Reasons to stay alive – Matt Haig*
I’m in two minds about reviewing this.
Part of me wants to convince everyone I know to pick this up, it might help some of them tackle their own problems, but it would also help those who don’t need to vanquish demons during their usual daylight hours understand how it feels to be someone that does. I figured if I review it though I need to explain why this book was such a great find.
I love the internet and I love sharing my adventures and pictures of my parent’s cats etc, but I don’t think I share much of who I actually am and that’s because you’ll need a hazmat suit and an accompanying adult to enter my head – its a dark and scary place. Loads of people feel the way I do, so its not shame that stops me from talking about real stuff, it’s lack of understanding that make me want to keep this part of myself hidden. Which is bad. Caving in to those dark thoughts makes them stronger. Which is why I want everyone to read this book. Read it, so that if you see me irl and I am staring into space wondering if anything would change if I just stopped and you ask me if I’m ok, I don’t have to lie to you for an easy life. I don’t care that I fall into despair and think about death sometimes, its a part of me that I accept, but I do care that when I try to explain that to other people… Well, I get a lot of comments about being dramatic and it’ll all be fine. It will be fine. I just don’t need to hear that at the moment. With me there is also a level of guilt about my first world problems. Because you know, I got to go to school, I live in a nice area, I have clean water and food and heating and a job and supportive parents. I don’t have any reason to feel the way I do sometimes. Oh, would you look at that. I explained the thing, guess now we’re not in two minds any more.
I want life. I want to read it and write it and feel it and live it. I want, for as much of the time as possible in this blink-of-an-eye existence we have, to feel all that can be felt. I hate depression. I am scared of it. Terrified, in fact. But at the same time, it has made me who I am. And if – for me – it is the price of feeling life, it’s a price always worth paying.
Reasons to Stay Alive is about making the most of your time on earth. In the western world the suicide rate is highest amongst men under the age of 35. Matt Haig could have added to that statistic when, aged 24, he found himself staring at a cliff-edge about to jump off. This is the story of why he didn’t, how he recovered and learned to live with anxiety and depression. It’s also an upbeat, joyous and very funny exploration of how live better, love better, read better and feel more.
I try to avoid books on mental health.
Partly because most books I read on mental health are either written by people who have never experienced a problem in their head before or they’re young adult fiction books that feature a quirky special snowflake who is sectioned and then makes a miraculous recovery often after meeting an equally troubled teen of the opposite sex. Aint nobody got time for that. I’m not saying all books about mental health are bad, there are some great books about mental health, this is one of them.
Prior to hearing about and tracking down Reasons to Stay Alive, the two books that I related to the most in terms of the mental state of the characters is The Catcher in the Rye (Holden just gets me) and the Bell Jar (which considering what happened to Sylvia Plath is somewhat troubling). Both those books helped me because it made me feel like I wasn’t the only person feeling the way I was, but they are both works of fiction. Well… I guess we can say the Bell Jar is semi autobiographical…. This on the other hand, this is a non fiction memoir of sorts from a guy who actually battles with depression and anxiety and talks very candidly about his breakdown and though it is a book that is full of darkness and pain, it also has a hopeful undertone. Matt made it through, you can make it through. If you are someone that has wrestled with anxiety or depression in their many varied forms, you will read this and nod, thinking to yourself, yep. Been there. You will laugh and some of the… shall we say less rational things your brain will convince you of during a bad time. You will relate to just about every sentence because every sentence is something that you will have experienced. If you are someone who hasn’t ever dealt with depression and anxiety, firstly, I am super jealous, do you know how inconvenient it is to try and hide a panic attack while you’re trying to be social? Secondly, you will read this and have the feelings, the thought processes, the warning signs and the symptoms explained to you in a non patronising and completely understandable way. You will get it. You’ll get it without having to go down that road.
I’ll level with you, February and March have not been great for me. I am in full blown insomniac mode right now. Which is a symptom of and exacerbates depression. My mind has not been a great place to be for most of those two months, I’m feeling ok now though, thanks for asking. For me, these things come in waves, the tide has now gone out and its calm and peaceful and I am so glad I found this book because the next time I feel the waves coming, I won’t have to reach for the Bell Jar to connect with someone, I can read this and actually use it to get on with my life until the wave passes. You have no idea how good it was to actually be able to read a book that lays everything out so honestly that is written by someone who felt way worse than I ever have and is still here to tell the tale. I want this to be required reading, stick it in schools, give it to doctors, go to your nearest bookstore/library and get a copy. One in every four people will have a mental illness at some point in their lives, you never know when you might need to give someone a reason to stay alive, or when you’ll need one yourself.
*it is super annoying that the cover is white so this literally looks like its just floating there on the page.
Also Facebook tells me it is World Bipolar Day today. So this turned out to be very apros pos.