Matt Haig (2015) Reasons to Stay Alive.

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This is a short enough book to read in one, longish, gulp. It begins with an admission Matt Haig makes about 2014.

Thirteen years ago I knew this couldn’t happen.

I was going to die, you see. Or go mad.

There was no way I would still be here. Sometimes I doubted I would even make the next ten minutes…

One of the key symptoms of depression is to see no hope. No future.

A book about depression need not be depressing. We all nod at the statistics; one in four of us will suffer from a mental health problem. Then there’s the call to list people who suffered from depression to show how normal it is. Matt Haig does it. Gawp at pages 166-168 which list some celebrities. We all know about, for example, Princess Di and Winston Churchill and the black dog of depression. I didn’t know about Halle Berry. I wasn’t shocked. I don’t really care enough to be shocked. I’m indifferent. I’ve a knee-jerk reaction to Tories like Churchill, but depression humanises him. When I hear about somebody committing suicide I don’t find it that weird, or strange. Life is like that. Diseases like depression and dementia are democratic. It doesn’t really matter who you are or what you do, or how much money you have, you can suffer from depression. You can get dementia.

I also like Haig’s admission that depression can be strength rather than a weakness. It’s a perspective that offers futility as a starting point and humility as a finishing point. When you think you are, the worst you can be, then that warped vision sometime allows you to see other’s clearly.  Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression all his life. It wasn’t black and white, but a humaniser in inhuman times. Lincoln, like Churchill, was a leader, not a follower of fashions.

Haig offers Reasons to be strong. We know them, family, friends…but it’s the kind of reminder you get at AA meetings. One slip and its downward. Here we’re talking to the better self that listens and responds.

The trick is to befriend depression and anxiety.

I like that idea. But then my mind goes off on a tangent, if Jesus was to fight Buddha in a square go, who would win?

Haig’s better self needs to write. I get that too. I need to write. To create. And hope there will be somebody to read what I’ve written. The better self, like the lower self, does not live in isolation. Our smallness is our strength. When we lose the path we need to seek others to haul us up. Andrea, Haig’s wife, is the hero here, but so is he. He calls us all to be heroes. As Bertolt Brecht says, ‘Unhappy is the land that breeds no heroes. No Andrea, Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.’  Haig asks for enough room to flourish and make choices. We don’t need more stuff. Reading is a kind of superpower. But the krypton is social networking sites like Facebook. I guess we talk the talk. All the rest is bullshit. That’s a depressing thought. This short book is a delight. Taste it and see. Use your superpower, and read on.

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