Dorothy Herson has been living with bipolar disorder for many years. The bouts of depression could leave her unable to move, speak or even eat. And then she found an unlikely saviour – the audiobook. Here she talks about how being read to is calming and can help to put life in perspective, even during the bleakest of times.
Three years ago, I was halfway through reading Elvia Wilks’s Oval, a novel about a fictional feminist dystopia, when a crushingly familiar wave of depression descended upon me. Trying to decipher the words printed on the page became impossible.
Knowing that these periods wiped me out for weeks, and unwilling to wait that long to find out the main character’s fate, I resorted to the unthinkable: the audio version.
As I listened, it hit me that these audiobooks could be the very thing that could help me navigate my bipolar disorder.
Bipolar expresses itself differently in everyone who suffers from it. For me, since being diagnosed six years ago, I’ve experienced debilitating periods of depression.
They are marked by suicidal waves and an inability to move, speak or eat; my plummeting energy levels will not permit the most basic of tasks. At my lowest I will stop drinking water, because I know I lack the strength to make it to the toilet.
In the past, when these episodes occurred, I would knock myself out with sleeping pills. I spent huge chunks of my year this way. Unconscious. Waiting for the pain to pass.
I still experience these episodes. I always will. But a few years ago, everything changed.
With the audiobook, I stumbled across a companion, a constant, a life raft, to support me through the dark days.
As soon as I began listening rather than trying to focus on the written page, I felt a calmness; unprecedented feelings of reassurance. Comfort.
My mind slowed and ceased racing through terrifying, suicidal thoughts. There was a stillness. A sense of peace.
In my episodes I can’t really bring myself to move. Listening to audiobooks, I do not have to. When I’m at rock bottom, I feel no one has suffered pain like me.
Yet, in the background, through my speaker, characters fight through discrimination, war, illness, heartbreak and death.
Flickers of perspective make their way through the sludge of my mind. Reminders of love. Hope. Humanity.
Audiobooks make me feel that I am not really alone. When I was first diagnosed, I spent weeks in a psychiatric hospital. I tried everything – drugs, CBT, wellbeing retreats.
Some of this helped, but nothing cured me, and audiobooks have had more of an impact than anything else. I will play them, often back-to-back, until major depressive episodes pass.
To date, I haven’t met anyone else who consciously uses audiobooks to self-medicate mental illness.
This year, I am running a series of free bipolar workshops and intend to discuss my personal experience of the benefits of audiobooks, and the positive impact they’ve had on me.
I hope that others can discover respite from mental or physical pain through this medium. I have found relief in the simple comfort of being transported by another person’s voice. And that’s given me respite I never thought possible.
Anyone can contact Samaritans, free, 24/7, 365 days a year, on 116 123, email [email protected] or visit samaritans.org
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