On Writing

If Matt Haig wrote “Reasons to stay alive,” then I am writing “HOW to stay alive…”

As anyone who has read any of my previous posts will know, I am currently writing a self-help book on “how to recover from severe mental illness,” such as schizophrenia, bi-polar, or any other condition which creates the delusions and psychosis capable of taking you to an apparently different planet for a period of time.

I have been working on this for about ten months, and about six months ago somebody told me I should read Matt Haig’s “Reasons to stay Alive,” because his subject matter was similar to the book I am trying to write, and also because it’s a really amazing read.

I have just finished it, and can confirm- it is an absolutely phenomenal book.

He has written a memoir about his life and experiences with manic depression and anxiety; experiences which were so intense that they almost caused him to take his own life, and so prolonged that it took him ten years to return to a point at which he could live well again.

He documents the entire process- from first encountering a strange sensation in his head one day in Ibiza at age 24, to the mind numbing hell of depressive pain and anxiety, and finally to the slow process of coming back to the light.

If you have suffered with depression or anxiety, or any kind of mental health issue; or you know somebody who has and wish to understand better what they have gone through, then I would recommend this book as an essential read. He conveys the hell, the self-doubt that the symptoms create, and the intensity of the disease so well you can almost taste his panic as you’re turning the pages.

I have not experienced manic depression, per see; but so many of the things that he writes about are familiar to me, and anybody who suffers from any of these mental illnesses, and a lot of other people now as well, are aware that you cannot pigeon hole these different varying conditions. They are personal, and not easily definable.

Thus, I was never diagnosed with depression or anxiety, my diagnosis was paranoid schizophrenia, but I definitely did experience a lot of the same kind of symptoms that Haig did.

So- I had been worried that he had already written the book that I am trying to write..

I had been worrying that my entire project had become obsolete because he had beaten me to it, and already published the book that I am trying to put together out of my own experiences.

Luckily, this is not the case: there are some clear differences in perception and in experience.

Haig writes, so many times, sentences which read something like this “I felt so scared that I was going to lose it completely; petrified that I was going to go mad, and end up in restraints, sectioned and dribbling in a padded cell on a psych ward.”

He writes about his experiences with the pain and the panic of depression and anxiety, but makes it clear that often the only thing that was keeping in moving was the fear of “loosing it completely.” This was the bottom on the abyss which Haig could perceive so clearly looming.

Now restraints and padded cells are a little bit beyond me, but everything else is fairly similar to the kind of hell I went through, and I hope to be able to document my experiences of falling straight through that abyss into the parallel universe that exists beyond; the parallel world of “insane” and all things mind-boggingly strange and peculiar.

I hope to be able to reach out to people who are not as lucky as to have Haigs perspective, people for who madness loomed, reared its ugly head and then swallowed them whole without a seconds thought or consideration.

People who were snapped up before they could even perceive the danger, and before they ever had a chance to feel scared about the prospect; because that is what severe mental illness feels like, when it’s bad and when it’s terrifying.

Haig went through his own hell, and I massively applaud him for getting through it, and then being able to use his experiences to help others.

But as I read his book I couldn’t help feeling, at a couple of moments, how lucky he was to be able to rest upon the knowledge thatย he had not yet lost it completely. ย He could still perceive a place which was lonelier, more remote and more intense that where he currently was.

The book that I am writing will hopefully shed some light on that strange place; it’s complexities and it’s paradoxes, and, more importantly, some ideas on how to come back from there, if that is where you have found yourself.

Loosing it completely happens without your desire or your permission, so to speak; it is like an avalanche that happens around you, and crushes and suffocates you in a simple process of forward motion.

I lost my mind, and ended up in hospital, in a series of freak occurrences which made no sense to me, even though they were happening to me. It was like watching the film of my own life, with absolutely no ability to control events and control the outcome of the ‘plot.’ I felt powerless and confused, saddened by the seemingly inexorable rush of chance.

I didn’t want to end up in hospital, and then be forced to stay there. I didn’t want my life to be taken out of my hands, and everything that I enjoyed and believed in to be taken away from me. But that was what happened; I ended up on a psych ward, with no real comprehension about why or what they would come to mean for the rest of my life.

I do want to write a book which is kind of similar to Haig’s, but I am very aware, after reading “Reasons to Stay Alive,” that our experiences have been different, and therefore the advice that I can give, and the version of events which I want to bring to light, is very different from what he has already covered.

So a part of me could breathe a sigh of relief- my book hasn’t already been written by Matt Haig..

I do hope, however, to be able to strike the same kind of hopeful and positive tone that he has, and to convey the sense that “there is always light at the end of the tunnel;” there is always the possibility that your life can improve.

It takes time and a lot of work; but there is always the possibility of a recovery of sorts, and the chance to get enjoyment out of life again.

Matt Haig elucidates this so well, and I hope hopeย HOPE, that I can write something as uplifting, as helpful, and as honest as he already has done.



17 thoughts on “If Matt Haig wrote “Reasons to stay alive,” then I am writing “HOW to stay alive…”

  1. I apologize for not having strayed across this post earlier. WordPress sends me emails for the blogs I don’t really want to hear from, but doesn’t send me them from the ones I do.

    I was interested to read:”you cannot pigeon hole these different varying conditions. They are personal, and not easily definable.” Obviously he’s looking at these things from the outside, as it were. But then, you did ‘lose it’ and the result of that was the realization of the comfort zone arose. Or at least, one result.

    Any psychological complaint is going to involve the comfort zone in one way or the other. There are commonalities, yet it is quite true that each human expression of them will be unique. One can liken them to the deep violet of the rainbow, where we speak only of violet – for all its variances.

    Mind you, I haven’t taken a peek at his book yet. Having said that, when someone says anything about pigeon-holes, you know they’re on the wrong track.Their mind-set will be one of wanting to discriminate between occurrences rather than looking for the root cause that created them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol that’s ok i will forgive you ๐Ÿ˜‰ Yes.. but think how different every person is, the different experiences that have made them up, memories, associatons, compulsions, interests and temprements- all that kinda gets mixed up and creates the experiences you have with mental illness (IMO).. so it is gonna be different and completely unique for each person. I’m not sure about an underlying ‘root cause’ other than the fact that the persons head caved in.. i would say the root cause of that would be stress of some kind, upheaval/trauma or accumulation of negative factors, insecurity and shaky sense of self. Lol i need to get back to my book.. am looking forward to the end of Nano, has been taking up too much of my time! X

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s why I didn’t do Nano.

        Now, when you say: “i would say the root cause of that would be stress of some kind, upheaval/trauma or accumulation of negative factors, insecurity and shaky sense of self”

        All you are doing is paraphrasing Goethe: “Goethe did not say: Here is a leaf of one plant and here a leaf of another, different plant. He did not look at the plant in this way, but said: The fact that one leaf has a particular shape and another leaf a different shape, is a mere externality. Viewed inwardly, the matter is as follows. The leaf itself has an inner power of transformation, and it is just as possible for it to appear outwardly in one shape as in another. In reality there are not two leaves, but one leaf, in two different forms of manifestation.”

        We are all different, we are all different forms of manifestation. It is up to us to deal with that manifestation.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes I have always struggled with this, and which side of the debate I fall on. I do believe, to an extent, the idea or argument that we are all different versions of the same thing.. or different forms of manifestation.. (obviously this is true, as we are all “humans,” and all have two hands, ten toes and a nose), but, then again, humans are very different from leaves. Or, if we are not, then leaves have learnt to be very secretive. Human people are so very different from one another, in the way they see the world; their priorities, concerns and prejudices. I am never sure if it is better to focus on people similarities or their differences- the first is reducutive and the second divisive.. Moreover, as we have said before- every person’s truth is different, everybody’s dharma is their own. So therefore wouldn’t it be better to focus on peoples differences, rather than what makes them the same.. I think it is where those differences are found where the real answers lay ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      3. We all have two hands and ten toes. We also have a brain and eyes to see with.

        If we respected this in each other, rather than picking on the differences, life would be a whole lot easier.

        The problem here is that when someone is taught in the modern manner – that is to say, to respect authority without question (which is what the Nazis wanted to achieve) – they aren’t going to start thinking about their own shortcomings. After all, they don’t have to reflect, they know what to do because it has been written down for them.

        In not reflecting, they are more aware of what divides us than the vastness that makes us equal. They are made aware of that which divides because it evokes fears from within themselves – fears that were implanted through the modern forms of education before the child was even aware of choices they ought be making in full consciousness.

        Only the strongest of minds can deal with this. Your diversion to smoking cannabis was a result of poor education: who is there that knows what drugs are for??? I’ve not met one and I’m two decades older than you are. I had to work it out for myself, comparing my experiences – naturally generated experiences – with those that were fuelled by outside agencies. Drugs by any other name. The reality of those meditative experiences only became clear to me in the last five years or so. Even if I had read about them earlier, it’d have made no connection.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. “After all, they donโ€™t have to reflect, they know what to do because it has been written down for them.” – or they reflect on different things… from within the “framework” they have had forced upon them. When everything has been decided for them, the part of their brain that would have been working on deciding these things for themselves, instead starts delving into different things. Don’t get me wrong, I just wonder if once you have accepted complete authority, God or authoratative parents etc, your mind is almost freed up to think about other things.. because you no longer have to consider ‘what you believe or what you think,’ that has already been decided for you! Do you see what I mean? But I am really just playing devils advocate.. I agree that if we did all focus on our similarities rather than our differences, this planet would be a much more relaxed place ๐Ÿ™‚ Where I think real progress would lie, would be if and when we can look at our differences, in a postive and upbeat way.. celebrating what makes us different, not freaking out about it. I believe drugs are great, in small doses.. lol my opinion on them has chamged a lot over the years. I hate the idea of your brain being affected negatively, but love the idea that it could be positively alterred ๐Ÿ™‚ Drugs widen perspective, which I think is so very crucial.. they lead you to think outside of the box, and to consider the possibility that there could be “more” to this life than what obviously meets the eye.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. When you say, “So therefore wouldnโ€™t it be better to focus on peoples differences, rather than what makes them the same.. I think it is where those differences are found where the real answers lay”

        We must do so, recognizing that they are humans who have a certain point of view. My posts on modern art speak not of the art – most of which is utter, meaningless rubbish – but of what it tells us about that person’s point of view. That is to say, their abilities to perceive. Or put more correctly, their lack of it.

        You have the kind of self-reflection that will allow you to engage with others in this way. I do want to stress that you will not find others so gifted: you are in for a hard time (my latest post points to this*). If a person lacks this crucial element of self-reflection, they will only focus on others’ differences in a wholly negative way. That is to say, they will blame others for their very own shortcomings. Watch out for this, it will happen frequently.

        The only time to accept this is either

        (a) when they meet your mode of perception completely and thus have no argument with you or,

        (b) if they show that glimmer of self-reflection that you will meet infrequently. Keep them as friends, even if you spend your argumentative conversations at daggers drawn: the reality will begin to dawn where with most it cannot.

        * https://gemmasponderings.wordpress.com/2016/11/21/what-lives-in-man/

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Again, thankyou for your forthrightness.

        You say, “because you no longer have to consider โ€˜what you believe or what you think,โ€™ that has already been decided for you!” All this tells me is that a person lacks the capacity for self-reflection. We all have things forced on us: our culture, education, parenting, you name it. Our physical shortcomings, all this is forced. Yet we can try to make amends, can’t we?

        The opposite of self-reflection, that is to say, its outward form is to accept another person as being who they are. Indian, African, German or American – educated, uneducated, master: all these things are irrelevant if they have the capacity for self-reflection. Because that’s when a conversation can flower, you can learn from them things that you never dreamed of.

        Isn’t this better than learning things through drugs that might – or might not – be illusory??? How are you to be able to determine if it is real or not if it is brought to you through a power whose provenance you have literally no capacity to determine???

        I will add that tea and coffee are not drugs, okay? Because they bring me things that I need in my life ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜‰


  2. Now: “I hate the idea of your brain being affected negatively, but love the idea that it could be positively alterred” Self reflection is the key here. If you are unaware of your own faults, how can you even begin to change your patterns of thinking? Without that awareness, you will be on the road to dementia in one or other of its forms. The more pressure the person is under, the swifter that progression will be.

    That our society is now so pressured – look at the staggering abuse of drugs in the Western world, especially the UK and US where it is at epidemic levels – you will see masses of people rushing headlong towards this or that progressive disease.

    Of course, each will develop this in their own way. As they become more pronounced, the psychologists will be able to identify yet another ‘new’ disease!! Because they have no access to the underlying process, so all they can see are the symptoms. With new symptoms we have a new disease!

    Wonderful, innit?


  3. I am the author of Schizophrenia Voices (so you know me). I would like say how well you write. You writing style is effortless and faultless. This is a great thing, because notwithstanding the poignancy of the topic for me, it makes it so easy to focus on the topic. I also applaud your approach to improving the lives of people with a similar diagnsotic label. The hearing voices groups concur with your general premiase, namely, that we each find our own way of coping with the alienating set of sypmtoms that we encounter. I am also interested in the similarities of our symptomology. Thankyou for being interested in my blog. I am working towards the dissemination of a psychosocial approach to monimising the amount of meds that we are prescribed, because they have such an awful side effects profile. I am following your work, so thankyou pon behalf of all of us who struglle with persisting our very difficult lives. Cheers from Sydney.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s fine! I know what a nightmare the voices are, and how much the meds suck ARSE. The similarity in symptoms interests me as well; the idea that you are being watched when you are doing private things, showering, masturbating/having sex, on the loo is something which really makes me livid. As you said it just seems like an invasion of such a basic level of privacy that whatever is perpetuating the voices needs to be labelled as what it is- wrong on every level. The anger that I feel over this sometimes translates into a ‘semi involuntary tic’ now, although I didn’t used to experience this. I’m interested you write about the fact that it is masons who are the voices? Did a voice say this? Or did you just think or theorise? Also, “I am working towards the dissemination of a psychosocial approach,” could you explain more about this? As it is very interesting to me. I am currently writing a book on how to recover from severe mental illness, so am always interested in new ideas and approaches. I so hope that you are relatively well now, and not suffering too much. Take care and keep in touch.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not quite sure where to start.

        Firstly, the idea that one is being watched has its roots in fear – and shame. My take on this is that we must start from the human reality that surrounds us if we are to deal with our imagination with any level of security.

        Imagining people or things watching us whilst in a private place is not part of the real world. Close the door and leave the light off, you can see nothing – if you imagine the light is on, that is your imagination. If you can be clear about such things in your life, you will find that you can tell when you are imagining something and when it is genuine.

        I want to add that imagining things is fun; that doesn’t make it any more real.

        As to the masons and the voices, I described to you at one time the process of dreaming. Where our soul arrives back from sleep without any clear idea of what was going on. The only things available to it by way of imagery are your memories. Those voices might be that of a long forgotten post master from a holiday in Penzance (my imagination!) or heard in a play on the radio. I want to add that you cannot have a memory for something that did not happen, and all our imaginations are based on these images in one way or another.

        One can liken a psychotic episode (broadly speaking) as a kind of dream where one slips into the dream state and returns with the confusion this brings. Our unfettered imagination then takes this and it spirals out of control.

        After all, we have little by way of training for the realities of dreaming. Schools do not dwell on such things, and even if they did, it would be in such a way that it would be mere words, in the way Freud wrote.


  4. I missed this, apologies. I too love the Matt Haig book and find it amusing that his trigger is my dream spot and when I stand at the look out point on Formentera I cannot believe how far I have come – Surgeries, biopsies, panic attacks, breakdowns, hospitalisation, and the long slow road to recovery. There is always a need to hear these stories and I look forward to reading your book and wish you well along the way x


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