• Abbi Bayliss

Reasons to Stay Alive the Play: Review

This evening I did something I never do, i saw the play before reading the book. Now I know what you’re thinking, I’ve gone and broken all moral codes of society, disregarding life's fundamental foundations of order and reason, but due to my urge to see the play adaptation of Matt Haig’s best selling book “Reasons to stay alive” I had to make an exception and bend some rules.

I’ve always intended on reading the book (ironically the title is what i ask myself every morning before work.) The performance did not disappoint but rather reflected elements of my own life I've never expressed.

It started with an insight into Matt’s broken mind, literally, the set embodied a skull split into three whilst a heavy heartbeat contrasted with a screeching ringing noise overlay this muffle of sounds. It reminded me of the murmur of sounds above surface and the static sound of the ocean, just before you break out of the trance of being fully immersed under water. We then meet Matt, his incapability to get out of bed which quickly spirals to counting the needed steps to jump off a cliff into the Mediterranean Sea. He then battles with a physical ‘voice of reason’ that becomes his guide into recovery. Initially it’s uncertain whether the voice is his conscience, a person, a guardian looking out for Matt or as he believes, a figment of his messed up mind. As Matt fearfully escapes his attempted suicide, were left with a fragile shell of a man.

Matt is challenged with physical demons intruding, pulling and licking his face when he’s traveling with his parents and girlfriend. Even when you're surrounded with loved ones in a positive circumstance it doesn't bar the door to feelings of isolation. Similar to when Matt challenges himself to go to the local shop for milk. Everyday tasks become a real challenge, and anxieties kick in with panic attacks that feel like death is quickly approaching. Were also shown how Matt reacts when someone leaves his presence, he fears separation as depression tricks and clouds your thinking to the worst solution. He believes whenever someone, such as his dear girlfriend Andrea gets in a car, she will die. He also ties guilt in with this by thinking the worst thing to come out from that situation is that his last words to her were nonchalant.

Watching the play it felt like scenes were holding a mirror up to my face. When Matts voice of reason convinced him to dance to music and ask Andrea what kind of tea she wanted, he celebrated that for that brief moment, Matt wasn’t depressed, which then resulted in the response “I'm not happy, I'm neutral!”, a phrase i know I've said too often as my knowing mother nudged me. This reminded me of something I once said when trying to illustrate what I was going through: some people are happy so they dance, I dance to try and feel happy. Depression isn’t just feeling sad, like a deflated flat tyre, there is a fear behind it to the extent lifes ‘normalities’ terrify you, a point brought out in the play.

One reason i think the play will stick with me is their vivid illustration used that made me laugh whilst examining my own position in life. It was the talk in the foyer after the show, the thing that stuck with everyone was the “Things people say about depression that they don’t talk about other illnesses” rightly deserved rant. A carousel of opinions were flipped however, saying “So what if your legs on fire, pull yourself together” ,“Okay so you’ve got tuberculosis, its mind over matter, nobody's ever died from it,” and my personal favourite “I know your parachute isn’t opening but don’t worry, chin up”. This toxic positivity can do more harm than good, as it undermines us, feeling like a personal attack on something uncontrollable. Another rant I resonated with was “Things that get more sympathy than depression” which I've decided to make my own list for: having a cold, failing a test, losing your job, hating your job, and one I’ve stolen from them, stubbing your toe. There's this stigma that people with depression are weak, overreacting and just need to man up (which proves detrimental as the biggest killer for men under 45 is suicide). What I loved about this performance was it showed how depression isn’t just sadness, it governs every part of your life whether your aware of it or not. An extract from Matt Haig’s biography “Reasons to stay alive” explains it clearly “Depression looks different to everyone. Pain is felt in different ways to different degrees, and provokes different responses.”

One response I had to the production was desperately searching for reasons, motivation and hope, upon which it was full of, validation and reassurance. Whilst Matt was on his 10,000th panic attack, the voice of reason shared a tip, to go running when you feel like this. When you have a panic attack your heart is beating so fast and you’re sweating so much which is regular when running so it would just feel normal. The voice mentioned a trick, when he goes running, he likes to name the many famous people who survived depression: Scott F Fitzgerald, Jim Carrey, Winona Ryder, Emma Thompson, Buzz Aldridge, Abraham Lincoln and more. The next metaphor created was “The bank of bad days”. Now i know this one and have tried it before. It’s taking the really horrible barely livable days and storing them, then later when your having a bad day, you can remember it may be bad but not as bad. I admit, depressed and anxious me refuses to be comforted, it can be especially hard to motivate myself to think of anything hopeful, let alone apply it. However, as the days go on you realise things aren’t always as bad as they seem and the more you prove wrong what depression is presenting as facts the more you trust that things will be okay.

In the conclusion of the play it is revealed Matts “voice of reason” was really his future self, returning to help younger him. I think we all need that sometimes. Clarification that it’s all going to work out. There is no bigger threat to ourselves than our own mind. I’m learning to train myself, talk kindly and reassuringly to all my demons and insecurities. I’m not sure if we ever fully heal, i’m still figuring that out, but what I do know is we grow and things change. Time is a funny thing, how one moment or one person has affected your whole life. I definitely believe we have to experience hard times, as out from this greatness truly flourishes. I once read “If you’re going through Hell, keep going. Why would you stop at Hell?” and it changed my whole perspective. One of the hardest challenges we face is trusting ourselves to be vulnerable. Being open to change.