The “Doug Funnie Syndrome” and Questioning our Thoughts
I am the product of 90’s television. Kind of. I am not a 90’s kid, I was born in 1986. However, as an elementary school child, I was blessed with some of the most amazing cartoons to be bestowed on television. In the beautiful summer of 1991, Nickelodeon’s animated “Doug” immediately became a sensation. I’ve seen every episode. I think it’s fair to say that most people near my age can either hum or whistle the opening credit sequence. It was such a memorable animated series. Who could possibly forget a name like Patti Mayonnaise or Porkchop or Mr. Dink? Each episode consisted of two 15 minute shorts following Doug in his everyday life, going through the motions of growing up, and confronting all sorts of dilemmas. Doug’s personality traits remained the same throughout the entire series. Doug was neurotic, a self-sabotager, and his pessimistic imagination always conjured up worst case scenarios. In a personal favorite episode, entitled “Doug’s Dinner Date”, Doug embarks on an anxiety ridden journey to convince himself that he can enjoy eating liver and onions. He had been invited to eat with Patti, his crush, and he turned a simple and kind gesture into this potentially horrific and doomsday experience.
I do this all the time.
I try to might light of my own neuroticism…by now calling it “Doug Funnie Syndrome”. Perhaps this term will find its way into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders one day. I kind of want credit. Perhaps you can relate: you screw up, you say or do something dumb, you’re uptight about tomorrow for whatever reason, and your imagination runs rampant. You have a headache and or your lower back is sore, you look up your symptoms on WebMd.com and suddenly you have brain cancer or some rare spinal fracture. Or Zika has mutated into a super virus and the clock is now ticking! It’s over. Noooooooo.
I’m not kidding. This is how my head can sometimes work. Look at this story of grandeur. ANXIETY.
Let’s fast forward 24 years later from “Doug”‘s premiere. In the summer of 2015, two convicted killers, broke out from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y. The two had managed to bust out by cutting a hole in a steam pipe, stuffed their bed to create decoys, and found freedom. Now, there was me. I was headed to Ithaca, N.Y. for a personal retreat. I had discovered a little ‘sanctuary’ on AirBnb the summer before and was desperate for a recharge. Of course, I had heard of this jailbreak a little bit before my departure and my “Doug Funnie Syndrome” spiraled out of control. I had convinced myself that these two convicts were going to find me and kill me. Why wouldn’t they? They totally had a bone to pick with me. They of course needed to leave cryptic clues of their whereabouts. I just Google mapped the distance between Dannemora to Ithaca: 272 miles. Not to mention! Ithaca is in the complete OPPOSITE direction of Canada, where the two were headed. So then, why was I freaking out?
I had created this whole story in my head that I was going to die and that my personal retreat was going to end with an obituary stating that my journey to being cool was cut short. I went to Ithaca, with a whistle and my bear mace (Just for safe measures! I was going to be the NEW type of whistle blower!) Well, I was fine. The escapees, not so much. Google it. I was on the edge of my seat the majority of my Ithaca trip but was lucky to see some great waterfalls and had great weather! Oh man, and those fireflies put on this spectacular light show for me every night. I highly recommend that you go! My head has a knack for creating these tales of grandeur. I don’t know if this was rubbed off on me from watching so much “Doug” or that my parents have left their own anxious imprints in my head. Regardless, one practice that I have to share with you….is really stopping yourself and asking: is this the truth or is this a lie?
It was my former Youth Minister, Kathryn, who taught me this strategy. I’m not sure about you, but I have this gift for creating these fictional future realities. I still do it. I’ve got some lifelines that I call when my head goes down the whirlwind of misery. Really ask yourself, “How often am I wrong?” Seriously. Don’t let your ego and self righteousness get in the way here. Ask yourself, right now, if you have the tendency to be WRONG about what is going to happen tomorrow. Or even an hour later from now. Or even 20 minutes from now!
Or try this: Have you ever entered some sort of situation, so confident that it’ll play out exactly the way you had predicted? Sure, some things might play out the way you had imagined. But, for the most part, we bullshit ourselves. Forget asking and getting fixated on why do we do this. The more you catch yourself lying to yourself, the easier it becomes to manage and disregard the stress induced feelings. Byron Katie, author of the book “Loving What Is”, is a wonderful read and I highly recommend it. She created a simple 4 step formula called The Work which focuses on questioning our thoughts. The bottom line: it’s our thoughts that cause suffering. She states that we should approach our thoughts with inquiry. Really investigate the thought!
I want to gently add one step to Byron Katie’s formula – laughter. As I had mentioned before, I have some wonderful life-lines in my life who put up with my own bullshit. When I truly have a “Doug Funnie Syndrome” moment, I know exactly who to call. They are so unbelievably patient with me and the conversation has a tendency end with laughter. We can all laugh at how ridiculous Rob is being. And I want you to do the same. Well, not laugh at me, but laugh at yourself! Speaking on my behalf, my soothsayer predictions can be absolutely absurd. I once ate a peanut butter sandwich at work, loaded the copier machine with a new stack of paper, WITHOUT having washed my hands, and had convinced myself that some poor person was going to have an allergic reaction to handling their peanut-laced paper. I was going to be responsible for a peanut-butter-allergic-reaction outbreak. Remember the 1995 film “Outbreak”? Yea, well, forget the host monkey. The copy machine was going to ruin everything and destroy lives. I was GUILT ridden for about 48 hours. I even called a friend who I knew had an allergy! HE even told me I was being ridiculous! Nothing happened. No headlines such as “Skippy Peanut Butter: Skipping Your Way to the Grave” made the news. I continue to eat peanut butter….and will continue to respect the ‘No-Peanut Zones’. Next time you have your neurotic moment, try to find the humor in it. Laugh at yourself. Once you are able to do this, you are golden. Laughter is the liberator.
Every episode of “Doug” ends with our troubled protagonist writing in his journal, reflecting on some lesson he had learned and relieved that things worked out. At the end of “Doug’s Dinner Date”, Doug forced himself to try liver and onions building up to this climactic point in the episode. He ended up liking it before having dinner with Patti. Furthermore, Patti admits that she was only joking about the liver and onions. They get Honker dogs and fries. Doug had wasted so much ENERGY on something that didn’t even happen. Save your energy. Do you ever find yourself exhausted from your thoughts? They can be so draining! Question your thoughts. And laugh at yourself. You’re fine. And so am I (And believe me, like you, I have to remind myself of this too!)