Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig

There was a lot of hype about this book, so finally I caved and bought it. I read it as a break from my pretty depressing reading Ireland month. It was yet another non-fiction book for me in 2016, not a common thing for me. It is a book about overcoming depression, so I was hoping it would bring some light after all the death and grief from my Irish reading. On the other hand, being a bit cynical, I worried that maybe all good reviews were down to critics being afraid that they’d be seen as responsible if Haig relapses because of their review. Finally, I decided to give it a chance, to ease my conscience I told myself that if I didn’t like it there would be no review 😉

I was expecting some sort of self-help book, but it isn’t one or at least not entirely. It is Haig’s personal story. First we follow him into the abys of depression combined with anxiety. He makes his experience very relatable and raises important points about how our health and strenght obsessed culture got us in a place where “we are ashamed when things go wrong with us.”, even if it’s completely beyond our control.

Haig traces his anxiety into his past, while also telling us about his painfully slow recovery and fight for every day. He  tries to get his head around what actually happened and, in my opinion, he fails to fully understand it (I don’t think we can completely understand ourselves), but he learns to recognize the early warning signs and develops coping strategies. They help him deal with anxiety and depression, but I think they can apply to a lot of people, not only to fight depression, but simply to make our lives better. I noticed I already do a lot of the things he mentions, as a sort of self-preservation from being overwhelmed by reality:

Light was everything. Sunshine, windows with the blinds open. Pages with short chapters and lots of white space and

Short.

Paragraphs.

Light was everything.

But so, increasingly, were books. I read and read and read with an intensity I’d never really known before.

 ***********************************************************************

And most of all, books. They were, in and of themselves reasons to stay alive. Every book written is a product of a human mind in a particular state. Add all the books together and you get the end sum of humanity. Every time I read a great book I felt I was reading a kind of map, and the treasure I was being directed to was in actual fact myself. But each map was incomplete, and I would only locate the treasure if I read all the books, and so the process of finding my best self was an endless quest. And books themselves seemed to me to reflect this idea. Which is why the plot of every book ever can be boiled down to ‘someone is looking for something’.

One cliché attached to bookish people is that they are lonely, but for me books were my way out of being lonely.

 ***********************************************************************

Of course, travel isn’t always a solution. Or even an option. But certainly it helps me, when I get the chance to go away. I think, more than anything, it helps give a sense of perspective. We might be stuck in our mind, but we aren’t physically stuck. And unsticking ourselves from our physical location can help dislodge our unhappy mental state. Movement is the antidote to fixedness, after all. And it helps. Sometimes. Just sometimes.

One thing I need to work on is focus. I really dislike the word mindfulness, there has been too much noise and fashion created aroud it, as if it’s something special, it isn’t. Haig writes about it and so did Winterson in her recent Christmas book and I’m sure a ton of other people, just as we all thought about it. It is an everyday thing, not something new or special.

‘No one saves us but ourselves, no one can and no one may.’ In Buddhism salvation is something that is not external. To be happy, and at peace, Buddhism says, we have to be vigilant, aware of ourselves. Mindful. ‘As rain breaks through n ill-thatched house, passion in the sense of suffering will break through an unreflecting mind.’

In a world with far more shiny distractions than the world of Himalayan India way over two thousand years ago, our mental houses may be harder to thatch than ever before.

Our minds now are less like thatched houses and a bit like computers. Yes, I could in theory get on my computer, open a Word document and just write, but I would probably check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the Guardian website. I might – if I am going through neurotic patch – do a quick ego search, or check out any new Goodreads or Amazon reviews of my books or go on Google and type in a list of real or imaginary ailments to see which terminal disease I am currently suffering from.

As much as I liked the raw honesty of the first part of the book, towards the end it became a bit too touchy-feely for my taste, a bit too much like self-help book. But maybe that’s just my black heart.

Just like Confessions of a Sociopath it is an important book, bringing focus to a problem that may affect us or our loved ones. It is however a much better read. Haig’s prose reads effortlessly, it is witty, smart and emotional. A good and important book.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska @ vkphotospace

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One thought on “Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig

  1. Pingback: November round-up – bookskeptic.com

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