It was October 2016 and after surviving a summer of poor mental health which resulted in a trip to the Doctors and some new medication in hand after weeks of barely any sleep, I could still feel those unpleasant feelings of anxiety and panic lingering on the surface, waiting to go off again.
I had seen a book floating around the internet for a while now and it had always intrigued me of being a good read. At that moment in time, I was desperate for anything to give me some reassurance and comfort that everything was going to be ok.
I headed to my local Waterstones and purchased ‘Reasons To Stay Alive‘ by Matt Haig and this book honestly changed my life. It changed my mental health for the better. Maybe not in some groundbreaking and curable way, because let’s be honest, mental health recovery isn’t that simple.
It was more like something inside of me shifted and it was the kind of thing I had been needing to hear for months, maybe even years.
Since October 2016, I have reread Reasons To Stay Alive over and over again. I must have read it over ten times because it has helped me more times than I can count. I never quite believed those who said a book or a movie changed their life until I read this one.
Whenever someone asks me ‘What helps you during times of bad mental health?’ I always say ‘…I pick up Reasons To Stay Alive because it’s my go-to for some comfort and reassurance…’.
It is possible to get better
For a long time, I believed that I was a lost cause and that I would never get better. I had felt like I had tried so many different things to try to get better with no real result of improvement. I was beginning to lose hope that I would ever have a moment of peace from the mental illnesses that followed me around everywhere like a piece of gum stuck on your shoe.
It wasn’t until I read Reasons To Stay Alive that I actually begin to think that maybe it was possible to get better. I began to believe that recovery was actually something that could happen and that I would be able to experience good moments of wellness again.
I felt so inspired that I could actually face my fears and overcome all the things I was anxious about which let me tell you at the time were a lot. I used to struggle even leaving the house!
It made me realise that I could have a life outside of this mental torture I had become so used to. There was life beyond my mental illness and maybe myself as a person was still in there somewhere. It seemed more real that I could come from the bottom and get back to the top again.
Within a few months of reading this book, going to regular therapy sessions each week, believing in myself and facing my fears, I started to live my life again beyond the anxiety, beyond the panic, beyond the sick phobia and depression.
I even published this post back in October 2017 asking ‘Who Am I Without My Mental Illness?’ because at that point I felt like I had faced pretty much everything I needed to and was now existing without it constantly being in the forefront, I was figuring out who I was without the illness being top dog.
And that felt strange but a proud moment.
I’m not alone
Aside from other people sharing that they had similar illnesses to me either in person or online, I always felt quite alone with what I was going through and even now it can be quite isolating. At my lowest, no one really shared too much of their mental health experience. It’s only been the last couple of years that more people have opened up (which of course is a great thing!).
Reasons To Stay Alive definitely helped to make me feel less lonely with what I was and (if I’m honest) still am going through. It helped to normalise the things I was experiencing that I had no idea no one else was going through. This ranged from thoughts to physical feelings and even the behaviours. Even today it still provides me with the biggest comfort knowing that what I’m going through is somewhat normal.
It also helped to take away the intensity and anxiety around these thoughts and feelings which can help massively in overcoming things.
Recovery isn’t a straight line
From all the previous help I had before late 2016, I was constantly taught that you overcome what you need to and then it will all be fine. You won’t need to prepare for bad days or anything like that. I don’t know why professionals seemed to install this into us when we first seek help, but back then and for me personally, they did.
I guess that was what drove my belief that I was a lost cause because no matter what I tried, I would get better for a little bit, then feel worse again not long after. But years on, I now realise that recovery isn’t some straight line, that you continue going up and upon.
Of course, this would be the dream, but it just doesn’t work like that.
For once, this book actually portrayed a true and realistic representation of what mental health recovery looks like for so many of us! It showed the true emotions and the feelings that come with it. It’s not all success after success and achievement after achievement.
It’s a lot of tears, it’s a lot of agonising physical feelings that can knock you off your feet, it’s putting things off until you feel brave enough and well-rested enough to go again. It’s spending days and weeks on end making the small steps to mount up to the big picture. It’s working on your thoughts and sitting with the unease without reacting to it and making it out to be a big deal.
It’s having to change yourself.
And this takes time. It most certainly isn’t something that is a continuous straight line.
I’ve learnt acceptance
When you’re going through the worst of your mental health, there is a tendency to try to fight off how you’re feeling out of fear or frustration. Back in 2016, I used to do this on the daily and even sometimes find myself doing the same nowadays, even though I know that it won’t make the situation any better because if anything it will make it worse.
Your mental health wants to be listened to. There’s some misconception whether that’s learnt through society or our own pressure we put on ourselves, that we must not address how we feel and must instead be positive, to get on with life and just power through.
But this has never worked for me. This has never made me feel better. And this book was one of the things that helped make me realise that.
When I have actually taken the time to take a step back, acknowledge how I’m feeling and accept what is currently going on for me right now, I know that I feel so much better for actually listening to myself and being ok with what’s going on.
It stops causing such a fight with my own self and tension that gets wrapped up inside. It gives you the chance to actually be able to accept how you’re feeling without the constant fighting. It definitely helps you to move forward better and quicker.
The changes in mindset
One of the things this book has also highlighted to me was how your mindset can shift and change over time. Whether this is a few months, a year or even a few years, your mindset can shift and change over time.
It was so reassuring and somewhat interesting to see how Matt got through what he did and the feelings that come with doing something like this. At the time, I couldn’t really see this happening for me as such, because my belief was at an all-time low, but say a few months on, I could definitely see that this was possible because my mindset had shifted.
Over time, I have been able to trust myself, whether that’s having belief in my own ability that I can achieve things or just being able to trust that I can get through things, even the more harder times. It’s not easy to make these changes or shifts, but they’re incredibly worth it when you do and you won’t always get it right because it takes practice.
What has changed your mental health for the better?