Title: Reasons to Stay Alive
Author: Matt Haig
Genre: Mental Health/Autobiography
“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.”
This is a bit of a personal one for me. I make no secret of the fact I have suffered with anxiety for much of my life and this sometimes results in bouts of depression. I don’t believe my experience is that unique or even that severe compared to the ways in which others suffer with the various facets of mental health conditions. I do not look for sympathy or pity, I merely want to provide a context for the way in which I came upon this book.
Up until recently I had had my anxiety, for the most part, under control but, as life has a habit of, I was hit with a perfect storm of successive events which toppled me emotionally and psychologically. Firstly, I witnessed a very traumatic accident involving multiple fatalities, narrowly escaping being killed or injured myself. This sent me into an existential tailspin that, along with a host of other factors relating my work and relationships, left me in a state of serious depression. I was signed off work, attending group therapy sessions for post-traumatic stress disorder, and I was on sleeping tablets and anti-depressants. I can’t pretend I haven’t had suicidal thoughts. None that I’d ever act on. But the kind that makes you feel like it would be simpler just to not wake up. And so this is how I came to read this book; in a single sitting, curled up in my duvet, at an all time low.
Everyone’s experience with anxiety or depression is different and I shan’t presume that this book will reflect everyone’s experience. But, for me, it articulated something that I never could. It feels so real, because it is. Matt Haig is uncompromising in his honesty, he does not try to explain away his feelings, he simply details his journey and it is so much more powerful because of this. The advice contained in this book is uplifting and wise without ever preaching. Haig does not come across as self-pitying or overly sentimental, he is merely sharing his side of the story. I found solidarity to be of huge importance in my recovery, whether it be through reading books like this, the people I met in therapy or just friends who understood, or at least, listened without judgement. It is so important to know that you are not alone.
As someone who elected not to take medication for his illness, some critics have questioned the legitimacy of his illness. I think this unfair. Each person’s experience of mental illness is their own and each individual needs their own approach to overcoming their own particular issues. Haig is an advocate of yoga, meditation, diet and exercise as therapy and I have to say, from my own experience, there is a great deal to be said for all of these remedies. I myself have found that all of these things make a huge difference in alleviating my symptoms. That’s not to say I don’t need medical support – I did – but there is a combination out there for everybody.
This is a must-read for sufferers of anxiety or depression. It is poignant, funny and affirming in equal measure. Having finished it I spent a good week or so walking around with it in my bag, not to read it but just because having it with me made me feel safe and less alone. I am eternally grateful to this book for the part it played in helping me back into the world.
If you like this, you might like: Yes Man by Danny Wallace, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers