'Reasons to Stay Alive' by Matt Haig. When people you love go through things that you cannot understand, it is helpful to find that there are other people out there struggling to not only make sense of their own experiences, but also to allow you a glimpse of the inner workings of their troubled minds. I reviewed Matt Haig's book 'The Humans' a while ago and as such his name was familiar and also this one has this nice upbeat title; we all occasionally need to read some reasons to be alive. It relates his abrupt descent into a very deep black hole and his slow and torturous journey back out; it does so with a perspective and humour only possible at quite some years distance. Everyone's path will be different, but it gives you hope to know that there are paths.
"Warning signs are very hard with depression.
It's especially hard for people with no direct experience of depression to know them when they see them. Partly this is because some people are confused about what depression is. We use 'depressed' as a synonym for 'sad', which is fine, as we used 'starving' as a synonym for 'hungry', though the difference between depression and sadness is the difference between genuine starvation and feeling a bit peckish." (p.90)
I am a doer. I wanted to learn what I can do, but mostly it reinforced what I have already, tentatively, come to understand, that it is not something I can fix. Mostly you have to 'not do' things. But this description of his girlfriend was very helpful:
"She was someone I could talk to, someone I could say anything to. Being with her was basically being with an outer version of myself.
The force and fury she'd once only displayed in arguments she now used to steer me better. She accompanied me on trips to the doctors. She encouraged me to ring the right helplines. She got us to move into our own place. She encouraged me to read, to write. She earned us money. She gave us time. She handled all the organisational side of my life, the stuff you need to do to tick over.
She filled on the blanks that worry and darkness had left in its wake. She was my mind-double. My life-sitter. My literal other half when half of me had gone. She covered for me, waiting patiently like a war wife, during my absence from myself." (p.125)
It is a book of lists: Things depression says to you, Things that have happened to me that have generated more sympathy than depression, Things you think during your first panic attack, Famous people with depression, Things that make me worse, Things that (sometimes) make me better.
I don't think that such books are a solution to anything, but neither that they present a 'fake' happy ending (since they are invariably written by people who have 'recovered'), but they offer possibilities and encouragement to keep struggling, and even the tiniest moment of understanding between fellow human beings might be all it takes.
I went back to visit my parents in Newark about a month ago. They don't live in the same house, but the street they are on is parallel to the street where we used to live. It is a five minute walk.
The corner shop is still there. I walked there on my own and bought a newspaper and could happily wait for the shopkeeper to give me my change. The houses I passed were the same orange brick houses. Nothing much had changed. Nothing makes you feel smaller, more trivial, than such a vast transformation inside your own mind while the world carries on, oblivious. Yet nothing is more freeing. To accept you smallness in the world." (p.247)