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  • Writer's picturePhoebe Barker

Book review: Notes on a nervous planet by Matt Haig

According to the mental health charity Mind, approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. With a staggering figure like that, it is no wonder self-help books and mental health based literature have become widely read and taken over bestseller book charts.

Notes on a nervous planet by Matt Haig offers a frank and moving approach to living life when you feel bad. As a memoir-turned-advice guide focused on mental health, it addresses suffering, insecurities and personal turmoil. The book is designed to help teach readers about their own weaknesses and how to forge a path to wellness.

“We need to carve out a place in time for ourselves, whether it is via books or meditation or appreciating the view out of a window. A place where we are not craving, or yearning, or working, or worrying, or overthinking.” (Fiction is freedom, 260)

Matt Haig openly writes about his battle with depression and anxiety, which at his lowest point almost resulted in suicide. He recalls the depth of his despair and gives readers an insight into his journey; in the past he suffered with anxiety so crippling he could barely leave his house. Now, he regularly gives talks to hundreds of people at a time. He still suffers with both anxiety and depression, but he has strategies in place to help. His book is as inspiring as it is educational.

“I was scared… Everything was difficult. Even choosing what to wear in the morning could make me cry. It didn’t matter that I had felt like this before. A sore throat doesn’t become less sore simply because you’ve felt it before.” (A life edit, 4)

Notes on a nervous planet is the perfect prescription for a troubled mind; Haig’s writing is candid and trustworthy. The book is personal and honest, and there is no judgement. It can be picked up and put down as and when you like. The short chapters are engaging, and great for people who wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves readers.

The book is considerably cheaper than hiring a therapist and you can get the same experience but from the comfort of your own bed. If there is a particular chapter which resonates, or makes you feel better, you can read it over and over again. Where some may find talking about their mental health awkward or embarrassing, books like Haig’s are direct and unabashed, helping to push for the change needed to get people talking about mental health.

“You shouldn’t need to confess to having, say, anxiety. You should just be able to tell people. It’s an illness. Like asthma or measles or meningitis. It’s not a guilty secret.” (A side note on stigma, 204).

Notes on a nervous planet looks at the addictive quality of social media. When you wake up in the morning is your first instinct to reach for your phone? You wouldn’t be the only one. The book’s modern approach looks specifically at the 21st century; about how damaging social media can be. If we’re constantly connected, how do we take the time for ourselves and switch off? With the ability to see the lives of hundreds or thousands of people, how can comparison be avoided?

Access to the internet is an information overload of gigantic proportions, and in a world where oversharing, over-access and non-stop comparisons are the norm, there is no clear way to just do you. This book lays the foundations to living in the present and for yourself.

“I sometimes feel like my head is a computer with too many windows open. Too much clutter on the desktop. There is a metaphorical spinning rainbow wheel inside me. Disabling me… We might have to, sometimes, be brave enough to switch the screens off in order to switch ourselves back on. To disconnect in order to reconnect.” (Crash, 22)

Notes on a nervous planet is marketed as a book for anyone who has ever struggled with their mental health, but I believe the book extends much further than that. It teaches us about ourselves, about the people we love, and about how to live a good life in a tricky 21st century. It’s about acceptance, the fragility of life and the human condition, and crucially reminds us that our capability for endurance is infinite. A bad day, or week or year, does not mean a bad life. This is something everyone needs a little reminding of sometimes.

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