The Books That Keep Me Sane

It won’t be news to many of you that I have some slight mental health baggage. I’m fairly open about it when I have the anonymity of the Internet to hide behind. I’ve ranted about the stereotypes of mental illness on here before though, so don’t worry, you’re safe from me today.

Whilst this will eventually be a book-related post, let me provide a bit of background.

My mother and I started decorating my room quite a while ago now, but due to my starting a demanding new job and subsequent bout of physical illness, it was never finished. There’s been 3m of unwallpapered wall for months and it’s slowly been driving me crazy. Never mind though, we decided tonight was the night to rectify it.

Thing is, we have an old house and the walls have moved, so the pretty patterned wallpaper doesn’t match up as it should, a matter complicated by the awkward dormer windows that basically mean you have to wallpaper part of the ceiling. There are joins in the paper where the flowers don’t quite (or at all) line up with the flower stem on the adjoining piece of paper. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it was (IS) and I basically had a meltdown.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a proper OCD meltdown but it’s not pleasant. On one hand, you can feel the mismatched wallpaper watching you and you feel sick and you’re hyperventilating and you can’t stop crying… but then there’s a little detached bit of you watching from afar with disgust that really just wants you to stop being such a freak.

After a little while, I calmed down enough to sit tensely cross-legged on the bed staring at the wall (Ellie, I love you for talking me down), but just not quite enough to recreate the illusion that I’m a rational human being.

Then it came to me. The absolute, complete only thing that could possibly calm me down was A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Nothing else would do. From that point, my mind latched onto the idea and associated Douglas Adams with peacefulness. I was literally desperate to read it.

Why that book? I have no idea. But the more I thought about it (which I did, at length, to distract myself – hey, I even wrote a blog post about it), the more I realised that there are certain books that I turn to when I’m about to have a large scale freak out.

The thing is, I can’t really work out what these books have in common. There are books that I love that I wouldn’t feel appropriate for this kind of situation (Jane Eyre, Terry Pratchett, 22/11/63…). I just know that the list below makes me feel safe and keeps me sane when I may not be doing such a good impression of it at the time.

Hanna’s List of Literary Sanity
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Pride and Prejudice
Lord of the Flies
The Hobbit
84 Charing Cross Road
We Bought A Zoo  
Harry Potter and the… Whatever, Really
A Christmas Carol
To Kill A Mockingbird
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
There may be more, but as my brain has clicked on to Hitchhiker’s Guide tonight, I can’t think what the others might be. I guess I’ll find out the next time home decorating goes awry!
Which books do you turn to in times of need?  


  1. Ellie says:

    I've never been able to work out what it is about certain books that give that calming effect. My two go-to sanity reads are The Woman in White and To the Lighthouse – really couldn't get much different. I wonder if it's the distraction factor. If something is full of twists, is really deep, really funny or has an engaging storyline it's easier to sink into the book and almost forget about the other stuff. Or maybe it's the comfort of reading something familiar. Either way, I hope the Hitchhiker's Guide works it's magic for you 🙂

    1. admin says:

      Thanks. It did 🙂 I was even sneaking the odd page here and there at work, just to keep me calm and OCD-free (ish).

      I really need to get round to reading The Woman in White. It's on my list for this year but I thought I'd let War & Peace settle first!

  2. Bex says:

    I don't think you need me to tell you mine :-p as well as Little Women though,anything Harry Potter,To Kill a Mockingbird,Ravenheart by David Gemmell and I've had a really similar Hitchhikers incident (only with anxiety/depression not OCD). We really are book twins!

    1. admin says:

      Haha, right down the book we grab when we need some comfort! 🙂

      Little Women NEEEAARRLY made my list but it's just not quite as comforting as the above list. It makes me happy but can't quite pull me back from a meltdown. Totally with you TKAM and Harry Potter though.

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