rhythmic syntax of their musicality, is just one emotional heartbeat of this stunning, painfully honest, and vulnerable work of art. 

Heavy: An American Memoir

By Kiese Laymon,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Heavy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*Named a Best Book of the Year by the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, NPR, Broadly, Buzzfeed (Nonfiction), The Undefeated, Library Journal (Biography/Memoirs), The Washington Post (Nonfiction), Southern Living (Southern), Entertainment Weekly, and The New York Times Critics*

In this powerful, provocative, and universally lauded memoir—winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal and finalist for the Kirkus Prize—genre-bending essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon “provocatively meditates on his trauma growing up as a black man, and in turn crafts an essential polemic against American moral rot” (Entertainment Weekly).

In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son…


The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays

By Esmé Weijun Wang,

Book cover of The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays

Why this book?

A truly insightful book—it is not a memoir—but rather a type of philosophical inquiry about living with schizoaffective disorder, and trying to make sense of the nonsensical, and order the disordered. This is both the work of an analytic researcher and the personal narrative of a person hoping to correct the misconceptions and branding of schizophrenia, but she writes beautifully and poignantly about the identity and branding of the mentally ill, and the stigma of chronic illness. My favorite writing about mental illness is writing done from inside the suffering, and Wang does that here, especially when she’s under the spell of Cotard’s Syndrome, a particularly chilling disorder that convinces the sufferer they are dead. There is no solution to chronic illness, there is only uncertainty, and while we all live in uncertainty—and many of us are adept deniers, Wang is not one of them. 

The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays

By Esmé Weijun Wang,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Collected Schizophrenias as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An intimate, moving book written with the immediacy and directness of one who still struggles with the effects of mental and chronic illness, The Collected Schizophrenias cuts right to the core. Schizophrenia is not a single unifying diagnosis, and Esme Weijun Wang writes not just to her fellow members of the "collected schizophrenias" but to those who wish to understand it as well. Opening with the journey toward her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, Wang discusses the medical community's own disagreement about labels and procedures for diagnosing those with mental illness, and then follows an arc that examines the manifestations of…


The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

By Bessel Van Der Kolk,

Book cover of The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

Why this book?

There isn’t a human who lives in this life without accruing some trauma. Small t trauma or Big T Trauma, it doesn’t really matter. The body, like a container, does not distinguish or have a preference for what is being held inside. This book is a wildly important read for everyone. It teaches what those who have been made aware of their trauma already know—emotional pain is inside the body, and in order to process what’s trapped there, we need to go inside. Trauma occurs when the past remains present; the memory of the trauma doesn’t get absorbed or processed, it simply stays in place, inside your body replaying itself over and over, and this constant replay affects the body and brain on a physical level, and yet, because it’s invisible, it—like all mental disorders, isn’t treated with the same urgency as illnesses that can be seen. This book is overflowing with information and is, like the Noonday Demon, a classic.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

By Bessel Van Der Kolk,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Body Keeps the Score as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 New York Times bestseller

"Essential reading for anyone interested in understanding and treating traumatic stress and the scope of its impact on society." -Alexander McFarlane, Director of the Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies

A pioneering researcher transforms our understanding of trauma and offers a bold new paradigm for healing in this New York Times bestseller

Trauma is a fact of life. Veterans and their families deal with the painful aftermath of combat; one in five Americans has been molested; one in four grew up with alcoholics; one in three couples have engaged in physical violence. Dr. Bessel van der…


Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?

By Julie Smith,

Book cover of Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?

Why this book?

Confession: as of this writing I am only ⅓ of the way through this book, but I like it immensely and find it immensely soothing and validating. A cursory search on Dr. Julie Smith, a therapist, tells me that she is “TikTok famous” and remains very popular on social media. This is not how I came across her work, or this book. This book is an excellent primer for how to survive being human in this world, with vital inside information from decades of therapeutic practice on how to face daily challenges and become attuned to our mental health. Filled with insights, strategies, and explanations that are both practice and relatable, this is a great book to gift to people of all ages.

Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?

By Julie Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Sound wisdom, easy to gulp down. I'm sure this book is already helping lots of people. Great work, Dr Julie' MATT HAIG, bestselling author of REASONS TO STAY ALIVE

'Brilliant. Bite-size. Easy to understand. Easy to flick through. It's like a reference to how you feel' Phillip Schofield on ITV's THIS MORNING

THE NO. 1 SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

'Julie Smith is the psychology teacher you wish you'd had at school' EVENING STANDARD
'This book is a goldmine. I truly treat it like a handbook now' STYLIST
'It's real, it's authentic . . . Very practical and very, very helpful' LORRAINE…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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