Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

A disclaimer before I begin. I will be discussing mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, as well as suicide. If this is something you are sensitive to or triggered by, then this is a warning. There will be links at the bottom of this page to resources that can help support you. You are not alone.

As I mentioned in my last post, there are hundreds of writers paving the way in various fields and raising awareness about important topics.

One of which is Matt Haig, a best selling writer based in England. Matt writes in various styles as a journalist, children’s and non-fiction writer. Matt is active on his social media accounts working towards breaking the stigma around mental health.

Some of my favourite books by Matt are ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ and ‘Thoughts on a Nervous Planet’. Both of these books are non-fiction and tackle the issues and stigma around mental health, as well as Matt recalling his own personal battles with depression and anxiety. Today I’m going to talk about ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’. This is one of my favourite books and I urge anyone and everyone to read it, whether you are going through your own personal journey with mental health or are seeking ways to support a loved one, even for just general awareness! Mental health is becoming a pandemic in itself, breaking the stigma and shutting down stereotypes is extremely essential in tackling this issue. It is an enlightening and informative read.

Matt’s writing style is so engaging and his ability to explain such complex mental health struggles in such simplistic ways is truly inspiring. He uses various metaphors and explanations that allow people to really understand the way depression and anxiety can affect a persons life. Matt also includes scripted conversations with himself, portraying the inward struggle and turmoil he felt when his illness spoke to him.

Mental health is such a vast and complex topic, being able to explain its influence is something many struggle to put into words, but Matt Haig does this in a wonderful and effortless way. It allows people to really understand how mental illness can consume a person and the mental and physical symptoms that come with it.

But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.

Albert Camus, A Happy Death

Matt discusses the invisibility and ability depression has to creep up on a person and consume them. Whoever that person may be; a billionaire, an alcoholic, a mother, a teenager, or a businesswoman. Depression can affect anyone and whilst some mental illness are related to past trauma, some may feel they do not have a reason to feel the way they do. This only leaves those people feeling guilty and confused for the way they are feeling. When those around them try to belittle their emotions or behaviour this guilt can intensify. Ending this stigma is SO important, Matt seeks to do this in a number of effective and informative ways within his book.

Another key statement Matt raises in his book is that mental illnesses impact and appear differently on everyone. This means that there is no set way to overcome it, get around it or deal with it. Understanding this is so important! Mental health is a journey of good and bad days. There is no one size fits all solution. There is trial and error, Matt retells how he began to cope with his mental illness within ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’.

The key is in accepting your thoughts, all of them, even the bad ones. Accept thoughts, but don’t become them. Understand, for instance, that having a sad thought, even having a continual succession of sad thoughts, is not the same as being a sad person. You can walk through a storm and feel the wind but you know you are not the wind.

Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive

In an effort to break the stigma around depression and mental health, Matt compares physical and mental health issues. He uses a variety of scenarios to explain this idea but as an example, you wouldn’t say to someone who had just broken their arm, ‘Oh, just get on with it, stop thinking about it!’ So why would you say to someone with depression, ‘Mind over matter, just get over it!’. Mental health issues are just as much issues as physical health issues. There is an obsession to separate the body and mind, when we should take time to care and nurture both. As much as we can have issues with our physical health, we can also have issues with out mental health. Matt pushes this idea throughout his book.

Matt fluctuates between retelling his own personal battles and experiences with depression and anxiety to more statistically informative facts surrounding mental illness. According to the World Health Organisation, “1 in 5 people will experience depression in their life”, and “A million people a year kill themselves. Between ten and twenty million people a year try to. Worldwide, men are over 3x more likely to kill themselves than women.” These figures clearly suggest to us that there is a mental health pandemic amongst us, which is why breaking the stigma is important now more than ever.

When you are depressed you feel alone, and that no one is going through quite what you are going through. You are so scared of appearing in any way mad you internalise everything, and you are so scared that people will alienate you further you clam up and don’t speak about it, which is a shame, as speaking about it helps.

Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive

These are just a few topics Matt touches on in his book ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’. He also explores the benefits and drawbacks surrounding medication, exercise and therapies. What coping mechanisms work for him, including some discussion on what he has learnt from Buddhist thought in controlling his anxiety.

Matt also discusses how the modern world has set us up for failure due to the feeling that we will always need more, stating that: “The world is increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more?”

Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.

Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive

Matt’s story is truly inspiring and a message to anyone who feels suicidal that things really will get better again. Matt found a way to live and enjoy life, something he never thought he would ever be able to do again. Mental health is an ongoing journey, doubts can fill your mind and depression can creep up on you, but learning to control those thoughts and to know that you are more than what your depression and anxiety is telling you, is the present theme throughout ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’.

If these topics interest you then I’d recommend you grab this book! It’s a great starting place for anyone wanting to grasp more of an understanding on depression and anxiety. Matt honestly and authentically captures the experiences of mental illness. After facing his own struggles he is not hesitant in stating that life is really hard. However, we can learn to see the beauty of it again within the simple moments, not everyday is promised to be amazing, but it will get better.

Links to mental health support

  1. https://www.samaritans.org/
  2. https://www.mind.org.uk/
  3. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines/

Reasons to Stay Alive: https://www.waterstones.com/book/reasons-to-stay-alive/matt-haig/9781782116820

Philosophy is evolving…sorry about that.

I feel like there is a misconception amongst people about what philosophy really is. It can be viewed as highly traditional, academic and complex. When you google the definition of philosophy you are met with: “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.” Why does philosophy have to be academic? That just makes the whole topic so elitist. Philosophy, to me, is about expression and exploration of thought. It’s thinking about society, values, reasons, knowledge and emotion. Philosophy can easily be enjoyed and engaged in by everyone, especially in today’s society. It is so important to question our thoughts and express ourselves.

When people think ‘philosophy’ they immediately jump to the classic and well-known ancient philosophers. My family love to shout these names at the TV whilst watching University Challenge in an effort to get a philosophy question right (sorry dad). We all know the greats; Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Epicurus, to name a few. However, and not to disrespect the gods and self-starters of philosophy, they are old, and some, sexist and racist. We want to keep learning from these people why? Well, they were great-thinkers, they had great theories and there is a lot we can learn from them. Plato’s Republic being a prominent example, a highly analysed text which has been used to influence modern democracy and civil society. Yet, this text is highly sexist and hierarchical. The message I am trying to push is, there is more to philosophy than the ancient Greek thinkers who existed years upon years ago. There are new and evolved philosophers impacting our generation RIGHT NOW! Philosophy doesn’t have to be old, traditional and stuck in the past, we can update it and evolve the ways we think.

While at university I found myself drawn to taking modules about non-western and current day political philosophy. Hearing from thinkers actively impacting our world today. Philosophy doesn’t have to be old. Philosophy doesn’t even have to be written text, it exists in music, culture and expression. Philosophy is evolving beyond staple and traditional thinkers from years ago, and that’s okay the world isn’t going to end. Whilst they were viewed as abstract and open-minded in their time, we have evolved beyond that. Those society view as breaking and questioning the norm today are the ones we should be looking out for now. They are the great thinkers of this generation and they have a whole lot to offer us.

The reason I suggest that philosophy is more than written text is because to me philosophy is about expression, in whatever way someone deems efficient. It’s spreading a message about society, knowledge and value. Some of my favourite musicians are philosophers, their expression of thought is resembled in their music and lyrics. They’re promoting a journey of thought. Philosophy is a way of life, the way people portray that life shouldn’t be restricted to just writing. Artists such as Tyler the Creator, Juice WRLD, Dave, Lana Del Rey, Frank Ocean, Kid Cudi, touch on important topics and express their thoughts and visions in their own unique way. I recall during my final year of philosophy at university taking a class about the philosophy of music. I highly anticipated this class before realising I was only going to be allowed to discuss classical and traditional music in my final essay. This annoyed me greatly as SO many modern day artists are creating such deep and engaging music for their audiences. Here are a few I would have loved to discuss if I wasn’t so restricted by the criteria of my philosophy of music class!

Juice WRLD’s newest album, ‘Legends Never Die’. A posthumous album resembling the vision of his reality. This album explores addiction, pain and brutal honesty. May he rest in peace whilst his talent, creativity and vision live on.
Lana Del Rey’s ‘Lust for Life’ album. Lana consistently explores melancholy, unconventional toxicity and romantic tragedy. Her music has been questioned for glamorising pain and negativity. However, her music resonates with many and she is commended for her cinematic style and portrayal of these haunting topics.
Frank Ocean’s second studio album, ‘Blonde’. Frank Ocean is a talented artist, open about his sexuality. His music breaks barriers and is hugely introspective and exploratory. An artist who inspires and impacts many with his creativity and vision.
Dave’s debut award winning album ‘Psychodrama’. A UK rapper and talented lyricist breaking barriers around mental health, racism and the struggles surrounding the UK social environment.

If we are focusing on written text, philosophy is of course represented in books, but these books don’t have to be traditionally academic, you can buy one in your local book store. There are hundreds of modern day thinkers writing incredible non-fiction books about capitalism, the political environment, mental health, the evolution of technology and societal deprivation through hyper-productivity and perfection. These are the philosophers of today, talking about important topics that influence us and how we live. They question why we have become to think and live the way we do in a rapidly changing world.

Whilst we can learn from the ancient Greek thinkers, we are in no way restricted to them when thinking about philosophy. Philosophy doesn’t need to have such an academic focus. We should direct more focus on the great thinkers of today and listen to their expressions and theories. Whether that be through art, music or books. They have a lot to offer us and we have a lot to learn from them. Our current world is highly saturated by capitalistic mindsets, hyper-productivity, mental health pandemics, viral pandemics, billionaires, perfectionism and technology. Modern day thinkers help to make sense of the world we have built, and how we can live within it. Aristotle or Plato’s ancient texts may not offer a similar solution…sorry about that.

Welcome to my first post.

Hi I’m Zoe and welcome to the first post on my new blog! I’m looking forward to sharing my ideas and thoughts in this new creative outlet. As a general consensus, my goal is to share and write about important topics that interest me and that I believe more people should be talking about. This could vary from hard hitting, yet highly important topics like our current political climate and societal issues, to something a little lighter like my favourite informative books or media. I love to read, learn, write and talk about these important topics shaping our society. To me education is one of the most powerful tools we have and I consider myself lucky that I am able to learn and expand my own mind.

As a recent philosophy graduate this blog can be hit with an immediate stereotype. A liberal arts student posting about society and it’s implications in our lives, as if that’s never been done before. However, and not to be biased, I think that philosophy is one of the most important subjects areas out there. Throughout my own degree I learnt a great deal and gained a whole new perspective about important topics such as politics, society, race, feminism and morality. I believe that these topics need to be circulated into education and everyday conversations more regularly because they impact our daily lives. My aim with this blog is to bring those conversations to life. These topics can sometimes strike people as academic and ‘stuffy’, but as a writer I would love to do these topics justice and present them in ways that allow everyone to engage in the conversation, because everyone should be.

To disclaim, I certainly do not know everything and as a young person in their early 20’s I definitely have a whole lot more to learn. But that is why I wanted to start this blog. I want to creatively share my own educational journey. I’m sure I will make my own mistakes along the way but I hope to bring light to topics that are important to me and that I believe should be important to others as well. Stay tuned for new upcoming content of me thinking way too much and potentially getting a little too deep. I hope you enjoy!