I, like millions of people, struggle with depression and anxiety. I know that I’m not alone in this…but that is extremely difficult to remember when the clouds come rolling in. I deal with depression, anxiety, and multiple chronic health issues and I find myself struggling on a regular basis. Admitting you’re depressed out loud feels like being a huge failure at whatever you’re working on, at everything, at life. And there’s such a huge stigma about mental health in the media, and our society in general, that it can feel suffocating and almost dangerous to say it out loud. And for anyone who isn't white, cis, het, able, etc… it’s so much right now.
The media, society at large, and even friends who think they are helping say hurtful and potentially dangerous things about mental illness. Friends of mine have said to me, ‘we should look at these anti-depressants, I bet we can tie crimes back to side effects, why isn’t anyone tracking that!’ Others have said - directly to me - that those who kill themselves by suicide are selfish and just don’t care about other people.
I… am just destroyed by these. *I* am that loner kid they're talking about. I am all for stronger gun laws, or really ANY gun laws, but laws banning any items specifically from those who are mentally ill is such a slippery slope to me. Let’s track everyone on anti-depressants and make it even MORE of a reason not to say out loud how much of a challenge it is to live like this. And the selfish comment… You don’t know what people are going through. No one does. I’ve definitely lost friends because of depression, and even the supportive friends will say to call in the middle of the night no matter what, not realizing the paralysis that accompanies depression then blame me for not reaching out.
So what does this have to do with romance? Because when I feel completely alone (or really when I’m happy, sad, joyous, anxious…) I turn to books. And I can always find what I need. There are authors who make me feel like they’re inside my brain, like they’ve had exactly my experience, and that is priceless. Certain books basically reach into me and wring out my emotions completely. And when there is no one to turn to in real life it never fails to amaze me that there will always be a book I can turn to.
Alisha Rai’s Hate to Want You was one of the first books I had ever read with on the page descriptions of living with depression that made me feel seen. When I read it I was blown away by the nuanced depiction of worthlessness and chronic depression Livvy has dealt with since high school. It took my breath away to realize that other people felt the same way I did. That I wasn’t alone in feeling as if I contributed nothing… anywhere.
“You can be strong and have moments of incredible despair, when everything feels like it’s collapsing in on you, and yes, when you feel like you want to die. Those moments are not weaknesses. They are simply moments. And they are not you.” – Alisha Rai, Hate to Want You
Roan Parrish’s Invitation to the Blues is one of the most beautifully descriptive books on depression I’ve ever read. I basically highlighted the entire thing. It felt like I was exposed on the page. I can’t read it all the time, because it’s like rubbing a sore spot, but I saw myself in Jude at every turn. This book has so much depth and so many layers to it and when Jude describes himself sinking into depression it was startling to have it put into words so well.
“It was an almost absurd way to summarize a year-long process of sinking that happened so slowly the ooze was up to my waist before I knew I was mired in it. But there was no narrative to these things, no logic or explanation. No code or symbology. I wished there were. The formlessness was its own kind of death.” - Roan Parrish, Invitation to the Blues
Not only does Parrish manage to capture the sadness and loneliness but also one of the key parts of what I struggle with the most – worthlessness and feeling as if I make the lives around me worse.
“But that’s part of the problem. My parents are lovely people. They’re incredibly kind to me. They love me so much. And I can’t be…I can’t BE around them. I can’t be myself. I can’t be what they want. When I’m near them, all I can think about is how I’ve made their lives ten million times harder than they would’ve been otherwise.” - Roan Parrish, Invitation to the Blues
Below are a few more books with what I consider great representation of various mental illnesses. They have all meant so much to me. All have Content Warnings for frank depictions mental illness.
- Carry the Ocean by Heidi Cullinan - CW: suicidal ideation
- Ars Numina series by Ann Aguirre - CW: suicidal ideation and repeated attempts, alcohol abuse, grief
- Soft on Soft by Mina Waheed - CW: on page anxiety attacks
- Chance of a Lifetime series by Kate Clayborn - CW: panic attacks (book 3) death off page, grief (book 2)
I’m so grateful to these authors for writing these books with mental health issues be at the fore. That these books are becoming more common helps me in my darkest moments and is why romance is my favorite genre. That these characters struggle with depression and still get an HEA helps me remember that I deserve to have that in my own life. It helps me remember that we all deserve to have whatever form of HEA we want, no matter what we’re dealing with.