Skip to main content

Reasons to Stay Alive


Reasons to Stay Alive

I’ve loved Matt Haig’s novels for adults and kids for close to a decade now. His books are invariably funny and wise, offering a unique outlook on the world and its foibles. They also can be quite emotionally affecting; I remember finishing his last book, THE HUMANS, while on a transatlantic flight. Perhaps it was the vulnerability of the long-distance traveler, but I definitely had tears streaming down my face at the end of the novel, marveling at Haig’s ability to capture the intertwined joy and sadness of being fully alive and fully human.

In the afterword to his new memoir, REASONS TO STAY ALIVE, Haig mentions that THE HUMANS was his first novel in which he acknowledged, even obliquely, his long-time struggles with depression. His experiences writing it eventually drew him to pen this memoir, to explore in greater depth his journey from the deepest darkness into at least a glimmer of light.

"I would argue that REASONS TO STAY ALIVE is essential reading for anyone who has dealt with depression and for anyone who loves someone with the disease."

Haig opens his recollections by remembering what was possibly his darkest moment of all: a time in Ibiza in his mid-20s when he literally came to the edge of a cliff, seriously considering just walking off the edge and ending it all. In the rest of the book, he often returns to that moment, finding strength in the fact that he did, in the end, turn his back on the abyss --- and, in many ways, he has continued making that same choice, again and again, for the next 15 years.

To what does Haig credit his hard-won recovery (which he recognizes is still an ongoing process)? Unlike many people with depression, he has never had success with drugs. He acknowledges that they help some people, but they never materially helped him --- and he is a firm believer that until medical science understands the brain’s workings better than we do now, the process of medicating depression and other mental illnesses is imperfect at best. Instead, Haig primarily finds solace in books (both reading and writing them), in exercise (especially running and yoga), and in relationships with his children and his wife, Andrea (who was his girlfriend at the time of his initial breakdown and who continually buoyed him through the dark months that followed).

Short chapters in a more traditional narrative form alternate with lists (of books he read during his recovery, of famous people who have battled depression, of tweets from others who have found their own #reasonstostayalive). He offers pages of suggestions of things to do to try to shake off the “black dog” of depression, or at least confine it to the shadows for a time. He also offers plenty of advice for caregivers on how best to deal with a loved one with depression (and what not to say). He offers imagined conversations between his past and present selves, showing his past self a future brighter than anything he could have imagined (especially since, as he notes repeatedly, imagining the future is literally impossible when in the depths of serious depression).

Most importantly, Haig offers hope in the form of recognition of depression’s crippling power and a testimony that it can get better; he’s living proof of that. I would argue that REASONS TO STAY ALIVE is essential reading for anyone who has dealt with depression and for anyone who loves someone with the disease.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on February 26, 2016

Reasons to Stay Alive
by Matt Haig

  • Publication Date: February 23, 2016
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin
  • ISBN-10: 0143128728
  • ISBN-13: 9780143128724