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How I Learned to Not Take Myself So Seriously

A Personal Perspective: Turning a stressful situation into a fun one.

“I would rather die than do that!” my friend’s boyfriend exclaimed.

“I would be so ashamed if I were you,” an artist friend confided.

“How can you maintain your sense of dignity?” a colleague asked.

I will admit that I was pulled out of my zone of comfort, but the whole situation discussed by the three people above precluded comfort. My book, Slow Travel New Mexico, was just published. I had talks lined up, but I broke my back. It was my first experience with a disability, albeit temporary. I gave my first talk with a walker, and I can proudly say that I whipped around with that walker with surprising ease.

The second talk was an hour away and I couldn’t sit in the car to get there. With great sadness, I called the program director who had engaged me for the talk and told her that I had to cancel.

“Nonsense!” she exclaimed. “There’s no way we are going to cancel. And if you can’t sit up in bed, we’ll do a Zoom lying down.”

The call was followed by a flood that reminded me of Noah’s assignment. But instead of animal pairs, I had pairs of thoughts and feelings. Panic and calm. Anxiety and depression. Self-confidence and low self-esteem. Shame and pride. Positive self-talk and negative self-talk.

I imagined that viewers would feel pity, which I didn’t want, or they would find me ridiculous. And then I remembered the words of Doctor Abraham Low, a brilliant neuropsychiatrist who pioneered self-help programs for people struggling with mental illness. “Don’t take your own dear self so seriously,” he said.

Doctor Low talked about our social personalities and how easy it is for us to feel affronted, insulted, and rejected. But what really matters is how we see ourselves and not how we think others see us. When we observe and control our reactions to Imagined insults, we feel good about ourselves and build self-esteem. He also said that humor is our best friend.

I started to chuckle. Why was I so serious about my upcoming Zoom? Why not consider it a funny situation with a novel way to give a talk?

My friend came to my house and helped me put on a little makeup while I was lying on my back. My husband set up soft lighting. I fluffed my pillow. And then it was time for the Zoom.

“This is the most intimate talk I have ever given,” I began. “Not only are you in my house, but you are in my bedroom. And not only are you in my bedroom, but you are in my bed,” I said with obvious humor.

I couldn’t see the audience but I could hear them laughing. The rest of the talk was a breeze. It was actually fun.

Two weeks later I was asked to do another talk. I thanked the woman who called with the invitation but said I couldn’t do it. I adopted a humorous tone as I told her that the last talk I did was in bed, flat on my back.

“That sounds great,” she said. “They are an open-minded audience and you will be able to see them and answer questions after your talk.”

And that is exactly how it happened.

People called me brave for doing it. I wasn’t brave. I was just being flexible in a life that often throws us curveballs. Others asked if I wasn’t embarrassed and they were surprised to hear that I wasn’t at all. I focused on the task at hand and what I wanted to communicate rather than on my social image. And, as the good doctor suggested, tempering an emotional reaction to my situation boosted my self-esteem.

Thank you, Doctor Low for reminding me not to take my own dear self so seriously.

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