REASONS TO STAY ALIVE BY MATT HAIG
This is such an important book. If you have depression, anxieties or other mental illnesses, I cannot recommend this book highly enough to you. Buy it and read it now. It might just save your life.
Aged 24, Matt Haig found himself stood on the edge of a cliff about to jump. He could see no way to go on living. Reasons To Stay Alive is the story of how he came through the depression that got him to that point and overcame an illness that almost destroyed him. In this part-memoir, part self-help book, he shares with us the reasons he found to not just stay alive but really learn to live again.
Mercifully, there are no trite inspirational quotes or meaningless platitudes here. This book is true and the advice he proffers on how to live better, love better and feel more alive is honest, helpful and real.
I have suffered from depression on and off for most of my adult life. This year I have been experiencing particularly bad episodes of it. So it was with great fortune that I looked up Matt Haig on Twitter recently to see if he was writing a follow up to his excellent novel The Humans, only to discover he had just published Reasons To Stay Alive. I bought it and began to read it immediately. It came at a really vital time in my life.
Haig has written this book to lessen the stigma that still exists around depression (unlike any physical illness) and to try to convince people “that the bottom of the valley never provides the clearest view.” He perfectly describes depression as “like walking around with your head on fire and no one can see the flames.” “Depression,” he says “reveals what is normally hidden. It unravels you, and everything you have ever known.” Indeed his list of symptoms are frightening and show this debilitating illness in all its infinite darkness.
It was inspiring for me to read how he had largely mended himself without medication. He says how he got to know his pain well without “anaesthetic” and that by becoming alert to his mind’s shifts in mood, he was able to equip himself with the tools to deal with them. It’s these “tools” that I gained most encouragement from to fight my own personal battle. Haig quotes an evolutionary psychologist when he says; “We need an awareness of tools that interrupt low mood states before they morph into large and more severe ones.” This is so true and I have already put into practice finding my own tools – what makes you feel better, what makes you worse. Knowing these are a real life line and are manageable and tangible weapons to fight back the black dog with. He urges us to find our own weapons e.g. writing, reading, travel, yoga, good food, running etc.
Our minds just aren’t made for the lives we now lead. Haig writes; “Neolithic humans never had to face emails or breaking news or Iggy Azalea videos or self-service check outs a strip lit Tesco Metro on a busy Saturday night.” He adds that we need to worry less about upgrading technology and more about upgrading our ability to cope with all this change. This rings particularly true for me. I struggle with huge pockets of modern life. The technology, the onslaught of miserable news, the isolation caused by social media, so I took comfort from Haig’s words about modern life and its impact on our mental well-being. It also helped me identify those things that really do spark my depression – starting the day with Sky News being one thing I have already killed off.
From the first few pages, I felt the importance of this book and knew it was something I’d have to have on me at all times for a while. The How To Live chapter is very wise and understanding and the actual Reasons To Stay Alive list is something I’ll go back to. The list of things he’s enjoyed since the time he thought he’d never enjoy things again gives enormous hope and is very touching and human. All of it calm and real advice on what loved ones can do to help and how you can help yourself. Specific and manageable ideas like “Use depression’s intensity to determine to value and enjoy precious moments where life can be enjoyed. Cherish wondering about normal things or not thinking at all moments.”
Reading ferociously and intensely is also something Haig spends a lot of time advocating in this book. We’re agreed that it is a really important comfort and to read is to escape and find yourself. A way out of loneliness. He even includes a helpful reading list. For a foggy mind cluttered with depression, Haig has made this an easy read using short chapters, lots of white space and including lists to break up the text. It’s also an enjoyable read about a tough subject. Don’t suffer alone, try this book , let it help you.
“I have been ill before, then well again. Wellness is possible,”
SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 10/10
Notes on the author – Matt Haig:
- Born in 1975, Sheffield
- Worked in nightclubs in Ibiza during the late 1990s
- Is the award winning author of children’s and adult fiction including The Radleys and the brilliant The Humans
- Visit http://www.matthaig.com/life/ for some excellent lists which reveal more about the man himself
10 things that make me feel better:
- My husband
- Sausage dogs
- Rome and Nice
- Old TV shows: Minder, Happy Days
- My family laughing together
- Lifting weights
- Hot sun: 28-35 degrees ideally
10 things that make me feel worse:
- Meetings, emails and BS at work
- New technology
- Winter/ dark/ cold
- Christmas and New Year
- Illness and injury
- Small talk and parties
- Eating and drinking rubbish
- Sitting around
- Thinking ahead, future panic