“This book is impossible: Thirteen years ago I knew this couldn’t happen. I was going to die, you see. Or go mad.”
So begins Matt Haig’s book, “Reasons to Stay Alive” in which describes his breakdown and how he adapted to life afterwards. I hesitate to say “recovery” because, as he himself points out, you can be a happy depressive just as you can be an alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink in years. There are five sections of unequal length: falling, landing, rising, living and being which approximately describe his feelings and insights following his breakdown when he was 24. With hindsight there were warning signs – but then hindsight generally has better glasses than foresight.
I noticed that most reviews on Amazon were very positive but there were a few who either did not like or did not ‘get’ the idea. Having read it all the way through I can see that this book could be helpful to someone who suffers from depression or who is close to someone who is. If you are not familiar with it, this book may not help at all. For example, one person criticised it because it was all about the author, “all about me”. That is to miss the point: depression is indeed often “all about me” but not in a “Look at me and see how important/special I am”. It is more of an “all about how worthless I am and I don’t expect you to take any notice of me let alone agree with me”.
Some useful ideas include page 126f “How to be there for someone with depression or anxiety”. For example, “Don’t take anything personally, any more than your would take someone suffering with the flu or chronic fatigue syndrome or arthritis personally. It is not your fault.” (p 127). The list of “Things that have happened to me that have generated more sympathy than depression” rang a bell too. Meanwhile, on page 166 onwards, there is his list of famous people with depression. It may or may not help you to know that the list includes: Buzz Aldrin, Winston Churchill, Carrie Fisher, Abraham Lincoln, Isaac Newton and Emma Thompson. The point being that depression does not happen only to “bad” or “weak” people. In fact, it has been remarked elsewhere that it is “The curse of the strong“. A useful metaphor, on page 181, is that if depression is a dark cloud then you are the sky: depression is smaller than you. Although that makes sense, convincing myself of that truth may take some doing.
How to stop time: kiss.
How to travel in time: read.
How to escape time: music.
How to feel time: write.
How to release time: breathe.
Overall four stars or eight out of ten. Worth buying a copy to read and to lend.