Welcome to the first monthly mental health book review. As someone who isn’t an avid reader, and is quite slow when I do, I really am keen to get some self help books under my belt this year.
So why not start in the midst of a global pandemic, when anxieties are at their height.
I was given ‘Reasons to stay alive’ by Matt Haig back in February from an incredibly dear friend of mine. We are both very open about our mental health and the struggles we have had / have and once she read this book she thought it was something that I would enjoy.
Because I am a slacker and, as I mentioned before, a bit wishy washy when it comes to reading, it took me until the end of April to read.
When she gave me the book I had a quick flick through and said words to the effect of “Oh big words, small chapters – seems do-able“.
Reasons to stay alive : The review
When I finally started it, I realised it was far more than do-able. It was just addictive. I did not want to put it down. Every page I read thoughts in my head shouted “YES! THAT’S ME! THAT’S WHAT I DO!“. It was when I got a couple of pages in that the relatability really struck.
Anyone who knows me knows Jaws is my all time favourite film ever. So, after a few pages in when I see him use a scene from Jaws to explain his feelings I immediately knew I was going to ‘get’ this book.
Not only that, but in a blog of mine from January, I used the same reference to try to describe the anxiety attack I had had.
I have never been good at describing how I feel, so to hear a highly successful published author describe his feelings by saying ‘weird‘ or comparing them to iconic films truly gave me some relief.
Relief, that I am not a complete pleb for not being able to describe how I am feeling exactly. Also, it made the book 100% more relatable because I wasn’t reading ‘sciencey’ words or examples. It is not a sterile, generic book with lots of big words and long chapters and boring stories.
I decided as I went along, to mark out pages and references in the book that I’d like to point out in this review, moments that struck a chord with me and I felt important to mention.
Well I wrote down 40, so I won’t be going in to them all, else I’ll be here forever!
So, I’ll pick a handful of my favourite moments from and about ‘Reasons to stay alive‘ to discuss.
As mentioned previously, the Jaws reference was one that really struck a chord and made the book be truly relatable.
Like when Brody is sitting on the beach in Jaws and thinks he sees the shark
There are many other references within this book for everyone to understand and relate to, from poets, politicians, philosophers and movie/tv too.
There is some form of pop culture reference in here that will help you feel more connected to Matt Haig.
‘Conversations across time’ chapters
One of my favourite parts of the book are every now and again you will see a conversation between his ‘then’ self and ‘now’ self. His ‘now’ self is encouraging and persuading his ‘then’ self that while he isn’t cured and still has ups and downs, he is happy.
Telling his ‘then’ self that staying alive is worth while and the future is promising. There is hope and there is a light out of his darkness.
It’s a really touching small part of the book, but it works and you can feel yourself just wanting to join in to tell ‘then’ Matt that it will be okay, he will write a successful book on his journey and help many many other people.
“Now me: …You have a life. It is not perfect. No human life is. But it is yours.
Then me: I want proof”
Now me: I can’t prove it. There is no time machine
Then me: No. I suppose I’ll just have to hope
Now me: Yes. Have faith
Then me: I’ll try
Now me: You already have”
Full of positivity
For a book that starts with a story on how and why someone wants to take their own life, leading right up to the split second decision to not go through with it, there is an immense amount of positivity within in it.
In one example, Matt says that after 3 months living with his partner at his parents house one month he started to feel and do some good stuff, which he described amounted to 0.0001% of that month. The following month, just a little bit more good stuff happened which equated to about 1% of the month.
Now I took this and thought about myself. The way I constantly put myself down for trying and never seemingly succeeding. When in fact I do succeed.
1% of your whole month doesn’t sound like a large amount of good times, but from 0.0001% it makes the world of difference.
If that’s all the progress I make each month, then that really is an achievement. As Matt says “I was rising”.
That is an important thing to remember. That any progress is still progress.
Also within the book he says:
“I have been ill before, then well again. Wellness is possible”
Oh and how true this is. Wellness is possible. It also fits nicely in with another quote he says early on in the book on a chapter called ‘Men don’t cry’.
Where talk exists. So does hope
I wrote down so many markers throughout ‘Reasons to stay alive‘ on situations I could whole-hearted understand, I can’t even write them all down. I’ll start with the most recent and relevant.
In ‘Reasons to stay alive‘ Matt talks about how his depression and anxiety manifested in to a separation anxiety as well. He needed to be with his partner almost all of the time.
However, he tried to always push his comfort zone and face his fears when he could. This included deciding one day to go to the corner shop for milk and Marmite.
The corner shop, which was only a couple of minutes walk from his parents’ house. This 10 page section entitled ‘The art of walking on your own’, is one of the longest sections in the book. You feel the tension and panic as he gets to the shop, his bubbling anxiety and stress at the slow cashier and an all but run home.
For me this hit home because about a month ago, I was in Lidl and almost had some sort of panic attack and wanting to go back to get something I had forgotten, but couldn’t due to the social distancing rules and people being there.
Luckily Matt (my partner, not the author of ‘Reasons to stay alive‘) was in there. I demanded I stood next to him to finish my shopping as I couldn’t cope standing alone, we did the quickest shop and I left him at the register to pay as I left to go outside and waited for Matt. I all but burst in to tears. It became too much.
I certainly have so much gratitude to have Matt in my life, to help me when I’m just unable to help myself.
[Note: I have since been back to Lidl and other supermarkets by myself in successful, non-panicked trips!]
As I was reading his story about going to the shop, I was reading fast. I could feel the anxiety as I read it. I could feel the anxiety that he had written.
“You’re getting there’ said Andrea
Yeah” I said, and tried so hard to believe it
‘We’re going to get you better’
It’s not easy, being there for a depressive
‘Reasons to stay alive’ gives me hope that in my darkest days, tear-filled nights and worrisome thoughts that it will be okay. I can keep going. There is a better future. I’ve invested so much work in to myself so far I can keep going and investing more.
Easy to read
It’s an incredible manageable book to pick up and put down and also to have a flick through to find a specific section again. It’s not a solid wall of hard hitting story, it’s broken down in to bite-sized chunks. Like a Happy Meal in book form.
‘Reasons to stay alive’ is a great book on reading someone’s journey and being able to see yourself in that position, even if you’ve had different circumstances.
It’s a personable and honest book, with stories and experiences that must have been incredibly hard to write, and for his family and friends to read.
I have taken a lot from this book. As you can see I was able to I was able to use his experiences and connect them to myself and my life.
I think that is very important about a mental health book, you need to know that the author is just like you, their stories are true and their success stories can give you hope.
And this book certainly does that for me.
Go and buy it!
If you hadn’t figured it out by now, I highly recommend ‘Reasons to stay alive’ by Matt Haig. I ‘felt’ everything in it. Let’s be honest, there aren’t many books I can read in two sittings!
If you’re interested in buying this book, I can recommend contacting Dial Lane Books. They are a new small business that opened up in Ipswich a few weeks before lockdown started.
They are working on their website at the moment, but are taking orders via Facebook and Instagram and will be able to post out to the UK.
June’s mental health book review will be on:
A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled by Ruby Wax
And will be published on Friday 19th June.
Do you have any suggestions and recommendations for mental health books you’d like me to read and review? I’d love to hear them.
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Stay stafe & stay strong,
Love Ray x