Three Books That Saved My Life
by Kobo Receptionist and Facilities Coordinator Jenn Shenouda-Levine
I often wonder where exactly I’d be if the right books had not found me at the right time.
I’d like to think that I’d be okay no matter what, but the truth is that certain passages from certain books have been like life preservers for me throughout the years. A thoughtful book, much like a thoughtful friend, need only say a few words to you to change the course of your own story for the better.
At the times in my life where I’ve felt the most isolated by my anxiety, books have been able to bridge that gap to the world for me, reminding me that I am never alone.
Here are the three books that have had the biggest impact on my wellbeing to date:
“So if I have advice for you it is this. Imagine the worst thing in the world. Think the unthinkable. Find the hidden places where you refuse to trespass, those principles that you have sworn never to break; and then start to consider what, perhaps, might happen to you if you broke them.”
Wortmann’s advice to essentially charge, head on, into the things that terrify me the most seemed almost impossible at first, but his words continued to resonate with me long after I read his memoir. As a fellow OCD sufferer, I started to consider what might happen if I stopped avoiding the packed subway cars that seemed full of danger to me and literally sat with my fear until it subsided. After some time and a lot of practice, I realized I could actually face what I dreaded most.
“When you're lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost. For the longest time, you can convince yourself that you've just wandered off the path, that you'll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now. Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and it's time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you don't even know from which direction the sun rises anymore.”
Gilbert’s travel and self-discovery memoir was a kind of soul staple for my generation, appearing on countless bookshelves. Despite all the buzz around this book about a decade ago, it still had a profound impact on me. In fact, it was the above quote that convinced me to finally seek medical help for anxiety in my early twenties. Before then, I was convinced that I had to carry the load by myself, even if it was too much to bear.
“I consider my bipolar condition a gift to me. I have almost touched heaven in my mania, I have been plunged into the depths of despair in my depressions, but with the love and compassion that have been shown to me, I have weathered all the storms, and I believe I am equipped now to face any new challenges that life will inevitably put before me.”
Her son, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, might be in the media a lot these days, but Margaret will always be the superstar of the Trudeau clan for me. It was her memoir (a fairly recent read of mine) that convinced me that beyond struggle is a place for mental health advocacy and education. She was someone who suffered for a long time in the public eye, and has since broken her silence for the sake of raising awareness and helping others. I’m proud to say she’s my Canadian idol, and I’ve recommended her book to so many people I’ve lost count.