Notes On A Nervous Planet – Matt Haig


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On a short and impromptu holiday in early 2017, I found myself in a non-decrepit ‘budget’ hotel in Seoul. Flanked by a row of convenience stores to its left and a gleaming new plastic & cosmetic surgery centre to its right, the hotel was a constricted cubbyhole of rooms which seemed to bend upon themselves and shrink to such an impossible size that their physical dimensions ended even before they began. A row of sophisticated looking and exorbitantly priced watering holes lined the alleys behind the hotel. However, what came as a shock to me was the fact that this cramped, claustrophobic and constrained hotel also doubled up as the convalescence centre of choice for all those patients who had procedures performed upon their bodies in the neighbouring Cosmetic surgery centre. This delayed and accidental realization led me sharing the lobby, elevator and smoking rooms with a whole horde of modern day mummies. Aquiline figures with their breasts tightly bandaged in rolls of white, curvaceous beauties with entire faces (with the exception of the eyes) swathed in bandages and in some extreme cases, Barbie-like artificial looking beauties being wheeled in on account of their entire visage being enveloped tightly by the same pristine bandages in white. A steep price to pay indeed for altering what was bestowed upon by both genetics and habit.

In his new riveting and introspective bestseller “Notes From A Nervous Planet”, Matt Haig in a freewheeling manner, refreshingly brings to our attention the changing priorities necessitated by a fast moving, technology immersed world and the attendant challenges, physical, mental and spiritual. Mr. Haig should know, having overcome a debilitating bout of depression and anxiety himself – the subject of his previous bestseller, ‘Reasons To Stay Alive’.  In an unstructured but eminently readable manner, Mr. Haig details the perils, pressures and predilections assailing us and provides a few practical solutions to retain our sanity. “I am trying to write about the messiness of the world and the messiness of minds by writing a deliberately messy book,” asserts Mr. Haig conceding the unstructured format of his book. And yes, it is messy. Jumping from one topic to another unrelated one, Mr. Haig goes about like a metaphorical whirlwind upending the conventional and uprooting the conventional.

The array of subjects covered in the book is vast. Ranging from a dangerous addiction to smartphones to a sobering realization that a lack of sleep has now become a steeply niggling issue, Mr. Haig tries to tackle each of these issues by offering unvarnished, raw and candid examples relating to his own experience. For instance, a panic attack which rendered him helpless, cowering and blabbering in the centre of the hustle and bustle of a supermarket, provides an enlightening insight into the insidious workings of a depressed mind. For people who are beyond the remit of such unfortunate episodes – fortunately – such attacks might be shrugged away as more a mental ailment than a more complicated physiological disorder which it actually is. “In writing this book I have tried to look at the human psychological cost of the world by looking at the only psychology I truly know—my own,” I have written about how we as individuals can try to stay sane within a maddening world. The fact that I have had mental illness, though a nightmare in reality, has educated me on the various triggers and torments of the modern world.”

We are inhabiting a world where our bodies and minds are held to ransom by greedy and unsparing marketers. We have become walking billboards and wafting endorsements. From the lure of enhancing beauty to the promise of embellishing fairness, humanity keeps leaping from bleach to botox. An irresistible urge to possess sculpted abs and seraphic looks ensures that we unwittingly play right into the hands of these unscrupulous marketers who employ the “FUD” technique to exacerbate our gullibility.

Standing for fear, uncertainty and doubt, ‘FUD’ is a tried and tested method used in sales and marketing to dissuade customers from buying competing products and solutions by providing information that triggers fear and uncertainty, or sows seeds of doubt, about current customer thinking.

Things that may be suggested include:

  • That competing products are problematic.
  • That competitors have operational problems.
  • That promised competing products will not be delivered as suggested.
  • That competitor companies are financially unstable.

So what is the way out of this confusing spiral of competing products, confusing priorities, contrary choices and chaotic living? Are we doomed to spend the rest of our lives like a mouse on a hamster wheel? Or is there a faint stirring of hope?

Mr. Haig’s solutions range from the simple to the systematic. Suggesting a mix of conscious breathing techniques, meditation, walks in nature, etc. Mr. Haig also proposes activities that are simple and not requiring the expending of rigorous efforts. Reading books is one such prescribed activity. Some of the notable physical and psychological remedies offered by Mr. Haig include:

“Accept yourself. If you can’t be happy as yourself, at least accept yourself as you are right now. You can’t change yourself if you don’t know yourself.”;

Find a good book. And sit down and read it. There will be times in your life when you’ll feel lost and confused. The way back to yourself is through reading. I want you to remember that. The more you read, the more you will know how to find your way through those difficult times;

Enjoy the internet. Don’t use it when you aren’t enjoying it. (Nothing has sounded so easy and been so hard);

As Yoda nearly put it, you can’t try to be. Trying is the opposite of being;

Shop less;

Don’t try to pin yourself down. Don’t try to understand once and for all, who you are. As the philosopher Alan Watts said, ‘trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.’

Overcome by depression and anxiety, Mr. Haig almost hurled himself off a verdant cliff off the coast of Ibiza. It is a miracle that not only did he dissuade himself from such a catastrophe but now he is striving his best to prevent a multitude from resorting to such a tragic endeavor.

Ravages of Time

Train Station

(Photo Credit: C.E. Ayr)

There was something unique about trains. There was something even more unique about watching trains. There was something indescribably unique about watching trains arrive at and depart from stations. Shriek, Screech, Sidings, Fishplates, Rhythm, Pattern, Symmetry. Spitting out weary passengers and swallowing enthusiastic ones. But the passage of time was not only obliterating the prosaic but also layering complexities over the simple.

 

The agonizingly extended groans as the reliable wheels complainingly slowed down their momentum upon the extended tracks, resulting in glittering silvery sparks of friction were now replaced by a smooth frictionless, noiseless gliding in of the locomotive. Even the structure of the train was now a paean to modernism. Elongated nose cones, tainted windows, and an unbelievable speed made it difficult, if not impossible to even keep one’s eye upon the carriages. The train whizzed away in a blur of steel, paint and velocity. Even when in a state of stillness, it never was a tranquil repose. A restless thoroughbred snorting with impatience.

 

Venky understood that this was the inescapable outcome of progress. A progress that was rampant and remorseless but never repetitive. But his love for ‘train-gazing’ never diminished in either fervor or vigour.

 

Trains.

 

(Word Count: 198)

This story was written for Sunday Photo Fiction hosted by Susan Spaulding. For more details visit Here.  To read more of the stories based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.