Review: Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig
"You must read it"
I have suffered from anxiety and depression for roughly five years and only recently have I accepted the severity of the issue and started the infinitely long journey of scraping myself out of the black hole.
The book was first brought to my attention by my dad who insisted I read it. I didn't want to. Who wants to read a book about a guy who has had your illness but is now a successful author, happily married and loving life? Everyone gets jealous but depression escalates it to a point where you are so envious of 'normal' people it makes you despise yourself even more. Still insistence led my dad to convince my mum to read it (15 years divorced makes this point more interesting.) When she said I should read it I was still reluctant. Then my younger sister got in on the act and even bought me the book! Which, of course, I'm very grateful for (plus it's a signed copy... nice touch.) So after much family based persuasion, even though I knew it was going to be tough, I gave it a go.
I hated it. I hated reading a book that is basically an autobiographical account of me, just in someone else's shoes. I hated reading how similar our depressive episodes are and I hated the fact that we have very similar personalities. How accurate this book is to my own experiences of depression are painstakingly scary and I hated reading it. Whilst battling through it my symptoms escalated. I was itchy, uncomfortable and fidgety. The 'fog' descended and stuck around for the entirety of the book. My tinnitus enveloped my brain like sufferers can only understand. It was painful but luckily it is incredibly short and I had finished it in a couple of days.
It's the pace of the story that also bothered me. At no point does it give the correct inclination of just how bad those dark days are. Or how long they last. Or how he coped with them. Years pass in an instant in this book yet anyone who suffers from depression knows that hours last days. Although he does refer to this issue of time, and how it is desperately slow in spells, the pace of the narrative and jumps through time don't fairly reflect the tormentingly difficult process of just getting through a single day.
I took no comfort in the fact that he learnt to manage his illness either. Instead of believing it will get better, which is the purpose of the book, getting better seemed a distant hope I am never to achieve. His constant acknowledgement of celebrities through the ages that have suffered but survived only angered me further. How does knowing Angelina Jolie or Russell Brand suffered from depression meant to give me hope? At the end of the day they don't have financial constraints. They could easily allow the time necessary to get better without the worry of your car being repossessed. Or pay for the top doctors to help diagnose and treat. No. Knowing that doesn't help me or give me comfort. It just fuels the anger.
The Positive Side
Despite my difficulties in reading this book. It is possibly the most important thing I have read with regards to depression. I would definitely recommend it. This may surprise you considering how much I despised reading it but that's just me. I am at a stage in my recovery (if you can call it that) where I need to find my own path and reading about someone else's doesn't help. It's worth pointing out as well that although I can relate to the majority of the issues Haig expresses, everyone with mental health issues have difficulties unique to themselves and therefore different tools help different sufferers.
I think the most helpful and most important aspect of this book though has nothing to do with me reading it. It is in fact that my family have read it and it has not only given them a much better and accurate portrait of depression but it has given them hope that their son/brother/grandson/nephew will get better. As the cliché goes, there is light at the end of the tunnel and for them believing that coupled with a better understanding of the illness comforts me.