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 that he had not yet lost it completely. 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 hope HOPE, that I can write something as uplifting, as helpful, and as honest as he already has done.