by Matt Haig
Penguin Books, 2016
Review by Hennie Weiss on Mar 22nd 2016
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig is a personal account regarding Haig's struggle with depression. Haig wanted to share his story due to the fact that depression is one of the deadliest diseases on the planet. "It kills more people than most other forms of violence -- warfare, terrorism, domestic abuse, assault, gun crime -- put together (p. 25)." At the same time, Haig believes that we do not take depression as seriously as we should. Depression and suicide are clearly linked, but that link is not something that is discussed very often, and there is stigma associated with speaking about depression and suicide. At the same time, men are more likely than women to commit suicide, coupled with the fact that they are less likely to seek help for their depression. Therefore, it is important that people with personal accounts, who have deep knowledge about depression, share their difficult stories in the hopes of helping and inspiring others with depression.
Starting with the account of how Haig nearly committed suicide, Haig describes what depression looked and felt like for him throughout many years, stressing that depression can be different from person to person and that it does not act in a certain way, but that speaking about depression can really help: "Misery, like yoga, is not a competitive sport. But I have found over the years that by reading about other people who have suffered, survived, and overcome despair, I have felt comforted. It has given me hope. I hope this book can do the same (p. 6)."
For Haig, learning to deal with and living with depression has been a long journey that started at an early age with symptoms such as anxiety. According to Haig, anxiety and depression go hand in hand. For Haig, the struggle of managing depression is in a sense never ending, but Haig has learned how to live with feelings of anxiety, despair and pain, and how to move forward despite an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and anguish. Haig also describes that he used alcohol and occasionally drugs as a type of self-medication, which does not help a person that is depressed, but is still commonly used. But Haig also has realized activities and things that aid him in feeling better, and things that are detrimental to his health. Such knowledge about self is important, and it seems that stable, loving and supportive relationships are also very vital when living with depression. Even though other people might not understand your feelings and what you are going through their support and unconditional love can aid a person in feeling better.
Haig has written a book that is very powerful, honest, and at times difficult to read, since many of us probably recognize times in our lives when we felt anxiety, despair or depression, no matter short term or long term. Exposing his deepest feelings, fears and thoughts, Haig is brave to put his life into a book for others to read, but as he notes, there are many reasons to stay alive, and hopefully those of you who feel that there is no light at the end of the tunnel can be inspired by Haig's story and focus on your own reasons to stay alive and to fight depression on a daily basis.
© 2016 Hennie Weiss
Hennie Weiss has a Master's degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.