Reasons to Stay Alive
The book begins with a vivid description of the sea, a clifftop view and the author, Matt Haig, thinking about whether to die. These are viscerally written, painful scenes and thankfully Haig changes his mind and turns back from the edge. Reasons to Stay Alive is the story of the writer's deep depression and his slow recovery. It also covers a lot of well researched territory around depression with Haig's often unique perspective on that, but that summary doesn't really do the book justice. In some of its most powerful pages Haig writes a dialogue between his older, 'well' self and his younger self. He, in effect, argues with Depression. Elsewhere he vividly evokes the sense of alienation of depression, which is so common, whether it's a symptom of the illness itself or an outcome of the sheer psychological toll that 'acting normal' takes, when what you're experiencing is alarming or strange or deadening. Haig also talks about guilt, such a familiar emotion for anyone who struggles with depression, and Haig, clearly an empath, is acutely aware of the effects of his illness on those whom he loves most (in some ways Reasons To Live is Haig's 264 page love letter to his wife Andrea, and it's a better book for that).
It's a neat irony, but a kind of life affirming one, that the mental phenomena which caused the writer such acute pain during the worst of his illness (a sense of headlong rushing, of skinlessness, of being agonisingly tuned in to his immediate environment) are also the best qualities about his writing now that he's well. The result is an unputdownable rollercoaster ride of a book with an off the scale courageous kind of honesty to it and an attention to the small things which allows him to so vividly depict his experience. Equally importantly, Haig has chosen to write this book at a time when he has a huge readership and therefore an enlarged power to do good with it. The writer points out that during his depression certain books weren't luxuries for him, they were lifelines. He might well have written a small lifeline of his own, and we need more books like this one. To misquote the poet Rumi, Light comes in at the wound.