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The Comfort Book(2)
Author: Matt Haig




   Hope is a beautiful thing to find in art or stories or music. It is often a surprise moment, like in The Shawshank Redemption when the poster of Raquel Welch is pulled off the wall in Andy’s prison cell. Or in The Sound of Music when Captain von Trapp switches from repressed widower to singing father in the space of a single scene.

   It is often subtle, but you know it when you feel it. Like when “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” effortlessly goes up a whole octave within the word “somewhere,” jumping clean over seven natural keys—an actual musical rainbow—before landing on the eighth. Hope always involves a soaring and a reaching. Hope flies. The thing with feathers, as Emily Dickinson said.

   People often imagine it is hard to feel hopeful when times are tough, yet I tend to think the opposite. Or at least, hope is the thing we most want to cling on to in periods of despair or worry. I think that it’s no coincidence that “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” one of the most bittersweet yet hopeful songs in the world, a song that has topped polls as the greatest song of the twentieth century, was written by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg for The Wizard of Oz in one of the bleakest years in human history: 1939. Harold wrote the music, while Yip penned the words. Harold and Yip themselves were no strangers to suffering. Yip had seen the horrors of the First World War and was left bankrupt following the crash of 1929. As for Harold, who would become known for his hopeful octave-leaping, he was born with a twin brother who sadly died in infancy. Aged sixteen, Harold fled his Jewish Orthodox parents and pursued a modern musical path. And let’s not forget these were two Jewish musicians writing arguably the most hopeful song ever written, all while Adolf Hitler was triggering war and antisemitism was on the rise.


* * *


   • • •

   To feel hope you don’t need to be in a great situation. You just need to understand that things will change. Hope is available to all. You don’t need to deny the reality of the present in order to have hope, you just need to know the future is uncertain, and that life contains light as well as dark. We can have our feet right here where we are, while our minds can hear another octave, right over the rainbow. We can be half inside the present, half inside the future. Half in Kansas, half in Oz.



Songs that comfort me—a playlist

   (These aren’t all comforting lyrically, or comforting in a logical way, but they all comfort me through the direct or indirect magic only music can muster. You will have different ones. But I thought I’d share some of mine.)

        “O-o-h Child”—The Five Stairsteps

    “Here Comes the Sun”—The Beatles

    “Dear Theodosia”—Hamilton soundtrack

    “Don’t Worry Baby”—The Beach Boys

    “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”—Judy Garland

    “A Change Is Gonna Come”—Sam Cooke

    “The People”—Common ft. Dwele

    “The Boys of Summer”—Don Henley

    “California”—Joni Mitchell

    “Secret Garden”—Bruce Springsteen

    “You Make It Easy”—Air

    “These Dreams”—Heart

    “True Faith”—New Order

    “If You Leave”—OMD

    “Ivy”—Frank Ocean

    “Swim Good”—Frank Ocean

    “Steppin’ Out”—Joe Jackson

    “Pas de deux” from The Nutcracker—Tchaikovsky (not a song, obviously, but an epic bittersweet comfort)

    “If I Could Change Your Mind”—HAIM

    “Space Cowboy”—Kacey Musgraves

    “Hounds of Love”—either the Kate Bush or Futureheads version

    “Enjoy the Silence”—Depeche Mode

    “I Won’t Let You Down”—Ph.D.

    “Just Like Heaven”—The Cure

    “Promised Land”—Joe Smooth




   In order to get over a problem it helps to look at it. You can’t climb a mountain that you pretend isn’t there.




   When you feel low, it is important to bear in mind that thoughts inspired by those feelings are not external, objective facts. For instance, when I was twenty-four I was convinced I would never see my twenty-fifth birthday. I knew for certain that I wouldn’t be able to survive for weeks or months with the mental pain I was suddenly encountering. And yet here I am, aged forty-five, writing this paragraph. Depression lies. And while the feelings themselves were real, the things they led me to believe were resolutely not.

   Because I didn’t really understand how I fell into suicidal depression, I imagined I would never find my way out. I didn’t realize that there is something bigger than depression, and that thing is time. Time disproves the lies depression tells. Time showed me that the things depression imagined for me were fallacies, not prophecies.

   That doesn’t mean time dissolves all mental health issues. But it does mean our attitudes and approaches to our own mind change and often improve via sticking around long enough to gain the perspective despair and fear refuse to give.

   People talk of peaks and troughs in relation to mental health. Hills and valleys. And such topographical metaphors make sense. You can definitely feel the steep descents and uphill struggles in life. But it is important to remember the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view. And that sometimes all you need to do in order to rise up again is to keep moving forward.




   We are always bigger than the pain we feel. Always. The pain is not total. When you say “I am in pain,” there is the pain and there is the I but the I is always bigger than the pain. Because the I is there even without the pain, while the pain is only there as a product of that I. And that I will survive and go on to feel other things.

   I used to struggle with understanding this. I used to think I was the pain. I didn’t always think of depression as an experience. I thought of it as something I was. Even as I walked away from a cliff-edge in Spain. Even as I flew back to my parents’ house and told my loved ones I was going to be okay. I called myself a depressive. I rarely said “I have depression” or “I am currently experiencing depression” because I imagined the depression was the sum of who I was. I was mistaking the film on the screen with the cinema itself. I thought there would only ever be one film playing for all eternity, on rotation. A Nightmare on Haig Street. (Sorry.) I didn’t realize there would one day be showings of The Sound of Music and It’s a Wonderful Life.

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