If we struggle with issues such as anxiety and depression its helpful to the ones who KNOW, those souls who also struggled and suffered and found a way out or through the experience. There are a lot of people and voices outside there who have known the pain, isolation and profound suffering that anxiety and depression can bring. Matt Haig is one such voice and he published a book in 2015 called Reasons to Stay Alive where he speaks candidly about his experience and of how there is life and hope on the other side of that long dark tunnel of depression. Matt believes his depression and anxiety came to him as learning experiences leading him on an inward path of self discovery and uncovery. He doesn’t believe in medication as a long term solution for himself, for in his case it didn’t work but he appreciates that each of us have our own pathway to travel and medication helps others.
For now, I do what I know keeps me just about level. Exercise definately helps me, as does yoga and absorbing myself in something or someone I love, so I keep doing those things. I suppose, in the absence of universal certainties, we are our own best laboratory.
The following excerpt comes from the chapter Pretty Normal Childhood in which he speaks of death anxieties he had around losing both parents when he was young. In this chapter he shares how a throw away unkind comment from a girl in school who he liked sent him into a downward spiral and I am sure many of us can relate to this. At that age we don’t have any filters against such comments and we are longing for love and acceptance, so criticism hits hard and can be deeply internalised.
In the final paragraph of that chapter, Matt writes :
I didn’t totally fit in. I kind of disintegrated around people, and became what they wanted me to be. But paradoxically, I felt an intensity inside me all the time. I didn’t know what it was, but it kept building, like water behind a dam. Later, when I was properly depressed and anxious, I saw the illness as an accumulation of all that thwarted intensity. A kind of breaking through. As though, if you find it hard to let yourself be free, your self breaks in, flooding your mind in an attempt to drown out all those failed half versions of yourself.
A few chapters along he speaks of how more men kill themselves as a result of depression that women, the reason, men are conditioned to see depression as a sign of weakness and ‘are reluctant to seek help’. The prohibition Boys Dont Cry plays a huge part in this in fostering an untruth that limits and encloses boys and men in a prison. Matt’s way out, as it is for those of us who suffer, men and women, is to talk and listen and encourage both. He reminds us that depression doesnt make us outcasts from humanity but just normal humans. Depression can come to be associated with who we are when really it is a experience which happens to us.
It took me more than a decade to be able to talk openly, properly, to everyone, about my experience. I soon discovered the act of talking is in itself a therapy. Where talk exists so does hope.
Finding our voice in depression is a way out, or at least a way of connecting, once we can connect we feel less alone. There are so many other souls out there who have walked this pathway, we just have to open our minds, hearts and mouths to find them.
In other chapters Matt writes a letter to his depressed self from the self who finally came through the depression, telling that former version of himself he will come through it. This is not what depression, anxiety and panic attacks tell us every day we suffer them. Instead they tell us the pain will never end and it will destroy us. I am not naive about depression and know we all have to do our own inner work and find our own ways to come through. I nevertheless like to recommend voices of those who can be guides or forces of encouragement for other undergoing their own dark night. Matt Haig is just one of these many voices.