Depression’s Early Warning System

“Depression is not who you are–it involves a conditioned habit that your brain has learned and that your brain can unlearn.”–Elisha Goldstein, Uncovering Happiness

depression sloth
Five Hindrances to Mental Health

The authors of the original mindfulness manual suggested five mental hindrances (temporary mind states that hindered mental health) long before the idea of mental disorders existed in the West.

The five they came up with were addiction to sense pleasures, hatred or ill will, restlessness and worry, doubt, and the one I find most challenging during the shortest days of the year: sloth and torpor.

Sloth and Torpor

Sloth is the reluctance to work or make an effort. 

Torpor is a state of physical or mental inactivity, sluggishness or apathy.

Since I first began practicing mindfulness of the hindrances, I’ve paid a lot of attention to what brings them on.  

The Hindrance Protocol

Simply put, the protocol for working with the hindrances is to notice when they’re present and when they’re not present, notice how they arise and how they disappear, and, as a serious stretch goal, how once they disappear, they don’t arise again (at least not as often) in the future.

In Uncovering Happiness, Elisha Goldstein writes about the depression loop in much the same way. “The first step in uncovering happiness and experiencing freedom from the depression loop is learning how to objectively see the loop in action instead of getting lost in it.”

He compares a depression loop to a traffic circle fed by four access points: thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors.  

When Sloth and Torpor are Present

One way that sloth and torpor might serve as an on-ramp for a depression loop is through my reluctance to make the effort to follow my usual wellness regimen (sloth) out of apathy (torpor). 

Given the vital role exercise plays in promoting well-being, I set a daily intention of walking 10,000 steps, which I track with my pedometer.

Here’s how that intention is impacted when sloth and torpor are present.

Physical sensations: There’s a physical sensation of being weighed down. It’s like I’m carrying a child on my shoulders so they can watch a parade, only I’m not getting the positive reinforcement of their enthusiastic responses to the spectacle. 

Thoughts: I do mental simulations of various rainy walking routes, all of them have negative features like mud or submerged sidewalks. I imagine water seeping in through my shoes, deep puddles at corners that I can’t get around without risking my life by stepping out into traffic. Before I can mentally map a route of sufficient distance, the obstacles become insurmountable and the simulation ceases. The physical and psychological benefits seem entirely hypothetical.

Emotions: The voice in my head is judging me, calling me lazy and weak, lacking in character and grit. It feels shameful.  

Behaviors: I’m more likely to check the radar and weather forecast looking for an opportunity to reschedule the activity.

When Sloth and Torpor Are Absent

Behaviors: I check the weather, put on the appropriate clothing, and step outside.

Thoughts: No advance route planning is necessary unless there’s a specific errand to run. 

Emotions: General amusement at squirrel, bird, or crow activity, positivity resonance from seeing fellow pedestrians and dogs.  

Physical sensations: It feels good to be moving. 

How Not Yet Arisen, Sloth and Torpor Arise

Behaviors: Lack of a solid stretch of sleep the night before. This can turn into a cycle if I give in to taking a nap to “catch up” on my sleep.

Physical Sensations: An early production of melatonin due to the muted daylight and early sunset produces a weighty sluggishness.

Thoughts: Traditionally, two kinds of thought are associated with the onset of sloth and torpor. One occurs when there are unresolved conflicts in my life that I contemplate but never work through. This is the same kind of dead-end thinking as unsuccessfully simulating a walking route. It eats up energy, but there’s no renewal from a sense of accomplishment. It’s spinning my wheels.

The second kind would be continually looping back to rationalizations like, “But I’m too tired” or “I’ll do it later.”

Overestimation of the effort required to put on rain gear is another contributing thought.

Emotions: Free-floating resentment or frustration about the shortness of daylight, cloud cover of an already weak sun, a vague sense of injustice about it raining too many days in a row, or before my clothes actually dry from the previous day’s walk.

How Once Arisen, Sloth and Torpor are Abandoned

Thoughts: A rationalization process goes on where I bargain with myself to merely dress for the weather and step outside without a commitment to meet my step count. It also helps if there’s someplace I need to be or an errand I need to run. Then I can combine the task with that objective. 

Emotions: My partner is on the same page as I am as far as walking for fitness goes. It helps to arrange a time when we can walk together to engage in agreeable conversation and take our minds off the weather. 

Behaviors: Setting a time to walk, dressing for the weather, and stepping out the door.

Physical Sensations: Usually some pleasant sensations will kick in if I can manage to get in motion. They may not be as pleasant as they usually are, but once I’m out and moving I acclimate to the damp and/or cold. Once begun, it’s easier to complete the steps, or at least get a decent number, than to return and get out of the rain gear.

How Once Abandoned, Sloth and Torpor Do Not Arise Again

Okay, I’m still struggling with sloth and torpor. I haven’t kicked it, but the more aware I am of the thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and behaviors that accompany the hindrance, the more quickly I begin to engage with one of the strategies to overcome it. Writing this post is actually a strong, positive step in strengthening an early warning system before my habitual reactions can take hold.

Ten Minute Exercise

Goldstein recommends keeping a diary of depression cues. Since both the hindrances and depression loops become more challenging once they set habitual reactions in motion, it’s helpful to practice noting our thoughts, emotions, sensations, and behaviors, and selecting appropriate coping strategies in advance when we’re not under their distorting influence.

1. Set an alarm on your phone, computer or other timer to ping you two or more times a day when you’ll be free to pause for a minute or two (or five. You can divide the ten minutes by the number of pings accordingly.)

2. Take a few breaths to check in with yourself and write a brief description of your current thoughts, emotions, any physical sensations that you notice, and the behavior you were engaged in at the time you were pinged.

3. Note whether any hindrances or depression cues are present, absent, or arising.

4. Keep this document with you so that you can add thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and behaviors that coincide with hindrances and depression cues.

Starting and keeping such a document will help you recognize that a hindrance that seems permanent (once you’re inside it) is actually changing all the time. Developing curiosity about those changes gives you greater freedom when they arise.

How to Win a Political Argument

“You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it.”–Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

My First Brexit-Style Referendum  

It was the first election year that I sort of kind of understood what was happening. I had enjoyed the theatricality of the conventions. I couldn’t follow what the nominee was saying, but the crowd kept interrupting with standing ovations so it must have been good. The balloons looked amazing on our new TV. I had just wrapped up my first Brexit-style referendum campaign.

YES! LET THE RABBIT EAT TRIX!

NO! TRIX ARE FOR KIDS

I was chairman of the YES! campaign in my third-grade classroom. 

Victory was intoxicating!

An Accidental Donkey

For Halloween that year, my mother asked if my brother and I would like to trick-or-treat as an elephant and donkey. I liked the idea, but only if I could be the donkey. To my surprise, my brother didn’t argue.

I was eager to do for my family’s favorite candidate what I had done for the Trix rabbit.

I was proud to dress as the symbol of the Republican Party. I would be the GOP DONKEY!

Why You Can’t Win an Argument  

Dale Carnegie explains that if you shoot someone’s argument full of holes and prove that they’re delusional, you’ll feel fine, but they’ll feel stupid, ashamed, and resentful.

For example, just before I set out on my Halloween mission, I thanked my brother for allowing me to represent the Republicans.

“Donkeys are Democrats,” he said.

“No, they’re not!” I objected. 

That political argument went on for a while. You know who lost. 

I felt stupid, ashamed, and resentful.

My New Tribe

My costume choice may have been a letdown to the tribe of my nuclear family, but when we started knocking on doors, I saw Blue. 

We lived on Chicago’s south side. Ours was the only Republican family on the block. Our neighbors were delighted by my costume and eagerly gave me candy.

One of them jokingly asked, “Should we really feed the elephant?”

I was torn. My brother hadn’t forced me to be the donkey. He hadn’t really rubbed it in. My first decision as a Chicago Democratic Party power broker was magnanimity toward my political opponent.

“Sure, I guess.”  

My Thanksgiving Tribe

There may be a genetic component to following in the footsteps of my father’s political tribe. But, my mother’s parents and extended family were Democrats. Maybe the donkey gene had influenced my decision.

Whatever the genetics, as I graduated from the kid table to the grown-up table at Thanksgiving gatherings, I observed three things in the adult conversations.

  1. Discussing political views made for some entertaining (and increasingly inebriated) conversation. 
  2. I doubt that they ever changed anyone’s vote.
  3. At the end of the evening, we were all still family.

Sadly, for many families, that’s no longer the case.

Losing Your Tribe

In September, I attended a Better Angels Skills Workshop, which offers techniques to “have constructive, non-polarizing conversations” with people who disagree politically.

The facilitators asked why people had come to the workshop. Some had moved cross country to follow a spouse or a job. Their new neighbors thought differently than their old ones. Some were carefully vetting holiday invitations on the chance a certain in-law might be there. Others felt alienated by their co-workers.

I was looking for techniques to calm the stress and anger that arose when my own tribes spoke as if their political opposites were monsters.  

Setting the Tone

I like that the first guideline for a constructive conversation is to let the person know that your goal is to understand their perspective. To the extent that core beliefs are genetically influenced, they are as difficult to change as race or gender preference.

The second is to acknowledge your own political stance. This allows your conversation partner to know their audience so they won’t feel ambushed. 

Because of my Purple upbringing, I’m seldom in lockstep with either tribe, so it was easy for me to acknowledge something critical about my side and offer something positive about the other side.

The guideline I found clunky was asking permission to pose questions. The handout suggests the phrases, “Can I ask you something about politics and your views on something?” and “Can I ask you what people in your part of the country are saying about what’s going on in Washington these days?” The first one sounds unnatural to me; the second sounds too close to “you people.”           

Active Listening 

I’m a big fan of paraphrasing people’s answers and giving them the chance to clear up misunderstandings. This forces me to listen carefully without forming a response. Paraphrasing thoughts challenges me to consider what was said. And, it gives each party the opportunity to clear up misunderstandings. Additionally, I can attempt to de-escalate inflammatory word choices.

Listening for core beliefs is central to learning what makes people tick. Political views reveal how people feel about individual vs. collective freedom, the roles of the federal and local government, the strengths and weaknesses of the economic system, religious beliefs, patriotism vs. globalism. 

Speaking Skills

My second favorite skill (after the paraphrase) is the follow-up question. After a view has been stated, paraphrased, and acknowledged, ask how the person came to hold the belief.

Examples:

I’m interested in how you came to belive in single-payer healthcare.

How did you come to see the federal government as more the problem than the solution?

The workshop suggests using “I” statements (I think, I feel, as I see it) to avoid stating opinions as facts. This is a good way to avoid saying things like, “it’s just common sense.”

It wasn’t that challenging to find areas of agreement when roll playing Blue gun control talking points with a Red conversation partner. We both agreed that mass shootings occurring at the current rate were unacceptable.

If a view differs from yours, ask how the person came to form that view. This helps humanize political opinions and gets people off their talking points. My partner shared the story of an elderly friend who lived alone in a rural setting far from her neighbors. She had purchased a handgun and taken safety courses for her self-protection. She was concerned about overregulation taking that protection away.

Handling Difficult Moments

My practice sessions were so amicable that I didn’t get the chance to test drive the recommendations for handling difficult moments.  

The handout recommends refocusing on one topic when someone jumps from issue to issue. Instead of answering baiting questions or provocative statements, gently restating or rephrasing your viewpoint. Agreeing to disagree. Finding a low-key way to end the conversation is still my go-to strategy if the other person starts to get upset. Move on to another topic where you agree. That’s the way our Thanksgiving conversations usually ended.

How to Influence People

In his post “Why Facts Don’t Change Minds,” James Clear writes:

“Convincing someone to change their mind is really the process of convincing them to change their tribe. If they abandon their beliefs, they run the risk of losing social ties. You can’t expect someone to change their mind if you take away their community too. You have to give them somewhere to go. Nobody wants their worldview torn apart if loneliness is the outcome.

“The way to change people’s minds is to become friends with them, to integrate them into your tribe, to bring them into your circle. Now, they can change their beliefs without the risk of being abandoned socially.”

Ten Minute Exercise

While the exercises from the workshop can be done in ten minutes with a partner, they must be done face to face. The workshop cautions against trying to employ these skills online. Without facial expression and tone of voice, it’s very easy to take words out of context. But, we can practice our response to polarizing ideas on our own.

1. Set a timer for ten minutes.

2. Write down a political talking point that brings up resistance in you.

Examples: 

Talking Point: We need to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Talking Point: We need Medicare for All.

3. Write down a core belief that the statement conflicts with:

Examples: 

Talking Point: We need to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Conflicting Core Belief: I believe that healthcare is a basic human right. 

Blue: We need Medicare for All.

Conflicting Core Belief: I don’t trust the federal government to get healthcare right.

4. Briefly describe an experience from your life that helped shape your belief.

Examples: 

Core Belief: I believe that healthcare is a basic human right.

Story: When my mother took ill, my father ate through all of his retirement savings and eventually went bankrupt.

Core Belief: I don’t trust my family’s health to the federal government. 

Story: I wanted to start my own business, but there were so many regulations that had to be met I couldn’t afford to do it.

5. Write down something challenging about your own position.

Talking Point: We need to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Challenge: Of course, many of the changes have become entrenched now making the bureaucracy hard to untangle. 

Talking Point: We need Medicare for All.

Challenge: When Obama tried to do healthcare, he couldn’t find enough support for a public option in his own party, let alone gaining Republican support.

Brighter Outlooks for Pessimists

Pessimist

I’m sharing my experience with a ten minute daily habit that’s been shown to reduce depressive symptoms in pessimists. 

Predicting a Brighter Future

As James Clear writes in Atomic Habits, “Life feels reactive, but it is actually predictive. All day long, you are making your best guess of how to act given what you’ve just seen and what has worked for you in the past. You are endlessly predicting what will happen in the next moment. Our behavior is heavily dependent on these predictions. Put another way, our behavior is heavily dependent on how we interpret the events that happen to us, not necessarily the objective reality of the events themselves.”

It would be depressing if our well-being were dependent on what happens to us, which often is beyond our control. But, with practice, we can get better at controlling how we interpret what happens. This exercise from Greater Good in Action shows us how.

List Five Good Things

To start, list five things that make you feel like your life is enjoyable, enriching, and/or worthwhile at this moment. These things can be as general as “being in good health” or as specific as “drinking a delicious cup of coffee this morning.” The purpose of this first step is to help you shift into a positive state of mind about your life in general.

Here are five things I find enjoyable, enriching, and or worthwhile about this exercise. 

1. I find that listing things that are going well helps me appreciate them again in the moment. 

“Enjoyed dropping in on the Day of the Dead art exhibit at Guardino Gallery.”

2. It primes me to look for and recognize the good in things I might otherwise take for granted.

“Washed new underwear and socks. Look forward to wearing them!”

3. It prompts me to pursue the good when opportunities arise. 

“Signed up for a Social Gathering Meetup on Saturday.”

4. What is enjoyable, enriching, and/or worthwhile in the moment is relative, and highly scalable.

“Not feeling well because of debilitating allergies. Scrambled eggs and English muffins was comforting breakfast.”

5. Through repetition and neuroplasticity, repeating these instructions changes the brain.

“I’m noticing that this exercise is helping me recognize and reframe frustrating situations more quickly.” 

Describe the Situation

Next, think about the most recent time when something didn’t go your way, or when you felt frustrated, irritated, or upset.

In a few sentences, briefly describe the situation in writing.

Focusing on the “most recent” event brings attention to fresh circumstances instead of rehashing old ones. Writing the event down translates it from feelings and negative self talk (which I seldom question) into words (which I constantly question). The ten minute time limit and brief description prevent me from going on a rant.

“I was frustrated that none of the friends who said they were interested in joining me for Paranormal Pub at the Kennedy School showed up. I kept looking at the door to see if they’d arrive. It made it difficult for me to relax.”

List Three Positives

Then, list three things that can help you see the bright side of this situation. For example, perhaps you missed your bus this morning. Three ways to look on the bright side of this situation might be:

1. Even though you missed the bus, you got some good exercise when you were running to catch it.

2. You’re fortunate to live in a city where there was another bus just 10 minutes later, or where buses run reliably at all.

3. Ten years from now, you likely won’t remember what happened this morning.

Three things I like about these examples:

1. The running to catch the bus example encourages creative thinking and having a sense of humor about oneself.

“I can be autonomous in choosing something I want to do and let others choose for themselves.”

2. The recognition that there’ll be another bus acknowledges how we benefit from each others’ contributions.  

“It’s nice that Kennedy School puts these programs on as an opportunity for community.”

3. Taking the “ten year” view works with larger setbacks. It’s unlikely we’ll remember small ones even one week from now.     

There will be another opportunity to get together.”

Ten Minute Exercise

Finding Silver Linings

Ten minutes daily for three weeks

1. To start, list five things that make you feel like your life is enjoyable, enriching, and/or worthwhile at this moment. These things can be as general as “being in good health” or as specific as “drinking a delicious cup of coffee this morning.” The purpose of this first step is to help you shift into a positive state of mind about your life in general.

2. Next, think about the most recent time when something didn’t go your way, or when you felt frustrated, irritated, or upset.

3. In a few sentences, briefly describe the situation in writing.

4. Then, list three things that can help you see the bright side of this situation. For example, perhaps you missed your bus this morning. Three ways to look on the bright side of this situation might be:

a. Even though you missed the bus, you got some good exercise when you were running to catch it.

b. You’re fortunate to live in a city where there was another bus just 10 minutes later, or where buses run reliably at all.

c. Ten years from now, you likely won’t remember what happened this morning.

Bonus Track

Listen to the “How to Find Your Silver Linings” episode from the Science of Happiness podcast.

Bibliotherapy: a Novel Cure

If your depression seems resistant to the usual therapies, Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin may have a novel cure for you: bibliotherapy.

Bibliotherapy
Reading as Therapy

Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm,” wrote Ceridwen Dovey in her New Yorker article “Can Reading Make You Happier?” 

“Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.”

Enter the Bibliotherapist

Bibliotherapy, as offered through The School of Life, is not unlike any first session with a therapist.

Patients answer questions about their reading habits and “What is preoccupying you at the moment?”

The bibliotherapy session can take place in-person (in London) or via phone or skype.

Patients receive an instant prescription, and a full prescription follows within a couple of days.

Bibliotherapy by the Book

As therapies go, $140 is a bargain for many, many hours of reading “books that can put their finger on feelings that you may often have had but perhaps never understood so clearly before; books that open new perspectives and re-enchant the world for you.”

But, if circumstances prevent you from scheduling an appointment at this time, try Mss. Berthoud and Elderkin’s book, The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You.

Method of Treatment

Each human condition listed prescribes a novel title or several. There’s a brief description of common aspects of the condition, then a brief description of how the title relates,  and, finally, a summary of the novel’s active ingredients.     

“Sometimes it’s the story that charms; other times it’s the rhythm of the prose that works on the psyche, stilling or stimulating. Sometimes it’s an idea or an attitude suggested by a character in a similar quandary or jam. Either way, novels have the power to transport you to another existence and see the world from a different point of view.”

Ten Minute Exercise

Each book’s entry is concise enough to help you make an informed decision about whether the prescribed novel is right for you in ten minutes or less.

If you’d like to give bibliotherapy a test drive, I’ve quoted from the authors’ active ingredients for prescriptions related to common depression challenges. 

1. Choose a prescription for a current depression challenge. 

2. Pick prescription up at your local library or order it for online delivery. 

I’ve been in a funk all day.

SADNESS

The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B by J.P. Donleavy

“If you are sad, immerse yourself in the warm, tender humor of this novel. To begin the long, slow uplift out of sadness that it effects.”

Also see: DISSATISFACTION; GRUMPINESS; MALAISE, TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

The things I usually do for fun just aren’t fun anymore.

DISENCHANTMENT

Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier

“Meaulnes’s tragedy is that when he finds happiness he can’t embrace it. His sense of identity is too firmly bound up with yearning, and he needs the dream to remain a dream. But we can live differently.”

Also see: APATHY; POINTLESSNESS; STAGNATION, MENTAL

I can’t seem to stop losing weight.

APPETITE, LOSS OF 

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa 

“One cannot help but revel in the old patriarch’s appreciation for the sensual world. This is a novel that will help you rediscover your appetite—for food, for love, for the countryside, for Sicily with all its history and rampant beauty. And, most important, for life itself.”

I can’t seem to stop gaining weight.

OBESITY

“If you’re overweight because you’re unhappy, don’t padlock the fridge or put yourself on a rigid diet; the diet will fail and you’ll only make yourself unhappier still. Try to discover why you are seeking consolation—this book may give you some ideas (for starters, try: Stuck in a rut, or Career, being in the wrong). Once you’ve ironed out your relationship with yourself, your relationship with food will self-correct.”

STUCK IN A RUT

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

“Long before you’ve reached the travails of Winston Cheung, the paper’s barely competent, barely employed Cairo stringer, you will find yourself resolving to avoid their fate, unstick yourself, and get a move on.”

CAREER, BEING IN THE WRONG

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

“If you, too, could find a way of earning money that brought you spiritual as well as financial rewards—and allowed you to spend your days full of joy—what would it be?”

I can’t get to sleep. I’m constantly on edge.

INSOMNIA

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa 

“Nowhere in literature are the rhythms of prose more attuned to the lumbering gait of the sleepless hours. If your eyelids start to droop as you read, Soares won’t mind. You can pick up your conversation with him, wherever you left off, tomorrow night.”

ANXIETY

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James 

“Of the fourteen causes of anxiety that we have identified, the first chapter…can be expected to ameliorate ten.”

Also see: AGORAPHOBIA; ANGST, EXISTENTIAL; IRRITABILITY; PANIC ATTACK; STRESS

I sleep all the time. I have no energy.

BED, THE INABILITY TO GET OUT OF

Bed by David Whitehouse. 

“Read it once, and then during subsequent attacks of the condition you will need only a brief dip to send you leaping out from under your duvet and thence into anything other than the small suburban bedroom and freak show of a life depicted within its pages.”

EXHAUSTION

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis 

“What we love most about this archetype of energy is his apparently limitless ability to throw himself wholeheartedly into the next project, frequently picking himself up off the floor (when by all rights he should sleep for a week) and dancing himself back to life.”

LETHARGY 

I’m a worthless piece of crap.

SELF-ESTEEM, LOW

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

“If you subject yourself to constant criticism, undermining your belief in yourself and your own opinions, you’ll recognize a kindred spirit in the nameless narrator.”

See also: IDIOT, FEELING LIKE A; HOPE, LOSS OF; SHAME

I’m the meanest, most insensitive person who’s ever walked this planet.

MISANTHROPY

The Holy Sinner by Thomas Mann

“If, like Gregory, you tend to stand apart from humanity, despising what you see, consider whether your hatred isn’t in fact hatred of yourself. Adopt, like Gregory, the expression Absolvo te—“I forgive you”—and turn it inward. Once you’ve learned to love yourself, you’ll find it easier to forgive others’ failings as well.”

Also see: ANGER; ANTISOCIAL, BEING: CYNICISM; EMPATHY, LACK OF; SCHADENFREUDE

My attention span is zero seconds, and I can’t decide what to eat for lunch, let alone what to do with my life.

INDECISION

Indecision by Benjamin Kunkel

“Dwight Wilmerding, the twenty-eight-year-old slacker hero…finds that he can’t ‘think of the future until [he’s] arrived there—a quality shared by many indecisive types.”

RISKS, NOT TAKING ENOUGH

The Sense of and Ending by Julian Barnes

“As he sits alone in his poky, aging bachelor lair, he occupies his idle hours with meaningless tasks: ‘I restrung my blind, descaled the kettle, mended the split in an old pair of jeans.’ Too late, he finds himself ‘in revolt against my own . . . what? Conventionality, lack of imagination, expectation of disappointment?’ At least, he comforts himself, ‘I still have my own teeth.'”

Also see: COMMITMENT, FEAR OF 

I’m always thinking about death.

DEATH, FEAR OF

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez 

“As the novel spans a full century, death occurs often and matter-of-factly and the characters accept their part in the natural order of things—an attitude that, in time, may rub off on you.”

DEATH OF A LOVED ONE

Recommendations follow Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief.

DENIAL

After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell

“Let this novel give you permission to exist for a while in your own cocoon of shock. Don’t worry if you can’t seem to persuade yourself to come out of it; your body will shed the cocoon when it’s ready.”

ANGER

Incendiary by Chris Cleave

“Your anger may feel endless—and so it should, for it is the transmutation of your love. But it can dissipate only if you let it out. This stage cannot be rushed.”

BARGAINING

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

“Oskar finds…an understanding of suffering and loss from the lives of his grandparents before he was born and, in a touch that will help to rewarm your heart, the desire for a grief-stricken but loving mother to help her son recover from his enormous loss.”

DEPRESSION

What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

“Pain is an unavoidable part of life, and experiencing yours in the company of these characters will help you inhabit its darkest corners—perhaps the most vital part of the process of grieving, if you have any hope of moving on.”

ACCEPTANCE

Here is Where We Meet by John Berger

“So it is that, further along in our mourning process (though the process never ends), we come to see our lost loved ones as they really were, the good and the bad together.”