A couple of years ago in this column, I shared the text of a talk on “aging” that my mother, Jan Henderson, used to give to various audiences, from nursing home residents to medical students at OHSU. Aging— its challenges, joys, and opportunities— was her favorite topic. Mom left behind a lifetime of chronic depression and alcoholism beginning in her late sixties by dedicating herself to exchanging behaviors that maintain and refresh suffering for those that cultivate joy and good health. In doing so, she became, in her seventies, a living and persistent example for me of how we can begin to live a life of joy and vitality at any age, and in any condition.
So what fun it was the other day, as I was going through her files on aging and self-help topics, to find a clipping provocatively entitled “How to Drive Yourself Crazy,” excerpted and adapted in 1987 from a longer article by Dorothy T. Harrison, Ph.D. I love the tongue-in-cheek way that Harrison’s behavioral “advice” reminds us that, consciously or unconsciously, we are always “behaving” in our thinking and actions…and that our choices and habits determine how we feel as a direct result.
In italics, below, is the text of that article; read it and weep, and laugh…then choose!
Articles and books on a variety of self-help topics are widely available. There are suggestions on how to cope, reduce stress, and in general make your life better and more satisfying.
However, it appears that there are many of you out there who don’t aspire to satisfaction, but instead seem to be working on making yourselves miserable. Some of you seem to be experts at this, but others haven’t quite got the hang of it yet. For those of you in the latter category, here is the definitive self-help primer on how to really make yourself crazy!
1)Save your major worries until about midnight, then start heavy thinking. Suggested topics include your old age, losing your job, the mistake you made at work last week that they haven’t discovered yet, that suspicious wart you’ve had for five years. You can work up a good panic by 1:00 a.m..
2) Keep an inventory of your faults. Ignore strengths. Focus only on your bad points. Try to select friends who will remind you of them. If you don’t have friends like this, you probably have some relatives who can be counted on to point out your weaknesses.
3) Set unreasonable goals. No matter how much money you’re earning, remember that there are others doing better. Try to name three of them, preferably younger than you are. Think how others could do a better job than you do.
4) when your kids mess up, don’t accept it as routine. View it as the first sign of impending moral decay, delinquency and a wasted life. Imagine them as shiftless bums at age 30, scrounging off you.
5) Put off everything until the last minute. In this way you can create a sense of frenzy and chronic stress no matter how much time you had in the first place.
6) To aid in the creation of stress, try to sleep as little as possible. Eat junk food and never exercise if you can help it.
7) Don’t let others know how you feel or what you want. You shouldn’t have to tell them: they should be able to read your mind. If you assume this, you stand a good chance of feeling really deprived.
8) Don’t trust anyone. Struggle with problems alone. If you feel the urge to confide in someone who seems to care, remind yourself that people are basically no good and out for themselves.
9) Never take a vacation or rest. It’s a luxury you can’t afford, especially if you’re working up to a really good state of exhaustion.
10) Above all, never seek help. No matter how serious the problem, convince yourself that asking for help is a sign of weakness, and that you can tough it out alone.
If you follow this program, you have a good chance of feeling really rotten in no time at all. Good luck.
…and have fun with that!
Or just have fun.