Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Shelf help for self help

I was very intrigued to hear the news about a new scheme asking GPs to prescribe self-helf books to patients suffering with depression,anxiety or relationship troubles. They will be recommended books to read from their local libraries (woop woop for the libraries by the way!) in a bid to encourage self-healing. Some examples are: How to Stop Worrying and The Feeling Good Handbook  as well as 'feel good' fictional works designed to cheer us all up- The Secret Garden and Goodnight Mister Tom were a couple, as well as, somewhat curiously 'To Kill a Mockingbird'...('cheering up' doesn't have to be overt I guess)

I am sure the non-fiction self-helf books contain a lot of very useful information and advice, and can suggest very useful and practical ways of coping. I really, really, really hope those recommended are nothing like the awful articles you get in womens' magazines telling you 'how to cope with this, that and the other' or '5 easy ways to CHANGE YOUR LIFE' which, firstly, erm, 'NO' and secondly, 'stop making me feel worse.' They present an ideal, goals and achievements that perhaps you do not want, or certainly cannot achieve, but now  you suddenly feel you should. Having so-called 'steps' (note: created by some magazine who has never met you and doesn't really care) only makes you more aware of how you have failed at achieving any of their suggestions.

What most interested me, however, was that the act of reading itself is suggested to be so beneficial, and I couldn't agree more. The very act of such concentration needed to read seems like an excellent way to avoid the distractions or worries you might be facing. Further still, I recently heard how a study had suggested reading classic novels, in particular, are especially helpful. The attention needed for reading a classic is often quite great, therefore only enhancing our ability to forget our daily troubles.

Another reason classic novels are so effective, I believe anyway, is because we can enjoy and become engrossed in the stories and characters, but without necessarily applying it directly to ourselves- as we do so obviously with self-helf books. Novels can be so much more subtly cathartic, winding their experiences, lessons or mistakes into our subconscience quite easily. We can empathise and engage with these characters' experiences, but not worry so much that it will happen to us. The alienness of the settings and often language to our present day and current situation mean distancing ourselves, gaining some perspective and rationality, is much more possible, and often the very best thing.

Having empathy with someone else can certainly put our own worries into perspective, When I read Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence, I found for the first time in my life, my own thoughts, anxieties and fears mapped out on the page before me. I couldn't believe it. That 'gosh- someone else has felt like this too' moment (you don't necessarily have to say 'gosh' by the way)  has never been stronger than through that book. Lawrence's ability to present that feeling so gently through beautiful language, a delicate choice of words and rhythm of sentences meant it sat much deeper within me than any magazine article ever could. I was effectively hyptonised. I was also both distracted by something else, yet entirely engulfed by it.

Perhaps this is hugely hypocritical. Here I am, offering advice up- the very thing I preach against. Feel free to ignore it completely. But my prescription for us all is this: Less reading about how to help ourselves and let DH Lawrence* do it for you.

*or more specifically, a writer YOU like

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