Five Books That Changed My LifeIf you cannot read all your books, fondle them, peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them at any rate, be your acquaintances. ~ Winston Churchill

My books are my friends and privilege to my most intimate thoughts and the inner conversations and ideas they spark. Each one expands my mind and adds to my personal growth in some way, as well as marks moments in my life.

In the isolated years I spent recovering from a brain injury, the result of a pill popping suicide attempt, my books kept me company, made me laugh, evoked tears, and facilitated my mind in recovering the ability to focus and think. Books have never made me feel judged, inferior, or misunderstood and have always been accepting and forgiving.

While I have recovered fully from the brain injury, I still consider my books my best friends – and frankly still find them much more interesting than most people. Below are five books which totally rocked and improved my world and helped me heal both emotionally and mentally from the brain injury and the malaise of life in general.

I think you will find them fascinating and beneficial as well.

The Brain That Changes Itselfcontent

The idea that the brain can change its own structure and function through thought and activity is, I believe, the most important alteration in our view of the brain since we first sketched out its basic anatomy… Norman Doidge

Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, became my Bible during my recovery from the injury.  I even gave a copy to my neurologist, telling him that he needed to read it along with several other books. (I’m sure he loved me!)

If I had to single out one spark that ignited and fueled my recovery, it would be the information contained within the covers of this book. In reading about a woman born with half a brain which rewired itself to function normally, stroke patients regaining lost abilities, people who overcame severe emotional and learning disabilities, IQs raised, and aging brains being rejuvenated, I began to think that recovering from my impairments just might be possible – entirely possible even!

Backed by scientific research, Doidge tells of the astonishing adaptability of the brain, and turns many “truths” touted by the experts for decades about the brain upside down. (Read more here: You’re Not Stuck With The Brain You’re Born With.)

The great news is that you don’t have to have a brain injury or remarkable deficit to benefit. Anyone can take control of and direct the function and growth of their brain to improve their health and life. Doidge’s new book, The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity, is just as awesome.

Broken Opencontent

How strange it is the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be. Elizabeth Lesser

I read Elizabeth Lesser’s book, Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, during the first year after my suicide attempt. Using the intimate details of her life and others as examples, she suggested to me that I could give myself a break and a little kindness and use my past mistakes, of which there were many, and my most recent hellacious suicide mess to learn and grow. Heck, her life made mine not look so bad anymore, and if she could be honest and forgive herself, maybe I could too. (Read more here: Into The Fire)

She calls the transformative effect difficulty can have on a person the phoenix process:

Surviving the Holocaust, enduring the loss of one’s child, learning to live with an incurable illness, witnessing terror, or experiencing trauma—these are Phoenix Processes of the tallest order. Come through one of them with an open heart, and you will light a path through the woods for all of us.

Her book, The Seeker’s Guide, is an incredible self learning tool too.

Loving What Iscontent (1)

In her book, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, Byron Katie shares her past difficulties and how she came to the revelation that alleviated struggle and anguish in her own life. She calls the process she developed and teaches others to do this for themselves The Work.

According to Katie and many philosophies, all suffering is caused by our thoughts and judgments about what happens, not by what actually happens. The challenge we have is to change our thoughts patterns which in turn changes our brains. The Work consists of four questions to analyze your thinking in any situation and a turn around.

I printed out the worksheets and did The Work for all of the hurtful situations in my life that had driven me to want to commit suicide: the troubling ex-husband, the philandering ex-boyfriend, challenging family dynamics, my brother’s tragic death. And you know what? It worked!

I began to look at how I was contributing to my struggles, let go of a lot of the pain and anger that I’d been holding onto for so long, and to be able to see things from different perspectives. (Read more here: Turn It Around and The Gap Between Knowing And Doing.)

Katie writes:

If you begin by pointing the finger of blame outward, then the focus isn’t on you. You can just let loose and be uncensored. We’re often quite sure about what other people need to do, how they should live, whom they should be with. We have 20/20 vision about other people, but not ourselves.

…Eventually you come to see that everything outside you is a reflection of your own thinking. You are the storyteller, the projector of all stories, and the world is a projected image of your thoughts.

The Fieldcontent (1)

We are poised on the brink of a revolution – a revolution as daring and profound as Einstein’s discovery of relativity. At the very frontier of science new ideas are emerging that challenge everything we believe about how our worlds work and how we define ourselves. Lynn McTaggart

Lynn McTaggart’s book, The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe, completely altered my perception of reality. The book recounts scientific evidence in quantum physics research revealing a radical new paradigm in which the human mind and body aren’t separate from their environment at all. But are instead a packet of pulsating power constantly interacting with a vast sea of energy or life force, The Zero Point Field, which may explain the mysteries of consciousness, memory, healing, and life itself.

Contrary to what you might think, you don’t have to be a neuroscientist to understand the book and find it fascinating. I was brain pretty damaged when I read it – which may have actually helped me get into it. (Read more: Air Head Is A Compliment…Really and In Two Places At Once)

Her book The Intention Experiment: Using Your Thoughts to Change Your Life and the World, dealing more with the energetic make up and power of thought is also excellent. (Read more here: Believe It To See It)

When Things Fall Apartcontent (2)

Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

When we think that something is going to bring us pleasure, we don’t know what’s really going to happen. When we think something is going to give us misery, we don’t know.  Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. We try to do what we think is going to help. But we don’t know. We never know if we are going to fall flat or sit up tall. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure. Pema Chodron

In the years following the suicide attempt, I completely overhauled my thinking and approach to life. I give Pema Chodron a large majority of the credit for this. I read her book When Things Fall Apart when my life had certainly fallen apart – more like exploded. Instead of avoiding pain, discomfort, and uncertainty which I had done all my life and was the impetus for the suicide attempt, she actually advised me to “lean into” these things and explore what they had to teach me. (Read more: Uncertainty…The Only Thing That’s Really Certain and The Peace Amidst The Pain)

Huh?! Don’t avoid them at all cost? That was a new one.

But you know what? The strategy works. In the book, she outlines three methods for working with the chaos and burden in your life head on which I definitely put to good use. Still do. I’ve actually learned to look at uncertainty as being full of possibility (although it still does scare me just a little!)

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  1. Cathy | Treatment Talk Reply

    Thanks for sharing these books, Debbie. I will definitely add them to my list. I always love to have recommendations!

  2. I briefly started on When Things Fall Apart once but never got through it. I likely was reading it when my life was falling apart! lol Need to pick up again for a read. I want to know more about “leaning in” Thanks for sharing these resources Debbie.

    • Hi, Vishnu. You must not have needed it seroudly at the time or have been in a place to need its wisdom. I think books speak to us when we are reading them at the time we need tthem. I can pick up some of these same books now, and they don’t impact me in the same way. But at the right time, they were profound!

  3. Hi Debbie,

    If I may add to your list, a book that I found quite useful while struggling with my early 30s depression was Marlee Fisher’s “70 signs of Depression” ( I’m still trying hard to stay on the waterline by all possible means (diet, pilates and as little stress as possible), so I’ll definitely give your books a go too.

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Gillian. I’m not familiar with that one. Sounds interesting – like I could get a lot of blogs!

  4. Pingback: 116 Suicide Brain Injury & Recovery - Hampton - CoreBrain Journal

  5. Mohammad Hany Reply

    Eckhart Tolle in his book “The Power of Now” also shares the idea that all suffering is caused by thinking processes and judgement. I’d recommend this book as well.

  6. Janice Brodowsky Reply

    Hi Debbie,
    I’m in the process of reading you excellent book, “Beat Depression and Anxiety by changing your brain.” I am feeling completely lost and don’t know where to start. I chose your book because I wanted to read your story. I identified with you in that you’re a regular person who got through a huge struggle. While I don’t have a TBI, I’ve been struggling for years with Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety that would make anyone’s hair stand up. It got worse over the years and I arrived at a critical mass where I felt like something inside of me finally broke. To make a long story short, I couldn’t work anymore and have been on disability for a few years now. My question to you is, since there are so many books on the subject of neuroplasticity and rewiring your brain, I’ve become lost in my search and don’t know where to begin. I know Rick Hanson has a lot of good info and practices, but they’re are so many more. I’m feeling like I need not only to read why my brain does what it does, but to follow some sort of workbook where I can learn tangible skills to I can finally start working on this. I find myself exhausting myself so much by looking for a place to start, that I’m not starting. Your website and book are wonderful, and your story has given me the courage to start my own journey to become a whole and happy person. Is there a path you can recommend? Who (and what book) should I start with, and who will present tangible exercises that I can use to work on myself? I am very isolated and even though I live in NYC, I barely leave my house. I’m hoping that you can give me a couple of suggestions. It’s so easy to get lost in the mountains of books on this subject. I admire you for all that you’ve done in your life to help yourself. Thank you so much for your website and your book. Your story helped me feel safe enough to reach out and start with your experience and your awesome book. You are a true inspiration. I’m apologize for this mega post, but as you can see, I’m kinda lost, and obviously my brain is in need of an overhaul. Thank you so much for reading all of this!

    • Thank you for getting my book, Janice. 🙂 I hope you find it helpful. Why don’t you just decide to start there? The book references many other books which you may want to look into. There is no right or wrong. You are overwhelming yourself with your thoughts. You do not have to do any more than what you can do today. Just start there, and tell yourself it’s enough and it’s OK. Quit telling yourself your lost – because you’re not. Support and encourage yourself with phrases like”I can figure this out. I’m working my way through this one step at a time. All I have to do today is what I can do today.” I highly suggest reading Norman Doidge’s The Brain that Changes Itself – just because it’s so informative, interesting, and amazing. Just take it one step at a time and see where it feels right to go from there. You don’t have to make a master plan.

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