“Time heals. The tunnel does have the light at the end of it, even if we aren’t able to see it. Words, just sometimes, can set you free.” Matt Haig’s journey into depression (and hell) and back is just the right dose of inspiration we all need in today’s world.
One of my all-time favorite books is Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. This was a book that I bought mainly because of the intriguing book cover and the interesting praises on the back cover of the jacket. The title Reasons to Stay Alive is written in black color, but the line from the last letter “E” trails off into a rainbow-colored line that’s circled twice. As I read the notes on the inside flap of the book jacket, I realized this book is about depression, which totally helped me make sense of the rainbow-colored circling lines on the front cover: there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel after all!
Matt Haig, at the age of 24, suffered from severe depression. It got so bad, he even contemplated suicide. This book is his journey of how he suffered from depression, how he learned to overcome his depression and figured out how to “live better,” “love better” and “feel more alive.”
As he says: “I wrote this book because the oldest cliches remain the truest. Time heals. The bottom of the valley never provides the clearest view. The tunnel does have light at the end of it, even if we haven’t been able to see it…Words, just sometimes, really can set you free.”
And it is these words that have been penned by Matt Haig into this brilliant memoir of a book– and it’s not just a memoir, but a stark reminder on how much we have in our lives to be grateful for.
Haig starts off by talking about depression and how it had hit him hard. He felt his world had ended, and he had no hope and future. But as he wrote this book, he realized that “depression lies.” (page 1). He talks about how words helped him connect to the world– in other words, it became important to him to speak up, to share, to connect with others and to be true to himself, in order to heal. He also clears out in the beginning that depression and pain can mean different things to different people. The varying degrees will not allow everyone to work at the same pace to heal.
The book is split up into five distinct chapters:
This chapter talks about how he suffered from depression and how it led to his downfall in life where he felt his world had ended. The beautiful thing that Matt does is to actually share what went on inside his mind as he fell into depression. Depression is not just being “sad,” but “it is mysterious even to those who suffer from it.” (page 17)
He helps the reader understand what a person in depression goes through- they want to feel the absence of pain, and to feel that emptiness means to stop living. (page 20). Though he was taking pills for depression, Matt talks about suicide as he felt medications weren’t helping him. I loved his honesty about him taking these antidepressants- “anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication still fill me with fear.” (page 32).
He also talks about the difficulty of being with his parents– the parents feel helpless. Despite the fact that he felt a tad bit better around his parents, he would slip back into depression with even an ounce of self-doubt. His honesty is evident when he talks about how he’s not able to cry in front of his dad because he would feel less of a man. However, as his self-doubts crept up, there came a point when he cried. (page 59).
In one of the key chapters, Boy’s Don’t Cry, Matt talks about masculinity and why men who don’t cry, or express their feelings, often feel bottled up and end up hurting themselves, or even suicide. “Many more men than women end their lives…this is especially strange when you think, according to every official study, about twice as many women experience depression.” (page 67).
This chapter chronicles Matt’s journey into accepting his depression. He mentions that all he needed to do was to “listen to ourselves.” (page 81). This was something he practiced on himself– to listen to himself meant that he had to take into account his anxiety attacks, heart palpitations, sweaty palms and so on. He had to listen to his brain and his body, and understand what was going on. In a moment of honesty, he says “People say ‘take it one day at a time.’ But I used to think to myself, that is all right for them to say. Days were mountains. A week was a trek across the Himalayas.”
In the chapter Warning Signs (page 90) Matt lists down several warning signs to look out for those in depression- a pretty accurate documentation. He does acknowledge that “life is hard. It may be beautiful but it is also hard.” (page 96). This frank admission brings home such an important point: life is indeed hard, and the sooner we accept it, the easier it will be for us.
This is the favorite part of mine in the entire book. Matt chronicles his journey towards healing and recovery, or as he says “the art of walking on your own.” (page 105). HE brilliantly takes you right into his mind as he battles between what his negative thoughts are telling him to do versus what it is that he actually wanted to do to recover.
Two important chapters cover important information: reasons to stay alive and reasons to stay strong.
Finally, he also helps the reader understand what someone in depression may be like and how we can be there for them as a support system. This is very important as I’ve personally seen how so many people say the wrong things to those who are in a depression (in most cases, they come across as insensitive and uncaring and lightly brush away the whole idea of depression).
Another reason why this is my favorite part of the book is because of the chapter White Space. This is the part where Matt talks how he found comfort and solace in books. He liked books, but he also needed books, so stay alive. “They [books] were, in and of themselves, reasons to stay alive. Every book written is the product of a human mind in a particular state…Every time I read a great book I felt I was reading a kind of map, a treasure map, and the treasure I was being directed to was in actual fact myself. Books were my way out of being lonely” As I personally love reading, this particular paragraph only solidified my love for reading and brought on about a renewed passion for reading.
Two other important things happened to Matt, that gave him more reasons to stay alive: he started running, and he fell in love.
In this part, Matt talks about how the world has been designed to keep us in depression, whether it’s the consumer culture or the media sending subliminal messages to buy the latest gadgets, we are always being told to achieve a certain thing to achieve happiness (page189). This causes us to have the Big A: Anxiety. In order to combat anxiety, Matt explains ways to slow down to take control of our mind and body. There is a fun chapter where Matt shares what some of his followers on Twitter had shared their reasons to stay alive.
Finally, in the last chapter, Matt talks about where we can take our lives as we battle the future– in other words, how we can live in the present moment and be more alive. He mentions how for him “personally, happiness isn’t about abandoning the world of stuff, but in appreciating it for what it is.” In other words, gratitude. Along with this, “compassion” and “kindness” are also very important.
In closing, Matt shares 40 pieces of advice on How to Live. A fun, relevant and necessary list is.
But my all-time favorite part of the book is summed up on page 238 which is simply titled Self-Help.
Matt Haig has been extremely influential to me in my life as I dealt with my own depression and overcame it, and has allowed me to understand others in depression. I love Matt’s way of writing, his honesty, his frankness and his passion for life. His Self-Help with five statements have been so incredibly powerful, one of them have been expanded into another of his best-selling book How To Stop Time.
Reasons to Stay Alive is that amazingly wonderful book that will help anyone who is in depression or knows someone who is in depression, to find tons of reasons to stay alive.
At the end of the day, Matt’s advice number 38 (from the 40 pieces of advice) (page253) says: “Remember that the key thing about life on earth is change. Cars rust. Paper yellows. Technology dates. Caterpillars become butterflies. Night morphs into the day. Depression lifts.”
As simple as that. We are all evolving. We are all changing. Nothing is constant. Once we see that, then there is hope for us to becomes the best version of ourselves.