If you’re going to read any book in your life, whether you love reading or not, I would recommend this one. No doubt about it.
When I first heard about ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ I instantly knew it was something I wanted to read, however like most things, it took me a while to get round to it. When I did though, instead of reading it all in one sitting (which I could have done, easily, because it’s that good), I read parts at a time over the course of a few months. I’m so glad I did this, because it has so much information to take away that you couldn’t possibly store it all into your brain at once.
‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ is the journey of Matt Haig through his battle with depression and anxiety after his breakdown in his early twenties through to where he is now. It’s easy to think it would be a difficult read, one that depresses you in itself, however I was amazed at how well Haig took his own experiences and flipped them to turn mental health into something that should be acknowledged and accepted and most of all, understood.
I think a lot of the time those struggling with mental health problems find it hard to escape their own mind and rationalise things – I know I certainly do. This book helped me make sense of things on a wider scale, and that’s part of the reason why I read it over a longer period of time, because whenever I felt like I was withdrawing into myself or needed some reassurance I would pick up the book before bed. It made me realise that things can be worse but that I shouldn’t minimise my current feelings in relation to it. I think at one point Haig mentions that he saw many signals leading up to his breakdown but that he just ignored them. It made me think twice about not seeking help about anxiety. It made me think that I had somehow picked up this book at just the right time, at the exact time when I’d started struggling more and needed the reassurance that I can do it and that I should seek help if I need to. And I am. I’m working on it. I feel like this book became part of that process for me.
What I loved most about this book is that it isn’t the typical memoir. It doesn’t focus solely on Haig’s life in a chronological order. Instead it’s in snippets – parts about his life, conversations with his past self and his new self, self-help ideas, general related thoughts. It’s endless. And I think the idea of snippets also mimics the mind when facing mental health, because your thoughts are all over the place and sometimes they don’t follow a certain pattern they just hit you at random moments in time. Maybe that’s what he’s getting at. Or maybe I just like analysing things too much.
It’s so hard for me to narrow down this book into one review because I feel like I could write an essay on every single chapter. It’s crazy how a book can just make you feel like someone thinks the same as you, and it’s comforting to know that. I really think that this book is so important, especially at this current moment in society, especially when mental health is rising and we’re trying to fight off the stigma. I definitely think there is less stigma surrounding it than there was, because of people like Haig that are sharing their stories and letting themselves be known, however I still think that it’s not entirely understood, even if it is accepted. Maybe it’s too idealistic to think that those who haven’t experienced it could ever understand, but I think Haig’s book is the closest someone could get to it. I really do.
One particular section that really got me thinking was this:
“People often use the word ‘despite’ in the context of mental illness. So-and-so did such-and-such despite having depression/anxiety/OCD/agoraphobia/whatever. But sometimes that ‘despite’ should be a ‘because’. For instance, I write because of depression. I was not a writer before. The intensity needed – to explore things with relentless curiosity and energy – simply wasn’t there. Fear makes us curious. Sadness makes us philosophise.”
As soon as I read this I thought, this is so true. Mental health doesn’t define us and we don’t do things despite having it lurking there, but rather because it pushes us forwards in ways we don’t even know. People always say that pain strengthens you and yes it’s cliche, but it’s also true. When I think back to before I had any experience of anxiety I was a writer but I wasn’t that good of one. I feel like as soon as I had experienced it my writing improved in ways that I couldn’t have expected. Haig is right in saying it gives you an intensity and a curiosity that otherwise you wouldn’t have. Perhaps otherwise, I wouldn’t have continued writing or wouldn’t have ended up creating a blog and sharing my thoughts with hundreds of people (honestly, I still can’t believe it myself). And maybe that’s just how it works – pain becomes necessary for development. We shouldn’t look down on depression, anxiety, or whatever it is, we should look at it and think: this has lead me to where I am now, even if it has been the hardest journey to get here, because without it, I wouldn’t be who I am.
And so I guess I’m passing on this message through blogging about this because I want everyone out there struggling to feel like I did when I turned these pages and realised that there are people who understand and think like you do, even if you think they don’t exist. That there are people who can help you or change the way you think so that you can seek help yourself.
So please do pick up this book if it comes your way! It’s so so important and there’s no way you’ll regret it! If you have any thoughts on it yourself or want to chat about anything, feel free to contact me 🙂