Why I Run From Mental Health Self-Help Books!

Its been 5 years since I’ve picked up and read a mental health self-help book. It might be another 5 years until I do again. It’s not that self-help books aren’t helpful. I believe that for others self-help books for mental health can be a useful tool for recovery. It’s just that they are not helpful for me.

Over the years I’ve tried a number of different treatments for symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and depression. I’m on medication. I’ve probably had over 100 cognitive behaviour therapy sessions with my therapist. Maybe hundreds. I’ve seen multiple psychiatrists. I’ve been in multiple group therapies as well. And of course, I’ve read self-help books that were recommended to me by professionals and from other individuals who have similar symptoms as me.

Again, I point out that I’m not anti self-help books. That is why I was drawn to them in the first place. I am currently reading a few self-help books and have been reading them off and on for years. I get so much out of these books. I would recommend them to anyone looking to improve their life. However, I can honestly say when it comes to mental health in this genre, I have not found one book that has helped me. Most of them have even set me back a little bit and worsened my symptoms upon starting them. In fact, of the many books I started, I never finished one of them. And believe me, I tried!

My personal issue largely stems with self-help books focused on obsessive compulsive disorder and paranoid thoughts. One important piece of information that I should share upfront is that one of my more troubling symptoms surrounding obsessive compulsive disorder is my need to count words as I’m reading and re-read words and sentences over and over. Sometimes I cannot finish a sentence without re-reading that last few words and counting the number of letters in each word.

If there is 3 letters in any of the last few words of the sentence, I go back to the following sentence and re-read it to “cancel out” the bad that might happen from there being a word with 3 letters. I also re-read the last sentence of each page, flipping back and forth the pages numerous times until it feels right. There are other rituals I do as well. Don’t get me started on highlighting! That is a whole different process.

So to be upfront, reading is quite hard for me with these symptoms. It’s why I gave up reading for a number of years and had so much trouble in high school. It’s one of the reasons I literally failed every class in my first year of university and struggled for years in school after that until I addressed it head on. I literally could not read. Well, I could read, just my mental illness was holding me back from doing so. I still struggle with these rituals and compulsions when it comes to reading and writing today, but I am much better than I was, thankfully.

For whatever reason, when it comes to reading mental health books, I revert back to a lot of my old tendencies. Constant rituals and compulsions. Re-reading words, sentences and even pages. It’s a long exhausting process that makes me never want to pick up another book again! But of course I do. I will admit that reading about these illnesses is a major trigger for me. Sometimes just hearing the words obsessive compulsive disorder or bi-polar or schizophrenia gives me my worst anxieties. And when my anxiety gets worse, so do my symptoms.

This makes it very tough for me to get through these books with any success whatsoever. If I am able to make it through the pages, I retain very little and often go back to re-read the pages anyway. This is something I clearly need to work on. Now that I’m blogging about my mental health, I can.

My escalated OCD symptoms are not the only thing holding me back from reading these self-help books. Another problem stems from reading about other people’s symptoms with obsessive compulsive disorder and paranoia. I cannot tell you the amount of additional rituals, compulsions and paranoid thoughts I have added to my own from self-help books. OCD and paranoia have a way of growing in the most unexpected ways. They are tricky like that. I’ll read about someone touching their food to their chin every time before eating it and boom, I have a new ritual!

Or another who won’t wear blue on Wednesdays because blue is bad luck on that day and something bad could happen. Bang, no more blue on Wednesdays! Or another who holds their breath and counts to 5 whenever they walk into a new room. I made it 4 since 4 is my lucky number. But I do it twice (4+4+2=10, again another “good” number). I won’t get into the irrational fears I’ve picked up from these books. Things that I probably wouldn’t have ever thought about on my own but once I read them they instantly become apart of my life. Apart of ME.

I’ve learned over the years that it is probably more beneficial for me to just stay away from self-help books in the mental health genre. For every helpful point I learn from them, there are multiple things that have certainly made my life a little more difficult and worsened my symptoms. It is unfortunate because I know they could be quite helpful. I wonder if this happens to anyone else with these illnesses, or perhaps it is just apart of my own set of symptoms. I would venture a guess that I am not alone in this.

Really, self-help books are not the problem. It is my own inability to deal fully with my mental illness which is holding me back. I can work on this. But I also know my triggers. And mental health self-help books are one of them. For now. Luckily for us with mental illness there are a number of different treatments we can use to help us. Self-help books are only a small part in the overall treatment of these symptoms. I can continue to take my medication, to go for cognitive behavior therapy, to see my psychiatrist and to attend group therapies. And now, blog, communicate and advocate with others who also deal with these illnesses.

If I can continue with these treatments, who knows, maybe one day I will be able to pick up a mental health book and benefit from it. Clearing my head of all these useless rituals and compulsions. My irrational fears. And continue my growth as a person despite my illness. For now, I’ll leave these books for all of you.

I can only hope by you reading this, I did not add to your own rituals, compulsions and fears as well. We can work on this together. Maybe one day I’ll write a book about my experience overcoming these symptoms and how I did it. You just won’t find it in the self-help section.

Nate