Pandemic Book Recommendation #17: Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
Depression and anxiety are not new. Two months ago, we were in the midst of a mental health crisis among youth and young adults. The onset of a pandemic, social distancing measures, and an economic downturn is likely to increase this trend. Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive was handed to me a few years ago by a student who struggled daily with suicidal ideation. Haig’s words were personal, relatable and life-giving to this person, who wanted me to have the book so I could share it with others. I’m glad I had it on my shelf because it genuinely has been a helpful resource for others – and at times for me.
Matt Haig is an English novelist and journalist – author of many popular works, including The Humans, The Last Family in England, The Possession of Mr. Cave, The Radleys, and many others. Reasons to Stay Alive is Haig’s telling of his journey through darkness and ultimate triumph over a depression that nearly took his life. It is the story of how he learned to live again, told through a series of short thoughts and reflections.
His reason for writing the book speaks for itself: “Ever since I realized that depression lied about the future, I have wanted to write a book about my experience, to tackle depression and anxiety head-on. So this book seeks to do two things. To lessen that stigma, and – the possibly more quixotic ambition – to try and actually convince people that the bottom of the valley never provides the clearest view. I wrote this because the oldest cliches remain the truest. Time heals. The tunnel does have light at the end of it, even if we aren’t able to see it. And there’s a two-for-one offer on clouds and silver linings. Words, just sometimes, can set you free.”
He has a chapter for men called, “Boys Don’t Cry,” in which he explores why more men die by suicide than women. Haig shares, “You are no less or more of a man or a woman or a human for having depression than you would be for having cancer or cardiovascular disease or a car accident… It is not you. It is simply something that happens to you. And something that can often be eased by talking. Words. Comfort. Support.”
Parts of the book are raw, and as someone who has only journeyed to the outer reaches of depression, I would think this would not be a book I would want to pick up in my darkest moments. But for many, including the student who gave it to me, those are the very times to read it. Haig has been to those darkest of dark places, and he lived to tell about it. He hopes we will continue the journey with him, and thus he provides compelling, poetic, and hopeful reasons to stay alive.
“I am you and you are me.
We are alone, but not alone.
We are trapped by time, but also infinite.
Made of flesh, but also stars.”
He borrows from his novel, The Humans, to make a point that minds move: “Your mind is a galaxy. More dark than light. But the light makes it worthwhile. Which is to say, don’t kill yourself. Even when the darkness is total. Always know that life is not still. Time is space. You are moving through that galaxy. Wait for the stars.”
There are many things in his book we need to hear and receive during this time of global crisis. “Nothing lasts forever. The pain won’t last. The pain tells you it will last. Pain lies. Ignore it. Pain is a debt paid off with time.”
At the end of the book, he includes sections providing steps and resources for getting help. In case you are reading this at a dark time and the book is not at hand, here are a few of them: