After reading Melissa Broder’s TMI memoir, So Sad Today, I really wasn’t up to reading another memoir, especially one dealing with the thorny topic of depression and other mental illnesses. Then I came across British author Matt Haig’s book Reasons to Stay Alive while browsing the stacks at my local library. I read the book jacket and decided to check Haig’s book out…
…and I’m glad I did. Reasons to Stay Alive might be one of the most important books I have ever read on the issue of depression and mental illness, and one I am happy to share with my readers.
On the surface, Haig has a pretty ideal life. His parents are kind, compassionate and loving. His girlfriend (now wife) Andrea sounds like a delightful woman, one who chose to stick by Haig through even his darkest moments of mental terror. Haig is educated, well-traveled, good-looking and a successful author. What does he have to be depressed about?
Well, often depression has no reason to exist; it just does. And sometimes there are reasons why people are depressed, which is something Haig also describes in Reasons to Stay Alive. But Reasons to Stay Alive is Haig’s story and it is painful to read at times. I often had to put the book down because at times I related to Haig way too much and have the dried up tears to prove it, and because I felt so much empathy for his struggles.
For Haig, depression was just something that was thrust upon him, almost like being an innocent victim of a violent crime. He couldn’t quite pinpoint why he felt the way he did. Even everyday activities from getting out of bed to doing basic ever day tasks were too much to handle. For a moment, Haig considered committing suicide while vacationing in Ibiza.
I’m just glad he never took that final step.
From these suicidal thoughts to writing Reasons to Stay Alive, Haig chronicles his struggles with depression with clarity that both chills and helps the reader gain insight on the cruelty of depression and how it not only affects the sufferer but those who live with the sufferer.
Haig writes about his anxiety and panic attacks. He is fully honest in how depression affected him physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. He goes through a whole alphabet of emotions—sadness, rage, hopelessness, apathy, frustration, terror and other assorted less than ideal feelings. But he also writes of the glimmers of hope he gained and he acknowledged his suffering and went on a very difficult journey of recovery. And he does it without self-pity, psychobabble or being a self-absorbed narcissistic curator of TMI.
In Reasons to Stay Alive, Haig fully explains why depression is so misunderstood (even by those who suffer from it). With depression, one’s pain is invisible. You wonder what suffering from depressions says about you. You wonder why you can’t get out of bed and stop crying. You worry tomorrow will be worse than today and beat yourself up for not being like everybody else.
Haig also describes certain aspects that some people with depression suffer from, including fatigue, low-self-esteem, irritability, crying jags, moving and speaking at a slower pace, and inability to experience pleasure.
Haig tells the readers that people with depression are not alone. And he names several notable figures who suffered from depression including Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, and Buzz Aldrin. Creative types also suffer from depression. These people include Halle Berry, Jon Hamm, Billy Joel, Emma Thompson and Tennessee Williams. Even the ever bubbly ray of sunshine, Dolly Parton, has issues with depression!
However, Haig leaves us hopeful, sharing both his journey and the journey of others. Reasons to Stay Alive, which include everything from kissing (yes, to lots and lots of kissing) and reading books (yes, to lots and lots of books). Ultimately, he shares with us 40 pieces how to not only live but thrive while dealing with depression and also offers names of books that may help those suffer from depression that can probably be found at your local library, on-line and at your favorite bookstore.
Reasons to Stay Alive is at times hard to read; dealing with my own depression is bad enough. But I am eternally grateful for Matt Haig and his valuable book. Reasons to Stay Alive should be read not just by those suffering from depression, but those who love someone with depression. Actually, Reasons to Stay Alive should be read by everyone!