Geeks Vs Loneliness: Matt Haig, David Walliams, and openness

A few words about three wonderful writers, and why oversharing shouldn't be sneered at...

Hello and a warm welcome to our Geeks Vs Loneliness spot, a regular bit on the site where we natter about things that may be affecting you, and/or the people around you. As always, we feel honour-bound to declare that we don’t have a magic elixir. Instead, we just want to get conversations started, and hopefully come up with a tip or two that may point you or someone you know in a helpful direction.

A while back, we talked about the book Wonder on the site. The specific article is here, but ever since I’ve written about that, there’s been a trickle of people who’ve let us know they’ve read it, and got as much out of it as I did. That’s lovely to hear, and it really is a sublime book.

But I also wanted to draw attention to three more writers, of three different profiles. I’ve got an awful lot out of their writing, and I hope you will too.

Firstly, then, on the off-chance that David Walliams, Matt Haig and Caroline Preece peruse this article: I’m really glad you each exist. I’m really glad you’re alive. I think you’re immense human beings.

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I’ve long liked the work, and the inherent apparent fearlessness, of David Walliams. My children, too, enjoy his books enormously. They’ve brought me and my family lots of pleasure, and continue to do so. What a gift that is, too. To positively touch someone’s lives without ever meeting them.

I’ve recently finished Walliams’ excellent autobiography, Camp David. And he does something really important in his book. For as well as talking entertainingly about his career, he’s also candid, open and revealing about the depression that he’s faced. Furthermore, he talks in the book about the impact it has had on him, and the occasional vice-like grip it’s held, that’s driven him to suicide attempts.

“I was eighteen and didn’t understand what depression was”, he writes. “All I knew was that there were times in my life when light became dark, colour faded, and all that was beautiful became ugly. What’s so pernicious about depression is that you lose all perspective, and all past happiness seems false”.

He describes it as “a disease that has blighted my adult life”, and his book also talks about how he made it through his darkest days. It’s not an easy read, but there’s little that’s easy about depression. I’m hugely thankful that he took the time to include the passages in Camp David, and I commend the book to pretty much anyone. Depression is indiscriminate, brutal and unkind. 

Thank you, David Walliams.

His book brought to mind a colleague of mine, Caroline Preece. She wrote a piece for Geeks Vs Loneliness just a week ago, on what it’s actually like when you go and actively seek out help and support for a mental health issue. I think Caroline’s great, too.

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There’s one sentence in her piece – that you can read here – that really struck me. “There have been people who have seen my openness as oversharing”, she wrote. “It’s completely understandable for people to feel a little bit uncomfortable when faced with someone freely admitting they’re not quite right. Yet a lot of the posts on this site say you shouldn’t pretend to be okay if you’re not, and I reckon that’s true”.

So do I.

Surely, surely, oversharing, talking about something so serious, has to be umpteen leagues better than bottling it up. How can you escape darkness without at least tiptoeing a little towards the light?

If we’re going to destigmatise mental health issues, in their mildest and most furious forms, we have to share stories. We have to tell people the truth, to get away from the ‘pull yourself together’ attitude that has left so many people quietly sobbing in the early hours, wondering how on earth they can go on.

Caroline: you’re brilliant. Thank you.

Which leads me to my final recommendation this week: Matt Haig’s extraordinary Reasons To Stay Alive.

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It’s a relatively slim tome, this one, but a wonderful one in so many ways. Whether you face depression, or know someone who faces this evil disease, it’s an utterly honest, uncompromising look at Haig’s own battles. He talks about how it affects him and those around him, about the impact on his life, and – crucially – about how he found a path through it. Depression never fully goes away, and Haig acknowledges that. But also, there might just be ways to loosen its grip.

Matt Haig: thank you.

In fact, to all three writers: thank you. Thank you for writing about what you’ve faced, and doing it in such an accessible and human way. That matters more than you may ever appreciate.

And to everyone else who speaks openly about depression, about mental health, and about just being a human being, I genuinely applaud you. There really are heroes dotted all over this planet.

Thanks, as always, for reading.