If you want to read the words of someone who really understands the most difficult days – and the most beautiful days – of life, read Matt Haig. He really gets it.
Sharing an honest and raw take on his struggle with depression, Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive soared up the charts after its release in 2015. It’s remained one of my go-to recommendations ever since, especially for friends and readers struggling with depression. With pressure on the media’s role in mental health here in the UK, Reasons to Stay Alive has had even more limelight as a book to remind people of why they should stay on the most difficult days.
I first read another of Matt Haig’s books, Notes on a Nervous Planet. This seemed like the obvious starting point for me: while I have had some dark moments, days, weeks, and months in the past, anxiety has been a much more frequent companion in my life.
But when I first read Reasons to Stay Alive from cover to cover, I loved it just as much as I thought I would. It’s also a book that I’ve turned back to on days when everything has felt hopeless.
When I think back to Reasons to Stay Alive – including on tough days when I need support, or when a loved one is going through a hard time – here’s what I’ll remember.
The best takeaways from Reasons to Stay Alive to remember
1. Depression lies
“One of the key symptoms of depression is to see no hope. No future. Far from the tunnel having light at the end of it, it seems like it is blocked at both ends, and you are inside it. So if I could have only known the future, that there would be one far brighter than anything I’d experienced, then one end of that tunnel would have been blown to pieces, and I could have faced the light. So the fact that this book exists is proof that depression lies. Depression makes you think things that are wrong. But depression itself isn’t a lie. It is the most real thing I’ve ever experienced.”
2. You’re not alone, you’re in a dark land with a population of millions
“You have never felt this way before, and the shock of the descent is traumatising you, but others have been here. You are in a dark, dark land with a population of millions.”
3. Depression and anxiety often come together
“Adding anxiety to depression is a bit like adding cocaine to alcohol. It presses fast-forward on the whole experience. If you have depression on its own your mind sinks into a swamp and loses momentum, but with anxiety in the cocktail, the swamp is still a swamp but the swamp now has whirlpools in it.”
4. Bad days come in degrees
“Bad days come in degrees. They are not all equally bad. And the really bad ones, though horrible to live through, are useful for later. You store them up. A bank of bad days. The day you had to run out of the supermarket. The day you were so depressed your tongue wouldn’t move. The day you made your parents cry. The day you nearly threw yourself off a cliff. So if you are having another bad day you can say, Well, this feels bad, but there have been worse. And even when you can think of no worse day – when the one you are living is the very worst there has ever been – you at least know the bank exists and that you have made a deposit.”
5. Depression isn’t you, it’s something that happens to you
“It is not you. It is simply something that happens to you. And something that can often be eased by talking. Words. Comfort. Support. It took me more than a decade to be able to talk openly, properly, to everyone, about my experience. I soon discovered the act of talking is in itself a therapy. Where talk exists, so does hope.”
6. Find light
“Light was everything. Sunshine, windows with the blinds open. Pages with short chapters and lots of white space and Short. Paragraphs. Light was everything.”
7. Books are reasons to stay alive
Books have guided me through so much – that’s the main reason why I started this blog back in 2012. For some bibliotherapy for depression, you might like my post about the best books for depression or for when everything feels hopeless.
“Every book written is the 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, a treasure map, and the treasure I was being directed to was in actual fact myself.”
8. Find what works for you
“There may well come a time in the future where I take pills again. For now, I do what I know keeps me just about level. Exercise definitely helps me, as does yoga and absorbing myself in something or someone I love, so I keep doing these things. I suppose, in the absence of universal certainties, we are our own best laboratory.”
9. You will find joy that matches this pain
“You will one day experience joy that matches this pain. You will cry euphoric tears at the Beach Boys, you will stare down at a baby’s face as she lies asleep in your lap, you will make great friends, you will eat delicious foods you haven’t tried yet, you will be able to look at a view from a high place and not assess the likelihood of dying from falling. There are books you haven’t read yet that will enrich you, films you will watch while eating extra-large buckets of popcorn, and you will dance and laugh and have sex and go for runs by the river and have late-night conversations and laugh until it hurts.”
10. Hang on in there
“Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.”
Make a note of these takeaways if you need to, or bookmark your favourite pages of Reasons to Stay Alive so you can turn to them when you most need them. For more of the best books for depression, take a look at the best books to read when you have depression, based on my own recent struggle with it.
If you adore books, need a bit of a boost, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, check out The Sanctuary, a seven-day course from Tolstoy Therapy.