Notes on a Nervous Planet is an extraordinary book for a number of reasons. First of all, Matt Haig isn’t trying to fix anybody and, at times, his advice to the reader has little to do with what Haig himself does. For example, he spends much of the book on the negative impact of social media; how it crushes our self-esteem or embroils people in arguments that can last late into the night. He’s certainly correct about this, but he also admits to a propensity towards these very spats, often late at night and if you follow Haig on Twitter, you’ll have experienced this first hand.
But Notes on Nervous Planet isn’t that kind of self-help book if, indeed, it is a self-help book at all. It follows on the enormous success of Reasons to Stay Alive, a book that came to mean a great deal to me a few years ago when I was struggling with my own anxiety. Haig’s latest offering is in the same vein, a candid, first-hand account of what it’s like to struggle with one’s mental health.
Haig’s approach is what, for me, makes this book fascinating. The chapters are short (some incredibly so) and are often in the form of lists that range from what Haig worries about to how we can make the day-to-day a little more manageable. As a fellow sufferer, I found myself nodding in agreement as he listed all the things that caused him worry, content that I wasn’t the only person who would wake in the morning and think about all the things that could go disastrously wrong, on occasion clutching my chest and struggling to breathe as every concern (both big and small) crashes down on me. Most of the time these are conveyed with humour; at other times Haig becomes frighteningly serious, such as when he writes candidly about suicide.
At times Notes on Nervous Planet does feel like you’re reading Haig’s Twitter feed but, for me, this only adds to its attraction. I don’t agree with all the Haig suggests, such as the link between mental illness and Internet use (the relationship is currently a very weak one and it will be some time before researchers have reached any solid conclusions on the matter), but, because this isn’t a book about research per se, Haig is right to express his feelings on the matter and I have no doubt that such concerns are real.
That, said, I’m not a naïve reader, having published books on psychology and education with a focus on anxiety and it’s relationship to learning. This perhaps makes me a little more picky about some of Haig’s points, yet this didn’t in any way detract from the enjoyment of the book.
Notes on Nervous Planet is certainly worth reading and I found it highly enjoyable and thought provoking. Like Reasons to Stay Alive, it represents a very personal journey, yet one that many readers will be able to relate to.