Review: Thanks to Matt Haig, Two Books that Could Save Your Life

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Fourteen years ago or so, before he was a published and well-loved author of fiction, Matt Haig stood at the edge of a clifftop in an idyllic location on a beautiful sunny day, and almost jumped to his death. But he didn’t and this non-fiction book tells you why, with an honesty and humour I found most touching. Also he tells you how he overcame the worst of his anxiety and depression and decided living was the better option. Nowadays, if he sees the signs of an attack coming on, he knows how to recognise and counter it before it turns into a full-blown attack, and without the help or hindrance of any type of medication. He tried valium right at the beginning and it didn’t work, its failure only adding to his anxiety.

Having worked in psychiatry in the past, I would agree with with Rev. Richard Coles when he suggested in a review that Reasons to Stay Alive should be on prescription. On a personal level, it helped me identify the triggers to some negative thought patterns and anxiety of my own that had began to interfere with my enjoyment and engagement with life.

Whether you suffer from anxiety or depression yourself, or if you live with someone who does do so, I would highly recommend reading this hugely accessible and life-changing book.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Notes on a Nervous Planet is Matt Haigh’s follow-up book to his bestseller Reasons to Stay Alive, both of which I read back-to-back and have found tremendously transformative in my life. Sometimes people stumble across a book or, in my case, two books at exacly the right time. I’d only just finished reading two of his novels, when I heard him being interviewed on a BBC Radio programme one evening to coincide with his release of Notes on a Nervous Planet and I thought, Wow! I can so identify with what he’s saying here and I already love his fiction, so why not try his non-fiction, too?

The book starts out by recapping some of Reasons to Stay Alive, which is all about how and why he didn’t commit suicide and learned survival strategies to beat his depression and anxiety. Then it goes on to explore in depth the impact of various aspects of modern life upon our nerves such as obsessing about The News, over-engagement with smart phones, obsessing with and measuring our worth over how many “likes” we’ve achieved or not achieved on social networks or our blogs etc. He’s never preachy about any of this but only sharing with you things that he has experienced as anxiety triggers. I’m not usually into lists but some of his lists, at the very least, gave me some real ah-hah moments and, at the most, made me laugh out loud.

As with his previous book, I want to give Matt Haigh a big virtual hug and send him a huge thank you for stopping me self-destructing with anxiety and permanently slipping into the slough of despond. I’m no longer spending as long online (sorry fellows, as much as I love you all) and I’m reconnecting with people in real life instead of being an utter recluse for much of the time, plus I’m being more self-disciplined about working on my own creative projects.

Both Reasons to Stay Alive and Notes on a Nervous Planet are highly recommended and accessible reads for sanity’s sake.

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Just a little Post Script to this post, this is my first attempt to publish a post using the new Gutenberg editor on WordPress. It has been a most exhausting experience that has raised my anxiety levels. Some deep breaths required…

Does anyone know how to disable the featured image at the top of the post and stop it duplicating the image that you’ve used as a header to your first paragraph? This is a bug that needs fixing, pronto. I had to delete my paragraph header and leave the featured image be, which means it doesn’t line up with my next paragraph header image. Grrrr…  

Review: Christy Birmingham’s Poetry Collection “Versions of The Self”

 

Versions of the Self

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THE POETRY COLLECTION AS DESCRIBED BY CHRISTY 

Imagine a shift to the way you see the world that arises through poetic narration. Imagine the world, at its base level, is a collection of selves. These selves collide, disperse, intermingle, and share themselves in lines of free verse. Such is the premise of Versions of the Self, poetry that assumes multiple types of selves exist and relate in ways that alter them. Each of the eight chapters looks at a different type of self, including the singular “I” and romantic interactions. These unique 80 poems definitely color themselves outside of the lines.

MY REVIEW

Christy Birmingham has written her poetry collection Versions of The Self from the first-person viewpoint because it’s about her personal journey. At first I found the constant use of the word “I” off-putting, but my initial reaction fast metamorphosed into feeling privileged, as a reader, to share in Christy’s honest account of putting herself back together, having had a relationship with someone who did his best to destroy her.

She tells of her deep love for this man and his gradual undermining of her confidence through mind-games and abuse, before leaving her for another woman. The form of manipulation she describes him inflicting upon her, is an archetypical use of what psychologists call “gaslighting”, in which the perpetrator’s tactics of manipulation ultimately cause the victim to no longer trust her own judgment. In fact, Christy does have a BA in Psychology and it’s possible that her area of study has retrospectively contributed towards her ability to express in words her traumatic experience.

What follows is an account of a woman lying in fragments, who must somehow learn to see herself as a whole person again and think herself worthy of love, or able to trust another to give of her love to him. It makes incredibly emotive reading, as she makes a detailed examination of the fragments, draws them together, starts to trust her own judgment, and rediscovers joy. It’s a redefining of her as a person, as she comes to accept that she cannot undo her experiences or lose the memory of them, but she can learn to move on beyond them and be a valid human being, with so much to give to the world. In fact, what I loved about Christy’s account was that not for a moment did she wallow in self-pity. Often, I wanted to give her a big hug and say “you are so, so brave. Go for it, gal!”

This poetry collection makes such an emotive read and would speak volumes to people who have or still are experiencing what Christy describes. I loved the way the writing flowed along in free verse with such forward momentum, occasionally pausing on its journey for detailed contemplation of a tiny detail. Christy has such a unique way of organising words and a fresh way of describing exactly what she means, but from a lateral slant.

A highly recommended read.

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Connect with Christy at her wonderful blog Poetic Parfait.

And on social media…

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Versions of The Self (kindle & paperback) is available at
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
amazon.ca
Plus other Amazon stores