Anyone who has been following this blog for a while is aware from some of my previous posts that I have a fair few mental health problems: Anxiety, Depression, PTSD and then of course my other life-long commitments: ADHD and Hypothyroidism. My daily life is a constant little game of ‘which one is in control today’. And like a lot of people who have experienced depression, over the last almost 20 years I have had dark thoughts. I used to think of ways of harming myself and although I never wanted to kill myself, my thing was always wishing I could wake up as another person or another version of me.
Now: how it took me so long to get my hands on and read The Midnight Library I don’t know but I am kicking myself for not grabbing it sooner. And below I am going to give some examples and a brief review as to how and why reading this fictional masterpiece completely changed things for me mentally.
If you haven’t read the book don’t worry I’m not going to post loads of spoilers about it and ruin the entire story for you, I’m not that mean. But there’s a couple of things that stood out for me in this book that I wanted to share with you all and also, I think everyone should read this book!
Matt Haig has a big social media following and regularly posts a lot of things about mental health and anxiety and has even written books about it (I highly recommend his book Reasons To Stay Alive by the way). I knew when I kept seeing all these tweets about The Midnight Library and how it moved people to tears that I needed to get my hands on this book.
This is the first book in quite a while that I physically could not put down. I opened the book yesterday – I finished it yesterday. But why was that? What made this such a big deal to finish in one sitting?
Personally, I knew that this story would potentially be something I enjoyed or related to but I did not expect to connect with it half as much as I did.
From the moment I read the first few pages, I immediately connected with Nora. In as many ways as possible. She was 35 (the age I’ll be turning in a few months) who basically seems to be having bad luck all the time it seems, no husband, no children etc (same as me), she’s on sertraline (just like me – there’s a poem about it in one of my earlier posts) and she’s getting to the point where the sertraline doesn’t seem to be working anymore and she wants her life to end.
The concept of The Midnight Library is that there is a place in between life and death where there are infinite possibilities of various lives she can go into where certain regrets that she has never happened and she can see how different her life could have turned out.
This whole concept was something that literally put a twinge in my stomach (a good twinge mind you), as parallel universes and alternate realities is something that goes on in my head a lot. Particularly when my anxiety and depression is really bad or my PTSD – I always think to myself, ‘I wonder if this didn’t happen or I didn’t do this, how differently would my life be.’.
With my life, I have always sat there and thought to myself that if there are these parallel universes and lives and I am just one of me, that I am definitely the worst version. No one wants to be a thirty-five year old woman who lives in a box room at her parents house, trying to pay off debts (and stop herself compulsively buying stuff she doesn’t need for the sake of her own insecurities about how she looks), never having a successful loving relationship with a man, various mental health issues & PTSD that effects her love life. So I sit there, very often, and think to myself: I wonder how lovely the other Zoë’s life is. I wish I could be her instead of me.
There’s a particular statement about Nora in the book that I thought could have very well been something I wrote about myself in my journal: “Nora had always had a problem accepting herself. From as far back as she could remember, she’d had the sense that she wasn’t enough.”
I genuinely cannot describe to you the overwhelming feelings that I felt from just reading these two sentences. This was me. Through and through. I can’t actually remember a time when I felt like I was good enough. I don’t know how or why this ever happened, maybe silly little school bullying chants that stick with you, rejection over and over again in love and friendships, or maybe just not being ‘wired right’?
All I know, is as far as I remember, I have never been fully accepting of who I am. Never loved myself enough. I always did multiple things to impress others or change who I was as a person to impress someone else – it was a constant voice in my head always saying to me ‘you suck’ ‘everyone hates you’ ‘you’ll never have a happy ending’ ‘you’re going to die alone’ etc. You get the idea. I won’t bore you with every single thought, but they’re not very nice.
Anyway, back to the story: the story goes through different lives and the regrets that Nora has and how changing one little thing can make a big difference. For me, I think this is something I take for granted, and many other people probably do too. We never actually think about the fact that just one small decision can actually change an entire course of our lives, but not just our lives… other people’s too.
At first I was a little cynical about this (as I already am about everything), but then I put the book down for a second and thought about this thoroughly. I realised there were a lot of decisions that didn’t seem big but wow they would have made a massive difference to my life, for example: (& please note these are assumptions not facts- some things could’ve still turned out the same, I’ll never know)
If I didn’t make that choice at 18 to go home with a guy I barely knew I would probably not have PTSD and relationship issues
If I hadn’t decided to quit college I could have had a completely different career and colleagues
If I hadn’t moved out and rented for years, how would my life had played out?
These decisions, for me at the time of making them I never even considered them being anything drastic. They were literally as far as I was concerned, random impulse decisions. (Impulsiveness is sadly something very common with ADHD and it’s unlikely I’ll ever grow out of that) but these random impulse decisions led me to a totally different life.
I probably wouldn’t have even known half the friends I have now if I had just stuck with college and got a different career altogether. I might not even live in Watford. It’s the constant what-if process isn’t it? We don’t realise how these little decisions that we make shape the course of our lives.
I am a very strong believer in fate. Even though sometimes I get sulky and depressed and question why fate is giving me such bad luck in life, I still believe everything happens for a reason. But I loved having a little fantasy about what-ifs and how different things could be if I stayed with an ex, if I had quit my job years ago etc.
The point is, and the point I got from reading this (not sure if it was Matt’s intention but we can all interpret things in different ways) is that it’s not about wishing your life could be different or thinking you could do better if you could turn back the clock.
We all make mistakes and most of all every single one of us has regrets. Big or small, we have endless amounts of regrets – probably more regrets then we realise, but we can’t let the regrets forever control our thought process. Use regrets as a learning curve and forgive yourself for them.
I am quite a hypocrite at times and I always give people advice that I don’t take. Particularly with life choices or how we feel about ourselves, but I’m glad that as an aspiring writer I grabbed a whole bunch of different genre books to research and decided to add this one to my basket.
If you are ever feeling low or at a point of no return with your life and think that you could do better if you were someone else, don’t. You are unique as you are and everything you do will lead you to something positive, even when it doesn’t feel that way. Learn to love and learn from everything that happens to you. And live as much as you can.
Most importantly of all, Matt Haig taught me not to wish to be out of my own life, and embrace my life for what it is. It might not be my idea of a perfect life right now, but I am still here, I’m still alive and although my disorders will probably always be a part of me, they make me who I am and that’s not always a bad thing.
This book showed me the beauty of really putting things into perspective and embracing life as we know it. After all, we might not ever come across our parallel lives – so this is all we have got. Let’s live it.