What is self-help anyway? Now, I have read enough self-help books to know that self-help is supposed to mean making small, positive changes to your everyday life in order to find true contentment and happiness. Self-help books teach us that the past is in the past, tomorrow does not exist, so all we have is now (big up to Eghart). In order to find this mystical zen of pure, unadulterated happiness we must complete ritualistic, desperate, clichés like: ‘doing one thing every day that scares us’. We must write a list of all of the things we would like to improve about ourselves and slowly, day by day, brick by brick, rebuild, re-mould and reshape ourselves into that mysterious contorted ‘happy’ apparition that we know is how we would look if we were truly content with ourselves. We must strive to be better, aspire for greater things. We must make a mood board of the consumables that we don’t yet own, but desire, and then, make a plan to work 16 hours a day, 17 days a week, in order to achieve the Range Rover in the landscaped drive with the happy, well behaved, clean children and the spineless husband in the chinos and golfing T-shirt.
Well, I don’t know about you but I’ve always been a sucker for a man with scars and stubble. And herein lies my problem with traditional ‘self-help’ writing: it assumes a model of success which therefore assumes that every reader aspires to the same model.
Let me be perfectly straight with you. I am in no way, shape or form ‘officially’ qualified to give you advice. I have no formal qualifications except for my own divine ability to make the best of life. But, then, a person who achieves a 1st in their psychology degree, spends their gap year yogaing around the world, is no more qualified to give me advice, based merely on a piece of paper that says they’ve read and understood what Freud meant when he said that we all want to fuck our parents. My point, although muddied by my own bullshit is, that advice is relative and should come from your peers, or people you can relate to.
So, why my advice? Because. Because, I am told I give great advice, even at the tender age of seven my Uncle Pot Head (who is a fabulous human being by the way) used to listen intently as I gave my tuppence worth into the adult problems being shared around my Mum’s table. Because, I have been through a reasonable amount of crap and don’t consider my situation to be particularly remarkable, except for the fact, that, in spite of: the alcoholic mother; the pot head uncle; the angry dad; the dead brother; the subsequently dead mother; the two kids (and the failed relationship behind their existence); followed by my Dad dying; swiftly followed by the abusive, violent, ex boyfriend and resulting court case – I am actually happy.
In spite of everything feel incredibly lucky to be me. I don’t mean that in the phony ‘I am incredibly lucky to have my health’ crap that people spout when they are desperately trying to claw back some collateral from their bankrupt life – actually I’m not even particularly healthy at the moment. I actually mean: I am a very lucky lady. I have learned a lot about how much a human being can take in my 31 years on the planet. I think you’ll be reassured by what I know. Which to summarise is this – us human folk are as ‘ard as nails and we will triumph in the face of adversity and we will move on – I promise you.
You want to know what I believe self help to be? It’s occasionally hiding your grubby T-shirt under your dressing gown at 11:30 at night, finding your car keys and driving to the nearest KFC for a zinger burrito because, ‘I could just murder one.’ That’s why.
It’s dropping the kids off on a Monday morning at school and coming home and instead of tidying up, it’s going back to bed to masturbate and take a blissful, post-climactic nap.
It’s giving up smoking until the second you’ve have a wine, insisting you’re only ‘a social smoker’ whilst devouring a twenty deck of Marlborough Lights quicker than you can say ‘I’m supposed to be saving for a Range-Rover’. Sometimes that is self-help. And, do you know what? That’s fine too.
My better-half once described me as the ‘most adult’ person he knew. That was a truly terrifying idea. I am in no way an adulty adult. What I hope and pray that my man meant when he called me an adult (the bastard) is, that I am honest and very comfortable in my own skin. I don’t have a single iota of anything to prove to any fucker, I’ve done my time proving myself to myself during the 6 week period after my mother’s funeral. I spent all of that time lying in bed unwilling and unmotivated to move. Do you know what? That was sound too, that was self-help. Instead of reading Facebook memes spouting endless Bob Marley quotes about happiness, listen to yourself. If your body is saying: ‘actually, do you know we were supposed to be getting our shit together today and joining the gym and mowing the lawn? Well, I can’t be bothered…can we do it tomorrow?’ Listen to it.
Now, I’m not talking about bone idleness here. Idleness kills more people than smoking and late night KFC’s combined. I’m talking about when you are feeling low, or experiencing trauma or self doubt. Well, in these instances listening to your body carefully is the surest fire way to get better. Your body knows what it’s doing, it has been honed by evolution for thousands of years into the, well-ard, mother fucker you see standing in front of the mirror today.
So, if your body tells you to stay in your PJ’s eating Nutella off your own fingers; then do as you’re fucking told; put the mood board down and step away from the Pritt stick you nobhead – it’s not helping.
Seriously, if there is one profound-ish thing I can leave with you it’s this: Nervous breakdowns don’t exist. Trust me – I’ve had two.
I know, I sound like a fucking moron, but give me a minute to explain. Okay, so imagine this:
One day you are just going about your life and BAM!! Fucking-double-bastard-decker-bus ploughs into you at a zebra crossing, you didn’t do anything to deserve it. You waited for the green man, you looked left, right, then left again. You’re even wearing clean undies just in case this very thing happened, (as your Nan always prophesied it would), sparing your family of untold shame. That’s just how you roll. You were just going to work, it was the bus driver’s fault. You end up in hospital for months and lose both your legs. Sorry, I got a bit carried away there but, I’m sticking with it. So there you are legless, with only a £5 TV card, a tray of unidentifiable beige food and your own genitals for entertainment.
So, what next? This trauma has devastated every aspect of your life. You are no longer mobile, you have lost your confidence, your independence, your dignity. You have to lean on your loved ones for support, they hold you up no questions asked. They tell you how proud they are of you and how inspiring you are. One day, with the help of your loved ones you take that first baby step with your Zimmer-frame and new bionic legs. The next week, you walk to the bathroom by yourself. You have to adjust to life without legs but you get there eventually. You assimilate the new challenges your bionic legs present into your everyday life and you get the fuck on with it. It’s taken a long time. Maybe a year or so. But, you’re back walking to work again like the fucking champion that you are.
Now, replace the loved ones with people talking about you like you can’t hear them. Then, replace the bus and the double amputation with an emotional trauma that you didn’t ask for, like, for example, the cause of my first ‘nervous breakdown’ – the death of my alcoholic mother. I didn’t ask her to drink. In fact, I asked the opposite of her every day of her gradually receding life. I did all the right things and yet, here I was, through no fault of my own, about to lose a part of myself forever. When ‘it’ finally happened, I was in shock. It took me a long time to adjust my emotional state and feelings in order to accommodate the cavernous hole that my Mother and all of her alcoholic baggage had obliterated into my deepest fibres.
I spent a lot of that time in bed crying, not eating, not brushing my teeth, hair or seeing friends. This is what my Doctor diagnosed as my nervous breakdown.
I, on the other hand, didn’t and still don’t see it that way at all. I saw it as a period of adjustment, a bit like rebooting a computer in safety mode. My brain was on and performing the non voluntary functions ie – breathing, beating my cold, dead heart and sleeping.
This period of hibernation was a necessary part of my recovery process. It was not a breakdown, it was a reboot after losing some major hardware. I had to learn how to live on without my Mum, without my Mum. Eventually, I got out of my pit, walked over to the window, opened the curtains, and took the tentative steps towards the kettle to make myself the first cup of tea that I had managed in 6 weeks. My children’s father, was sitting downstairs in the living room when I appeared like Bambi in the doorway, as if not wanting to spook me, he pretended he hadn’t seen me shuffling into the kitchen. I was relieved, the last thing I needed was an ‘oh you’re out of bed’ celebration. I was weak, but I was doing it; walking, unaided along this strange, new path whilst carrying the burden of the Mum-shaped void in my life. That is not a breakdown. That is a hero.
Poor mental health is not a socially-acceptable reason for bed rest. But, trust me, ploughing on with your mood-board regardless of your emotional instability is a sure fire way to end up in bed a hell of a lot longer. Cue the second nervous breakdown – this time, it’s personal.
Gritting your teeth and struggling on is commendable and, if it works for you, then honestly, I couldn’t be happier for you. Genuinely. But, the truth is, sometimes we all need to just chill the fuck out and take a minute to digest the size of the bus we have just been walloped by. That isn’t a break down, it’s common sense, give yourselves a break.