On 13th August 2012 my brother killed himself. In the days, weeks and months that followed I found some respite in books from the multitude of conflicting thoughts that had invaded my brain. So I read, and I read and I read... When it was too dark to read I listened to audio books. Reading transported me, if only briefly, to a place where I wasn't overwhelmed with the pain, the guilt, the hurt, the anger...
Then, in June 2013 I read The Humans by Matt Haig. Although by then the raw grief had subsided I still felt lost. The Humans became both my anchor to cling to when the world felt too fast and the beacon of light I so desperately needed.
When Matt first said he was thinking of writing a book about depression I fervently hoped that he would. I'd read his blog posts about the illness and had found them honest and insightful. After my brother's death I'd started my own blog, at first as an outlet for my grief but it's since become my way of talking openly and honestly about mental illness and addiction, hopefully in some small way helping to reduce the stigma around these illnesses.
I didn't really understand depression when my brother died, I still don't truly because I've never been depressed but since then I have read as much as I can to try and better understand and now in Reasons to Stay Alive I have a book that I know I will turn to time and again, for answers, for advice and for hope. It wasn't always an easy read, to read of the pain Matt felt and to know my brother must have felt something similar until that day when it overwhelmed him and he could take it no more. However, despite having to stop reading a few times I constantly found myself drawn back to the book, I thought about points raised when I wasn't reading it and it became a book I needed to read regardless of how hard it was.
I can't bring my brother back, he never found his reasons to stay alive. What I can do now is to not shy away from conversations about depression, to listen and to learn. That's why Reasons to Stay Alive is so invaluable, for those suffering from depression it's somebody telling them they're not alone, they're understood and most importantly that they can get better. To quote from the book,
"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."
For those of us who desperately want to understand here is somebody telling us; it's searingly honest, wise and beautifully written. In a world in which mental illness is still stigmatised, when people still feel they should "admit" to depression or are scared to say they suffer for fear of how it may affect their family lives or their jobs, we need to keep having the conversations, to bring the subject into the open. It's too late for my brother, my hope now is that other families can be spared the pain we feel and that those afflicted by this terrible illness can find the belief that it can get better. Reasons to Stay Alive is a book everybody needs to read.
Reasons to Stay Alive is published in the UK by Canongate.
(My blog about coping with my brother's suicide can be found here; After Simon)