52 Reasons to Stay Alive

March 14th / 2018

The other day I was scrolling through my favorite photos on my phone, and I rediscovered this quote I took a screen shot of back in December 2015. I loved the ideas and suggestions, but I had know idea who wrote it. A little googling revealed that Matt Haig was the author. Remember when we had to go to the library to research such things?

My dear friend Sohini suggested that to enjoy time: travel. What would you add?

I’d add – to warp time: get sick. As Emily Dickinson wrote, pain expands the time and contracts the time.


Pain—expands the Time—
Ages coil within
The minute Circumference
Of a single Brain—

Pain contracts—the Time—
Occupied with Shot
Gamuts of Eternities
Are as they were not—

Illness distorts time.  We also wrestle with time. When in pain, we wish time pain would pass faster. And when we are in remission we yearn for time to last longer. 

Also the process of getting old is not a linear devolution. We experience aging differently. I had days in my 30s when I felt like I was 90 and days in my 50s when I felt like I was 25.

​​​​​​​When one fantasizes about being cured, we think we will be healthy and young like when we first got sick. For me that was at age 33. I have to remind myself that if I ever am able to get my symptoms into remission, my body is not going to be that 33 year old body I remember. So illness also warps our expectations.

At the beginning of last year, I wrote about the challenge of New Years and birthdays for those of us who live with illness and how it causes a reckoning with time. This is not the life we ordered, is it? (There’s a terrific book by that title as well which I recommend This is Not the Life I Ordered: 50 Ways to Keep Your Head Above Water When Life Keeps Dragging You Down.)

I had to know more about Matt Haig, the author of that quote. So I ordered his book – Reasons to Stay Alive. He felt a deep suicidal depression in his early twenties and wrote about this elegantly. Inspired by the title of his book and by my 52nd birthday tomorrow, I created my own list of 52 reasons to stay alive. And I encourage you to create your own list to refer to in dark times.

  1. The only constant is change.
  2. Feelings are fleeting.
  3. Life will not always feel this bad.
  4. It gets better.
  5. Dance especially ballet and especially choreography of Sir Fredrick Ashton.
  6. Yoga as moving meditation.
  7. Deep belly laughs.
  8. The taste of fresh baked bread with butter.
  9. The aroma of my mother’s pasta sauce.
  10. Great Courses Plus. Check out the streaming service here.
  11. Cherry Blossoms in DC.  National Park Service Bloom watch here.
  12. Great Falls in Maryland.  More here.
  13. Miserere Mei, Deus by Gregorio Allegri based on the 51st Psalm.
  14. Sergie Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet Opus 64 Balcony Scene.
  15. Concerto in C minor, 2nd movement by Benedetto Marcello.
  16. I Vow to Thee My Country by Gustav Holst.
  17. Jerusalem composed by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry and lyrics by William Blake.
  18. Bailando Por El Mundo featuring Juan Magan, El Cata and Pitbull.
  19. Caetano Veloso especially for Que Não Se Vê.
  20. Cesaria Evora especially Carnaval De Sao Vicente and Sodade.
  21. Urban Blight’s Get Closer.
  22. Gerry Mulligan’s Prelude in E minor.
  23. Eva Cassidy’s Fields of Gold.
  24. Antonio Canova’s Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss at the Louvre Museum.
  25. Titian’s Danaë (1544–1545) from the Capodimonte Museum, Naples
  26. Canaletto’s paintings of Venice (here is a clip of Canaletto & the Art of Venice).
  27. J.M.W. Turner’s paintings of English countryside. (Here is the British National Gallery on Turner).
  28. Artemisia Gentileschi’s work especially Judith Slaying Holofernes, David and Bathsheba and Cleopatra
  29. Auguste Rodin’s Eternal Springtime
  30. Jane Austen novels.
  31. M.M. Kaye’s The Shadow of the Moon.
  32. Jeannette Winterson’s The Passion.
  33. Lawrence Durrell’s Justine.
  34. Plays by Sarah Ruhl especially The Clean House and Eurydice.
  35. Plays by Mary Zimmerman especially Metamorphoses.
  36. Plays by Yasmina Reza (New York Times profile here).
  37. The poetry of Rupi Kaur and Warsan Shire.
  38. Rumi, Rilke and Hafez.
  39. T.S. Elliot’s Four Quartets, especially East Coker and Little Giddling.
  40. For poetry like this Love’s Philosophy – And the sunlight clasps the earth / And the moonbeams kiss the sea / What are all these kissings worth / If thou kiss not me? – Percy Bysshe Shelley
  41. Echo by Christina Rossetti.
  42. The Philosopher by Edna St. Vincent Millay.
  43. Birches by Robert Frost.
  44. Neruda especially I ask for silence.
  45. Octavio Paz, especially Sunstone.
  46. To see the ending of Game of Thrones.
  47. To see Robin Wright kick butt in House of Cards.
  48. To see Hamilton on Broadway or at the Kennedy Center.
  49. To witness Trump’s conviction and incarceration.
  50. My coven of amazing friends – my longest friend whom I’ve known since I was 9, my treasured college friends, and the amazing new friends – all such amazing blessings my life. I’m grateful.
  51. Still hoping to make love at least once with one man in particular whom I’ve known since I was 19.
  52. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. May not be as temporary as we would like, but we all know that eventually the despair does pass. 

I encourage you to create your own list of reasons to stay alive so that you can look at it during dark times of despair and remind yourself that life can still be sweet and astonishing and surprising. So long as you are breathing.

I leave you with a prayer for courage ::

I will rise, I will go back
To the white and silver shore.
I will have courage,
as the sun does rising and setting
Soul-life streaming down the strand.
I will go as the sea in it’s turning,
I will rise, I will go back,
I will rise. 1

 1Matthews, Caitlin. Celtic Devotional Daily Prayers & Blessings. (Harmony Books: New York) 1996, p. 127.

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Reflection Points ::
How do you experience time?
What reasons do you have to stay alive? How do you experience aging amid illness?
Share in the comments

Material provided by Wellspring Stones LLC should not be construed as medical advice, prevention, diagnosis, cure or treatment for any condition. The information we provide is for general educational purposes only. If you are not well, if you may have a medical condition, or if you want to use a new treatment or take any medications or supplements, please first seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider. See our Terms for more.

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"I will have courage,
as the sun does rising and setting,
Soul-life streaming down the strand.
I will go as the sea in it's turning,
I will rise, I will go back,
I will rise."

- Caitlin Matthews