Book Review: Notes On A Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

I am generally a one book woman, I don’t like being unfaithful to a book by starting another one before I’ve finished the first.  However, I have a large TBR pile – and a mix of ‘proper’ books and Kindle books, and a mix of fiction and non-fiction.  So in a bid to ‘spice up my life’ I’ve decided to have one fiction (Kindle) and one non fiction (hard copy) on the go at a time.  Honestly – I live life on the edge sometimes!!

One of my lovely friends gave me this book for my birthday earlier in the year.  She LOVES Matt Haig and thought I would enjoy this too.  We have often recommended or given each other books – who doesn’t love getting a surprise book through the post?  (Oh – and if you want to send a book and other goodies, then the fabulous Don’t Buy Her Flowers who I’ve blogged about before way back when they’d just started, do a great book package – which even includes this exact book – this is not an #ad – I just love their work!!)

Anyway – back to the book!

Notes on a Nervous Planet

Here’s the blurb:

“The world is messing with our minds. What if there was something we could do about it?
Looking at sleep, news, social media, addiction, work and play, Matt Haig invites us to feel calmer, happier and to question the habits of the digital age. This book might even change the way you spend your precious time on earth.”

The recommendations for this book are immense – lots of famous people singing its praises – which always makes me nervous.  What if I don’t like it?  And I think I therefore started reading this like a bit of a petulant child. Waiting to be wowed.

Quite early on I realised, this is not earth shattering content.  It is not telling me anything I didn’t already know – but, it really helps to stop and think about things like this sometimes.  Life is so busy sometimes (made busier by social media, blogging about books etc) that you don’t think about what you’re doing – you just continue on the hamster wheel of life.

So about a third in I realised that this book was actually brilliant at making me stop and think.  And it made so much sense.

At times I felt a little bit smug – I don’t take my phone to bed with me (we’ve always left them downstairs to charge, not through deliberately thinking about our mental health – it’s just always been our habit) and I’m also not bothered what people think of what I post on social media – I overshare good or bad (whilst I was suffering with recurrent piles my husband reckoned he couldn’t go to the Co-op in our village without someone asking about my arse) and I don’t filter the f*ck out of photos either.  Do not fear, there are no piles photos – but I did recently share a photo of my extremely wonky bosoms (shoulder protectors when clay pigeon shooting are not designed for women with ample chests!)
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But I do sometimes check back to see how many ‘likes’ – or in this instance LOLs – a photo has got.  And this book made me stop and think.  Why?  I’m a 45 year old, happily married mother of 4 – do I really need the validation of knowing I’ve brightened someone’s day with an amusing photo?  (Although is entertaining other people better than people aspiring to my filtered / air brushed body shape #nevergonnahappen!)

I’m lucky that I’ve never had a full on anxiety / panic attack – but lots of people close to me do struggle with these things – and as a parent  (and  wife / cousin / friend) it’s something I’m having to be much more aware of – so stopping to think about that was really helpful.

Matt Haig also sings the praise of nature – and it’s not something I’d thought about much – despite it being an intrinsic part of our life now.  Last Autumn we moved the office for our construction company from an industrial estate in the suburbs of Birmingham to a 6 acre site in the countryside outside Brum.  At the office we also now have chickens and pigs and a lot of green space.  It really ‘feels’ different – and if you’re having a stressy day – being able to pop outside and chat to the chickens is a welcome break.

chickens and pigs

My husband – whose anxiety often manifests itself in obsessive cleaning, particularly vacuuming, now has an additional outlet – sitting on his tractor mowing the 6 acres is his new escape.   It’s also been good for us as a family – the children are more than happy to come and help with the animals and plants – and it gets them away from their devices too – which, as the book says, are pretty omnipresent for almost everyone nowadays.  We are very lucky that we have this asset on our doorstep, and I realise not everyone can work somewhere so lovely – but there are lots of green spaces in the UK – even in our big cities.  I remember way back in the 90s when studying to be an accountant a friend and I would go and sit in an underpass in the middle of Birmingham where there was a planted garden at lunchtime (although there was some confusion when someone misheard and thought I’d been in this friends underpants not underpass during the lunch break).

Some of the Amazon reviews of this book comment about it being disjointed and a random collection of the authors thoughts – and I can see where they’re coming from – but it didn’t distract from the overall message for me.  But then – I did have it as my toilet book (back to my bowel issues again!) and so read it in small chunks, and maybe I would have felt differently if I’d sat down to read it for a solid few hours. (Small chunks / solid – I’m not going to go there….…..)

I think anything in this day and age that makes you stop and smell the grass / coffee is a good thing.

I enjoyed it so much I posted it to my cousin who I thought would like it too.  Admittedly the card I sent with it probably isn’t on message with the book itself which also looks at alcohol use / misuse – but hey ho, baby steps!!

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Book Review (and confessional): Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

Mad Girl

I had seen ‘Mad Girl’ reviewed a number of times – and knew of Bryony Gordon from her newspaper and magazine writing – so wanted to shoe horn this in to my Reading Challenge!

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“Bryony Gordon has OCD.
It’s the snake in her brain that has told her ever since she was a teenager that her world is about to come crashing down: that her family might die if she doesn’t repeat a phrase 5 times, or that she might have murdered someone and forgotten about it. It’s caused alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependency. And Bryony is sick of it. Keeping silent about her illness has given it a cachet it simply does not deserve, so here she shares her story with trademark wit and dazzling honesty.
A hugely successful columnist for the Telegraph, a bestselling author, and a happily married mother of an adorable daughter, Bryony has managed to laugh and live well while simultaneously grappling with her illness. Now it’s time for her to speak out. Writing with her characteristic warmth and dark humour, Bryony explores her relationship with her OCD and depression as only she can.
Mad Girl is a shocking, funny, unpredictable, heart-wrenching, raw and jaw-droppingly truthful celebration of life with mental illness.”

People often comment about my husband’s OCD – and whilst mostly this is in jest (as he’s a neat freak) I do wonder if it’s quite so innocent, as I know when he’s stressed by external factors (work, family, health) he will bleach toilets and hoover excessively. Bryony’s OCD isn’t neat freak – it’s about imagining she’s done things and forgotten about it, or rituals or phrases she has to repeat to ensure bad things don’t happen.  Now this is something I totally empathise with (although would never have considered it OCD) – doesn’t everyone have to make sure the light switches are facing the right way before they go to bed?  Or check the children at bedtime in ascending or descending age order?  Obviously if the light switches are out of sync or the kids are checked in a random order, something bad will happen over night?  But I’d already been made aware of other people’s experiences with PROPER OCD – counting things being the major one (tiles in a classroom ceiling then turning into number of times they’d swallowed in a day etc)  and knew this could be really debilitating – and Bryony’s OCD definitely falls in to the latter category.

The book charts her experiences and how the OCD has effected life from a child, through teenage years, early 20s and working life.  It is interesting throughout – and really feels like you know what Bryony went through – but it’s done in an amusing and self deprecating way,  It felt like I was in the pub with Bryony having a chat as I read it (although with less booze and illegal drugs than Bryony had when she was in the pub at some points in her life, so at least I could remember it afterwards).

Half way through reading the book,  I was reading my monthly Red Magazine – and came across a letter written by Bryony to ‘lovely Red reader’ – which clearly was written just for me!!  I ended up sobbing reading it on a plane (which slightly freaked out my 5 year old daughter who also commandeered the magazine to read – but preferred the pictures of pretty clothes!)

Red Mag On Plane

Partly it was the spookiness of it (I had weighed myself that morning – and weighed EXACTLY the weight that Bryony had got to when she’d been eating away her pain (although in my case this wasn’t the peak, the peak had been a stone further up a few weeks before)).  I Tweeted Bryony about this and she replied ‘I may be heavy but I am also strong’.  This was JUST what I needed to hear.  I should be proud of my body – it’s borne me 4 beautiful children (admittedly so have Victoria Beckham’s and Heidi Klum’s!) – and heavier people are harder to kidnap and all that?!

Bryony also talked both in the magazine article and in the epilogue of her book about how running has helped her mental health – which was something I was already very familiar with as a friend who is bipolar credits running with keeping himself sane – literally (http://www.runningformylife.uk/).  For me, it’s boxing.  An hour of boxing drills and sparring leaves me energised – and aching – but feeling strong and powerful too.

I think it was clearly meant to be that I read the magazine article whilst reading the book – as motivation to me to stop feeding my issues (literally) and do something about them.  I’m lucky that I don’t have OCD, it hasn’t caused me additional issues, like it did for Bryony – but I need to take care of myself and my own health – not just that of my family, friends, staff etc.

I think the perfect end to this blog post is to quote Bryony directly:

“All I want to do is let you know that if I can do it, anyone can. 
This is how you become more powerful than you could ever imagine,  You become unapologetically you on full beam, turned up to 11, you with the mega wattage,  Like a summer house boarded up for the winter, the sockets turned off, you have always had the power,  Not you just need to go and switch it on.”