A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Reasons To Stay Alive

Matt Haig's Reasons to Stay Alive — I very much recommend this book if you suffer from depression or know anyone suffering from depression. And, let's face it, that's most of us. Here's an extract:

Life is hard. It may be beautiful and wonderful but it is also hard. The way people seem to cope is by not thinking about it too much. But some people are not going to be able to do that. And, besides, it is the human condition. We think therefore we are. We know we are going to grow old, get ill and die. We know that is going to happen to everyone we know, everyone we love. But also, we have to remember, the only reason we have love in the first place is because of this. Humans might well be the only species to feel depression as we do, but that is simply because we are a remarkable species, one that has created remarkable things — civilisation, language, stories, love songs. Chiaroscuro means a contrast of light and shade. In Renaissance paintings of Jesus, for instance, dark shadow was used to accentuate the light bathing Christ. It is a hard thing to accept, that death and decay and everything bad leads to everything good, but I for one believe it. As Emily Dickinson, eternally great poet and occasionally anxious agoraphobe, said: 'That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.'


Ruth said...

Thanks for this. It echoes what I've been thinking about the last few days.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this - very helpful.
I've just put a post inspired by a line from your poetry on pilgrimpace

Lots of love and prayers.


donna baker said...

Oh, how did you know? Such a wonderful piece for us that wait. I need to memorize this.

Amanda Summer said...

Beautiful - I love the Dickinson quote as well as the Schopenhauer quote you mentioned in your last post: 'We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to be like other people.'

What would the world look like if we didn't forfeit that three-fourths, I wonder?

am said...

Thank you for this, for reminding me of chiaroscuro. I've been re-reading The Tao of Jesus: An Experiment in Inter-Traditional Understanding.

You reminded me of this on page 30:

Lao Tzu: "Profoundly dark and ever profoundly dark, the gateway to infinite wonders."

Jesus: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34)

And this on page 31:

Peter K. H. Lee points out that, in the workings of Tao, it is precisely in helplessness that the power of rejuvenation and fulfillment because most present and effective.

Each of us finds our unique way to live with depression. "To each his own, it's all unknown." One thing I know from my experience is that we are not alone in depression.

Our own
Not alone.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks Ruth, Andy, Donna and Amanda.

Am — a problem with severe depression is that it's an illness which, even now, is still much misunderstood — because it's mental (though, of course, closely bound up with the physical, as mind and body are one), because it's interior, because it's to do with thoughts rather than something more 'tangible'. Yet many of us experience some form of depression, whether mild or severe, at some point in our lives. Melancholia is part and parcel of life, natural and normal. And extreme, debilitating melancholia may be seen as a natural response (particularly sensitive, thin-skinned people are prone) to the human condition, especially perhaps the human condition now.

This book I'm reading about it is excellent, and is the author's own personal, honest account. He comes to the conclusion that out of depression many good things can come. Some people seem to have lower troughs and higher peaks than others, and the depressive also has the potential to achieve unbelievable pinnacles of insight, appreciation of beauty etc. The key thing is to live, to love life — with all its ups and downs, pains and joys. To try to accept it all, in a mindful, Buddhist-style way.

Thanks for the helpful perceptions from the book you're reading. Another connection which has just come to me is the Christian mystical idea of the Via Negativa and the Dark Night of the Soul.

We are certainly not alone in depression, although sometimes it may feel so. Look at Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Graham Greene, Stephen Fry, Ruby Wax, Ben Stiller, Stephen King, William Styron, Jim Carrey, Scott Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Anne Hathaway, Billy Joel, Angelina Jolie, Al Pacino, Uma Thurman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tennessee Williams and countless other 'personalities', not to mention the millions of 'ordinary' people...

You could argue that Lincoln and Churchill achieved great things because of their depressive tendencies. Joshua Wolf Shenk wrote: 'Lincoln didn't do great work because he solved the problem of his melancholy; the problem of his melancholy was all the more fuel for the fire of his great work.'

Timecheck said...

Interesting post, and comments. I've been coming to the reluctant conclusion lately, that evolution needs the tails of the bell shaped curve of mood and behavior, maybe not so much in that generation, but when two such tails meet, the offspring may produce great things or awful. Those great things are essential to the human potential. Not sure if I should delete all or post, but will let it stand.

The Solitary Walker said...

I'm certain there are evolutionary strands to most things we feel and do, Ralph. (Timecheck). However, what interests me is the way human beings seem able to buck the trends of evolution, to step out of the straitjacket of nature and nurture from time to time and achieve something extraordinary. Yes, these things may be great or awful. Though I suppose you may argue that all this is simply (or not so simply) the mysterious course of evolution too. (Sorry if I've misunderstood you, Ralph — I may be talking about something completely different here!)

Timecheck said...

You understood me correctly, Robert. I do attribute all to evolution, but have come around to believe that a match of two people guaranteed to end in misery, may well be a means of producing that occasional exceptional being.