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  • Writer's pictureTom Robinson

‘Veronika Decides to Die’ by Paulo Coelho: an incredibly healing experience!

Updated: Jan 28, 2022

I have done very little this weekend except rest and recharge which, as well as relaxing, has been so wonderfully enlightening and rewarding.

This may sound paradoxical but in fact I don’t think it is!

I spent a huge chunk of Saturday completely alone and undisturbed, without anything for company except the words of a brilliant writer, and it was literally one of the best experiences of my life.

Everything came together in six hours on Saturday evening, and I am now thrilled to report that I no longer view my experience of ‘madness’ in a negative way - quite the reverse in fact, because I’m now so grateful for my experience of ‘insanity’ and I no longer resent it for taking a chunk of my life.

Deep and prolonged suffering has, not only allowed me to appreciate the simplest things in life, but also shaped and moulded me into a better, more rounded person – a far more tolerant and accepting one, whose emotion, feeling and thinking has been to some of the most unexplored and distant corners - a place that no ‘normal’ mind could ever reach.

Thank you to Paulo Coelho for making me see all of this!

Bibliography or ‘bibliotherapy’

I keep banging on about this but reading and writing are the two most beneficial things I do for my mental health and are the primary reason that I’ve survived long enough to write this very sentence.

I realised, when suffering from depression and mixed state, that I could stop my mind from ruminating over the past and unnecessarily worrying about the future if I engaged my brain in the pastime of reading.

I also found that I could double the effect if I chose material which challenged my thinking or taught me something about myself, my brain, and/or human nature.

There are many other benefits of reading too. It teaches those who feel the need for constant stimulation from others, how to be comfortable in their own company, and conversely, it gives those who like to be alone the companionship and comfort that all humans (to differing degrees) require in order to live contentedly.

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.” Charles W. Eliot

So, I was sad when a friend recently told me that I would struggle to get people to follow my blog because ‘people don’t read anymore’ and (although I know that’s not completely true) I started to wonder if this might be part of the reason for the demise in people’s mental ‘health’ today.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.” George R.R. Martin.

The Alchemist

Years ago, a friend gave me a book called The Alchemist by Brazilian born lyricist and author Paulo Coelho. I’ve read it at least twice if not three times now and loved it as much in each sitting.

It’s one of the books that I read in my recovery and has a wonderful life message within its pages.

On Saturday morning, I happened to flick through this book, only to see that I’d written (or someone had because I don’t recognise the hand entirely) ‘Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho’.

Knowing that I liked this author I immediately downloaded it on the kindle and started reading….

… and I didn’t lift my eyes from the page for the next six hours!

Story line

I’m not going to give anything away about this book because I want people to read it like I did – with no preconceived ideas – so that they can form their own conclusions and interpretations without being influenced by mine, or those of others.

All I can tell you is that this book leaves a lasting aftertaste in the mind that you will carry around with you for days, if not weeks, or even years afterwards!

The story would be particularly relevant for anyone who has been through a mental hospital because this is where the majority of the story unfolds – in an infamous and much feared lunatic asylum called Villete in the town of Ljubljana in Slovenia!

The main character is Veronika, a 24-year-old librarian who, as the title suggests, is contemplating ending her own life.

But the book isn’t simply about suicide versus the value of living because it goes far deeper than that by analysing society’s arbitrary construct on the definition of madness, and that’s the bit that appealed and resonated most strongly with me.

As well as exploring the mind of Veronika, Coelho introduces us to several other ‘mad’ people in the asylum who are suffering from various different illnesses and maladies of the mind.

It is written with simplicity and grace and is quite honestly, the best book I’ve ever read – such an incredibly healing experience that I implore everyone to read it, but especially those who are struggling to accept the ‘constraint, shame, embarrassment and stigma’ that comes with having a mental illness.

Stand-out quotes

There were multiple times when I felt as though I was revisiting my life through the pages of the book and then accepting anything I’d previously considered as unfair or unjust. This all generated such an incredible experience of catharticism that is almost impossible to explain – read the book immediately!

This novel touches on so many aspects of human nature and allows the reader such an insight into the world of mental illness and madness. I’ve pasted a few extracts and quotes to illustrate this point below:


“Oddly enough, I never used to suffer from depression on cold, grey, cloudy days like this. I felt as if nature was in harmony with me, that it reflected my soul. On the other hand, when the sun appeared, the children would come out to play in the streets, and everyone was happy that it was such a lovely day, and then I would feel terrible, as if that display of exuberance in which I could not participate was somehow unfair.”

Dr Igor

“You’re someone who is different, but who wants to be the same as everyone else. And that, in my view, is a serious illness.”

And as a demonstration of the human condition:

A patient incarcerated in Villete

“I don’t believe in you, God, but please help me!”


When got to end, I read the author bio on Paulo Coelho and found out that he had been sectioned three times.

He wrote this book about his experiences of being incarcerated in a mental hospital and how it felt to be certified ‘mad’ by his doctor and even his own parents!

This book provides such hope and inspiration for anyone who has had their soul crushed by society's definition of madness and the trauma of a chaotic modern-day psychiatric ward, who also believes that there is no hope of recovery...

Because there is….

Please read the book then ring me immediately to discuss it!

Thanks for reading,

Speak to you soon,


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