“Your mind is a galaxy. More dark than light. But the light makes it worthwhile. Which is to say, don’t kill yourself. Even when the darkness is total. Always know that life is not still. Time is space. You are moving through that galaxy. Wait for the stars.” – The Humans by Matt Haig
When he was 24, Matt Haig nearly killed himself. Standing on the edge of a cliff in Ibiza, he had all but decided to throw himself off. But he didn’t. Sixteen years later, I hold in my hand his stunning book ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’. Sparked by an essay he wrote on his blog, listing the things he would say to someone who was in that same dark place that he found himself in the years following that moment on the cliff in Ibiza, he has written an honest, touching memoir on living with depression and dealing with it little by little, day by day.
“Sometimes depression can be like falling into a wordless pit. Matt Haig finds the words. And he says them for all of us.” – Joanne Harris
Depression – whether it be brief, recurring, or long-lasting – is a reality in our world. Without going into the statistics, if you simply consider your own friends, family, colleagues, and yourself, the ‘black dog’ is never far away. Every day, side by side, people are fighting silent battles – believing entirely that they are alone in the dark. As Matt spoke about within his book, everyone’s depression is different. It manifests itself in so many ways – sometimes as a small, nagging emptiness deep within that refuses to go away, and sometimes as a full, overwhelming, all-enveloping breakdown from which you feel you will never recover. And yet:
When JK Rowling was writing the Harry Potter series, she created the dementors out of her own experiences of the darkness of depression.
“It’s so difficult to describe [depression] to someone who’s never been there because it’s not sadness. I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling – that really hollowed-out feeling. That’s what dementors are.” – JK Rowling
The creation of these threatening, imposing, unyielding creatures who take away all that makes up your soul is one of the clearest and most vivid illustrations of the emptiness that depression leaves within a person. But then, there is the spell to battle the dementors – expecto patronum.
The power of that positive force, that hope and the will to survive, is beautifully illustrated through the Patronus and, Matt Haig also illustrated this in his ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’.
Reasons to Stay Alive (with grateful credit to Matt Haig)
1. You are on another planet. No-one understands what you are going through. But actually, they do. You don’t think they do because the only reference point is yourself. You have never felt this way before, and the shock of the descent is traumatising you, but others have been here. You are in a dark, dark land with a population of millions.
2. Things aren’t going to get worse. You want to kill yourself. That is as low as it gets. There is only upwards from here.
3. You hate yourself. That is because you are sensitive. Pretty much every human could find a reason to hate themselves if they thought about it as much as you did. We’re all total bastards, us humans, but also totally wonderful.
4. So what, you have a label? ‘Depressive’. Everyone would have a label if they asked the right professional.
5. That feeling you have, that everything is going to get worse, that is just a symptom.
6. Minds have their own weather systems. You are in a hurricane. Hurricanes run out of energy eventually. Hold on.
7. Ignore stigma. Every illness had stigma once. Stigma is what happens when ignorance meets realities that need an open mind.
8. Nothing lasts forever. This pain won’t last. The pain tells you it will last. Pain lies. Ignore it.
9. Or, to plagiarise myself: ”Your mind is a galaxy. More dark than light. But the light makes it worthwhile. Which is to say, don’t kill yourself. Even when the darkness is total. Always know that life is not still. Time is space. You are moving through that galaxy. Wait for the stars.” (The Humans)
10. You will one day experience joy that matches this pain. You will cry euphoric tears at the Beach Boys, you will stare down at your baby daughter’s face as she lies contentedly asleep in your lap, you will make great friends, you will eat delicious foods you haven’t tried yet, you will be able to look at a view like this one and feel the beauty, there are books you haven’t read yet that will enrich you, films you will watch while eating extra large buckets of popcorn, and you will dance and laugh and have sex and go for runs by the river and have late night conversations and laugh until it hurts. 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.
Whether you are in that dark place, supporting someone who is walking through their own valley, or simply seeking a better understanding, by reading ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ you will feel not only less alone, but uplifted, understood, supported and encouraged.
Thank you, Matt, for your honesty, wisdom, courage, and for opening your heart to us.