my tragic right hip

Busting out bad joints all over the place

March 10th, 2012

#11 – This is How by Augusten Burroughs

Yes, I know, the photo of the galley of Augusten Burroughs, This is How: Help is for the Self, Proven Aid in Overcoming More, For Young and Old Alike, is slightly skewed, and I think that’s entirely, utterly right. As it happens with most book reviews that I write, I’m going to begin with a digression. There are maybe two self-help-style books that I have truly found, well, helpful in my life. The first, Motherless Daughters, helped me understand the profound loss that I felt at a very difficult moment in my life during the course of living through the empty space my mother’s accident and subsequent hospitalization left in my life. It was entirely the right book for me to read. The other, a classic textbook-like tome about depression, The Feeling Good Handbook, gave me simple tools to understand how your mind alters your mood and the pitfalls of negative thinking, etc. I’m not saying that these books cured what ailed me. But what they did was give me a different perspective about what I was going through, mentally, physically.

And that’s the true success and spiritual essence of Augusten Burroughs’s book — it’s not about “curing” or “solving,” it’s about taking your life experiences and turning them slightly left or slightly right so you can gain a fresh perspective. I have earmarked so many of these pages for their simple, forthright, honest advice, that it might just be the third book that I recommend in terms of the hyper-saccharine self-help genre that generally does more harm than good.

Some of the best bits of advice, from someone who has lived through a lot, feels particular — but then, when I thought about it, it wasn’t at all — it was very general, very profound, and allowed a reader (me) to take what he/she might need and apply it to their lives. His whole perspective is one part acceptance (who cares if you’re fat if you’re happy and healthy; just get on with living your life as long as you’re not destroying yourself); one part understanding (if you have two parents who love you, you have won the lottery; it’s okay if you don’t have parents at all, you will be strong and interesting); and one part simply old fashioned ‘get your head out of your ass’ (well, maybe that’s me making assumptions about how to be “grateful” for the bad things that have happened to you because you can easily miss all the good that usually follows). All tolled, the entire book helped me to, once again, try and battle my own thinking around all of the tragedy in my life, and all of the bits that I have saved up, all my holes, that bring life and energy and acceptance and joy and anger and push, push, push me to always be better.

“‘Nothing worth having comes easy’ is not about showing up early at the office. It’s about showing up in your own life. And living inside the moment you want to run away from.”

Burroughs says that people, in general, fundamentally misunderstand the platitude. And I kind of agree, it’s like any buzzword, marketing or otherwise, people glom onto them, hold them close like a lover on a cold, cold night, and expect that just saying something will turn your life into this actionable item from a long suffering to-do list. What you really need to do is [live] “inside the very moment you want to run away from.” So much harder than you think.

Picture me at the SFDD’s office. Yet again, my blood work, like it has been for the last sixteen months, isn’t quite right. It’s not terrible, but it’s not remotely normal either, it’s in between. A consistent reminder that despite how much I need to live in a world that’s well defined, my life consistently pushes grey areas upon me. I am half sick and half healthy. My mother was one part alive, but barely, and so on. And if I could only take a moment to feel okay with living in the “in-between,” I could see that it’s “okay once you’re in it.” And he’s right, it just becomes your life. There’s a light-lifting at the end when the situation finally becomes defined, I never wished my mother dead but I felt relief, for her, for me, for my family, when she finally passed away after twenty-plus years of suffering through a horrific head injury. After the initial diagnosis of the Wegener’s, every time I get news from the doctor, there’s a knowledge about what to expect. That doesn’t mean any of this makes me happy or self-satisfied, but it sure gives me a lot of depth, and it gives me the strength to be a good friend, a good mother (I hope), a good wife (sometimes! I hope!). It’s given me empathy. It’s given me creativity. It’s given me a deep, desperate darkness too, and that’s okay, because I know how to crawl out from under that as well.

“When you ‘hope’ not to get a set of symptoms, you automatically empower those symptoms. If hair loss appears to be inevitable, allow the hair loss to arrive but do not give the hair loss a police escort and a parade to make its arrival that much more impactful.”

Same goes for all my side effects. Same goes for the prednisone/pregnancy pounds. Same goes for the prednisone blues. Same goes for the achy joints and the never-ending sickness. Same goes for it all.

This isn’t much of a review, and it’s hard to “review” this kind of a book. It’s a book that you simply must experience and take from it what you will. It’s a book that will give you so much if you just open up a little bit to taking another perspective. You might not agree with all of Burroughs’s cures, but that’s okay too, because he’ll forever give you another way of looking at your life, and that, in itself, is a gift.

One Response to “#11 – This is How by Augusten Burroughs”

  • Kate Oatis says:

    I’ll read this book because of what you’ve written here. And because, “What you really need to do is [live] ‘inside the very moment you want to run away from,'” is a great piece of wisdom for those who’ve suffered trauma and loss. Most of us, I’d guess.

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Girl with titanium hip will rock. Girl with titanium hip will write. Girl with titanium hip will read. Girl with titanium hip will battle crazy-ass disease called Wegener's Granulomatosis. Now stuff that in your spelling bee!

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