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I love to read, it’s always been my way to escape the drudgery of real life, but also a means to learn about subjects, people and places that I’m unlikely to come into contact with in my day-to-day life. 

I read a varied selection of books both fiction and nonfiction, but today I wanted to share with you some of my favourite health-related books. I have previously discussed some of these books on my blog, so I will link to my reviews. 

I enjoy reading books about health, not specifically self help books, or standard educational books, but ones that tell a story, and share a person’s individual experiences living with chronic illness or mental ill-health. I have also included a couple that tell a story from a different perspective, from the viewpoint of the caregiver or doctor. 

In no particular order, here are my personal recommendations. Please comment with your own favourites. I’m always eager to discover new books and new authors. 

1. A Girl Behind Dark Glassesby Jessica Taylor-Bearman

I love this book, although it’s not an easy read at times due to the subject matter. I urge everyone to read A Girl Behind Dark Glasses, it’s not just a story about one person’s struggle with the ‘ME monster’ – it’s far more than that. It’s a story of love, family, friends; of hope, strength and courage.

For those of you that haven’t heard of Jessica; she is a courageous young woman who featured in Jennifer Brea’s powerful film Unrest. Jessica became acutely ill with ME at 15 years old, prior to this she had been a normal, active, energetic teenager. She spent many years in and out of hospital and spent a long time paralysed in a locked-in syndrome state, bedridden, unable to move, speak or eat. 

She began to write in her mind, and when finally able to speak again, she began to write through her audio diary ‘Bug’. 

I am in awe of Jessica’s determination and her enthusiasm for life. Although she has battled through unimaginable traumas, her story still remains a positive one, and her compassion towards others is remarkable. I am humbled by her courage and I look forward to following her story as she continues to progress in her journey through life. Jessica Taylor-Bearman is a name to watch in the literary world – I wait with excited anticipation for her next book.

Please click here to read my full review of A Girl Behind Dark Glasses 

2. Dear Chronic Illnesscompiled by Pippa Stacey (charity book)

Dear Chronic Illness features a collection of short letters collaboratively written by 16 young people, addressed to their conditions. The letters are not your typical sob stories, and provide a light-hearted and humorous commentary on the writers’ various experiences, yet they also give insight into the challenges of navigating life whilst learning to live with their conditions.

This book is unique. It contains letters addressed to long-term conditions ranging from POTS to endometriosis, from tumours to Severe M.E, and each letter is a work of art on its own. 

The honest letters written by young, brave chronic illness warriors, offer a unique insight into each condition. There is so much to relate to within this book if you suffer from chronic illness yourself. 

3. M.E. and Me: A Doctor’s Struggle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – by Dr. K N Hng

M.E. and Me: A Doctor’s Struggle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is an honest account of life with ME/CFS by a doctor who developed the condition, but it’s also an important educational tool. Dr Hng bravely tells her story, and in doing so she has written a concise, informative and moving introduction to this debilitating illness.

“I have a story to tell. There are many things in here which I am not at all comfortable sharing, yet I want to tell the whole story. Therefore I have decided to share them. I hope doing so will help educate, inform, and raise awareness. From my own experience, both as a doctor and then as a patient, this condition is poorly understood. After all, isn’t everyone tired all the time?” ~ Dr Hng

Dr Hng had a clear objective when writing her book, and has definitely achieved this and much more. Doctor with M.E.: My Journey with “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” is a must-read for anyone suffering with ME/CFS, their friends and family, and also all medical professionals. 

Please click here to read my full review of this book 

4. The Self-Care Project – by Jayne Hardy (The Blurt Foundation) 

I find some self-care books a bit pretentious and the ideas within are often not realistic for people living with chronic illness and mental ill-health. But I found this book relatable and non-judgemental. 

The Self-Care Project is a no-nonsense journey to help you get back on track, and offers practical advice on how to put your mental wellbeing first while incorporating self-care into your life. It’s written by Jayne Hardy, the founder and CEO of The Blurt Foundation. 

It walks you through why self-care is so important, why it isn’t selfish at all, and helps you explore what self-care means for you, what your obstacles might be and provide advice on how to chisel out daily space for self-care in a practical, achievable and realistic way.

5. I Really Didn’t Think This Throughby Beth Evans (Beth Draws Things)

I have followed Beth Evans on Instagram for a couple of years now, and I love her illustrations, they are so relatable and always hit the mark. Beth’s newest release I Really Didn’t Think This Through, is a book of comics and writing about good days and bad days, and how to deal with them. 

‘This beautiful compilation of Beth’s words and artwork will be a useful companion for anyone who is muddling through the early bits of adulthood with varying degrees of ‘ARGH!”

6. The Boy in a Billionby Callie Blackwell & Karen Hockney 

The Boy in 7 Billion is a story of love, family, courage, resilience and the healing power of cannabis. It tells the extraordinary story of Deryn Blackwell, told by his Mum Callie.

At the age of 10, Deryn was diagnosed with Leukaemia. Then 18 months later he developed another rare form of cancer called Langerhans cell sarcoma. Only five other people in the world have it. He is the youngest of them all and the only person in the world known to be fighting it alongside another cancer, making him one in seven billion. 

You may have seen Callie Blackwell (she’s the one with the pink hair and the big smile) and her son Deryn on the TV or in the newspapers. Callie is a cannabis activist and she has done so much to raise awareness about the medicinal properties of cannabis, and she’s also helped lots of families and patients looking to access this healing plant. Deryn Blackwell is an incredible young man, who has battled two aggressive forms of cancer, and against all odds, and with the help of cannabis, he beat them.

Callie continues to fight for families to get access to cannabis to treat a multitude of illnesses. She believes everyone has the right to choose cannabis as a treatment option.

7. Reasons to Stay Alive – by Matt Haig

In Reasons to stay alive Matt tells the story of his own battle with depression and anxiety. 

But rather than being a depressing read, it’s actually a moving, funny and joyous exploration of how to live better, love better and feel more alive, Reasons to Stay Alive is more than a memoir. It is a book about making the most of your time on earth.

I have spoken quite a lot about my love of Matt Haig’s books on my blog, I find them very relatable. He’s not scared to show his flaws, his emotions, his insecurities, or the ugly side of mental illness. But he also shows that living with mental illness makes us quite incredible humans. We may experience extreme lows, but in contrast we also experience extremes highs. And we notice the beauty in the world that can often be overlooked by people without mental ill-health. We are also often caring and compassionate, understanding, loyal, appreciative, and empathetic people. 

Matt inspires me, and so many others, to talk about our mental health struggles. He gives us hope when in the depths of despair. He shows us that we can have a bright and happy future.

“I wrote this book because the oldest clichés remain the truest. Time heals. The bottom of the valley never provides the clearest view. The tunnel does have light at the end of it, even if we haven’t been able to see it . . . Words, just sometimes, really can set you free.” ~ Matt Haig 

I wrote a post inspired by the positive message imparted within Reasons to stay alive. Please click here to read it.

If you enjoyed Reasons to stay alive, you may also like Matt’s most recent mental health book: Notes on a nervous planet

8. This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor – by Adam Kay

I actually stumbled across this book on Audible and didn’t really know what to expect. After reading the blurb I was a little hesitant, how could such a dark subject matter be anything but depressing? But I’m glad I took the chance. 

This is going to hurt tells the true story of Adam Kay’s time as a junior doctor, based on a diary he kept during this time. “Welcome to the life of a junior doctor: 97-hour weeks, life and death decisions, a constant tsunami of bodily fluids, and the hospital parking meter earns more than you.” 

Jo Brand describes the book perfectly: “Finally a true picture of the harrowing, hilarious and ultimately chaotic life of the junior doctor in all its gory glory, dark comedy and unavoidable sadness. A blisteringly funny account shot through with harrowing detail, many pertinent truths and the humanity we all hope doctors conceal behind their unflappable exteriors.”

I cannot recommend this book enough. Beautifully written, and brutally honest, I was captivated from the first chapter. 

9. The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story – by Christie Watson

The language of kindness is similar to This is going to hurt, but rather than being from the perspective of a junior doctor, the story is told through the eyes of an NHS nurse. 

‘It made me cry. It made me think. It made me laugh. It encouraged me to appreciate this most underappreciated of professions more than ever’ Adam Kay, author of This is Going to Hurt

Christie Watson was a nurse for twenty years. Taking us from birth to death and from A&E to the mortuary, The Language of Kindness is an astounding account of a profession defined by acts of care, compassion and kindness.

As someone who has lived with chronic illness for the majority of my life, and who has utmost respect for nurses and the impossible job they do within the NHS, this book only reinforced my admiration for nurses. 

10. How to be Human: The Manual by Ruby Wax

Ruby Wax has been very open in recent years about her struggles with depression. Her personal way of coping, and learning to live with her mental ill-health was to study it, from all angles. In her own words, from her previous book A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled: “So, after my last bout of depression seven years ago, I promised myself I’d learn to somehow lasso my wild mind and take some action. Obsessed, I plunged into research mode, scouring science journals and papers.”

I find Ruby very relatable. Her approach to understanding her own mental illness was very similar to mine – to jump headlong into the science behind the brain, and to educate herself as much as possible. 

In How to be human Ruby enlists the help of two experts: a monk (who tells us how our mind works) and a neuroscientist (who tells us how our brain works), Ruby Wax answers every question you’ve ever had about: evolution, thoughts, emotions, the body, addictions, relationships, sex, kids, the future and compassion.

I found myself nodding along to much of this book. Questions were answered, not in a “This is what I think and this is how you must do it” way, but instead the book introduces fact and personal experiences leaving the reader to make their own conclusions. 

Ruby has two books which preceded this one, which I also found fascinating: A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled, and Sane New World: Taming the Mind

If you have read any of these books, I would love to hear your thoughts on them. Do you have any recommendations you would like to add? 

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