Yesterday, on a whim, I bought a book called ‘Reasons To Stay Alive.’ I only picked it up because it was in the reduced pile. I’d never heard of the author, Matt Haig, but I’d seen the book before. It had been well-publicised. I vaguely remembered seeing it smattered across every prominent surface in every other bookshop I entered a year or so ago. As I took it to the counter, the elderly, irresistibly chipper bookseller peered down at the book quizzically. “Do you need reasons to stay alive?” he asked unexpectedly, piercing blue eyes twinkling at me behind his glasses. “Well…” I replied, probably sounding a little cowed, “I mean, hopefully I’ve already got a few.” He laughed.
You do not have to suffer from depression to appreciate and learn from this book. There are times when we all need reminding that things are not as bleak as they can sometimes seem, need to be told that the sun always breaks through eventually, even in the cloudiest of skies. Something that Haig does beautifully within this narrative is gently remind us, all of us, that though there may be times that the world seems to be filled with darkness more than with light, and though we may experience situations that can feel more than a little bit hopeless, there are always reasons to pull through. There are infinite reasons to keep going. You’ve definitely got more than a few. This book will remind you of some you might’ve forgotten.
It’s an unflinchingly honest, warm, wry, witty book. I read it in one-sitting. It is, however, so wise that I feel that one reading isn’t enough to sponge up all of Haig’s special brand of non-preachy wisdom, and so I am sure I will read it again and take more from it still. It’s a candid and easily accessible exploration of what it’s like to live a life at war with your own mind. It’s more than that though. It’s also a guide that advises you, as the blurb puts it, to “make the most of your time on Earth.” Time, it is all too easy to forget, that is limited. One part of the books magic lies in its emphasis that feelings of depression and anxiety are not forever. “This book is impossible,” proclaims the opening page. “Thirteen years ago I knew this couldn’t happen. I was going to die you see. Or go mad…the fact that this book exists is proof that depression lies.” Echoes of those feelings of hopelessness and fears of what we might perceive as an inevitably bleak future, Haig reminds us, might come-and-go for a very, very long time. Life is not linear. It’s filled with ups-and-downs and laughs and smiles and crying and arguing. There’ll be bumps in the road but there’ll also be fair bit of plain sailing thrown in for good measure. The darkness doesn’t last forever, this book emphasizes. When feelings of inadequacy and anxiety start to dig their claws into our psyches, there are ways to loosen their seemingly iron grip. The central message is this: Things will get better. You will get better. Things will be brighter. But you have to fight, and you have to stick around to see it.
‘Reasons To Stay Alive’ defies reduction to any one genre. Part memoir, part self-help book, Haig’s narrative is inspiring, and not in that gooey, sickly-sweet, ‘that’s-nice-but-I-just-threw-up-a-little-bit-in-my-mouth’ kind of way. This is not a sentimental or self-congratulatory story of personal triumph. This is not 253 pages of vague rambling about the importance of reconnecting with our authentic selves or inner child, however one goes about doing that, precisely. It’s a book about survival, and more specifically, about surviving against what are frankly some pretty f**cking terrifying odds. “Suicide is now – in places including the UK and US,” reminds Haig, “a leading cause of death, accounting for over one in a hundred fatalities…as people who kill themselves are, more often than not, depressives, depression is one of the deadliest diseases on the planet.” It was an eerily appropriate read for Mental Health Month. Stigma haunts the topic of depression like a stubborn bad smell, particularly, I feel, for males, who often find it hardest to admit that they’re suffering. It’s only through time, and the continuance of dialogue generated by eloquent, honest, and downright brave voices like Haig’s that the taboos around mental health are going to eroded. For depression suffers, this book could prove a lifebuoy, something to cling to when the storm hits and the waves are crashing and it feels like you might not be able to keep your head above the water, this time. “Be brave,” Haig implores. “Be strong. Breathe, and keep going. You will thank yourself later.”
By the end of this book, I really, really, cared about Matt Haig. I fully intend to read his other, fictional novels. If ‘Reasons To Stay Alive’ is any indicator, they’ll be filled to the brim with wit and warmth and encouragement, and packed with instances of the endurance and perseverance of the human spirit. I feel genuinely happy that Haig is capable of feeling good again, and that he’s scaled a mountain that must have seemed insurmountable. He’s a living lesson, his book proof of the vital need to just keep going, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, moment-to-moment, day-to-day. Even when it seems as though we aren’t making progress or achieving anything, we are. We’re alive, and that’s one hell of a miracle, when you stop and think about it. Stop and think about it.
P.S. There is no such thing as ‘not depressed enough’ to seek help. If you’re suffering, reach out. Even though it can feel like the hardest thing in the world to admit, even to yourself, that you need help, it’s worth it. Happiness is your birthright. Do anything that works for you, to keep you going. You are loved and loved in return. Stay.
Helplines for those suffering (UK)
Charity for sufferers of depression. Has a network of self-help groups.
Men’s Health Forum
24/7 stress support for men by text, chat and email.
Mental Health Foundation
Provides information and support for anyone with mental health problems or learning disabilities.
Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm)