My Favourite Mental Health Books

Today is World Book Day, but it is also University Mental Health Day. Since I am a huge lover of reading and have struggled a lot with my mental health whilst at university, this day is really important to me. Therefore, what better to do than list some of my favourite mental health books?

1. Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig Image result for reasons to stay alive

I know what you’re thinking, I’m talking about Matt Haig again, but his books have been really helpful to me over the past couple of years. He gives an account of his struggle with mental health with no filter and that’s what I love about it. He doesn’t make it seem cool or sugarcoat it – it is his raw feelings in book form and I really admire that. For people who struggle with anxiety and/or depression, this may be really useful to you. Read my book review here.

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2. Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

If you thought I’d just stop at one of Matt Haig’s books, you’d be very wrong. Whilst this one also tackles mental health, it is vaster in its approach to technology and social media. These are things that have become second nature to us and Haig discusses how this affects our minds. I think anyone who finds themselves even mildly attached to the internet can relate to this book. Read my book review here.

3. How to Survive the End of the World by Aaron GilliesImage result for how to survive the end of the world

Technically I haven’t actually finished this book yet, but I’m in the process of reading it, so that counts, right? This book focuses on topics similar to Matt Haig, but has more of a focus on anxiety. I really like the humour that Gillies brings to this book and the informal way it is written. It is split into categories, such as “My anxious brain vs the morning” and “My anxious brain vs socialising” which makes it really easy to pick out the parts as and when you need them. This one doesn’t have a book review yet (sorry).

4. Your journal

So I got to number four and realised that I haven’t actually read as many mental health books as I thought. Go me. However, having your own notebook and jotting down your thoughts is just as much a mental health book as any. It’s a way to release tension, to rationalise your thoughts, and you don’t even have to read it. Sometimes writing out your inner thoughts can be scary because you don’t know what’s lurking there, but it is unbelievably rewarding. Trust me.

 

I really hope this list was somewhat helpful, despite my slight downfall at the end with my lack of ideas. Today is a day about sharing books and caring for others, and I think that’s the perfect day.

‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig (Book Review)

“…this is what happens when you live on Earth. You crack. You hold reality in your hands until it burns and then you have to drop the plate.”

Having already read ‘Echo Boy’‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ and ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’ (and written blog posts on them), you could say I’m a pretty huge fan of Matt Haig. I heard of ‘The Humans’ quite some time ago and yet had pushed it away as not my kind of book, because why would I want to read about alien life? And yet this book is so much more than this. The Humans

In short, the book is about an alien from the future taking over the body of a mathematician on Earth to prevent him from proving the Riemann Hypothesis and to, therefore, save the planet from advancing (because humans supposedly can’t deal with this level of progress). At the start, you are thrown into Earth as someone who has absolutely no idea about the planet and how humans act. It’s actually pretty funny, the comments the alien makes on other humans and the way he believes he is able to act, because he doesn’t know what is expected at all (hence he runs around the town at night naked, getting arrested – read to find out more, I guess).

It is hard not to cringe at some of the things the alien considers as acceptable, and yet I felt this urge of pity since the beginning. The alien has come from a perfect future – one where no one feels pains, or love, or anything in between. But what was so amazing about this book was the way it gets you to think about emotions and how important they really are. Yes, we feel pain, but isn’t that better than feeling nothing at all?

Behind the surface of the story, it’s not only about the alien learning how to live on Earth, but it’s fundamentally about the depths of humans and the way we think and act. Matt Haig explains himself, in the back of the book and in ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’, that the book actually represents the isolation of depression and coming to love the world and humans again. This completely changed my perspective of the book into something that metaphorically delves into the world of understanding mental health. The alien symbolises the change in mental health as it can drive someone to seem like a completely different person, or incapable of living like anyone else, and yet inside they are still the same as anyone, because we are all humans and we all think and feel.

There is one particular moment where the alien speaks to his “son” and says ‘maybe we should try not to understand so much, and accept some more.’ and this is so damn important. We can never be fully understood by someone who is not ourselves (how can we, when we are all unique beings with our own private mind?), so acceptance is the only way we can move forward. Reading the relationships the alien built with this family that wasn’t actually his and vice versa, shows the purity of loving and accepting others as your own even if they’re not who you know them to be, or want them to be.

I particularly loved the focus on change in the novel because it made me realise that change isn’t just necessary in that we are constantly moving forward in life, but necessary for our own health and our own survival.

These were two of my favourite quotes in relation to this:

“The single biggest act of bravery or madness anyone can do is the act of change.”

“I realised, though I was on Earth, I had been living this past year as I had always lived. I was just thinking I could carry on, moving forward. But I was not me any more. I was a human, give or take. And humans are about change. That is how they survive, by doing and un-doing and doing again.”

Not only is change about bravery into the unknown, but allowing yourself to change through changing your surroundings. When I read “I had been living this past year as I had always lived” it made me think, what can I change this year to make it different and to make me feel better and more at home as a person? There have been times in the past where I had been reliving a year the same as the year before, and looking back I realise I shouldn’t have, because it actually had a huge effect on the way I viewed myself and the world. Changing things up inevitably brings fear, but also excitement. And isn’t excitement and new things what we live for? It’s human nature to get bored or fall into unconscious habits and pushing yourself out of these things is what gets you to rethink your life and yourself.

Matt Haig is so good at getting me to think beyond the book, into my own life and changes I can make, and for that I’m so grateful I have his books to read. The feeling I get when I read or listen to music or watch films was perfectly explained in this short extract and so, naturally, it makes sense to end on this note:

“It takes time to understand humans because they don’t understand themselves. They have been wearing clothes for so long. Metaphorical clothes. That was the price of human civilisation – to create it they had to close the door on their true selves. And so they are lost…that is why they invented art: books, music, films, plays, painting, sculpture. They invented them as bridges back to themselves, back to who they are.”

 

You can find me on social media here:

Instagram: @mymindspeaksaloud

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‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ by Matt Haig [Book Review]

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.

Image result for reasons to stay alive

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.

Image result for reasons to stay alive
Excerpt from the book!

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 🙂

You can check out my reviews of Matt Haig’s other books below:

The Humans

Notes on a Nervous Planet

How to Stop Time

Echo Boy

And you can find me on social media here:

Instagram: @mymindspeaksaloud

Twitter: @mindspeaksaloud