After I read “Hello America” and “Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun” to Ingrid, it was her turn to read something to me. We settled on Matt Haig’s memoir of anxiety and depression “Reasons to Stay Alive”, which is as uplifting and life-affirming as its title suggests.
The book begins with its author standing atop some cliffs in Ibiza, crushed by depression and anxiety and determined to die. Fortunately he doesn’t go through with it and eventually this book detailing his experiences of recovery came out of it. It’s an honest warts-and-all account of what it’s like to be a depressed person and, perhaps even more crucially, what it’s like to live with a depressed person.
You might be thinking why on earth would I want to read about that? Well for one thing you might be or know a depressed person. The odds are high. Thanks to decreasing stigma around mental health, you might even know you know someone. Besides, even if you aren’t a depressed person or you do not know a depressed person, this book is so generously and humanely written that it will likely make you feel good too. Given that it’s a book about overcoming depression, it’s not relentlessly grim but instead a vibrant celebration of life and adversities conquered.
Despite its title, “Reasons to Stay Alive” is not a self-help book per se. There’s no chapter listing actual reasons to stay alive. Instead Matt Haig details his grim determination to survive despite inner voices that say they want the opposite. Several sections are constructed as conversations with past selves, illustrating how the passage of time can totally alter your perspective on things. I think many people who have endured depression will recognise these conversations.
In all, “Reasons to Stay Alive” is a quick, easy read (despite the subject matter) and a valuable book. I think it will make a difference to people coping with depression and their families. I also think it’d be a good place to start for people who haven’t had depression or anxiety who want to understand what it feels like from the inside.