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Observations placeholder

Haig, Matt - Reasons to stay alive – Going out-of-body from stage fright, passionflowers and titanium poisoning



Type of Spiritual Experience


The lead in to Matt’s one out of body experience is that whilst at university and as part of his degree, he took a module on Art History.  This meant he had to do a presentation and he began to dread the whole thing, until he started to have panic attacks about it.  As he says ‘given the subject of the talk was an art movement that involved abandoning perspective, I was losing perspective’.  On the day, he was so worked up and fearful about the occasion that he had what can only be termed ‘stage fright’, terror.

The label description for Natracalm reads:

A traditional herbal remedy for the symptomatic relief of nervous tension, the stress and strain of everyday life. Natracalm contains passiflora incarnata, otherwise known as the passionflower. Passionflower is a traditional herbal ingredient with relaxing and calming properties. Ingredients:

Extract of Passiflora Incarnata 7.1mg Also contains: Lactose, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Stearic Acid, Magnesium Stearate, Hypromellose, Purified Talc[sic], Titanium Dioxide (E171) Polyethylene Glycol.

He may have been suffering from titanium poisoning

A description of the experience

Matt Haig - Reasons to stay alive  

'You could always pretend to be ill,' my new girlfriend and future wife Andrea said.

'No, I can't. It's assessed. It's assessed!'

'Jesus, Matt, calm down. You have turned this into something it’s not.'

And then I went to the chemist and bought a pack of Natracalm and swallowed as many of the twenty-four tablets as I could manage. (I think about sixteen. Two sheets' worth. They tasted of grass and chalk.) I waited to feel the calm that was promised.

But it didn't happen. Itching happened. And then a rash happened.

The rash was all over my neck and hands. Angry red blotches. My skin felt not only immensely itchy but also hot. The seminar wasn't until quarter past two. Maybe the rash was a stress response. Maybe I needed something else to calm me down. I went to the union bar and had a pint of lager and two vodka and limes. I had a cigarette. With ten minutes to go before the presentation was due to begin I was in the toilets in the History Department, staring at a swastika some idiot had biro'd onto the shining blonde wood of the door.

My neck was getting worse. I stayed in the toilets.

Silently briefing myself in the mirror.

I felt the power of time. The power of it as something unmoving.

'Stop,' I whispered. But time doesn't stop. Not even when you ask it nicely.

Then I did it. I did the presentation. I stuttered and sounded frail as an autumn leaf in my head and messed up the slides a couple of times and failed to say anything at all that I didn't have written down in front of me in my best handwriting. People didn't giggle at my rash.

They just looked deeply, deeply uncomfortable.

But halfway through I became detached from myself.

I derealised.

The string that holds on to that feeling of selfhood, the feeling of being me, was cut, and it floated away like a helium balloon.

I suppose it was your standard out-of-body experience. I was there, not exactly above myself, but above and beside and everywhere all at once, watching and hearing myself in a state of such heightened self-consciousness I'd actually burst right out of myself altogether.

The source of the experience

Haig, Matt

Concepts, symbols and science items




Science Items

Activities and commonsteps