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11 November 2015

I don’t understand self help. This is a self who has, more than once, cried into a fridge

I don’t want her help.

By Eleanor Margolis

I put my copy of The Chimp Paradox over my face and lie sniffing the pages. It feels like my head is a house and the book is the roof, which is quite nice. This is the most comforted I’ve felt in weeks and it has nothing to do with the contents of this self-help book I’m reading, and everything to do with the weight of it against my nose and the warm smell of the pages combined with my own breath.

There I lie, a comatose book pervert, for minutes. In the grand scheme of things, minutes are a long time to rot in bed, with a book covering your face.

I sit up and the book slides down my nose, and hits my chest. The pages flutter and go, “plock”. This is all quite satisfying, until I realise I’ve forgotten to mark my place. I try to remember some words in the last paragraph I read. All I can recall is an exclamation mark.

I hate it when books shout at me. This one does that a lot. I have to admit, the author’s over-reliance on exclamation marks means taking this book seriously is a constant struggle. Which is a shame, seeing as this guy – a sports psychologist/psychiatrist called Steve Peters – seems incredibly well-meaning and makes some good points.

The Chimp Paradox is all about separating primal instinct from facts and making decisions based on logic rather than feelings, which are often misplaced. It reads, sadly, like a particularly bad press release.

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My therapist, who recommended the book to me, would probably have something to say about using snobbishness to discredit good ideas. I do that a lot, I think. The most notable example being the time I wrote off all of cognitive behavioural therapy (kinda the whole basis of The Chimp Paradox) as moronic.

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I don’t understand self-help. How am I supposed to help myself when the self that’s tasked with helping me needs so much help? This is a self that has, more than once, cried into a fridge. I don’t want her help.

I barely want anybody else’s help. The worse my anxiety and depression get, the more overwhelmed by advice I feel. Advice comes in two flavours – hyperbolic and ultra-hyperbolic. Phrases like “life-changing” and words like “inspirational” and “happiness” (which becomes a sort of Holy Grail when you’re at your lowest) hover around advice like flies.

Self-help books aside, the internet is turgid with motivation. None of which is geared towards getting you from “not OK” to “OK”. It’s much louder than that – much more grandiose. Stories about meth addicts turned CEOs who want to share their philosophies with YOU.

Bewilderingly vague quotes attributed to Gandhi and Eleanor Roosevelt slopped on top of some wildlife. “Follow your feet and your feet will follow you,” is written in simulated cursive over a herd of elephants silhouetted by a blood red Serengeti sun. Gandhi never said that. And if he did, no elephants would’ve given a fuck. But anyway, click “like” or you hate elephants, Gandhi and the sun, and you want to be depressed. I’m often told that depression is a choice. People, I’ve learned, love absolutely nothing more than telling you things are choices.

The other day, I looked in the mirror and saw this crease between my eyebrows. There it was, in all its glory: my first frown line. In lesbian terms, this means I’ve come of age; that, finally, after 26 years of putting up with everyone’s bullshit, I AM WOMAN. Or something.

“Botox is really cheap, these days,” my mum joked.

I’d rather keep my line and draw a dot underneath it. It would make an excellent exclamation mark.