All By My Self Help

Self-help books as a genre tend not to have a good reputation as even before you open the cover of some of them there’s always a whiff of making a fast buck about it and once you get inside you find yourself flicking the pages over and over faster and faster.
“Yep… knew that… yes, I know… yep… stating the bleedin’ obvious…”

What a lot of them boil down to is writing common sense down and identifying the problem. That's all very well and good but most of the time I know full well what the problems I’m experiencing are, there’s nothing mysterious, no cathartic epiphanies to be had. I realise what the issue is but doing something about it is another matter (sometimes even if I kind of know what the solution is). This is why I've never found CBT particularly useful - it actually increases my anxiety.

What to Do When You Can’t Move

Chapter one: Check whether you’re trapped inside a collapsed building. If you are, then the reason you can’t move is because you’re trapped inside a collapsed building.

Chapter two: Learning to live trapped under a collapsed building…

What I really want are some tips and tricks for getting out of there - or how to overcome my own inertia and set the solution in motion. That would be where the real sweet spot of self-help tips and tricks would reside.

There is another genre of book which might often be classed as self-help but which I've found far more useful than the more common examples of the type. These often consist of someone detailing their experiences of a mental health issue or experience. These can range from living with clinical depression, anxiety, panic attacks or suicide ideation to being diagnosed with autism later in life.

The point of these books is not to come up with a magical solution to these problems. But to let you know that you are not alone. That someone else has been through this before and come out the other side. That there is hope.

This type of self help book is much more useful – just reading it helps you.

However there is often something I invariably come across in the acknowledgements to these books which momentarily stops me in my tracks. The author will be thanking people who helped them on their journey and then finally thanks their partner for staying by their side throughout the ordeal.

Their partner.

Now let me make a couple of disclaimers here.

Firstly I am single most of the time because my life seems to function more efficiently that way. Partners have tended to find me too nice / weird / gentle / odd / quiet / annoying – or at least that’s what they said when telling me they didn’t want to be my partner any more. And I am not bemoaning my lot here. Things work better like this. (I often find people difficult to cope with and unconsciously give them what I think is the benefit of the doubt - an "out" because on some level I can't imagine anyone actually being interested.)

Secondly I’m not saying that being in a relationship is a universal panacea which makes everything better. Mental health issues are complex and can strike anyone, even those who are rich and successful. If someone asks what you've got to be depressed about they clearly don’t understand depression.

However, the point I am making is that being completely alone when going through any kind of mental health issue – when there’s no-one who’s got your back, no-one looking out for you – is no fun at all. Depression can be very isolating. Even more so when you’re actually isolated. Reading these books really does help until you get to this one acknowledgement and realise that the author did have someone looking out for them all the time. That's not to belittle their suffering which was obviously very real – and often eloquently described. Nevertheless it rankles.

Do you know what I mean?

Self-help is all very well but sometimes helping others is just as rewarding. Let them know they’re not isolated, that you’ve got their back. That you’re looking out for them.

That will make a difference .


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