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Book Review: “Reasons to Stay Alive” by Matt Haig

Reasons to Stay AliveReasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Read this if you ever experience depression or anxiety. Otherwise, read this to understand the 450 million people on the planet who know it all too well.

This spoke volumes to me. I related on a fundamental level to Haig’s journey. Everything, from the dreary Croydon skies that used to drag him down, to the vocabulary he uses to articulate his innermost feelings, and how he develops a sense of self independent of those feelings (and the thoughts that come along with them in that delightful anxious-depressed-BOGOF bundle).

“Life is suffering” said the Buddha. It’s true. For a long time I denied this, thinking if I just wear a positive-attitude mask I can avoid this aspect of my life. I soon realised my soul wouldn’t allow me to do this. Trust me, I’ve tried. I’ve tried hard. It propels you into situations where you’re forced to address your deepest fears. It repeatedly gives you opportunities to confront those neglected parts of yourself.

The depressive is more sensitive to the darkness in the world. He notices the suffering of others, and thinks deeply about the futility of it all. She is keenly aware of the evils and injustices of the world and understandably feels overwhelmed by it all, as if it is her burden to bear. It all affects him deeply.

In one sense, depression is a natural response to not living how you should be. It can be argued that it’s at least in part a natural byproduct of a consumeristic society that tells you that happiness is always around the corner, if only you accumulate more “stuff”. You are never enough, and you always need to have more. It’s no wonder we live in a society that is more depressed and anxious than any before.

Life is suffering. It’s pain. It’s tears of sorrow. It’s poverty. It’s starvation. It’s anger and fear. It is desperation. It is futile. It is hard. It is scary. It is confusing and overwhelming. It is stressful. It is grey Croydon skies and long days at the office. It is loss. It is grief. It is loneliness. It’s the minute that feels like an hour, and the day that feels like an eternity.

The depressive is more sensitive to the beauty in the world. He notices the happiness of others, and thinks deeply about the connectedness of it all. She is keenly aware of all the goodness and progress in the world and understandably feels overwhelmed by it all, as if it is a secret only she gets to know about. It all affects him deeply.

Life is also love. It is also blue skies, and reindeer. It’s new-born babies and smiley grandparents. It’s a summer breeze. It’s also pink sunrises and orange sunsets. It’s jazz, funk and soul. It’s long walks with a loved one. It’s the hour that feels like a minute, and the day that whizzes by in an instant.

The depressive is sensitive. If he can befriend depression, it can be his greatest teacher. She can learn to appreciate depression as the key to unlock a treasure trove of unimaginable splendour. It’s scary, though. It’s like taming a wild horse. He always runs the risk of getting a firm kick in the groin, leaving him winded and gasping for air.

I’ve been there before. Once I mustered the courage to speak out about it, I realised how many others are all too familiar with that dark place.

When it seems you’ve hit rock bottom yet again, consider this:
“When you’re depressed – unable to leave the house, or the sofa, or to think of anything but the depression – it can be unbearably hard. However, bad days are not all equally bad. The really bad ones, though horrible to live through, are useful for later. You store them up in a bank so that if you’re having another bad day, you know there have been worse: the day you were so depressed your tongue wouldn’t move; the day you made your parents cry; the day you almost threw yourself off a cliff.
And even when you can think of no worse day, you at least know that the bank exists and that you’ve made a deposit.”

(Just one of the many gems hidden within the pages of this book).

You’re going to get through this. Get in touch if you’re desperate or else find help. This book has a whole section dedicated to the many sources of help available.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in learning a bit more about what it means to be human.

View all my reviews

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