Matt Haig was already a successful and acclaimed novelist with 10 published books for adults and children when Reasons to Stay Alive was released in 2015. But it’s this honest and hopeful exploration of love, life, and mental health people most associate with Haig.
Reasons to Stay Alive is compact but packs a mighty emotional punch. Haig pours his heart into these pages, taking us into his darkest days, the days where he could see no life or future ahead of him. But he also takes us on his recovery journey and shows us that life is always worth it.
It feels necessary to talk about Haig’s previous novels when discussing Reasons to Stay Alive because he credits depression with sparking his urge to write. Speaking to Emma Gannon on her podcast Ctrl Alt Delete, Haig said, “the need to write as a kind of therapy came out of … the experience specifically of recovery and of getting better”.
Haig explained during that Ctrl Alt Delete episode that Reasons to Stay Alive wasn’t really planned. He was writing a weekly blog post for a book charity and needed a new topic. The post, although challenging to write given its profoundly personal subject matter, proved incredibly popular. Haig told Gannon, “it’s amazing that people have an instinct for something real”. “It wasn’t a particularly well-written blog or anything. But I think people knew it was an honest blog, and people just respond to honesty,” he said.
Well, millions of other readers and I are certainly glad of this honesty.
While we all experience mental illness differently, Reasons to Stay Alive holds so many gems that will serve us all in truly living and not just existing.
In this post, I wanted to share 10 of the quotes that really stayed with me while reading Reasons to Stay Alive.
Conversation is the cure to mental illness stigma
“Talk. Listen. Encourage talking. Encourage listening. Keep adding to the conversation. Stay on the lookout for those wanting to join the conversation. Keep reiterating, again and again, that depression is not something to ‘admit to’, it is not something you have to blush about, it is human experience. A boy-girl-man-woman-young-old-black-white-gay-straight-rich-poor experience. It is not you. It is simply something that happens to you. And something that can often be eased by talking.”
Remember, it won’t last
“Nothing will last forever. This pain won’t last. The pain tells you it will last. Pain lies. Ignore it. Pain is a debt paid off with time.”
Depression is an invisible illness
“Depression is an illness. Yet it doesn’t come with a rash or a cough. It is hard to see, as it is generally invisible. Even though it is a serious illness it is also surprisingly hard for many sufferers to recognise it at first. Not because it doesn’t feel bad - it does - but because that bad feeling seems unrecognisable, or can be confused with other things. For instance, if you feel worthless you might think ‘I feel worthless because I am worthless’. It might be hard to see it as a symptom of an illness.”
There will be life after depression
“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.”
Appreciate the moment to make time stretch out longer
“Imagine all the time we had was bottled up, like wine, and handed over to us. How would we make that bottle last? By sipping slowly, appreciating the taste, or by gulping?”
You are not your depression
“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’t exist without the cloud.”
Anxiety makes time feel different
“Anxiety runs your mind at fast-forward rather than normal ‘play’ speed, so addressing the issue delete that that issue of mental ‘pace’ might not be easy. But it works. Anxiety takes away all the commas and full stops we need to make sense of ourselves.”
The storm will pass
“You can walk through a storm and feel the wind but you know you are not the wind. That is how we must be with our minds. We must allow ourselves to feel their gales and downpours, but all the time knowing this is just necessary weather.”
We all need to feel something
“People place so much value on thought, but feeling is as essential. I want to read books that make me laugh and cry and fear and hope and punch the air in triumph. I want a book to hug me or grab me by the scruff of my neck. I don’t even mind if it punches me in the gut. Because we are here to feel. I want life. I want to read it and write it and feel it and live it. I want, for as much of the time as possible in this blink-of-an-eye existence we have, to feel all that can be felt.”
Books and words can help us escape
“If there is a way out, a way that isn’t death at self, then the exit route is through words. But rather than leave the mind entirely, words help us leave a mind, and give us the building blocks to build another one, similar but better, nearby to the old one but with family foundations, and very often a better view.”
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