How to Stop Time by Matt Haig [Book Review]

“That’s the thing with time, isn’t it? It’s not all the same. Some days – some years – some decades – are empty. There is nothing to them. It’s just flat water. And then you come across a year, or even a day, or an afternoon. And it is everything. It is the whole thing.” 

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If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of the writer Matt Haig. I’ve written reviews on The Humans, Reasons to Stay Alive and Notes on a Nervous Planet, so here I am to naturally write a review on another of his books: How to Stop Time.

I went into this book with extremely high expectations. I’ve connected so much with Haig’s other books and they’ve been so impactful in my life that it was hard to go into this book with a clear frame of judgement. I loved the concept of the book from the beginning. I’m a huge fan of dystopian so it was immediately up my street. However, the novel initially seemed rather confusing and jumbled. I found myself concentrating a bit too much on what was going on and wondering how it all fit together (since the chapters were split into different time frames). Of course, I was disappointed, since I loved all his other books straight away and I wished this one would be the same.

Nevertheless, I stuck with it. Perhaps if I hadn’t loved his other books so much, I might have stopped reading it. But I’m glad I didn’t. About halfway through, I feel like the book picked up its pace. I was becoming more attached to the characters (better late than never) and if anything I was just intrigued to see how it would end.

Honestly, I’m still conflicted about my thoughts on the book. It’s not the best book I’ve read, but I still can’t help but love Haig’s writing because it’s just so quotable. I find myself wanting to underline phrases and use them as quotes in my life because he has a way of understanding how humans work and think and knowing how to reach your heart. And that’s why I can never really hate his work because it feels like he knows the reader too much.

Although I felt like the book could have been structured better to capture the reader’s attention at the start, I absolutely loved the ending (don’t worry, no spoilers) and I think it was perfect for the book. There’s so many things to take away from How to Stop Time, regardless of the few criticisms, and I think if you’re the kind of person who picks up and appreciates the smallest details, then this book may be for you.

Below, is one of my favourite paragraphs from the book. I think it poses some really interesting questions about humanity and the way that we live.

“And, just as it only takes a moment to die, it only takes a moment to live. You just close your eyes and let every futile fear slip away. And then, in this new state, free from fear, you ask yourself: who am I? If I could live without doubt what would I do? If I could be kind without the fear of being fucked over? If I could love without fear of being hurt? If I could taste the sweetness of today without thinking of how I will miss that taste tomorrow? If I could not fear the passing of time and the people it will steal? Yes. What would I do? Who would I care for? What battle would I fight? Which paths would I step down? What joys would I allow myself? What internal mysteries would I solve? How, in short, would I live?”

And I also thought this quote was powerful too, and very relevant to my life at the moment:

“What starts as a doubt in a mind can swiftly become an act in the world.”

All successes start with doubt and it is a natural part of the process. This quote reminds me that it’s human for me to doubt my blog, or who I am, or the way that I portray myself to the world. I shouldn’t let it stop me from being who I am and who I want to become.

Have you read any books by Matt Haig? What were your thoughts?

Instagram: @mymindspeaksaloud

Twitter: @mindspeaksaloud

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Garden Bath. [Flash Fiction]

He has a bath in his house. I guess most houses have baths but his bath was the focal point. or at least to me it was. I’d slip into the bathroom to use the toilet and I’d admire the fancy shower curtain – an array of rainbow zig zags darting off at all angles like they might hit me like lightning. I admired it all the time until I realised it wanted to be admired. It wanted to be admired because if it was admired no one would know what it hid.

One day I walked into the bathroom and I pulled back that curtain and I saw the bath. Except the bath was full of soil and there were carefully placed flowers all along it. The shower curtain was hiding a garden. A really beautiful garden. Why would you want to hide such a beautiful garden?

I wondered this for a while. I wondered this every time I showed up to that bathroom and saw the flowers just as pretty as they were the week before. It was too pretty. It had to be too pretty.

One day I decided to dig. I don’t know what came over me but I dug. My hands flung soil all over the bathroom floor and as I dug and dug and dug I damaged and damaged and damaged and I didn’t realise that to get inside a bath you destroyed the bath with it. Especially when it wasn’t ready to be opened.

So I sat on the bathroom floor with the dirt all around me, piles and piles and piles of it until I was just as stuck as the bath had ever been. And I peeked over the edge of it and I saw the bottom of it – I finally saw the bottom of it – and it was empty. It was so goddamn empty I wanted to cry. Except, as I peered closer, a small scar lined the edge of it. Faint but alive.

When he found me he realised what I had done. He realised that I had wheedled my way into the bath of his brain. He could not cope with it all. He could not regrow the flowers for us and I should have known that flowers torn apart could never be mended.

I never visited his bathroom again. He put the shower curtain back up like nothing ever happened.

Trip to a 300 Year Old Teashop!

I always find that once I’ve been to a town/city a lot of times, I get bored of going to the same, old places. I search google endlessly to find something unique and different and sometimes I don’t find anything at all. However, when I was searching things to do in London, I found a site mentioning a 300 year old teashop (Twinings)! As a big fan of tea, this was an ideal outing for me, so I set off to Strand.

The teashop was actually quite small but really sweet. It was long and thin like a corridor with selections of tea all along the walls. There were samples to smell, and then samples to taste at the back of the shop. I was so pleased because I’d been searching for rose tea ever since I had a cup of it at an afternoon tea a while ago, and the teashop had China Rose teabags. Although Twinings sell a lot of tea in general supermarkets, there were a lot of selections that I hadn’t seen before. I smelt a lemon drizzle cake tea sample (which smelt exactly like the real thing) and they had my favourite Twinings sleep tea there!

Aside from the China Rose tea, I also decided to invest in a Tea Egg Tong so that I can have tea leaves. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but I wanted to get a proper one rather than spend my money on something that doesn’t work. I also bought some Apple & Elderflower Flavour Green Tea Leaves which I’m really excited to try! (update: it’s amazing, 100% recommend).

Overall, I really enjoyed the little trip and I’m sure I’ll go back in future to buy some more tea!

 

Are you a fan of tea too? What’s your favourite?

Twitter: @mindspeaksaloud

Instagram: @mymindspeaksaloud

 

Post Viral Fatigue (my story over the past 5 months)

Today, I’m going to share something a bit more personal. It’s something that I’ve been struggling with for a while now and I want to just ramble a bit about what I’m going through in the hopes that it’ll help myself, but maybe also other people in similar situations. I find it hard to explain it all in person because it’s been super complicated, so hopefully typing it out will be easier and give myself a sense of perspective.

(Apologies this post turned out to be really long!)

Back in February was when I first started to feel unwell. I had a sudden onset of brain fog where I couldn’t concentrate or focus on anything properly, I didn’t really feel like I was in the present and living, and consequently I was exhausted. Around this time, I was extremely stressed out. There was a lot going on and it was a period of anxiety for me for sure. Perhaps this caused me to become ill, but I still can’t be certain.

Despite the brain fog and tiredness, I continued on with my life. Because that’s what you do when things go wrong, right? You just push through and hope for the best. But in this scenario, this really wasn’t the best thing to do. Weeks later, I became so fatigued I just didn’t know how to cope. I’d look in the mirror and I didn’t even look like myself. I was just so pale and exhausted and I was often crying out of frustration. I was at university at the time so it was super difficult trying to keep up with work and socialising when I was so ill. I could barely get up to do anything. There were many occasions where I pushed myself to get out the house to go to lectures or career talks, but I could barely make it up the street without feeling out of breath, like my legs were super weak and my throat feeling super uncomfortable (because my glands were so swollen). I remember sitting in a lecture room with my eyes barely even open and feeling like an absolute ghost of myself. I would go home and immediately jump into bed and sleep. But the worse part was that, even though I was so exhausted (exhausted beyond what I’d ever even experienced or imagined to be possible), I couldn’t actually fall asleep (I often struggle with sleep problems). And even when I did, I woke up feeling exactly the same as before: tired. Except the word “tired” now means something completely different to me. Before “tired” meant feeling low in energy and finding it difficult to do things. Now, “tired” means my body feeling absolutely drained, my whole chest heaving for breath, a heaviness to the way I feel and move, so much so that the extent of the tiredness sometimes makes me feel numb. It makes me wonder why I ever complained of tiredness before.

Honestly, the beginning of this illness was the most frustrating period of my life because I had no idea what was wrong with me. At one point I thought it might be related to my mental health since I have struggled with anxiety and mild depression in the past, but it seemed that whatever illness I was struggling with was causing symptoms of anxiety and depression, not the other way around. I would tell people I’m ill and they’d say “oh you don’t look ill” and I felt so helpless, because on the outside I looked healthy, but on the inside I felt like something was gnawing away at my insides, swallowing up all my energy. How could I make someone else understand when I didn’t even understand myself?

And the problem was that I went to the doctor multiple times and it got me absolutely nowhere. First time, they gave me antibiotics, thinking it was some flu-related illness due to swollen glands and a fever. I took the antibiotics, twice a day for a week, and if anything it made me feel worse. I felt so nauseous I had to force myself to eat and I spent a week in bed doing nothing, which is so hard for me because I’m such a productive person. So I went back to the doctors again. They thought I might have glandular fever so they gave me a blood test. I waited a week for the results to then ring up and find out that they didn’t have any results and I’d have to redo the blood tests. I was absolutely exhausted and did not have the energy to leave the house, but I had to force myself to the hospital to get them done. I think I might have ended up at the hospital twice because the results were inconclusive again, but either way, the blood tests came back completely clear and I didn’t have glandular fever at all.

At this moment in time, I was so conflicted about the results. Part of me obviously didn’t want glandular fever, but another part of me hoped the blood test would show something wrong because I was fed up of not having an answer. I had to keep telling my lecturers that I was ill and couldn’t turn up to class, and had to miss out on all the university societies I was a part of, but I didn’t know how to explain it when I didn’t have any proof. I felt like I was lying even though I knew it was the realest thing I’d ever faced.

Skip a month or two and I was back home for Easter break. I decided to go to the doctor in my hometown to get a second opinion. I was told to have another blood test so I did, and it all came back clear. I went to see a kinesiologist and she told me it was likely stress-related (which I’m unsure about since it’s summer now and I’m not stressed) and gave me some remedy drops. I took these four times a day for three weeks and I think for this period of time I did almost feel like my normal self. I somehow managed to complete my uni assignments and finished the year (hooray!) However, when I stopped taking the drops and started reading again, the illness came flooding back again. Every time I concentrated on something, whether that was reading or playing a game or even holding a conversation, brain fog and exhaustion hit. It felt like the slightest hope that I was going to recover was just pulled right out of my hand.

Fast forward to a month or so ago, I went to the doctors again. I took in a notebook and listed all my symptoms and everything that had happened only for the doctor to look at her watch halfway through and say “I don’t have much time.” You can imagine how distraught I felt to have gone through 5 months of illness to have a doctor totally disregard my attempt at an explanation. But she did give me one small piece of information that I’m holding on to for lack of any better explanation and that is: I might have post viral fatigue. I had never heard of this term before and honestly I don’t even remember having a virus back in February, but I guess these things can hit you without you even realising. The doctor gave me a sheet of paper for an online sleeping course to help my insomnia, and then told me she’d “send me information” about a consultant referral. She couldn’t refer me to a fatigue consultant herself since I was registered permanently at my university doctor (and only temporarily in my hometown).

As you would expect, I waited for the doctor to send the details, but no details were sent. I rang up to query it a week or so later and the receptionist told me “a temporary account only lasts 14 days so your account is inactive”. She then told me that I had to come back to the doctors to fill out a form before I could be given information. Why didn’t the doctor tell me this at the appointment? And how did I make an appointment a week ago if my account was inactive? It was absolutely ridiculous and by this point I had had enough.

So here I am now, with another doctor’s appointment booked at my university doctors for when I make a trip up there in a week’s time. I am determined to get a referral for a consultant appointment so I can finally get some support!

I suspect that with post viral fatigue it’s a case of resting and waiting for it to just disappear, but honestly I’m worried about when I have to start uni again in September. Although my fatigue is not as bad as it was in February, brain fog still affects me and my energy levels are still lower than usual. Every time I feel particularly exhausted my throat feels inflamed due to my gland (which seems to be permanently swollen) and I feel nauseous. A lot of the time my head is so cloudy I don’t feel like I’m really with it and it’s difficult to process things. I’ve noticed that sometimes I forget a word for something, or I type out a word that’s different than the word in my head, and it worries me. All I need is some reassurance and support from someone – a doctor, consultant – who understands what’s going on in my body so that I can make changes for recovery. It’s just been so difficult to even get to this point.

Honestly it’s been such a whirlwind of a year, but I’ve made it this far and I feel like, despite all this, I’m staying positive. If you’ve made it this far on this post, I’m impressed. Five and a half months of my illness shared in one post is a LOT to take in, but it feels good to share it out in the open.

If anyone has any advice for me, please leave a comment below (at this point, I will consider literally anything!) and I wish you all the best health ❤️

oh take me. [poem]

I wrote this poem a while ago, about being trapped in the present and yearning for freedom. It is written from a point of passivity where the narrator hopes something other than herself will give her freedom. But the only person who can free you from your struggles is yourself. And if you want freedom enough, you will create it.

take me take me oh take me

the wind teases at my hair.

I let my feet hop off the pavement

and fly fly

oh please fly

I wish the sky would take me.

the view above like a map

pick me up, me up

a pin on a board

I don’t want to be here

move me elsewhere.

it is easy to change

where I am where I am

oh take me…

I am hammered too far

into this earth.

 

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney [Book Review]

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like Conversations with Friends before. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it definitely scores 10/10 for uniqueness.

My views on this book fluctuated quite a bit. I initially bought it because I’d seen it around a lot, and the idea of following the life of a spoken word poet seemed interesting (although we don’t see or hear much of her spoken word within the book). Then, when I opened the book, I realised the writing style was very matter of fact. Honestly, I prefer writing that is descriptive and has depth. Rooney’s writing is as far away from this as possible. But whilst my brain was not a fan of the writing style, the book still seemed to tug at me.

The definite success of this book is the characters. They are strong and real and I feel like they are alive and living. Without this, the book would ultimately have fallen short. But I think that bold characters is the point of this novel. It is meant to be centred around characters because it is a reflection of people in our own lives and how we interweave and bounce off one another. In a way, the writing had to be simple to allow space for the characters to just be.

Personally, I couldn’t fully relate to any of the characters as people, but I think that’s why I enjoyed it. I recognised some of their life situations and thought processes, but it was interesting to see them within a mind and body so different to mine. It felt like getting to know a person that we all know in life but don’t really understand.

I feel like I’ve come away from this novel with a new outlook and the characters will definitely stay with me for a while, but I somehow can’t quite come to the conclusion that I’m a huge fan. If anything, I’m an intrigued fan, which isn’t bad at all. The idea of reading Rooney’s next novel Normal People is wallowing in my brain at the moment. Maybe I’ll read it, maybe I won’t. Either way, I’m glad I read Conversations with Friends and I really do admire the characterisation within it – something I will take away and apply to my own writing.

Twitter: @mindspeaksaloud

Instagram: @mymindspeaksaloud

people watching. [flash fiction]

I watched as he walked along the riverbank. Pale skin. Dark eyes. Hair tied back. Strands floating into the wind as if the slightest gust might tear apart the perfect world on his head. I knew the feeling.

I wasn’t much of a people watcher but it was one of those days when the sun was too hot for me to bask in it. I dipped under the park’s trees to catch some shade and the only light I needed was that of others.

As I continued to gaze across the grass, the man took step by step to his destination. I assumed he had one because the walk was firm, consistent, but perhaps he had some overbearing confidence about him. Maybe I was drawn to what I was lacking.

I liked the way his shorts were long enough to almost be trousers, and yet they were undeniably shorts. I liked his plain t shirt and the glint of an ear stud, as if he wanted the light to bounce off of his body and radiate others instead of himself. Maybe he really was that selfless.

I used to never think about the act of walking, but since him I always thought about the way I swung my arms. His were still, planted. It was strange that he held so much confidence in his stance and yet his arms refused to even move a slight bit. I didn’t know if I liked the contradiction but it definitely intrigued me. I asked myself why my arms moved so much when I walked and I wondered if anyone watched me like I had watched him because the thought of it made me anxious. I wondered if he was anxious.

He was almost out of my eyesight when he turned his head. The bun faded behind a shadow of a world and he was looking at me. His world was looking at me and smiling at me and I wondered how a shadow could bring so much light.

And before I could even question it or return the favour, his head turned back and I watched as he walked into the distance. How could a stranger be so enchanting?

The Upside Down House! – Brighton

A week ago, I visited my cousin in Brighton for the first time! I’d been to Brighton before, but at least five or so years ago. Located along the coast, the upside down house was a new temporary exhibition (if you could call it that?) so we thought we would check it out! When we walked inside, everything was literally the opposite way around, as you would expect. The ceiling became the floor and all the furniture hanged from it. It was fairly busy inside, but it was fun running about trying to take as many funny photos as we could. I would recommend this to anyone who is in Brighton because it’s such a laugh turning all the photos upside down afterwards and seeing what they look like!

I will be publishing a general post on what we did during the Brighton trip, but for now here are some photos from the upside down house!

As you can see from the photos above, the idea is to use the props within the room to create something that would look good upside down! It felt awkward at the time, but it definitely pays off once you see it at the end!

 

Hanging like monkeys was pretty fun!

 

Grabbing a cheeky bottle of wine!

 

I love these ones of my cousin! Firstly, because in one she doesn’t have a head, and secondly, because she’s an artist and it was the perfect opportunity to pose for a painting!

 

These three make me laugh! I’m flying out of a bin, embracing the creepy-girl-in-a-horror-movie-vibe and if you look super closely, there is a face in the mirror in the last one!

We actually took so many photos that I couldn’t possibly post them all here, but hopefully these give you a good idea of what it was like!

Let me know if you’ve been to the upside down house too – I’d love to see your photos!

Twitter: @mindspeaksaloud

Instagram: @mymindspeaksaloud

the fire inside. [flash fiction]

I can feel the heat rise from my toes. simmering, simmering. it leaks into my veins as it travels and travels from hair to hair to freckle to freckle to ground to head. it can be said this is what it is like to be fire. this is what it is like to be set alight from the inside out. I’m an ice cube to you I can see it in your eyes but I won’t let it make me feel wrong this time. I can feel it. the simmering may seem like it started in my toes, but it started in my heart. the match you lit with your words fell down my throat, smoke constricting, and you can’t get that back. try reaching into my body. I won’t let you. you’ll leave me walking smoke trails and by the time you want to follow me the smoke will be gone. I will be gone.

I can feel the heat rise from my toes.

simmering, simmering.

never let that heat rise from your own.