Top critical review
From the viewpoint of a 'depressive'
Reviewed in the United States on March 9, 2015
I enjoyed reading Matt's book on his experience of going through depression; it's part autobiography, part self-help manual - there is very much a sense of the author putting things back in place, mapping out the topography of his own mind and discovering a place where he can comfortably be himself. By putting it all down on paper, he is exorcising the demons in the darkness by exposing them to the light of public examination.
As someone who has also been through the experience of depression for many years and has also arrived at incredibly similar conclusions after coming out the other side, I recognise completely the numb, bleak, monochromatic existence that he describes; the endless days ahead, the wasted days behind. The inability to realise that you have an impact on others, that you even matter. That anything matters.
But it was this that made the 'depression years' in the book seem almost as turgid and endless as going through the experience again for real; by the 80th page, I really was feeling bleak; I started to recognise that familiar 'me me me' narrative that so bored me about myself when I was depressed and talking about it with friends, and reading the book itself almost became like a microcosm of battling with depression itself: were things really going to get better? Would I really start enjoying this book before it was too late? What was wrong with me for not feeling the same joyous giddiness that all the celebs on the covers evidenced in their soundbite quotes? Was I hateful for writing a less-than-glowing review of Matt's very personal and revealing book, risking hurting his feelings for my own subjective self-satisfaction?
Even though this opening part of the book was bleak and uncomfortable to read, I accepted it for what it was and struggled through, adopting the maxim that sometimes, just keeping going is a victory for positivity. There were times when I came close to ending it all and closing the book for good, but - without checking the exact page count - I think the sun finally started to come out after 100 pages. That was too much for me as a depressive to get much out of - it was a hard read; it seemed to be there to function as a 'window into the nightmare' for those who haven't experienced it. They might find it useful, but although cases of depression seem to have similar themes and motifs, they vary in context as much as the sufferers themselves are unique individuals.
After that, when the book deals with where his head's at now, it gets easier. But these are things I wanted more detail on - there are lots of lists, and very very short chapters all through this book, which make it easier to pick up and get into - but they also make the reading experience frustratingly insubstantial at times. Maybe there's something to this book leading the advance against the taboo of depression and suicide - if that's the case, then I hope it performs the function of getting it out into the public arena once and for all.
There were times, when reading, that I felt that pang of wonder and dread that comes when you know exactly what the next sentence is going to be - and there are times when that same sensation of knowing felt like something jaded and predictable; similarly, there were times when I felt the tone of the narrative to be a gentle one, speaking great truths, but it also felt at later times like I was a bed-bound patient being ministered by someone with the bedside manner of Alan Titchmarsh; oozing soothingness and calm to a poor ill person.
Life has brought me to the same conclusions as Matt, though; that's a sign we're both going the right way.
A very thought-provoking read that isn't the magical work of profundity that the publishers seem to want to market it as - that's far too much expectation to have for what is essentially a very humble enterprise; that of an author working through what happened to him in the most natural way possible for him - via his pen. It is a work of kindness, and of good intention; it is a work of reason, and a testament to the powers of the mind; but I feel that it's being hyped into something that the author never intended it to be.
This book is useful for those who wish to get an idea of what it feels like to go through depression. It would also be useful to someone in the middle of a depressive episode, I suppose. Personally I was both pleased and disappointed by this book - pleased that we had arrived at almost exactly the same perspective on life, but disappointed that I could therefore only confirm my existing beliefs rather than challenge them and learn something new.
Finally, my views on happiness, how to find it, and how to keep it (as Matt finishes in the same way himself):
1) All that exists is the moment of 'now'. Everything else - the past and the future - is in your head. Leave the past behind you; it has gone. By being positive in the present moment, you are sowing seeds of good possibilities for the future; there is no need to dwell modbidly on what is yet to happen.
2) Being kind to others, and having your actions affect others in a positive way will make all parties a lot happier.
3) Diversity of choice produces stress, not happiness. Keep it simple.
4) Don't let your mind tell you downers. When you catch yourself having miserable thoughts, take positive action be reinforcing the upbeat, truthful alternative - even if you don't feel like you are.
5) Your mind can be trained like a dog. A repeated action becomes a habit after three weeks or so. Acquire positive habits, drop the negative ones.
6) Don't judge. It's not as simple as 'succeed' or 'fail'. Just accept and be open to what is.
7) Exercise makes the body happy
8) EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT.
9) Your good mood deserves protection - it is fragile and valuable. Your good mood is stronger than the bad mood of others.
10) You can always do better tomorrow.
11) People feel happier if they have a purpose.
12) Everyone's life is different. Everyone comes to terms with their life in their own way.
Ultimately I'm a bit disappointed by this book, but I totally recognise the story; I liked it without getting as excited as everyone else seems to be doing.