"Your mind is a galaxy. More dark than light. But the light makes it worthwhile. Which is to say, don't kill yourself. Even when the darkness is total. Always know that life is not still. Time is space. You are moving through that galaxy. Wait for the stars."
This is author Matt Haig, quoting his successful novel 'The Humans' in his new memoir 'Reasons To Stay Alive'. I find this quote to be brutal, honest, life-affirming and heartbreakingly true. Which pretty much sums up my feelings about this uncompromising memoir of mental illness.
At the age of 24, Matt's world implodes when he experiences a sudden onset of depression,coupled with crippling anxiety, which destroys life as he knows it. He finds himself of the sunshine island of Ibiza, at the height of summer, ready to throw himself off a cliff. All of which sounds, ironically, fairly depressing. Indeed, 'Reasons to Stay Alive' is brutal in its honesty about this uncompromising illness. Matt doesn't beat about the bush when it comes to describing how low the illness left him and how bad the bad days were. And yet he survives. Survives and comes out the other side to write about the sheer joy of being alive. A joy which is infectious and leaps off every page. Matt's exploration of his titular reasons to stay alive are as moving and funny as his descriptions of his illness are dark and heart-wrenching.
And the writing is just beautiful. Full of poetic images that encapsulate very complex ideas in very simple and direct ways. For example, "Minds have their own weather systems. You are in a hurricane. Hurricanes run out of energy eventually. Hold on." It might not be for everyone but I really responded to the directness, both of the tone and the style. It was just so at odds with a subject matter that is often discussed in whispers.
According to the mental health charity Mind, one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem in a year. The most common problems are depression, anxiety or, as described by Matt, a complex (and often unique) mix of the two. And yet mental illness is still misunderstood and, sadly, sufferers are often stigmatised. As a society, we're just not talking about it enough. 'Reasons to Stay Alive' is therefore an important addition to our ongoing conversation about mental health and wellbeing. I would urge this book on anyone who has ever suffered from depression, anyone who is currently suffering from depression and anyone who knows, or has known, anyone suffering from depression. And, given that Mind statistic, that's most of us. I don't usually buy into blurbs and quotations but, on the front cover, Joanna Lumley has said that this book is 'a small masterpiece that might even save lives.' For once, I think that might be true.
In summary, I would urge you to read this book. It's not really a book that you love - the subject matter is too dark and difficult for that to really be appropriate. But I do think it's a book you can enjoy. A book that will teach you something. A book that will help you acknowledge all the small and wonderful things that make up life as we know it. That will make you appreciate being unique, even if that sometimes means you feel a little crazy. As Matt Haig says, "There is no standard normal. Normal is subjective. There are seven billion versions of normal on this planet."
Until next time, Happy Reading