I am by no means an expert on self-help. In fact, I am not an expert on anything. I read a lot, but mostly fiction. Like you, I have my fixed and completely unmoving opinions on almost everything. Most of those opinions, also like yours, are based on the experience of not learning from my mistakes, over-all shitty feelings, (dis)comfort levels and stubborn pride, and are almost completely uninformed and routed in misinformation from sources I’m far too lazy to double check. This post is filled with misinformation and probably doesn’t serve any real purpose and will most likely help no one. Feel free to be lazy…double checking isn’t required. It’s all wrong. There, saved you thirty seconds of internet research.
I have struggled in many ways to get my brain to work properly, or at the very least be unnoticeably broken, but that struggle gets more difficult every year. Just when I think I’m on top of things, have it sorted out, or that I’m content, the world throws at me news about elephant poachers, gay bashing, science deniers, criminally randy comedians and the mistreatment of wee baby kitty cats.
Just when I think I can get through a day without a dizzy spell or panic attack, I have to take an hour and stare at a wall while listening to rainfall on the electronic device that is probably directly or indirectly the cause of my dizzy spell or panic attack. I have tried to figure out how to get my brain working again, but I constantly get distracted by thoughts of spaceships, memory loss, or whether or not my neighbours hate me. When I ask myself “What can I do to better myself?” I am quickly answered with “Birds have knives for faces and somehow we’re all okay with that.”
If you were to read my mind you wouldn’t see much in the important soul-searching department. Important soul-searching questions are asked for sure…constantly, but quickly abandoned by an inability to focus. Instead you’d more likely see pangolins eating sandwiches, world leaders taking guitar lessons, movies completely re-written to my satisfaction and starring me, attractive folk in old-timey bathing suits and straw boater hats making out while listening to 80’s British New Wave music, arguments scripted that I will never have with people I will never talk to again, and very unlikely home improvements that defy all physics that I’d never be able to afford anyway.
That is why I have spent years buying and not-reading self-help books. So, I’m afraid that even though this all might read as a parody, it really isn’t even that. I haven’t made it past page four in a self-help book ever, or ten minutes into a self-help audiobook before my mind wanders and I am trying to think of stupid new things to put shitake mushrooms in. I guess what I am trying to say is “buyer beware” when reading this, or at the very least “buyer be blasé and maybe take a nap instead”.
Self-help is a strange term that has become more and more popular since it was first coined back in 1952 (that is not remotely accurate) and more and more of a big money industry due, in part, to world leaders getting up to all sorts of no good and making people angry at each other rather than simply taking guitar lessons.
The spike in popularity of self-help books is also caused by the internet allowing us to admit our horrible grievances, air out our moronic laundry, and have us wanting to move to Denmark (or anywhere but Denmark if you already live in Denmark) to get away from having to spend one more holiday dinner listening to that uncle who read some horrible opinion-piece-passed-off-as-fact on the internet that told him that Jesus wants him to hate Denmark.
I’m not even sure whether one can help one’s self, or in complete contrast, whether one can be helped by anyone else but one’s self. Perhaps It’s best not to think in absolutes (or best not to think in anything but absolutes). I dunno. Perhaps eggs are a superfood that cause fat to melt right off your body without exercise, or perhaps they are the worst heart-attack-causing thing you can put in your body and should be left to hatch into animals that have knives for faces that we are somehow all okay with.
You see? The human brain is ridiculous. Even a person that considers themselves a straight-forward, conservative, uncreative, and boring thinker still might secretly find that they get turned on by the smell of balloons, or talk to their car like it’s a pet. All of our heads are so filled up with things we would never admit because they are so embarrassingly ridiculous that we forget that everybody else’s head is filled up with things that are embarrassingly ridiculous. From the benign, to the stupid. Sometimes hurtful opinion, sometime filthy, filthy fantasy. Sometimes joyously crazy, sometimes nonsensical whimsy. Sometimes wisdom, sometimes great pain. Always, to some degree, absolutely ridiculous, and always in the long run…pointless.
I’m not saying grief isn’t absolutely real and absolutely serious. When we lose someone we love, or we are closing in on our loved one’s losing us, how can anything be ridiculous? Things are pretty straightforward painful. BUT…hear me out before you get angry…they are still ridiculous in a number of ways. Because things are never just straightforward, are they? No… if they were, we would have come up with a definitive cure for grief. One anti-depressant medication would work the same for everybody. There would be specific steps with no deviation, no unpredictable side-thoughts, no self-doubt or curve balls. There’s no such thing as cookie-cutter feelings. Even 12-Step programs allow for variables. And again, before you get argumentative…1) I am in no way saying that “ridiculous” is a bad thing, and if you think it is, then you are being ridiculous. And 2) Keep in mind I have already stated that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Ridiculous.
I used a word earlier (how earlier I can’t say; I don’t rightly know how quickly you can read). Pointless. Here is an anecdote (which is a strange word to type because it always looks like it’s spelled wrong): 90% of all things that we accept as truth are actually anecdotal (that is not remotely accurate). Regardless…my anecdotal “truth”:
When my wonderful father, whose head was filled with all sorts of wonderfully ridiculous things, passed away when I was only 31, and he was only 67, many ridiculous things helped me through the grieving process. It was already a set-in-stone fact that I would always miss him, that crying became a regular pastime, and that regret would dance around in my brain for the rest of my life regarding our relationship…but ridiculousness liked to come in and say, “What if he is now a ghost living in my mother’s basement?”, “I can never ever get a new cell phone because he gifted this one to me before he died” (I have), and “We had coffee together in my dream last night and he told me not to leave the house today, and to play the number 6 in this week’s lotto”.
What’s also ridiculous, whether you believe in this sort of thing or not, is that the day after he died, I felt his presence. I’m convinced I felt it, not convinced that it actually happened. I have a vivid and ridiculous imagination. I felt his presence lean in from behind me while I was driving. That presence whispered “It’s all pointless, Sean. Enjoy.” And then it disappeared into the ether of that imagination, never to return. It felt good. I didn’t drive into on-coming traffic, startled.
This changed me. It got me thinking about the meaning of life, as it should. Seven out of ten people feel the presence of a deceased love one whisper in their ear something life-changing while riding in a car or on a horse or while running from a wild animal (that is not even remotely accurate).
Now, I saw this as an extremely positive message. He wasn’t saying “Ignore your feelings”, “Say whatever you want no matter how horrible”, “Your relationships with people are a sham, so who needs empathy? Be selfish!” or “Commit many crimes, because who cares!”
His meaning of the word “pointless” wasn’t that in-the-moment; it wasn’t dismissing the devastation of losing a child for example. For a horrible, horrible example. No, his meaning was referring to the big picture. Not worrying whether or not the neighbours hate me. Not worrying that I’d never be a famous writer or well-known actor, or remembered. Stop worrying about whether or not I am a failure. Stop worrying if bills got behind or whether my kids aren’t doing well in school. “March forward and handle each obstacle as you come by it and stop worrying” is what he meant. “Whether something good or bad is going to happen, it’s going to happen, and once it has there is nothing you can do about it. In a few hundred years we will all be forgotten. The Beatles probably won’t even be remembered one day. There really IS no meaning to life. Life happens. It ebbs and flows beautifully and tragically. Go with it. Take things day-by-day and stop worrying. Enjoy”.
Now, perhaps you think that that is depressing. What isn’t when you really go down that rabbit hole? I’m bringing you down, and that’s not very self-help-post of me
Also, I should note that it didn’t last forever. It’s been many years since cancer took my sweet father, and I could use another visit. I have started worrying again whether or not the neighbours hate me, that I’ll never be a famous writer or well-known actor, or remembered, and that I am a failure. I am constantly worrying when the bills get behind or whether my kids are doing well in school. Because the brain is a ridiculously fickle bitch. I have been on anti-depressants in the past. I have self-medicated with alcohol possibly more than I should. I’ve had hospital visits due to panic attacks and anxiety.
One big lesson that didn’t leave me though (that my dad taught me) is that life is waaaaaay less stressful when you are nice to people. When you care more about giving than receiving. When you pet puppies and they nibble ever-so-slightly on your hand, and when you stop being offended by assholes and just start avoiding them.
Another big lesson I’ve learned today is that the more you use the word ridiculous, the more it stops looking like a real word.