Reasons To Stay Alive is amazing. Matt Haig writes honestly of his experience with depression and his ways of coping with it. I know this is often said, but I really couldn’t put this book down.
Today, we are far more open and accepting of mental illness than we probably ever have been. But we tend to want to hear survivors’ accounts; we want to know that the person is all better now. But most mental illness isn’t something as easily overcome-able as that. Mental illness often lingers; it can return when you least expect it, often taking you by surprise. This is all covered here. Haig talks us through his recovery from his first deep depression, and talks about days when he thought he was getting better, only to find that there was still a long way to go.
I hadn’t given much thought to masculinity and mental illness until fairly recently. I had read a lot about women and hysteria and a lot of mental illness being attributed, and in some cases invented, to keep women quiet. But for many men, even now, talking about how they feel and feeling down are things that aren’t supposed to happen to them. Men are told that they are the ‘do-er’s in life. What happens when they suddenly can’t do anything? Haig states that suicide is ‘the leading cause of death among men under the age of thirty-five’. Men are conditioned not to talk about these things. Men are conditioned to act. We need to rid our society of this mentality.
I enjoyed the darkness and the light here. Haig writes short chapters, which are great for people who are feeling low and probably aren’t able to concentrate well. There are heart-breaking lists, pinpointing these messy thoughts and feelings precisely, such as ‘How to be there for someone with depression or anxiety’ and ‘Things depression says to you.’
The book ends on the chapter ‘Things I have enjoyed since the time I thought I would never enjoy anything again’. It wonderfully begins ‘Sunrises, sunsets, the thousand suns and worlds that aren’t ours but shine in the night sky. Books, Cold beer. Fresh air. Dogs. Horses. Yellowing paperbacks…’ Haig here details his reasons to stay alive, which reminds me of a great little book called The Sweetness of Life by Françoise Héritier. Héritier’s book is essentially a book-length list of things she enjoys. Taking time to realise what makes you happy in life is very useful, particularly when you feel that you won’t be happy again.
Reasons To Stay Alive is a book that demands thought and kindness in a world which can shun those things as unimportant. It is brilliant and I think that everybody should read it.