A healing potion of words

January 27, 2014

Have you ever read until you felt better? I certainly have. Many times.

Sometimes my sadness is too big that spoken words don’t help me get it all out right. But words in books abandon the page and slip cunningly into the precise areas I’ve denied all access, slowly starting to mend the broken pieces and putting things into place.

And friends are the best, but a piece of literature will never tell you ‘I know how you feel’. Because nobody knows how you feel. Instead, a book becomes a diary where you project all of what you are going through onto its pages. It becomes uniquely personal in a way that nothing else, so publicly available, will. A book is neither condescending, nor invasive; a book doesn’t abandon you: it’s there, patiently witnessing your trauma and heartbreak. And that’s good, because a corny self-help quote is the last thing you need. And that’s great, because what didn’t kill me didn’t make me stronger. At all.

If you have ever been touched by a book, you often go back to the shelf, picking that particular book up, and read parts of it over and over again to yourself, as its words speak to you in a way everyday language can’t. While everyday words, such as sad, helpless or broken seem to subtract from the feeling and strip down the experience, the symbolic significance of stories and their imagery help us deal with difficult emotions at a time where everything is experienced in top volume. Good literature speaks respectfully to us about a thing we know deeply, but are at a loss for words to utter.

Sounds familiar?  The Sad Book is a picturebook which chronicles Michael Rosen's grief at the death of his son Eddie from meningitis at the age of 19. Illustrated by Quentin Blake, this beautiful book does not pretend that pain is easy to bear.

The Sad Book is a picturebook which chronicles Michael Rosen’s grief at the death of his son, Eddie, from meningitis at the age of 19. Illustrated by Quentin Blake, this beautiful book does not pretend that pain is easy to bear. The Sad Book, 2004

Through these poignant images, Oliver Jeffers explores the themes of love and loss

Through these poignant images, Oliver Jeffers explores the themes of love and loss. Heart and the Bottle, 2009

Books allow you to stay with your sadness. ‘Pain demands to be felt’, John Green writes. And in this ‘gotta be happy, gotta have it all figured out’ society, it is relieving to be granted moments when it’s okay to be unhappy, and feel that others have been there too. Life is hard sometimes, you know? Because you lose people you didn’t want to lose, and you often dream and work and try your best and you don’t succeed, and then there are those times when you just want to love and be loved and it is not easy. What you need in these moments is not a magic wand to make it all okay. You need to experience it, you need literature, which will offer you powerful coping tools: effective metaphors, poignant stories, honest images which will support you to deal with your feelings, learn from it and grow… It helps.

Does any of these seem familiar to you? Do you believe in the healing power of words? What books have helped you deal with a difficult period in your life? Share your experience in the comments below. I’d love to know.



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  • Saba Idris

    I often use books to distract me but I still haven’t read the right book at the right time like you mentioned. But they still always end up making me feel better.

  • Maya

    I received the book ‘This is for you’ by Rob Ryan recently and it really helped me come to terms with love and the people in my life. I recommend it to anyone, plus Ryan’s artwork is beautiful.

  • Shana Miller

    Ah definitely. There’s nothing like the right book at just the right time! Words are the perfect therapy for a stressed day! Reading poetry helps me..i think sometimes it’s easier for me to “get” poetry when I’m upset. It’s like my emotions are full on and can better detect the true meaning of words.

  • Andrea Marcou

    Everything you said is absolutely true (plus I love how you used a John Green quote!!)

    I personally believe in the healing power of words 100%. Books help you realize that you are not alone. If you are going through a hard time and you read a book where the characters are going through something similar , those characters become your “friends” and you sympathize with them and it feels like they know exactly how you are feeling.

    I have read somewhere that the right book comes to you when you need it most and this has happened to me quite a lot , there are many books which have helped me get through hard times. The first one that comes to my mind is “Looking for Alaska” by John Green , this book has a lot to do about loss and I read it in a time where a very dear friend of mine had passed away and it helped me get back to my feet. Also ” Hold Still” by Nina Lacour was a book that I totally could relate to the main character the time I was reading it and it made me feel less alone. A book that I always pick up when I am feeling down is “The realm of possibility” by David Levithan , this one is probably my most high-lighted book and it can just lift me up , every single time.

  • Christina Christofidou

    The Missing Piece Meets the Big O by Shel Silverstein_Love it! (among others..) Words help me fly away, see my self as a reflection of my “real inner world” through constructed images. Usually, watching yourself from a distance is a starting point for heeling 🙂

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