I finally read Matt Haig’s highly acclaimed Reasons to Stay Alive and it was even better than I expected.
I’m always slightly wary about reading books about depression as it usually leaves me dwelling on my own mental health and sometimes I can descend into the fog again.
Even so, it’s also extremely comforting to know that people feel the same; that everyone has their own fog to work their way through. It it just a scary conversation, which is why we’ve avoided it for so long right?
What does it mean to be alive?
Aged 24, Matt Haig’s world caved in. He could see no way to go on living. This is the true story of how he came through crisis, triumphed over an illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again.
A moving, funny and joyous exploration of how to live better, love better and feel more alive, ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ is more than a memoir. It is a book about making the most of your time on earth.
Reasons to Stay Alive should be compulsory reading in life as a guide, tale or reminder that life is full and rich and dark and lonely. It isn’t all light and it isn’t all dark; there will be different shades in each step that you will have to adapt to and accept.
Haig discusses his own mental health and suicide attempt in Ibiza, the moment he had to decide whether life was worth living anymore.
He decided it was worth it and had to figure out how to come out of this debilitating head that he found himself in. In the following months he had to retrain his mind in order for his body to function. He had to overcome his anxiety and depression to even walk to the shop to buy himself some milk, to do bills, to go for a run, to socialise, form sentences and talk to others about his feelings.
It is hard for people without mental health issues to understand concepts such as anxiety or depression. When I haven’t wanted to go to see a friend or go to a party it has seemed bizarre to my other friends or family; why wouldn’t I want to go? I’d have a great time!
Yet my mind would tell me a million reasons why I shouldn’t go, why I didn’t deserve to go and most importantly why I wasn’t good enough to go.
“You are on another planet. No one understands what you are going through. But actually, they do. You don’t think they do because the only reference point is yourself. You have never felt this way before, and the shock of the descent is traumatising you, but others have been here. You are in a dark, dark land with a population of millions.“
Day by day living at his parents house, Haig managed to piece a bit of himself and his mind together after he broke down and admitted that he couldn’t go on as he was.
As a young man on the brink of losing everything he loved, Haig’s bravery and determination to address and accept his emotions and his thoughts is incredible. From personal experience I know how difficult it is to be able to address and change the way we think and feel about ourselves AND then he wrote an entire book about it.
“Words – spoken or written – are what connect us to the world, and so speaking about it to people, and writing about this stuff, helps connect us to each other, and to our true selves.“
Effectively Haig broke the cycle of his negative thoughts and actions and created a new cycle entirely. He talked and wrote about his feelings to encourage people to address their own mind and in turn talk or write or sing or dance about it. A positive cycle of open discussion and understanding has been born out of his journey and his book.
The conversation around mental health has grown exponentially in my own lifetime, which I am SO grateful for. There are numerous books that I have read the reaffirm not only that it is OK to not feel happy all the time, but also that our brains are naturally wired to doubt and assess every situation that we are in. It might seem depressing – ironic I know – but it’s reassuring to know that every thought you have good or bad is natural.
Haig’s text stands out amongst others I’ve read as it is an honest and accurate declaration of what depression and anxiety are and how they can physically effect you – what the outward symptoms are.
“The weirdest thing about a mind is that you can have the most intense things going on in there but no one else can see them.”
No one else can see or hear or feel your thoughts, only you. I can’t prove that I can’t go to coffee with an old friend because of anxiety because I have no symptoms of it. I might the hour before; I might have all the signs of stress (sweaty hands, raised heart rate, adrenaline rushing through my body) but I won’t be able to prove that until maybe moments before I go into that situation.
No one can see it so sometimes no one believes it. Unless of course, you have the same battle within your mind, then you can comprehend it.
Haig’s book is real and accessible. If you have loved ones with mental illnesses or feel that you’ve been a bit down, low or off sorts recently I would highly recommend reading this book.
Not only does Haig describe his own journey and share his remarkable recovery with his readers, he also honestly describes the concepts of depression and anxiety in a way that is clear to everyone.
I associated with and agreed with every word, which is very rare when discussing mental health.
His ten reasons to stay alive – even though there are many more throughout the novel – are arguably the best part of the book. They fill you with hope, admiration and affinity with the human race, which is something we all need to be reminded of when the world feels fragile.
In everything Haig faced his aids were his family, his partner, running, books and most importantly himself. He never gave up on himself no matter how lost within his mind he was. He has stellar advice for overcoming the darkness because he’s been there and come back himself.
If you don’t read it for your mental health simply read it to discover a remarkable tale of the power of the human spirit as Haig is testament to achieving something that feels and seems impossible. I was incredibly inspired after I read it – as you can probably tell.
I’ll leave you with my favourite quote of the novel and Haig’s 10th reason to stay alive:
“You will one day experience joy that matches this pain. You will cry euphoric tears at the Beach Boys, you will stare down at a baby’s face as she lies asleep in your lap, you will make great friends, you will eat delicious foods you haven’t tried yet, you will be able to look at a view from a high place and not assess the likelihood of dying from falling. There are books you haven’t read yet that will enrich you, films you will watch while eating extra-large buckets of popcorn, and you will dance and laugh and have sex and go for runs by the river and have late-night conversations and laugh until it hurts. Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.“
Download the Kindle edition or buy the paperback here.