Reasons to stay alive: Matt Haig

My brother gave me this beautiful little book, saying it had helped him through a dark time. And while it’s not a big book, it is significant.

Matt Haig has some golden nuggets in here, and I may as well let it speak for itself. Here are my favourite bits.

 

1. This is heavy, but makes sense.

The evolutionary psychologists might be right. We humans might have evolved too far. The price for being intelligent enough to be the first species to be fully aware of the cosmos might just be a capacity to feel a whole universe’s worth of darkness.

2. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

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.

So what should we do? Talk. Listen. Encourage talking. Encourage listening. Keep adding to the conversation. Stay on the lookout for those wanting to join in the conversation. Keep reiterating, again and again, that depression is not something you ‘admit to’, it is not something you have to blush about, it is a human experience.

3. Beautiful. (Sidenote: I just love that Andrea, who helped Matt with his first onset of depression when he was 24, ended up marrying him. What a woman.)

Maybe love is just finding the person you can be your weird self with.

4. The best description of a book I have ever heard.

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.

5. Yes, thank you!

Actually, depression can be exacerbated by things being all right externally, because the gulf between what you are feeling and what you are expected to feel becomes larger. If you feel the same amount of depression as someone would naturally feel in a prisoner of war camp, but you are not in a prisoner of war camp, and are instead in a nice semi-detached house in the free world, then you think ‘Crap, this is everything I ever wanted, why aren’t I happy?’

6. This is too frighteningly real.

Anxiety, which often bubbles up into panic, is a nightmare in fast-forward. Anxiety, even more than depression, can be exacerbated by the way we live in the twenty-first century. By the things that surround us.

Smartphones. Advertising (I think of a great David Foster Wallace line – ‘It did what all ads are supposed to do: create an anxiety relievable by purchase.’) Twitter followers. Facebooks likes. Instagram. Information overload. Unanswered emails. Dating apps. War. The rapid evolution of technology. Urban planning. The changing climate. Overcrowded public transport. Articles on the ‘post-antibiotic age’. Photoshopped cover models. Google-induced hypochondria. Infinite choice (‘anxiety is the dizziness of freedom’ – Soren Kierkegaard). Online shopping. The should-we-eat-butter? debate. Atomised living. All those American TV dramas we should have watched. All those pop stars we haven’t heard of. All that lacking we are made to feel. Instant gratification. Constant distraction. Work work work. Twenty-four-hour everything.

7. Existentialism explained.

But when I was at my lowest points I touched something solid, something hard and strong at the core of me. Something imperishable, immune to the changeability of thought. The self that is not only I but also we. The self that connects me to you, and human to human. The hard, unbreakable force of survival. Of life. Of the 150,000 generations of us that have gone before, and of those yet to be born. Our human essence. Just as the ground below New York and, say, Lagos, becomes identical if you go down far enough beneath the earth’s surface, so every human inhabitant on this freak wonder of a planet shares the same core.

8. I love this.

Just as none of us are 100% physically healthy no one is 100% mentally healthy.

Everyone needs to read this book.


 

Bonus.

I’ve been struggling lately. There, I said it. It has been feeling dark and scary and heavy and too much. I’m finding that, like me, other people are yearning to talk about mental health in a raw, real way. I want to create a space for that to happen. I want to be real, and for people to be real with me. Because we’re all the same, and we can’t do it without each other.

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