Reasons To Stay Alive
I don’t even know how or where to start in describing such an incredible important book… HUGE thank you to Paula from @booksfordessert for recommending this one!
Basically, Matt Haig, like so many other people, was suffering from depression. He got to a point in his life, again like so many others, where he had to make the big decision so many depressives face: do I end my life, or do I battle on? He decided to battle on, and this book is about all the reasons why he did, and maybe some reasons why you should, too.
The problem with most “self-help” books out there is that they’re written by “professionals.” I don’t care how many doctorates you have – if you’ve never actually suffered the agony and torment that is depression, nothing you say is going to be helpful. Because you can’t write it from a place of true understanding. That’s where Matt’s book is different. He isn’t a doctor or “professional;” he’s a real guy who really suffered and really gets it. And he’s one of the lucky ones that have come out the other side.
Personally, I think that if you have suffered from depression or anxiety, or someone you love is struggling with it all (which should cover just about everyone on the planet), this should really be required reading. Why? Because it is a deadly, nasty disease:
Suicide is now – in places including the UK and US – a leading cause of death, accounting for over one in a hundred fatalities. According to figures from the World Health Organization, it kills more people than stomach cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, colon cancer, breast cancer, and Alzheimer’s. As people who kill themselves are, more often than not, depressives, depression is one of the deadliest diseases on the planet. It kills more people than most other forms of violence – warfare, terrorism, domestic abuse, gun crime – put together… Yet people still don’t think depression really is that bad.
So what should we do? Talk. Listen. Keep adding to the conversation… Keep reiterating, again and again, that depression is not something you have to ‘admit to,’ it is a human experience. It is not you, it is simply something that happens to you. And something that can often be eased by talking. Where talk exists, so does hope.
This book is brilliant, because it’s written in a way that can be understood, whether you’re being followed by the black cloud or not. This particular passage is a good start:
It’s hard to explain depression to people who haven’t suffered from it. It’s like explaining life on earth to an alien. The reference points just aren’t there.
The main thing is the intensity of it. It does not fit within the normal spectrum of emotions. When you are in it, you are really in it. You can’t are outside it without stepping outside of life, because it is life. It is your life. Every single thing you experience is filtered through it. Consequently, it magnifies everything. At its most extreme, things that an everyday normal person would hardly notice have overwhelming effects.
For me, this book was particularly poignant because of the incredible similarities and parallels I drew to my life – he speaks about how some depressives use travel as a means of alleviating the pain, which I’ve found to be incredible true, and have written about a little here. The other thing that’s been a massive part of my life and that’s always gotten me through the worst times (and this goes back as early as five year old me who had paralysing nightmares and what I now recognise as mini child-sized anxiety attacks) is words. Pure and simple. Reading and writing has been my lifeline. And Matt touches on this perfectly:
There is this idea that you either read to escape or you read to find yourself. I don’t really see the difference. We find ourselves through the process of escaping.
One cliche attached to bookish people is that they are lonely, but for me books were my way out of being lonely. If you are the type of person who thinks too much about stuff then there is nothing lonelier in the world than being surrounded by a load of people on a different wavelength.
This book arrived on my doorstep at such a perfect time (while I’m not religious or superstitious or anything like that, I do believe that the universe has a way of giving you exactly what you need exactly when you need it); September is testing me. I’m struggling a LOT right now with my mental health. We just had R U OK? Day which I wrote about last week, and am really hoping helped even just one person out there. My Don’t be a D.N.B. shirt (proceeds of which went to Didi Hirsch who work in mental health for women, and particularly body image issues) arrived on a day where disordered eating was at an all time high (or low, I guess). And we’re also in the midst of Liptember, which is a campaign held in September to raise funds and more importantly awareness for women’s mental health by wearing some brightly coloured lippy – I’m horrible with lipstick (make up in general really – all I own is mascara, some eye shadow I was gifted for a Christmas 8 odd years ago, and some eye liner I don’t know how to apply and have therefore only used twice), but I’m donning the bright red on my more confident days this month!
If you’re struggling, if you know someone who’s struggling, if you want to try to understand this deadly disease a little better, please pick up a copy of this book – it will only take you a few hours to read, and you never know what difference it might make :)