I wouldn’t usually choose this sort of book to read for pleasure, but given the recent panic surrounding exams (which are, thankfully, now finished), a book entitled Reasons To Stay Alive appealed to me massively, considering my life seemed to consist of little more than the library.
I was thankful that it wasn’t simply a self-help book, with pages and pages of advice about what to do when you are feeling a little ‘under the weather’, or how to take control of yourself in a stressful situation, usually given by someone who may have qualifications in such a field, but doesn’t necessarily have any first-hand experience of what having anxiety or a panic attack or depression actually feels like. Instead, it was more a mixture of the story Haig’s own battle with mental illness, how the recovered version of him looks at the suffering version, and the occasional list. Each chapter, or rather, section, was short and accessible- perfect if the reader is actually suffering a mental illness, as it doesn’t feel overwhelming.
However, the most refreshing element of this book was that it was shot through with humour. Mental illness is often dealt with a little at arm’s length, as people are constantly scared of offending those who suffer from it, but when it is written by a sufferer, especially a recovered sufferer, it is different. Haig wasn’t afraid to admit that parts of his depression were, at times, humorous and that there were things that he did that made it worse and could have been avoided. He also admits that sufferers tend to hold onto their illness as a sort of safety blanket, which sounds completely ridiculous, but is something that I can completely relate to.
Interestingly, Reasons To Stay Alive isn’t just a self-help book for those who suffer from mental illness. I think it would be equally useful for relatives, friends and colleagues (or anyone else who has regular contact with someone suffering from depression) to read. Haig manages to put the feeling of mental illness into words, or at least into lists, which means that people can become familiar with the warning signs and what they should and shouldn’t do to improve the situation.
What I think that is wonderful is that the acknowledgements and referencing information at the end of the book truly reveal how much writing this book meant to him- after all, he does claim it played a role in his road to recovery. He shows his determination to give every source to which he refers to the appropriate credit, as well as thanking everyone who made the book possible, which proves what the rest of the book tells us: that he is trying to be as genuine as possible. I think that being genuine is the most necessary aspect of a book that deals with such a matter: mental illness has no place for pretense or pretention.
I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone, regardless of whether or not they have suffered from mental illness, or if anyone they know has. The sad thing is that it is an illness that no one is or can ever be immune from, which means that reading and learning about it are the only precautionary steps one can take, and I have yet to read anything that books it in such an accessible and accurate way.