Navigating the influx of self help books

My God have I read a lot of self help books over the past two years. I'd be embarrassed to list all the titles, much less how many are still teetering in piles, languishing unread. And well some should continue languishing, considering the quality of some of them.

Barnes & Noble, Borders and Amazon should be grateful I'm so messed up. Their top executives are probably keeping their fingers crossed I never fully recover from my lifetime battle with depression. I wouldn't put it past them to have played a part in some of the suspiciously bad things that have happened to me. After all, that's great for business.

I think I'm solely responsible for the sales spike the big box retailers experienced last year, and I know I've lined the pockets of Wayne Dwyer – possibly even making a mortgage payment or two for him. He has vanity plates reading, "LUVLISA." And yes, I know. He mostly writes the same damn book over and over, just shuffling a few words around here and there. But he looks so caring in the photos! He and Julia Cameron both, but God I love her! I'd have her baby if she asked. And if she'd give me half her book proceeds.

But those cover blurbs! They get me every time. Every self help book sounds like THE ONE that dwarfs all the others I've bought. Those idiots who wrote those other books? What did they know? It's this author who has it all straight, and can fix my issues. It's this one who's been there and back again, and can tell me how to do the same. And, best of all, it's so, so easy! Just twelve steps, twenty five at most, and I can be more assertive about meeting my needs, influencing others to treat me with respect, and organizing myself in every way, making my life seem better than a plunge off the Sears Tower (IT WILL NEVER BE WILLIS TOWER TO ME).

I have a special fondness for the Idiot/Dummies series. There's something so darkly funny about a depressed person buying, "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for Dummies," "An Idiot's Guide to Depression," or "I'm a Bipolar Idiot; You're Just a Dummy." Does it get better than that? I think not.

And workbooks! How I love workbooks. I like filling in blanks, writing essays about myself, and writing essays about myself. I fascinate me, and there's nothing I wouldn't share with myself. Those books totally rule. The same goes for journals, in which there are hundreds of pages to write about me, me, me!

Some of these books I've started, read enough pages to induce my gag reflex, then tossed back onto the pile thinking maybe I didn't give it enough of a try, but I'll get further into it later. And, as we all know, later just never seems to get here. Sometimes that's a good thing, but waiting for sometimes sure can allow for a lot of clutter pile-up in a person's house.

It's fairly obvious you don't really need strong professional credentials – or any at all - to write a self help book, at least nothing beyond the ability to construct sentences in a (semi)coherent fashion. Having had a crappy life helps, too. The crappier the better. As does having been visited by angels, demons or other supernatural beings. Gnomes may even count, but I'd be suspicious about elves. Near-death experiences are great. If someone else dies, then talks to you from the GREAT BEYOND that's a flippin' gold mine.

My personal favorite self help books – aside from the workbooks – lean toward Buddhist philosophy, emphasizing exercising the power of your own mind in order to help minimize negative thoughts, replacing them with positive truths about yourself.

The over-arching theme: we beat ourselves up way too much. Well, most of us do. I can't see Paris Hilton stressing about much of anything except smudging her nails after a manicure. But we normal human beings tend to consider our humanity a detriment, forgetting we are all in the same boat. Other people may seem they have it all together, but sometimes that's just a facade. And being human equates to screwing up, sometimes a little, and sometimes a lot.

No matter how many of these books you read, it all boils down to taking negative self-thoughts and putting them into perspective, then realizing you're not as much a loser as you thought you were, doggone it. You don't ignore the thoughts. You let them pass by, maybe writing them down and considering why you beat yourself up over it, and where the thought came from (if you're like me, and think best while writing), then reassuring yourself you don't suck. Unless you are Paris Hilton, and I'm so ashamed I went there.

I'll keep reading these self help books, at least the well-written ones, and those that allow me to write a lot about myself. Even knowing the GREAT TRUTH it's good having it repeated over and over again. Some days it's easy enough to remember, but other days not so much so. Reading to myself in that gentle, if opiate-influenced tone of voice, is soothing. A sitar playing in the background, while the scent of incense burns your nostrils, equate to Nirvana. How many of us couldn't use a little of that now and Zen?

Oh God. I went there, too.

I hang my head in shame, then write all about myself and feel better again. Over and over and over. Maybe one of these days that'll stick, shortly before the big box retailers go out of business. I miss them already.

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