I read The Midnight Library over the weekend, and I need to talk about it. With everyone.
(Trigger/content warnings of suicide attempt/suicidal ideation/mom loss.)
I’ve heard so much buzz about this book, but because of said trigger warnings was really nervous to read it…since those are personal triggers for me, too. But Grace said that it was actually incredibly uplifting, so I decided to give it a try and let myself stop if it became too triggering.
(Though, when I started to describe the book to my therapist this morning, before I got to the uplifting part, she asked me “where the fuck do you find these books, Theodora?!” I am known to fall into books, sometimes unknowingly, that are DEEPLY triggering.)
The book starts off with our young protagonist, Nora, losing her cat and then contemplating, and then attempting suicide. She falls into…title drop…the Midnight Library. The premise of the Midnight Library is that it’s kind of a land in between life and death. The library holds shelves of books of your regrets and all the alternate lives you might have lived.
She tries out a life where her childhood swimming led her to the Olympics, where her singing made her a rockstar, etc, etc—but realized that none of these alternate lives were what she thought they were. Every life, even the ones that look all bright and shiny, has its shit.
As someone who deals with depression—and had a pretty bad episode recently—the idea that there is a gray cloud over my head while everyone else is living in the sunshine is all too real. And of course, social media only magnifies this. (So I’ve stayed off IG a lot lately.) I got some really good news recently, and idly started scrolling through IG and saw something that made me feel deeply envious and terrible about myself. This negated the good feelings I’d just been feeling as I went quickly and deeply into a spiral.
But I don’t know what’s in her book—maybe she had to go through a whole lot of trauma to get to where she is in her beautiful house. (After being inside a 1-BR for 90% of the past year, I have DEEP house envy right now.) Maybe she has a sick parent or partner right now or or or. Maybe her shit to go through hasn’t come yet. Because, at some point, we will ALL have that shit—that feels more than we can bear—even if things look all bright and shiny now.
I like to say I have no regrets. I DO. NOT. BELIEVE. that something like a loved one dying or an illness happens for a reason AND PLEASE NEVER SAY THAT TO SOMEONE. But with that said, I think some of the decisions we make and paths we take are what—rocky road or not—get us to where we are today. My only two true regrets are not studying harder in high school/college (I did well in classes I liked but didn’t ~apply myself~ in ones I didn’t) and not getting any kind of mental health treatment earlier. I walked into my school’s counseling center either my freshman or sophomore year…and turned around at the door because I was scared. I wonder how that might have changed things, but I can’t change that and I have to have compassion for young Theodora who was struggling and was so scared to let others in.
Do I wish I had gone to treatment earlier? Or moved to California earlier? Absolutely—but I wouldn’t have been ready.
As I finished The Midnight Library, I was snuggled up in the corner of my couch, under my cozy weighted blanket, with my snuggly little puppy by my side, with the sun warming my face as I looked out at the ocean. When I put down the book and realized that, I realized how lucky I was—and was able to hold onto that. When I am having a dark moment, I am always very aware of how truly lucky I am in many ways in this life—and that makes me feel even worse that my brain won’t let me appreciate that, furthering the spiral.
Even when I am doing relatively well mentally, my mind can VERY quickly go to despair and a very dark place. Since finishing this book, when it does go to that dark place of personal despair (societal despair is a very different thing), I have been reminding myself that this is my book. There may be some pretty fucked up pages in it, there may be lots of espresso stains on the pages, Lucy might have eaten a corner of a page—but it’s mine. And it’s mine to write going forward.
I should also note that the author, Matt Haig, writes frequently on mental health and deals with depression himself. I’ve also read his Reasons to Stay Alive when I was looking deeply…for reasons to stay alive.