A Small Step

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Dear Hypocrite.
I love your column and I think you help more people than you imagine. Now it’s my turn to ask for advice. This letter is not of your usual landlord/parking/parenting troubles variety. It’s bleak and more desperate than anything I’ve read here before. Wish it wasn’t the case. I wish I were writing about how frustrated I am with my loud upstairs neighbor.
I’m in a bad place. A series of unfortunate events has left me with some serious problems. I lost my job in May and haven’t been able to find another one. I’m in debt. I’m estranged from my family. I think my girlfriend is about to break up with me. I’ve gained twenty pounds in the past three months. Oh, and I’m pretty sure I have bedbugs.
I’ve been sitting on the couch watching TV for months, fully aware that it’s not helping my situation. I woke up this morning and thought today, “I have to do one thing, just one, that will make my life better.” So, you are my one thing. I know there’s not a lot you can do from wherever you are. Maybe you can give me the “everything’s going to be alright” speech to comfort me for a little bit. I completely understand if you don’t want to answer this letter thinking it’s out of your jurisdiction. I know I need a therapist but can you try to help? Please? Whether you answer it or not, thanks for your column. It’s a bright spot in my life. Wish it were weekly. Maybe you could find another place to write it?
Signed,
Sad Sack

Dear Sad Sack.
I’m so sorry to hear you’re going through an epically hard time. Just one of those things you’re going through is a lot and you’ve got yourself quite a list. How sweet of you to compliment me while you’re so down in the dumps. I don’t get a lot of fan mail (I got one email a few years ago from a woman who confused me with her husband’s distant cousin who lives in Utah. Still, she said some nice things.), And to your comment of finding a place to have a more regular column—I’m very happy with the infrequency of this gig. It allows me to live a rich life on which to draw my advice. If that sounds like bullshit, it is. I don’t have time to write more than four times a year. I need to hustle in order to keep my kids in ridiculously overpriced athletic footwear.
Sad Sack, I must say my column doesn’t really support letters like yours. You’re right; you need a therapist, not a free of charge hypocritical life coach. To me, the excessive TV watching is a clear sign that you’re depressed and I don’t traffic in depression, that’s for the people with training. I can give you the “everything’s going to be alright” speech but if you don’t do something concrete, things will most definitely not get better. In your letter you use the word “wish” a lot. Although I believe in fairies and trolls, I don’t believe you can wish your problems away. You need to take action and that action is usually outside of your comfort zone. It’s hard to step outside what’s natural when you’re feeling shitty about yourself. But you have to. You must. It might be hard to believe, but things could actually get much, much worse.
The skills to turn things around are two: You need to ask for help and accept it when it comes to you. This is not as easy as it sounds.
My husband has a friend who is forever experiencing the hardest of times. He’s always in danger losing his job, he’s in debt, his landlord is in the mafia, his dog needs an operation. The numerous times we’ve tried to help him, we’ve been bitten. The apartment I suggested was above a burger joint (who could live with the smell of grease?) The car my husband’s aunt was selling was beige (He could never drive a beige car!). Something always stops him from receiving help and he keeps on complaining. I won’t go out with him anymore and my husband comes back from a night at the bar with him drained and frustrated. Look, shit happens to everyone but this is different. I’m not abandoning him in this time of need. I’m abandoning him because I think he gets off on how crappy his life is and I don’t have time for that.
Not you, though. You know how to ask for help and receive it (right?). Ask around for a therapist, pronto. Then find a headhunter or ask your friends for leads on work. Get recommendations for exterminators. So you need to find low cost options? That’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Ask about sliding scales, bartering and payment plans. Make a list of what you need and who can help you (in the corporate world they call this a strategic map). Take a nap and a bath. Exercise. Be upfront with your girlfriend. Tell her you’ve got to get yourself together before you can be a good partner. “Just you wait,” tell her, “you won’t even recognize me.”
Listen to me, Sad Sack. Do these things and you’ll be on your way to a better, happier you. We all need help from time to time. Tell us how we can help you and then let us. You’ve made a step asking me today, so ask someone else for help tomorrow. You need to get your life back (and banish the bedbugs) to experience life in The Slope to the fullest. The leaves are going to change color soon and you’ll want to be outside on a blanket staring up at them in wonder, not despair.
I know I’ve ignored the fact that you’re estranged from your family. I’m sure that is very painful for everyone involved. Your therapist will help you with that. Know that we can create our own families, Sad Sack. You can consider me your wise Auntie. Auntie Hypocrite. I like that the sound of that.

See you next time.

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About Author

MELANIE HOOPES is the writer and director of Laurie Stanton’s Sound Diet (sounddietradio.org), a hilarious but darkly painful radio drama show that’s been described as a twisted, urban version of Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion. She also creates funny and poignant pledge drive spots for WNYC and WBUR (public radio stations). She’s an Executive Storytelling Coach for The Next Level, Inc. and the Magnet Genius Machine and she teaches solo performance at the Magnet Theater. She lives in Westchester with her husband and their two kids and is a proud Girl Scout leader.

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