When I first picked up Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive, I never anticipated how much it would change my life. Let me share the extract that made me realise that it’s OK not to be OK.
“Depression is also smaller than you,” writes Haig. “Always, it is smaller than you, even when it feels vast. It operates within you, you do not operate within it. It may be a dark cloud passing across the sky but – if that is the metaphor – you are the sky. You were there before it. And the cloud can’t exist without the sky, but the sky can exist without the cloud.”
One in five people will suffer depression at some point in their lives. Fact. Yet, we still don’t talk about it. Most of us are guilty of burying our head in the sand when the going gets tough. Too many would rather suffer in silence than discuss our feelings. As a nation, we are eager to share endless details of our lives on social media – we can’t wait to reveal to everyone on our friends’ list what we had for lunch or tweet about what we watched on TV last night. But we are reluctant to discuss our wellbeing.
So, why won’t we discuss our mental health? One word: stigma. We all get caught up in what other people think, and this prevents many people from seeking help for mental illness. As Haig reinforces in his book, depression is essentially invisible, and this creates a multitude of problems. Depression is not defined by a single set of symptoms and there is no physical examination that conclusively determines whether or not an individual is depressed. Even those who outwardly appear happy can be suffering from depression.
This is the truth: there is no shame in depression. Mental illness is as valid as physical illness. It can be just as painful, it can stop you from functioning in daily life, it is real, and it needs to be treated.
Not only is this book a personal account of one man’s battle with depression, it’s a vital self-help guide. I had so many light bulb moments while I was engrossed in its pages. While Haig details many reasons as to why anyone should stay alive, here are a few of my own:
- There is no problem, regardless of how big or small, that cannot be fixed.
- Even when you feel at your most unloveable, there is always someone out there who cares about you.
- This storm that you’re currently in will end, and you will realise that life is one big adventure.
- The difficult times in our lives are there to shape us. It may feel bad now but really this is just the making of you.
- You may not realise it yet but, in your own way, you have so much to give.
So, for anyone out there who is stuck in a rut, here’s some important life advice from Haig: “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. 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.”
Haig taught me the importance of speaking out when the going gets tough. Yes, it’s frightening but it can save lives. After reading this book I stopped hiding the antidepressant packets. I made friends who, along the way, taught me to embrace my differences; mates who showed me love and security when I felt I didn’t deserve it. And I forged friendships with people who not only recognised my suffering but took on my pain. My conclusion? There will always be someone there to listen.
Remember – it’s OK not to be OK.
To read Northern Soul’s review of Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous Planet, click here.