Book review – Reasons to stay alive by Matt Haig

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Everyone should consider reading Reasons to Be Alive, whether you have depression, know someone who has depression, are curious about depression or might, at some point in your life, encounter depression in yourself, in a loved one, in a stranger, etc.

While not a definitive book about what depression is or how to deal with it, Haig is able to clearly express the bleakness of his depression and anxiety, and the effort he needed to work through the worst period of his life, little by little. I don’t think that I’ll ever

forget he’s anecdote about going to the store down the road and how something as seemingly harmless as a little corner store could cause so much anxiety. Those few paragraphs put a lot into perspective for me.

Despite the focus on depression and anxiety and telling the reader about his darkest days, Haig never sounds sorry for himself and never implies that we should pity him. He’s very matter of fact about his experience. As he says in the book, this isn’t about suffering with depression, it’s about learning how to live with it.

“If you have ever believed a depressive wants to be happy, you are wrong. They could not care less about the luxury of happiness. They just want to feel an absence of pain. To escape a mind on fire, where thoughts blaze and smoke like old possessions lost to arson. To be normal.”

I think that one of the most important aspects of the book for me was how he was careful to explain (and show) that mental illness isn’t a weakness or a gateway to artistic genius. It’s just a thing that some people have – a part of themselves that can affect their life both negatively and positively.

“People often use the word ‘despite’ in the context of mental illness. So-and-so did such-and-such despite having depression/anxiety/OCD/agoraphobia/whatever. But sometimes that ‘despite’ should be ‘because’.  For instance, I write because of depression.”

I read this book based on Cait Flanders recommendation last month after a couple of celebrities committed suicide. She spoke highly of it and I’m very glad that I picked it up despite thinking that it wouldn’t be for me simply because I’ve never been suicidal. It was for me because it helped me to understand depression and anxiety a little better.

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