Trib Magazine: Life Lessons
Essay: The help you take
(Illustration for the Tribune by Ryan Snook / July 7, 2012)
Since when did being human mean you're failing?
The evening of our class, our expert, author Todd Patkin, spoke openly about having a nervous breakdown and what it took to overcome his depression. I shared stories about the hurdles of being a single mom and the advice I've acquired over 15 years of interviewing self-help gurus. We had a full house, ranging from two 20-year-old men who took a train from Wheaton to a couple who had been married 45 years and lived in the city. While the group varied in age and financial status, every single person had something in common. They were all unhappy, and they wanted help.
"How many people feel like they're running on fumes?" I asked the crowd. Almost everyone in the audience raised a hand. "We wouldn't drive our car on fumes because it would ruin the engine, yet we do things for others without doing something for ourselves. We can't do it all. It's impossible. Your being here is a step in the right direction."
Over the years, it's become very clear to me that there really is no one-size-fits-all way to get help. What works for your sister may sound like misery for you. Motivation comes from inspiration. And we are all inspired by different things.
For example, I recently replaced my therapist with YouTube videos. I make a point to visit my favorite guru sites, or even TED, and spend a couple of hours a week feeling enlightened by different messages. It's my version of getting help.
My mom's version of getting help is to watch the television preacher Joel Osteen. I'm not a fan, yet she constantly tries to persuade me to convert. I'm glad it works for her, but I prefer to get my spirituality in a "to-go" cup without the man in a mullet telling me it's his way or the highway.
I interviewed a healer who told me she meditates to Michael Jackson.
"We're all wired differently, so there is no right or wrong here. You should do what feels right for you," she said.
A happiness class might be all someone needs to start asking for help, but for others, it may take years of complaining before they're ready to go there. And sometimes, it's one sentence that will help you get out of your own way. Personally, I think of this one every time I face a challenge:
Author and radio host John St. Augustine once told me, "We can cut the weeds with a lawn mower, but they will always grow back if we don't dig into the dirt and get at the root. All problems have roots. The ones we want to get rid of have to be dug up."
Have I gotten enough dirt under my nails to get to the roots?