Reasons to Stay Alive: 5 Lessons on Depression

trigger warning: depression, suicide

“So what, you have a label? ‘Depressive’. Everyone would have a label if they asked the right professional.” ~ Matt Haig

Today, I wanna share with you things I’ve learned from Matt Haig‘s infinitely important book, Reasons to Stay Alive. Matt himself lived through depression and came terrifyingly close to attempting suicide. In this book, he shares with rare clarity not only what it means to live with depression, but also how to live better as a result of it.


If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or anxiety, THIS is the one book you have to read. One review said it “should be on prescription,” and I agree it well should be. Below are just five of the best lessons it shares:

1. Depression is real, but it’s hard for people to understand it because it’s invisible.

“The weirdest thing about a mind is that you can have the most intense things going on in there but no one else can see them…If you are depressed, your pain is invisible.” ~ Matt Haig

Although awareness of mental health issues is becoming more widespread, it doesn’t surprise me when I encounter people who still have a hard time believing that depression is a real condition. That it’s not just some made-up, imaginary thing people who crave sympathy and attention decide to have.

See, it’s really hard to wrap our mind around something we haven’t really experienced firsthand, much more something that’s virtually invisible. When we see people ailing from a broken arm or a gaping wound, our compassion comes quick and easy, because we get a clear, visual evidence of the pain they must be going through. But not so with depression and other mental illnesses. It’s easier for us to chalk those illnesses up as imaginary, because we can’t readily see proof of their existence. Therein lies the difficulty of eliminating the stigma against mental illness.

But though we may still be a long way from ridding the world of that stigma, it shouldn’t blind us to the good that’s still around us.

“You don’t need the world to understand you. It’s fine. Some people will never really understand things they haven’t experienced. Some will. Be grateful.” ~ Matt Haig

2. Depression ebbs and flows.

“Be patient. Understand it isn’t going to be easy. Depression ebbs and flows and moves up and down. It doesn’t stay still. Do not take one happy/bad moment as proof of recovery/relapse. Play the long game.” ~ Matt Haig

The above lines were actually part of a section Matt wrote for the significant others of people struggling with mental illness, “How to be there for someone with depression or anxiety.” But I think the above reminders would also be helpful for the people going though such illnesses themselves. When you’re in a very low and dark place, it’s hard to have hope that things are gonna get better. It’s easier to be swallowed by the thought that it’s always going to be that hard.

But when you keep in mind that depression doesn’t stay still, in your darkest of days you may still suffer, but you suffer knowing that there’s an end to that suffering, because depression lifts. It may not seem likely at the moment, but you need to trust that it does.

“It’s been better before and it will be again.” ~ @Despard

3. Depression is smaller than you.

“Depression is…smaller than you. It operates within you, you do not operate within it. It may be a dark cloud passing across the sky, but—if that is the metaphor—you are the sky. You were there before it. And the cloud can’t exist without the sky, but the sky can exist without the cloud.” ~ Matt Haig

The above lines comprise one of my favorite sections in Matt’s book. It follows a section enumerating all the things and metaphors people have used to express their experience of depression: “an internal war,” “a black dog,” “a black hole,” “a devil inside,” “a living nightmare,” “a fucking pain.” Yes, depression may be all of those things, but be reminded: It’s also “smaller than you.” I think there’s a lot to be gleaned from that point. Depression is smaller than you.

“Nothing lasts forever. This pain won’t last. The pain tells you it will last. Pain lies. Ignore it. Pain is a debt paid off with time.” ~ Matt Haig

4. Depression can be a gift.

“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” ~ Rumi

In a previous post, I’ve written about the value of mental illness and it pretty much covered my thoughts on this, but since this message is such an integral part of the book, it’s worth highlighting again.

“People often use the word ‘despite’ in the context of mental illness. So-and-so did such-and-such despite having depression/anxiety/OCD/agoraphobia/whatever. But sometimes that ‘despite’ should be a ‘because’. For instance, I write because of depression. I was not a writer before. The intensity needed—to explore things with relentless curiosity and energy—simply wasn’t there. Fear makes us curious. Sadness makes us philosophise.” ~ Matt Haig

As Matt pointed out, one of the best ways to successfully manage mental illness is to take a more accepting rather than a combative stance. In his words, “The trick is to befriend depression and anxiety.” He has seen value in his mental health struggles, and has learned to use them as “fuel for the fire” of his creative work. He has also come to appreciate the pleasures and enjoy the wonders of life more intensely, precisely because he has experienced life’s terror at its worst.

“You need to feel life’s terror to feel its wonder…I hate depression. I am scared of it. Terrified, in fact. But at the same time, it has made me who I am. And if—for me—it is the price of feeling life, it’s a price always worth paying. I am satisfied just to be.” ~ Matt Haig

5. There are reasons to stay alive. Find them, and cling to them, when the going gets tough.

“I knew that down wasn’t the only direction. If you hung in there, if you stuck it out, then things got better.” ~ Matt Haig

In a section entitled #reasonstostayalive, Matt shared the responses of people he’d asked online as to what keeps them going in the face of depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts. I loved reading through the entire list. Some of my favorites are:

  • Friends, family, acceptance, sharing, knowing the black dog will leave eventually.” by @Matineegirl
  • Since the other option isn’t flexible.” by @lillianharpl
  • Because 7 x 10 ^49 atoms won’t arrange themselves this way ever again. It’s a one-off privilege.” by @GoodWithoutGods
  • Knowing my depression has never lasted forever, and there has always been a way out.” by @gourenina
  • To spite cancer, Bipolar and all the other things trying to kill me young.” by @debecca

See, life as it is isn’t always easy, and when you have to suffer through mental illness on top of that, life can become—to borrow one of Matt’s descriptions—a f*cking pain. As philosopher Albert Camus wrote, “…in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.”

But no matter how hard or painful life gets, there are still reasons to stay alive. We need to remember them. Find them. And if we can’t find any, maybe we can create them instead.

“Your mind is a galaxy. More dark than light. But the light makes it worthwhile. Which is to say, don’t kill yourself. Even when the darkness is total. Always know that life is not still. Time is space. You are moving through that galaxy. Wait for the stars.” ~ Matt Haig

I am pretty sure Reasons to Stay Alive must’ve saved a life somewhere. In a way, it repaints the scars of mental illness as tattoos bearing a message:

I am a warrior, and I am winning this fight.

Day in and day out, I fight,

and I know I am winning, because I’m still alive. ♦

›  »  •  «  ‹

Resources for Suicide Prevention

In the US:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
A free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

In the Philippines:
(02) 804-HOPE / (02) 804-4673
2919 (toll-free number for Globe and TM subscribers)
A 24/7 suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in emotional crisis and in need of immediate assistance.

If you’re actively suicidal, please reach out to someone or read this.

For other international resources, please click here.

›  »  •  «  ‹

About the Author •


43 thoughts on “Reasons to Stay Alive: 5 Lessons on Depression

  1. Such an amazing post…educational, as well as hopeful. I especially like point #4…that “depression can be a gift.” If a person has the ability to step back from their depression and to truly examine it, to try to understand what lesson it’s trying to “teach” them, then a conversation with one’s depression can start. I think that when we open ourselves up to fearful emotions, when we embrace those emotions rather than running from them, that we then have an opportunity to unlock the chains that bind us. For me, running from pain made things worse. It was only when I stood still and faced my issues that I began to heal.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I’m really glad you shared this. I read the book when my mood was lower and I really didn’t get anything out of reading it. However, what you have written makes me want to revisit Matt’s book and give it a second chance. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. One of my therapists most common reminders to me when I’m in the pits of depression is that these feelings are temporary and there will be days when I feel stronger and more hopeful. In the beginning, I felt like this was invalidating to my experience, but I’ve come to use those good times as a lifeline. Sometimes from storms come rainbows. At the very least, there’s always sunshine around the corner. Perhaps I will check this book out. Thank you for the post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for sharing your own experience! It means a lot. Speaking of kinds of days, Matt’s book also has a section on “the bank of bad days.” It consists of all those days when, in your words, you’re “in the pits of depression.” He suggests keeping those days in that bank, as a reminder that no matter how bad those days got, you managed to endure and get past them. 🙂 If you do check the book out, I really hope it will be of help to you. Wish you well!


  4. Yes, I’m pretty sure this book saved a life somewhere, too. Your post is enlightening and very inspiring. This inspired me to also write to raise awareness on mental health. I have read few books about mental health and Matt’s Reason to Stay Alive is going to be next on my reading list. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sorry to hear that, Audrey. Suicide is one of the most difficult phenomena to come across with in one’s own social circle. I totally agree with you — there can be hope even for severely depressed people. It was my pleasure writing this; thank you for taking the time to read and reflect on it, too. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I loved that post! As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression it’s really important for me to remember these perspectives. I love that metaphor or the dark cloud in the sky. We are bigger than our worst feelings. And more important than them! I love feeling like I am important, I’m here to help someone else and I’m needed. Most importantly and tangibly as a mother, but even acquaintances I see on my way to work. Or whatever. A smile may change their day. And every interaction in between. I also really liked that first quote about how we would all have a label if we as the right professional! Haha.. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! I think that metaphor of the cloud in the sky is really inspired, and inspiring. Yes, you are important and worthy exactly as you are. Often, we don’t think much of it, but we do matter to others more than we realize. 🙂

      That first quote also skyrocketed as one of my favorites the moment I read it! Haha. Cheers. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. As a father of two teenage daughters I keep a close eye on their lives. Their age is such a sensitive time and so much of it is out of our control.

    But if they know they can come to us and talk without worry that we will judge them, we’ve succeeded in half the battle.

    Many people we pass everyday have no one to turn to. They have convinced themselves that they are alone.

    That is a huge problem and one that can only be overcome by friends and family. We need to listen and be aware of warning signs to those in our lives.

    Thank you for posting this.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I found that my 7 year struggle with depression from 2010 (right after my dad died from cancer) until 2017 (when I found a doctor who diagnosed me with depression and prescribed antidepressants) has actually made me a better writer.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Thanks for sharing this post, it’s very reassuring and informative. This came at the right time for me as i’m currently going through a dark phrase. Point two “depressions ebbs and flows” reassures me that things won’t be like this forever. Just got to ride the wave!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. A writer after my own heart. Someone who understands that collectively we can make mental health and its acceptance more a part of our culture. This book intrigues me, i will definitely give it a read. Thanks for your truth and authenticity!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I believe we can definitely move towards better understanding and acceptance of mental health issues. We just need to constantly initiate and join conversations about it. Thank you so much for reading and being a part of the conversation! 🙂


  10. Thank you so much for this. It’s totally helpful and educational. I am amazed by your concern and talent at the same time. This is what the world needs, what you do is something that people should actually start doing, raise awareness, do something about it, educate people, help people, care.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Only a pleasure! Mental health is my advocacy. It’s people like you who take the time to read what us advocates put out to the world that will truly help this campaign get off the ground, so thank you!


  11. I was first diagnosed with clinical depression in 1997/8, during my breakup with my first husband. It was impossible for me at some point to find the reason to live, even as I looked at my two year old son. Fortunately, my suicide attempts were weak. I was convinced I was brave with the last one. I was blessed I failed. I thought I was healed but I couldn’t fight it by 2000/2001. I had suicidal thoughts but I had learned that there was still a lot to life and never again did I want to end it all. I was fine after attending the Landmark Forum in 2003. I felt in coming back in 2016. I ignored it. Last year, I was again diagnosed with MDD. I’ve been back on talk therapy but I quit the antidepressant after a month or two. Now, I see it as a gift. I have learned so much and it definitely helps with my writing. 😉🤗❤
    Thank you for sharing this post. I am sure it helps many. Much love and hugs.

    Liked by 2 people

    • What an honest and generous sharing; thank you, Anne. Sounds like you had to go through some really rough patches there. I’m glad to know you’ve come through and have even grown to see it as a gift, as a way to help you grow as a person and as a writer. All the best for your wellness and continued journey! ❤ 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re most welcome. And thank you! I heal every day. I do feel that it’s important to share because we never know who’s reading who might be helped by our experiences. Your blog is an awesome platform for many people, I am sure.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I read this book time and time again. Both when I am finding life tough and when it is going okay. It reminds me to keep going, that I am bigger than my depression and anxiety. Thank you for reminding me about the cloud and the sky – it is possibly my favourite message from the book too.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a comment

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s