Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig.
(Published March 2015).
“I never realised how you could be locked inside your own mind.”
This book is a gem and a must-read for everyone. For those who are dealing with depression and/or anxiety. For those who have a depressed or anxious loved one. For students. For teachers. For doctors. For therapists. And above all, for every person who has ever thought that depression and anxiety can be stopped by just pulling yourself together.
Reasons to Stay Alive is (as is stated at the very end of the book) part memoir, part self-help book, and part overview. It is a powerful and inspiring story about the author’s struggle with depression and anxiety and it covers all aspects of this struggle. The bad, the good, and the neutral.
Haig’s writing style is very pleasant. The short chapters make it an easy read and the way he switches between tones and formats (like going from a rather painful chapter describing what he felt standing at the edge of a cliff wanting to commit suicide to a hopeful chapter with a conversation across time between his younger self and his older self) breathes life into the book and ensures that the story doesn’t get too dark or too light.
I connected with this book because Haig is so real and honest and because some things were simply recognisable. I’m fortunate enough to not be dealing with depression and I have only ever dealt with minor anxiety, but Haig’s anxious childhood and teenage years hit very close to home.
And it’s such a cliché, but it’s so true that it makes you feel better to know you are not alone.
One part of the book that left a profound impression on me was the way he described his first and very severe depressive episode and the suicide he nearly committed.
“Maybe if they were in my head for ten minutes they’d be like, ‘Oh, okay, yes, actually. You should jump. There is no way you should feel this amount of pain. Run and jump and close your eyes and just do it. I mean, if you were on fire I could put a blanket around you, but the flames are invisible. There is nothing we can do. So jump. Or give me a gun and I’ll shoot you. Euthanasia.”
But it’s not all darkness and despair. Not at all. It is also a book full of hope, love, and insight. Filled with reasons to stay alive and ways to feel better.
Here are a few insightful and hopeful passages I highlighted while reading:
“Human brains – in terms of cognition and emotion and consciousness – are essentially the same as they were at the time of Shakespeare or Jesus or Cleopatra or the Stone Age. They are not evolving with the pace of change. Neolithic humans never had to face emails or breaking news or pop-up ads or Iggy Azalea videos or a self-service checkout at a strip-lit Tesco Metro on a busy Saturday night. Maybe instead of worrying about upgrading technology and slowly allowing ourselves to be cyborgs we should have a little peek at how we could upgrade our ability to cope with all this change.”
“Your mind is a galaxy. More dark than light. But the light makes it worthwhile. Which is to say, don’t kill yourself. Even when the darkness is total. Always know that life is not still. Time is space. You are moving through that galaxy. Wait for the stars.”
“Depression is also smaller than you. Always, it is smaller than you, even when it feels vast. It operates within you, you do not operate within it. It may be a dark cloud passing across the sky, but – if that is the metaphor – you are the sky. You were there before it. And the cloud can’t exist without the sky, but the sky can exist without the cloud.”
There are so many more passages I highlighted and I was tempted to include all of them in this review, but instead I’ll simply urge you to get the book yourself to read the rest. You won’t regret it.
I was extremely impressed with Reasons to Stay Alive. It is such an important, inspiring, well-written book, and I can’t give it less than 5 out of 5 stars.
This review can also be found on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2740958395