Reflecting on Reasons to Stay Alive

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reasonstostayaliveI’ve been reading Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig, a book (I’ve found) that will raise a concerned eyebrow if you leave it lying around the house. It’s a beautiful book, detailing Haig’s struggles with depression, and ultimately his emergence from it in its most crippling form.

I’ve not suffered from depression. (Though I think there were definitely quite a few weeks there after my first son was born when I was extremely close).

I’ll admit, depression is one of those things that in the past I have felt somewhat terrified of. And I know I’m not alone in that. It’s a perhaps a typical response for those of us who can be serial ‘fixers.’ Depression can make us feel utterly useless. Before I knew better, I know I have been guilty of either asking someone suffering from the illness to ‘look on the bright side’ or, worse, judged them for not ‘moving on’ – all in an attempt to navigate my way out of my own feelings of anxiety. [Note, there are things you can do to support someone struggling – mainly by being there for them, and listening without jumping in with advice.  Useful guidance here from Mind].

Haig’s book is a sobering reminder of how we judge and attempt to ‘manage’ depression so differently than other illnesses:

Things people say to depressives that they don’t say in other life-threatening situations.

‘Come on, I know you’ve got tuberculosis, but it could be worse. At least no one’s died…’ […]

‘Ah, meningitis. Come on, mind over matter’ […]

‘Yes, yes, your leg is on fire, but talking about it all the time isn’t going to help things, is it?’

[pg. 26]

So this was a good book for me to read. It gave me more insight into what the experience of depression was like, and further deepened my compassion and understanding.  But beyond this, whether you suffer from depression or not, this book is a gorgeous exploration of those things that make life very much worth living – those often small, taken for granted experiences that all together can create a joyful life:

Things I have enjoyed since the time I thought I would never enjoy again.

“Cold swimming pools. Oceans. Seas. Rivers. Lakes. Fjords. Ponds. Puddles. Roaring Fires. Pub Meals. Sitting outside and eating olives. The lights fading in the cinema, with a bucket of warm popcorn on your lap. Music. Love. Unabashed emotion. Rock pools. Swimming pools. Peanut butter sandwiches…Will Ferrell in Elf…Watching every Hitchhock movie. Cities twinkling at night as you drive past them, as if they are fallen constellations of stars. Laughing. Yes laughing so hard it hurts. Laughing as you bend forward and as your abdomen actually starts to hurt from so much pleasure, so much release, and then as you sit back and audibly groan and inhale deeply, staring at the person next to you, mopping up the joy…” [pg. 244-5]

I’ve started creating my own list.  It’s been a fun and affirming thing to do, helping me to be more aware of those small, often fleeting moments that can be heaped with happiness.

Laughter, particularly as Haig describes it, is right up there for me. But also in there:

Lots of tealights all over the house on a dark winter evening | Reading the Saturday paper next to my husband in bed | Having fresh coffee placed at my bedside at 6.50am on a weekday | Wetherspoons chips | Crystal clear sea water | Swimming underwater with my sons | Losing time in the massive Paperchase in Manchester | Beautiful notebooks | Writing lists | Ticking off lists | Long hugs from Sam | My oldest son’s lightening quick, killer one-liners | My husband’s lightening quick, killer one-liners | Walking home from the station and pausing for a moment outside my lit-up, inviting house | Floating on the Ionian Sea with a glass of wine in my hand | Nordic Noir | Cackling at Gogglebox with my sons | A new mug | Extreme silliness with my friends | Lost in writing | Seeing someone I coach have a revelation | Hiking up a hill for the view | Taxis with the family to the airport at dawn | Teal coloured velvet.  | Scones with clotted cream and jam | Blackberries from the brambles with Dad | Hearing someone’s story for the first time.

That’s my list so far How about you?