To call this a review seems rather unjust. I had to put a disclaimer on my Goodreads to say a full response to reading the book would appear here, but I suppose I should take a moment to review it before giving credence to my statement over there that his book is not only excellent, but important.
Reasons to Stay Alive is Matt Haig’s story, where at 24 years old he found himself staring at a cliff-edge, wondering whether he should jump off. But that’s not the book – the book is why he didn’t, how he recovered and learned to live with anxiety and depression. It brings light to a serious subject, joy to making it through dark experiences and a little bit of fun in how to live better, and all the rest.
Why it feels unjust to review is because it’s so personal, it’s simply not right. But the way in which he’s told his story, through lists, retrospective conversations with himself, recounts of parts of his past, a sheer multitude of ways, is what makes it so great. The chapter dedicated to people on Twitter’s #reasonstostayalive is the real clincher, it just raises that sinking feeling present throughout.
5th March 2015 | Canongate
So, here’s the deviation. That sinking feeling is one of experience, one of parallels to much of what he says. Though the crux of his book is depression, there’s a lot of tangents that can relate to other aspects of mental health, particularly anxiety.
In his list of things that (sometimes) make him feel better, he ends with: Knowing that someone else may read these words and that, just maybe, the pain I felt wasn’t for nothing.
Why this book feels important is because while reading this it felt too familiar, but to have someone present such a book on their own experiences without it feeling harrowing to get through breeds positivity.
This is generally fluffing because I read the book feeling like “I will write this!” but the actual doing so isn’t quite so easy. I read his list of things that run through your mind the first time you have a panic attack, like the feeling that you’re going to die and have no idea what’s going on, and I couldn’t shake my own memory as I continued. It was kind of horrid.
The first time I had a panic attack, I was in London. I was eating food with someone, and he was going home, all the way back to Scotland, in about two hours, while I spent the week in London myself. The next day I was doing something I’d probably dreamed of since the age of 13. It sounds like it makes sense. But it doesn’t.
I’d stayed in London for far longer before, alone, and had experienced similar things to that due to occur the next day before. It wasn’t something to panic about, but inexplicably, in the centre of London I just generally felt paralysed. He had to leave (unsurprisingly scared as hell at what was going on) and I couldn’t bear the idea of going on the underground to get home. It was a one-off for that week, but something I’d face more often and worse in the future.
I doubt I’ve spoken about it before, and if I have I know it’s sure as hell been a passing reference in a blog I thought no one would read. It’s not something I talk about, not something I told many people about, it was just something I had to deal with, in my own little circle of people.
My point, in a round-about way, is that Matt Haig’s book made me want to post about it. His book is something that I feel would have helped me years ago, even in the simplest aspect of a more positive attitude. I had no people for reference, I turned to the internet, which was just full of scare stories – in this book I found a reasonable, honest, frank telling, with light at the end of the tunnel, even if my story was a mere sub-section of his.
I generally felt (feel) like a hypocrite, knowing that there’s a stigma around mental health and that more voices would help that, but I’ve never been able to see it through. Will I ever be able to go as lengthy, frank and open as this book? I can’t see that for many, many years, if ever, but this is a public coming-to-terms with being honest, even though it’s super scary.
I feel like this book would have been a positive force back then, but it’s a positive reinforcement right now. That’s why I think it’s important. I’m probably happier and healthier than I’ve ever been, I’ve been past this battle for a while now (touch wood), I’m kicking life’s butt (I’m on a particular high this year since things are looking up) and this book kind of made me realise how great a thing getting past this actually is. I must have never really thought about it; probably the fear of thinking about it in any abstract sense would throw me back under that bus.
Anyway, this is a ramble no one cares about, and my usual concise blogging has lost its way through being uncomfortable. But I feel like this is a book I can recommend to people I know who are struggling or don’t know how to cope with those suffering in their life, no matter the degree to which they suffer.
This post is scary. I don’t like it. If you read it this far, this is all super scary, even though it feels like vague admissions.
Basically, Reasons to Stay Alive made me want to write about it after all those times I’d convinced myself not to, for one reason or another. It’s hard to put into words the experience of reading this, with an ounce of familiarity; it’s similar to Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, in that when I closed it I felt this weird, warm positivity.