You have got to learn to laugh. That will be required of you. You must apprehend the humour of life, its gallows-humour. ~ Pablo to Harry Haller, Steppenwolf
First of all, I want to tell you that I only got 45 minutes of sleep last night, so if this article sounds like a wad of messed up toilet paper used to wipe a sick monkeys ass, please excuse me. It’s only that I was up all night because my mind was pulling the manic, hyper-alert neurotic on me. Seriously. I was anxious all night that someone was outside ready to break in, and that a man with an axe was going to walk through my bedroom door at any moment and hack me to pieces. It’s sort of funny, isn’t it? The only problem is … I actually felt that way.
Heavy Metal and Poodles
Here’s the story. As I’ve become more and more aware of my thoughts through introspection, I’ve recently made the surprising discovery that many of my thoughts are deeply paranoid and catastrophic. Take yesterday afternoon for instance:
I was walking my dog quietly, when I suddenly passed a house with loud heavy metal music playing. My mind instantly froze, then was convinced that some kind of serial killer lived there (inspired from a Dexter episode). I walked by quickly with my heart rate increasing rapidly. As I looked back, a person was standing outside, near the house. My heart started beating violently as I imagined that they were the serial killer, and that they had a gun and were going to kill me. My panicky mind started imagining a picture of my dead body on the ground in a pool of blood. I walked as quickly as I could away.
… Too much information yet? I wanted to share this with you in order to give you an insight into the mind of a weirdo. I hadn’t actually been aware of the crippling irrational thoughts I’d been having for years since my early childhood until this year. The discovery shot me down immediately. How was I supposed to live life to the fullest, with complete freedom and fearlessness if I was so mentally screwed up? How could I be going through another psychological issue just after coming out of a crippling case of social anxiety? Inside I felt angry and hopeless.
It wasn’t until I finished a book called Steppenwolf at 3am in the morning, that I had a breakthrough. Just as the protagonist was melancholic, overly serious and depressive, I realized … so was I! And just as his isolationist and spiritually desolate life could be enlightened with a sense of humour … I was convinced that mine could as well.
Suddenly … with this new way of looking at the world, my whole perspective on being a delusional neurotic nut-case changed. Rather than being a depressing, oppressive revelation, it was now more of an amusing joke! Or at least … I could poke fun at myself now, in a good natured way. “You think you’ll get pushed in front of the train … if you stand too close to the edge? That’s scary … but kind of unlikely and amusing at the same time“.
Having a sense of humour does not cure your problems. This is important to understand. It simply makes living with your problems easier, and easier to eventually overcome. Whereas once your problems were mammoth T Rex’s stomping through the grounds of your life, now they are simply whimpering poodles waiting to be tamed.
Why Can’t We Be More Light Hearted?
Ever notice how little things in our lives tend to escalate into big, unbearable monsters very easily? Perhaps it’s the strain of everyday living, or perhaps it’s the fact that we all fail to see the big picture, and therefore become too absorbed in our problems. But we forget that:
- Our problems do not define us. This is why I don’t like going to shrinks. They shrink you down into a neat label, box you up, and send you away. I’ve read so many threads in forums of people who clearly take a morbid delight in the misery of “being diagnosed with this” and “being diagnosed with that”. Labels, categories and stereotypes provide a sense of control, a sense of fake understanding and authoritative finality. People regain a certain amount of power and identity from them. When I suffered from social anxiety, I found that my anxiety was worse when I believed that I had a disorder. I started developing additional symptoms that I had never had before (like excessive blushing) simply because I had let my anxiety define me and become my own personal label. I only overcame my social anxiety after dropping the “social anxiety disorder victim” label once and for all.
- Our problems aren’t the be-all and end-all. People who tend to see life with a narrow perspective can fall into the trap of believing their problems are all-encompassing. When someone feels hopeless and helpless, it’s because they have let their problems become the be-all and end-all, and entirely consume their lives. Remember that your problems aren’t all there was, currently is, or will be. You have a family, you have tastes, passions, different daily meanings, and you can experience some amount of joy and pleasure, even if it’s simply eating, or curling up underneath the covers. Remember everything else in your life when you feel like all is lost.
- Our problems really aren’t that unique. Please honestly ask yourself this question: do you really think that you’re the only person on the face of the earth who got a kick in the balls from life? People share your problems all around the word, and probably even in your neighbourhood, as unlikely and unfathomable as that sounds. I’ve felt empty and desolate enough times to understand how soul-destroying it feels to be the only one of your kind. But it’s a lie our minds create, in my opinion, to comfort our egos and tell us that at least we’re special enough to be “different from the rest”. I can’t deny that I felt some amount of excitement and self-importance when I considered being diagnosed with something like “paranoid personality disorder“, or even better – being referred to as Marvin the Paranoid Android’s sister.
Listen to Pedro, Pedro Knows Best
I know you’re probably still wondering who exactly this mysterious Spaniard is … let’s just say he looks something like this …
… and to know more, you’ll really have to read the book, otherwise I’ll end up spoiling it for you. However, on the last few pages of the book, Pedro instructs:
Enough of pathos and death-dealing. It is time to come to your senses. You are to live and to learn to laugh.
This struck me deeply in it’s curtness and straight forward simplicity. After all, what is life without joy, thankfulness and laughter? So … will you follow Pedro’s advice with me?