“MINDS ARE UNIQUE. They go wrong in unique ways. My mind went wrong in a slightly different way to how other minds go wrong. Our experience overlaps with other people’s, but it is never exactly the same experience.”
I first came across Matt Haig on Twitter via some articles he wrote about living with depression, I then read The Humans and loved it and was looking forward to reading Reasons to Stay Alive.
Reasons to Stay Alive is part memoir, part self-help book with some analysis of depression, suicide statistics and the science behind medication thrown in. This genre hopping sometimes works, at other times it doesn’t.
Things I liked about the book; it’s an easy read, I finished it in a few hours. There are plenty of lines and passages that I will re-read numerous times. I’ve never used the highlight function, on my Kindle, so much for an individual book.
Things I found problematic about the book; some of the language Haig uses, especially when he continuously describes himself as “a depressive”. While it is a personal choice for Haig, for me the term implies that a person is no more than their illness. And we are so much more.
I don’t describe myself as arthritic or a Coeliac either. I have arthritis and Coeliac Disease, just like I sometimes have depression rather than I am a depressive.
Haig mentions his diagnosis without much discussion about the process of being diagnosed, the doctors he saw and the treatments he tried.
Apart from stating the medication he was prescribed didn’t work and put him off trying other ones and that he has never tried Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), I got the impression that self-care was the only route he chose in the end. I could be mistaken and perhaps the talking he writes about included counselling and doctors, but he only really mentions talking to family in the book.
I understand that medication doesn’t work for everybody. As Haig says himself, people’s minds go wrong in different ways and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.
For some; medication is essential in order for them to function on a daily basis, for others it is needed for a time in order to get them to a stage where they are able for to try some form of counselling.
Self-care on its own doesn’t work for everyone either. Sometimes people reach the point where other interventions are necessary. And this book seems very much rooted in self-care.
“There is no standard normal. Normal is subjective. There are seven billion versions of normal on this planet.”
Alcohol obviously had some effect on Haig’s anxiety and depression. The extent of its role was unclear, to me, because the details are patchy in places.
My initial understanding was that Haig identified as an alcoholic and his avoidance of alcohol would be a lifelong one. In later chapters, however, he mentions that after years of not drinking at all he now drinks alcohol every so often.
I found this interesting, but I felt like I missed the step where his relationship with alcohol changed. I would have liked to see this aspect of Haig’s life explored more. Was his abstaining for so long a result of anxiety about what might happen rather than having a problem with alcohol?
It is possible that there are things Haig didn’t want to share with the reader and that’s completely understandable. After all, even in the sharing of personal stories there are experiences which are private. There is a difference between the two and at its heart Reasons to Stay Alive is Matt Haig’s personal story. It does lead to some gaps in the narrative though.
Despite my issues with it, I enjoyed reading Reasons to Stay Alive and I’m glad Haig wrote it. If only to remind people that they are not alone in feeling this way.
Although, I do think it serves as a conversation starter about the wider issues of mental health. How we view it, how we treat it and how different people cope with mental ill-health.