The funny thing about having so many intelligent and gifted and lovely friends (and let me also add the priceless contribution of my wicked stepmother) is that you always know whom to refer to in case of problems. You tell somebody about an important issue you’re having at present, and in a minute you’re given practical and cunning and stunning advice: you really should read… check that restaurant out… you can find the recipe in… you’re just like myself, I found helpful… my mechanic is in… come and visit my church…
Since last year, and for the first time, I’ve started accepting these pieces of advice – which is not what you would actually imagine: I’ve stopped refusing them in the first place and harshly conforming to them afterwards, whatever the cost. Opinions, not heartless rules, to be used if needed, never unbiased.
Self-help books, for example, have popped up in my daily routine for the first time. And, like Jerome K. Jerome before me, “I sat for awhile, frozen with horror”*. Apparently, I’ve been a sick, co-dependent, workaholic, loving-too-much kind of woman, with a monstrous inner critic, narcissistic tendencies, a longing for perfection and an unresolved Electra complex my whole life, switching between the most bitter forms of bulimia and a chronic lack of appetite every two years. All my work colleagues have always abused me, my bosses have bullied me every day, my intelligence hasn’t developed in the right direction and I have always chosen the wrong path for self-assertion. I have been too docile. No, well, I should have been more passive and strive to emerge less. I’ve never known the fundamental truth of human life: that our wealth is only within ourselves and that everything outside is impermanent, and also that success in life is a clue to inner attainments. Well, but it says in…
I really wonder now how I’ve managed to survive. A miracle, if you ask me! A lucky thing all this came along.
*I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch – hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into – some fearful, devastating scourge, I know – and, before I had glanced half down the list of “premonitory symptoms,” it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.
I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever – read the symptoms – discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it – wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus’s Dance – found, as I expected, that I had that too, – began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically – read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright’s disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee.
I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight. Why hadn’t I got housemaid’s knee? Why this invidious reservation? After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed. I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid’s knee. Gout, in its most malignant stage, it would appear, had seized me without my being aware of it; and zymosis I had evidently been suffering with from boyhood. There were no more diseases after zymosis, so I concluded there was nothing else the matter with me.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat