the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Self-Help Books


Today, Sophia and I sat in Borders for half the day, reading self-help books. I was determined to find a book that described me and my “problems” in psychological terms. After my two months of therapy, I’m fully convinced I need this help, and I want to understand myself better. I almost feel as if I’ve been blind to parts of my own personality. I am neurotic, but just saying “neurotic” is too vague for me. I want a stronger sense of the problem. I’m envious of you bloggers who have something specific, like ADHD. That is a “sturdy” psychological problem. If I met you for the first time, I could shake your hand and you could look me in the eye and say, “My name is Jack and I have ADHD.” It’s just not the same to answer, “Hi, I’m Neil. I’m neurotic, but I’m not exactly sure what that means or what exactly I’m neurotic about.”

The first book I read at Borders was on procrastination. I certainly procrastinate on my writing, but not with everything. Other times, I am very much on the ball. (Editor’s note: I’d like to see that ball — Sophia) I can’t honestly say that I’m NOT a pure-blooded procrastinator. (Editor’s note: I can.)

I was excited about finding a book on anxiety, especially one that screamed “Millions sold” on the cover. Anxiety is nothing new to me. I HATE making cold calls. I freeze in fear. That is anxiety. In my single days, I could never get enough nerve to talk to women in bars. I was too anxious.

The trouble is that “anxiety” is a term too broad for my taste. I don’t feel anxiety in typical social situations. I love to speak in public. I would have no problem running naked in the woods. I’ve met many who are plenty more anxious than me. Maybe I’m not really “anxious.” (Editor’s note: Yes, you are.)

The book that affected me the most was one about self-esteem. There was much in the book that made sense in the way it related to me– from the way I speak about my own accomplishments to my inability to say “no” to someone — fearing that they wouldn’t like me.

After our visit to Borders, we went to a Bistro-type restaurant for a late brunch. I brought along a 2-1 coupon that I had found in the mail. As some long-time readers of this blog know, giving coupons to waiters is one of these events that makes me ANXIOUS. I need to talk to my therapist about this. I know this makes little sense to you, but it almost feels as if I’m asking the waiter for a favor and imposing on him. I know, it sounds crazy, especially since I always leave a good tip on the full check amount.

As the waiter came over to our table, Sophia nudged me to give him the coupon before we order, as it is stated to do.

“Excuse me, ” I said to the waiter, as I fumbled with the folded coupon. “I have this thing… some sort of a certificate… um… but I’m not even sure if you even take it on weekends…uh?” (Editor’s note: On the coupon, it said, “Use any day.”)

“Oh yeah”, the waiter said, matter-of-factly. “Great. I’ll take it.”

And that was that. Sophia looked at me, laughing at how the episode made me into an incoherent wreck.

I thought to myself, “Think about what you just said to the waiter, and WHY — and you’ll understand YOURSELF a lot more than reading self-help books.”

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: Make Me Insecure Friday


  1. teebopop

    As time goes by, you will begin to realize that the “why am I like this” is not as important as “what can I do to change this.” Just don’t give up. If YOU are unhappy with who you are, then by all means, change. But never change if it’s because someone else is unhappy with who you really are.

    Just my 2 cents and worth only 1 cent on a good day.

  2. mrsatroxi

    Holy crap! I’m your blog crush! Neil, I love you more then ever. Muwah!

  3. V-Grrrl

    I’ve never trusted self-help books. I always think they’re a marketing ploy exploiting people’s weaknesses and insecurities, and I figured I’d most likely be attracted to a self-help book that told me what I wanted to hear. Why spend money on that?

    So, what does my distaste for self-help books say about my psychological state?

  4. tiddleywink

    It comforts me to know that I’m not the only anxiously neurotic person (with low self-esteem) who hates giving coupons to servers. I also hate meeting friends inside of bars/restaurants… what if someone were to see me walk in and glance around, searching for my friends, who are probably either late (I look sad and alone), or waving frantically at me while I miss them entirely (I look like an idiot). I share this in hopes that someone else says, “Me, too!” and not, “Wow, you ARE neurotic.” 🙂

  5. sassy

    I’m so with you on the cuopon waiter thing. It drives me bazonkers more than I care to express. Thank God I live on France now, where coupons to restaurants don’t exist and tipping is an option…

  6. wendy

    First of all…Do the human feet on that dog creep anyone elses out? Or is it just me?..

    For self help..I go philosophy. Which may explain why it takes me three years to get through some of them…

    Now don’t get mad Neil…But I did see Adaptation for the first time…and did find myself thinking a bit of…you.

    As for the coupons…Remember, who is PATRON..and who is employee.

    Next time I’m out I’ll take you for a lovely two for one..and show ya how it’s done!

  7. scarlet hip

    You are neurotic about your neuroses, it’s that simple.

    Also, you are justified in your fear of presenting coupons to waiters. They hate them and could possibly blow their noses on your food.

  8. Not Fainthearted

    keep struggling with it, Neil. It’s in the struggle that clarity emerges.

    in other words: rock on. You’re doing it.

  9. kimananda

    I do the same thing with websites…thinking if I just search with the right terms, all will be revealed to me about the universe and myself. But I suspect that deep down it’s just another sign of procrastination.

  10. tiff

    It took me until I was 45 (Yes, 45) to realize that I don’t really CARE all that much what other people think about me. Big step to take.

    So far, it’s working to improve my overall mental health and sense of peace. Took me long enough…

    The procrastination thing though is still the bigger elephant to try to eat. I do believe I might be hopeless.

    All this is to say that “know thyself” is a good first step. Knowing what to work on is the next best step. Good luck!

  11. OMSH

    You?! Neurotic? I simply won’t believe it. We all have these odd things about us, but it makes it so lovely to meet and get to know each other.

    “He’s he guy who can’t give coupons to a waiter”

    “She’s the girl that sweats buckets if she thinks she has to talk on the phone.”

    “She’s the girl that won’t touch a tick.”

    “He’s the guy that measures himself each week hoping it grows.”

    Seriously, neurotic makes the world go ’round.

  12. better safe than sorry

    nope, you’re neuroric, plain and simple. maybe you should try writing your own self help book?

  13. claire

    The coupon thing would probably stress me out too. In my case, I think it’s my desire to avoid conflict/embarrassment/judgment if the waiter says no.

  14. TC

    You know what kills me about people like you and me? That we actually think we’re UNIQUE. Or that, if people heard about our little ‘quirks,’ they’d think that we’re insane.

    Instead, of course, they do what I did when you talked about your coupon thing…they go “Oh, man, *I* do that!” Except not with coupons…For me, it’s calling in an order for take-out. I somehow have it in my mind that I’m going to “bother” the person on the other end of the phone by, you know, asking him to make food for me to pick up (or, worse, to have DELIVERED to me). When, of course, every logical cell in my body and everyone else’s says, THAT IS HOW HE MAKES HIS MONEY. He COUNTS on people calling in orders. And yet, I can’t do it. Seriously. Can’t.

    Ain’t insanity great?

  15. di

    Ummm maybe you’re a really nice guy who is sensitive to others and is concerned about how your actions make them feel … maybe you can even imagine walking in the shoes of others, maybe you write about this … hmmmm, maybe you’re not neurotic at all, maybe you’re simply a writer who has to hold onto the ability to feel and relate and empathise and etc so you can write …

    I don’t know but I have this theory about actors and writers, artists too. They have to have the ability or courage to live with thin skin to feel and imagine everything … various solutions are sought for the results of this ‘feeling’, alcohol seems to be the most popular.

    It seems that if someone is acting out the lives of many other people, or writing of them credibly or creating paintings or sculptures of others then they’re not going to be as ‘normal’ as the guy who works in the bank – 9-5 for his or her entire life … and anyway, is that 9-5 stuff normal or an obsessive compulsive need for order and habit?

    Hmmm I should have called this ‘a short essay from the soapbox’ but neurotic … I don’t see it.

  16. di

    P.S. My blog has a delete option when one is a little neurotic about a comment they just wrote …

    You could have a warning here somewhere 😉

  17. teahouseblossom

    Hey, I thought I was the only person who got anxious about giving coupons to waiters!! I always want to tell them, “Hey, don’t worry..I’ll still tip you on the whole amount…”

  18. V-Grrrl


    The 9-5 is not NORMAL. It is an obsessive-compulsive need for order and habit. Yes it is! : )

    Loved your comment.

    Sign me the thin-skinned one who drinks at your house….

  19. helen

    You think coupons are bad, paying with credit card is worse. I have a friend who went to China 2 years back. He gave the waiter his card after the meal..(it was stated on the restaurant front door that place accepts all major credit cards)
    The waiter took the card and yelled to the cashier…. (in Chinese)
    “Beggar card here…”

    **meaning, if you’re rich, you could have afford to pay in cash..**

  20. therapydoc

    Neil, this is about assertiveness. You buck up and squeeze out Just the Facts.

    Like a yuppie-type cuts in front of you in line at the theater. You’re assertive now that you’re in therapy.

    You politely tap the guy on his shoulder and say (just the facts), Excuse me sir, the end of the line is over there (and you point to the end of the line).

    Then when the big guy with tattoos all over his body does the same thing, you say. NOTHING.

  21. Vadiay

    Try this:

    It “worked” for me… as in I accidentally discovered this listing of 16 personality types, found mine, panicked at the realisation that someone had obviously been following me round for the past couple of years and I was the target of an evil practical joke, calmed down when I accepted this was impossible and then felt not a little bit cross at the idea that I am not unique… I have a typical personality (one of 16 apparently).

    Then I had the crisis… but it seems to have helped me understand myself a lot better… and more importantly start changing things I don’t like.

  22. brettdl

    I’ve always been anxious about giving coupons to waiters and here’s why: My mom.

    Back in the day when those coupons were relatively new, waiters used to flip out when handed one of those coupons. Seeing that I was about 11, I was mortified every time mom whipped one — or a handful — out.

    Worse, they almost ALWAYS were expired or for a different restaurant. After a few minutes, the entire restaurant staff would be peering at 5 or 6 of the crumbled, ripped coupons trying to decide if they were “real” or not.

    (Ironically, I’ve been reading “I’m So Embarrassed” by Robert Munsch to the kids lately.)

  23. margaret

    hi, my name is margaret, i’m neurotic and have adhd with no hyper-active characteristics along with some social anxiety… sharing this sort of info is not generally the way to win friends and influence people

  24. pia

    What gets to me are all the new blogs that purport to tell bloggers how they can be a new improved person if they just read this blog, follow the links, and keep reading

    Sometimes the advice is so empowering as to be dangerous

    Neil, anxiety is to the born New York Jew as___is to___

    Therapists love us as we’re basically mentally healthy, always examining and are cash cows

  25. lotus07

    I find this humorous….you are envious of others that have a specific diagnosis. Like you are being picked last for the baseball team or something. Even in neurosis, there is a striving to succeed and be better than the rest.

  26. Katie

    Ever read anything by Jennifer James? My mother-in-law really got a lot out of Women and the Blues, which despite its title you might find interesting. You can see the excerpt on Amazon.

    Oh, and even if you have a coupon, tip for the full amount. The waitstaff will hold you in high esteem.

  27. Richard Heft

    Neil, if you go into Borders and read books about your neuroses, you’ll just be more self-conscious about your moderately flawed character, and you’ll walk out to your car twitching wildly, for which Sophia will berate you. However, if you follow the advice of anti-Semitic savant Joseph Campbell and “follow your bliss,” you’ll spend a happy, healthy hour in the magazine section, learning “The MAXIM Philosophy” and reading the important interviews and fiction contained within that fascinating publication — for which, Sophia will berate you.

  28. michael5000

    Well, you SHOULD be anxious about cold calling or approaching a stranger, as either way you are (not necessarily in a bad way) breaching someone’s privacy. You are mixing up the normal flow of a transaction when you give a coupon to a waiter; nothing strange with being a little nervous about that. You obviously don’t have a serious writer’s procrastination problem, as you crank this blog out like clockwork.

    Maybe you’re fine?

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