And it felt like a winter machine
That you go through and then
You catch your breath and winter starts again
And everyone else is spring bound
And when I chose to live
There was no joy
It’s just a line I crossed
It wasn’t worth the pain my death would cost
So I was not lost or found
–Dar Williams, ‘After All’
Reasons to Stay Alive is a sort of memoir, a sort of letter-to-self, a bit of a self-help book. It talks frankly about depression and anxiety, trying to put into words the sensations it can cause, the extent to which each is beyond simply feeling sad or worried. Most of the chapters are short; some seemed more useful than others. Some of it might help with understanding a loved one who has depression or anxiety, or any mental health issue, because Haig is a writer and knows how to communicate, and has been there feeling this. Some of it might be helpful in dealing with these kinds of feelings for yourself.
The thing I’ve found is that mostly, people with depression aren’t able to hear this sort of story. I certainly couldn’t. People could tell me until they were blue in the face that it could get better, that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, the fog would lift, etc, etc. I totally get the urge to share that understanding with people who don’t have it yet, but I’m not sure it works.
But if it does, even once, then it’s worth saying, so here’s my voice too: it can get better. No matter how scared or despairing or fucked up you feel, you can come back out of it. You’re never going to be the person you were before the depression, but you can be a new person who has learnt to cope with it, who has good times again.
I’ve been scared again, even desperately so, since I began to get better from my GAD. The important thing was that hard won knowledge that my brain was lying to me and it is possible to be okay again. I believe that for me, I believe that for Matt Haig, and I believe it for you, too, even when you can’t.