The Longest Day is the warm, courageous story of a man unlearning everything he thought he knew, facing up to the reality of his mental ill-health, and finding ways through the most difficult times.
Matt Calman ditched his heavy alcohol use, which had been a major coping tool but which was beginning to turn on him. He plunged straight into anxiety and depression, to the extent that he experienced suicidal thoughts. With the support of his whānau, he slowly and painfully found other ways of coping. These included therapy, medication, exploring his Māori identity, and the online peer community at www.livingsober.org.nz.
The major focus of the book was Matt training and preparing for the Coast to Coast, a huge challenge of 243km, running, cycling and kayaking. In his first attempt he did not make it and the book discusses his gratitude and grief about that experience. In his second attempt, after the book was published, he triumphed, and was also able to support a fellow competitor to complete the event.
In reading this book, there is a clear sense of Matt’s voice and lovely sense of humour. He reminisces about being told by a kayaking coach “you are going to suck badly at this at first” and how he used those words as motivation to carry on when the going got tough.
There is also the strong sense of family and of real community and the strength and healing that brings – the value of whānau and whanaungatanga.
One thing Matt does not suck at is writing, and this book represents a valuable contribution to the national conversation about men’s mental health, positive masculinity, and our national addiction to alcohol. I look forward to the next offering.
Reviewed by Rebecca Williams, Suicide Prevention Project Manager, Auckland District Health Board