By Micaela Cashman
I’m not a huge fan of self-help books. If they help you, that’s great, and you should absolutely keep reading them! But sometimes I feel like they’re talking at me, telling me what I should be doing without telling me how to do it. For me, it’s hard to connect with those books, and I don’t come away with any real action steps.
But there are TONS of books that do help me and have changed my life in small and large ways. They’re just not called “self-help.” These books have stuck with me over the years, and I hope they will make a difference for you, too.
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Yes, that Cheryl Strayed. The one who wrote the life-affirming book Wild. It turns out, she was also an advice columnist, writing “Dear Sugar” on the side for the online magazine The Rumpus. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of her columns. Now, I am usually a one-book gal, meaning I only read one book at a time. But I keep Tiny Beautiful Things on my nightstand and read a few columns whenever I’m feeling like I need connection, a break from my own struggles, or just a little reflection time.
People from all backgrounds and with all types of issues write to Cheryl Strayed (who wrote under the “Sugar” pseudonym). Regardless of the problem, you’ll likely find a bit of yourself in every entry. And Strayed’s unfiltered advice is THE BEST. She has empathy for every single person, yet she’s blunt and often painfully honest—but it’s the kind of pain that signals your body is healing itself.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
I read It’s Kind of a Funny Story when I was 18, a freshman in college, and first encountering depression. The book follows Craig, a teenager who starts having suicidal thoughts, calls a suicide hotline, and ends up checking in to a psychiatric ward. Sounds scary and not fun, right? During his stay in the hospital, Craig meets characters from all walks of life, with mental health issues ranging from mild to severe. Similar to Tiny Beautiful Things, it’s the sense of connection Craig makes with each fellow patient that’s so endearing and hopeful. It also helps to know you’re not alone. For me, a huge part of my mental health is just knowing that struggle is a universal human experience.
Similar to Tiny Beautiful Things, it’s the sense of connection Craig makes with each fellow patient that’s so endearing and hopeful. It also helps to know you’re not alone. For me, a huge part of my mental health is just knowing that struggle is a universal human experience.
I believe this book is technically Young Adult, but I’d recommend it for adults, too! PS, it’s been made into a movie featuring Zach Galifianakis (now on Netflix), but the book is better, per usual.
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
This book is hard to describe. It’s like…a comic book/graphic novel/memoir? Allie Brosh started it as a blog in 2009, using simple drawings she made in Paintbrush to illustrate her mental health journey. The result? You’ll be laughing one second and crying the next. Literally. But isn’t that range of emotion so cathartic sometimes?
Hyperbole and a Half taught me a very valuable life lesson: Learn to laugh at your flaws, your dark inner thoughts, your troubling past. Now, when I have a dark thought pop into my head (example: “I SHOULD JUST GO AHEAD AND DIE RIGHT NOW”) I end up bursting with laughter at the ridiculousness of that overly rage-filled voice.
Micaela Cashman is a Des Moines writer, classic rock music enthusiast, and power-reading friend of Storyhouse Bookpub.