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Healing the Tortured Artist (with Books)

The Tortured Artist Series:

I. The Elephant in the Room Holding a Paintbrush Needs a Therapist

II. Healing the Tortured Artist (with Books)

III. When You Fall into the Tortured Artist Fiction

Are you tired of identifying as “tortured?” Do you want to start treating yourself with the self-love you deserve? Do you have trouble humanizing yourself? If you haven’t read The Elephant in the Room Holding a Paintbrush Needs a Therapist, you might want to for the context of this post.

It’s okay, I can wait!

But anyway, I wanted to make this list because:

A. I need a break from long-form.

B. I can’t get it out of my head.

C. I want to help you feel less alone.

So it’s really a win-win here.

Growing up, I was an avid reader. I think I could say I read at least one book a week. Among them were lots of books about those who struggled with a mental illness or disorder of some sort. I had not been diagnosed when I read them, nor do I even think I was fully aware of how much I related to these books at the time. Even some of the things I read about I would not experience until much later in life, but I still knew.

It was so easy to read about these fictional characters going through these experiences back then. I think about how I so loved Esther from The Bell Jar when I read the book back in 2014. I believed she got me. While I do need to reread the book, I remember knowing the hopelessness in Esther’s words. I had the same feelings of isolation, like my head wasn’t quite screwed on right. I thought about how thinking about death wasn’t foreign to me. When I was going through a bad bout of depression in 2016, I clung to Sylvia Plath’s poetry, thinking it a balloon but it being an anchor.

Now I realize that the way I sobbed or zoned out while reading books was because I was probably feeling triggered. Just maybe got an inkling here. I romanticized how much I was more “empathic” than others and prided myself in being able to relate to everything a character was feeling, but I realize now that I felt the deepest and darkest parts because I knew exactly what it was like. I don’t wish the things I’ve experienced on other people.

I know some part of me knew how much I was struggling, as much as a 14 to 17-year-old could understand, living in a household that stigmatized mental health and consuming media that matched. I know I was aware of my depression because I wrote about it often, but I don’t think I understood its depth until I went to college. What I think has changed now is how much I have learned after reading all of these books and going through it—the experience of mental illness is different for everyone, and the healing process will depend on the person.

Throughout it all, it’s just important to remember that it’s okay to heal. It’s okay to accept help. You are not a bad person if you believe that your trauma makes you a better artist, but I implore you to understand what that means.

I’m running on almost empty here, but basically what I’m trying to say is that you’re not a bad person if you believed the fiction that being traumatized or tortured makes you special. It’s what we’ve been taught. But I do believe in a more human approach where your art is something you make and it is good because it is yours and you’re working hard on it. It’s great if your art is happy. It’s great if it’s really sad. You are not defined by one dark facet of your life and neither should your art.

So here are the books that have made me feel more human, even when they shined light on the darkest parts of my experience. I do believe that when we’re ready, we can read to heal.

Books That Made Me Feel Like Empathy Is Real:

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

“Mr. Freeman: You are getting better at this, but it's not good enough. This looks like a tree, but it is an average, ordinary, everyday, boring tree. Breathe life into it. Make it bend - trees are flexible, so they don't snap. Scar it, give it a twisted branch - perfect trees don't exist. Nothing is perfect. Flaws are interesting. Be the tree.”

Review: One of my all-time favorite books and it made me feel empowered as hell.

Possible Triggers: mute, rape/sexual assault (theme), depression, self-harm

Where to find:Thrift Books, Barnes & Noble,