Trigger warning: Anxiety, depression, suicide, eating disorders & in depth mental health talks later on.
A few days go, i had the pleasure of seeing Matt Haig talk again, this time at HOME in Manchester. Myself and Sophie travelled to Doncaster last year for his tour of Notes On A Nervous Planet, and hearing Matt talk about his own issues with anxiety and depression was so inspiring and relatable, i wanted to see him again.
The difference about this tour that Matt was doing, was it was set up more to be ‘an evening with’, with just Matt on stage, chatting for the first half and answering questions in the second half. It worked really well in that format and Matt had a lot to say about mental health in general just prompted by his powerpoint! It was nice to see him making jokes about mental health along-side some very interesting and important topics of social conduct and how the world around us affects our mental health.
Matt discussed issues such as social media’s impact on mental illness and how sites like Instagram are potentially increasing the rate of mental illness in the world. For instance, there has been a study in Fiji (this is a very loose explanation and please research it for yourself if you’d like anymore information) of the time after American TV was introduced. Before that time, no eating disorders were recorded in Fiji, and since American TV had been introduced, there has been a spike in eating disorders on the Island. Something like this had never occurred to me as being cultural, most likely because it’s such a normal part of life for me to be exposed for it. But hearing statistics like that was incredibly interesting.
Notes On A Nervous Planet discusses social media and the impact on people’s mental health. I for one took a lot away from this book when i first read it, about stepping back from social media and being in the moment and your life a little more. Matt discussed this quite a lot while he was on stage and gave plenty of anecdotes about his own life suffering with anxiety and depression and how some of the issues in Notes On A Nervous Planet have affected him.
Since the release of Reasons To Stay Alive, Matt’s first non-fiction book about depression, he has not been quiet online about his own mental illness struggles. This honesty is something that he’s incredibly passionate about and talking about it is important for the improvement of mental health conversation. Matt was asked in the Q&A session about his opinions on the idea of glorifying mental illness in the media and if it should be discussed in those ways. Something i wasn’t expecting was to agree with him saying that it should be allowed to be glorified because at least it was being talked about. You stop it being glorified, you stop it being discussed.
Something that was discussed that i’ve never completely thought about was the obsession with time that holds our anxiety against us. We always have somewhere we need to be at a certain time or some place that closes at that time. I’ve tried not to live my life by time constraints, but that doesn’t work in a society like ours. I found it really interesting to hear about something that’s such an arbitrary thought that completely consumes our society.
Another comment he made earlier in the night was in regards to the offensive images and words often used to describe mental illness in the media. He showed us some celebrity images from magazines of them supposedly in the midst of a ‘breakdown’ and showed the horrific images and text that went with it. It was in order to discuss the negativity surrounding mental illness and more often than not, the shame that comes from finding recovery.
Matt also touched upon the use of words to describe mental illness and people suffering with mental illness, such as ‘insane’ and ‘crazy’ etc. He thinks that those words are words that you should own as yourself. If you feel crazy, you can describe what you’re feeling as that. As long as those words are being used to represent yourself, you should be able to use any word you want to describe your mental health. That is personal to you and how you think about your own mental health.
One of Matt’s main messages is that he wants mental illness and health to be a constant discussion, it’s just as important as physical health and often the two overlap anyway! It’s normal to talk about your physical illness, so why not just talk about your mental illness too? With that in mind, i want to talk very openly and honestly about my own mental health. It’s something i’ve never discussed in depth on the blog or in my bookish life, because i didn’t think it was necessary. However, books about mental health are important, talking about mental health is incredibly important. So on the topic of that, i want to start discussing mental illness in books a little more and i want to talk about my own mental health struggles.
If you have any mental health related triggers that are particularly sensitive, don’t continue reading from now.
When i was fourteen or fifteen, i started to become depressed. It had been a long time coming from being a pretty unhappy teenager, and something that i figured was just regular hormones became something much bigger. There’s a lot of discussion about depression hitting you like a train or coming on slowly. For me, it came on very slowly until it was debilitating. At sixteen my depression really hit. I started to see doctors, councillors, the lot. I hit a wall, became suicidal and started to self harm extremely. It was the worst i’ve ever felt in my life, and trying to navigate collage and a-levels and panic attacks in the toilet and pretty much everything else happening in life was hard.
This stage continued through to Uni for me. The first year of Uni was the worst year of my life. I continued with suicidal and self harm thoughts, however with added depersonalisation and hallucinations, all related to my mental health. I locked myself in my room at Uni, had less than forty percent attendance and generally wasn’t in a great place. This was the time when i was diagnosed officially with Manic Depressive Disorder.
Something flicked in me in the break between first and second year. I began my first lot of medication, i started looking after myself, had friends around me that were truly supportive and honestly, started a road to recovery. This followed by two really great years, coming off medication and maintaining a wonderful life, i was happy for the first time in about seven years and i was keeping it that way! I was shocked my life had come to a point where i was happy.
Fast forward to me now, i’ve had two work related breakdowns, many ups and downs in my mental illness and i’ve come out the other side. I started medication again about a year ago, and it works to an extent. Hallucinations for me are still something i struggle with regularly and some things from my past mental illness life creep up every so often. I’m a little less anxious than i used to be, i don’t lock myself in my room. However, i still have the occasional panic attack that debilitates me for a week afterwards. There have been some hospital trips and some scary moments (especially with hallucinations, they’re weird) but i’ve got it semi under control.
A lot of my mental health journey has been learning to live with this thing that i’m going to have for the rest of my life now. I have learnt to live with my depersonalisation, i have ways to remind myself of who i am and what i like. I can deal with hallucinations in the long run and won’t let them affect my mood. But there are moments of absolute dread and sadness.
Like many people, i deal with an incredibly debilitating mental illness. I have a job, i run a blog, i see my friends as often as possible and i continue on with my life. I’ve started travelling and finding myself. I’m not over it, and i’ve accepted i never will be. I’ll never know if i’ll get in bed and hallucinate or i’ll get on a tram and have a panic attack, but i’m working towards learning to live with it.
There are many people that recover completely from a mental illness, and that’s such a wonderful thing, but for a lot of people it ebbs and flows. I really appreciate Matt Haig for talking about his mental illness so openly, and sharing the facts of teenagers that are suffering and suicide rates and other things that aren’t often talked about in the media.
I had the most incredible time at Matt’s event, and when we met him afterwards for the signing, he was as lovely as always. I want to try and be a little more open about mental health (not as open as this post, i promise) and talk about mental health representation in books more than anything!
Thank you for reading this extremely long post, there are some links down below for any helplines and websites that might be useful!
Samaritans helpline – 116 123 – WEBSITE
Time To Change – WEBSITE
ReThink Mental Illness – WEBSITE