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A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, Chapter 1

As you might remember from past issues of Happiness Is A Skill, Eckhart Tolle’s book,The Power of Now, was the final piece in my puzzle of healing from depression. 

The moment the puzzle locked in place is still clear in my mind. I was January of 2017, and I was in my apartment in snowy Prague. In an attempt to turn a one-bedroom apartment with a living room into a two-bedroom apartment without a living room, the main living area had a random double bed pushed against a sunny window. I dubbed it the Reading and Napping bed, and spent many hours curled up there when it was below freezing outside. 

I arrived in Prague feeling all a funk. I was nearing the year anniversary of getting off antidepressants, and though I was experiencing longer stretches of lightness here and there, I’d been stuck in a period of depression for weeks. The bitter cold and isolation both amplified the melancholy and also brought me comfort, the ache of loneliness foiled by untethered freedom that only solitude can bring. 

One afternoon, I got into my Reading Bed and picked up The Power of Now. Two pages into the introduction, I read the following passage: 

“I cannot live with myself any longer.” This was the thought that kept repeating itself in my mind. Then suddenly I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. “Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with. “Maybe,” I thought, “only one of them is real.” 

In one all-encompassing moment, I realized: the mental chatter in my head wasn’t me. It was a separate entity entirely, the ego as Tolle comes to call it.

The puzzle piece clicked into place. I put the book down, all of two pages in, and fell asleep for hours. When I woke up, I got out of bed, looked around the room, and watched it brighten. As the sun filled the space, I felt the depression lift out of me. I finally got itWhatever it was. I’ve been free from depression ever since. 

Eckhart’s work always seems to find me right when I need it. With all that’s going on in the world, I was drawn to another one of his books, A New Earth: Awakening to your Life’s Purpose. Originally published in 2005, it’s now more relevant than ever. I’ve been reading a section or two before bed, and I find it always has a way of centering me, especially when the people are being particularly awful to one another. 

For the next handful of issues, I’ll be going through each chapter. I’d recommend picking up your own copy and slowly reading along with me, but if that’s not your style, you’ll still be able to understand what’s going on in each issue. (Hence my story about The Power of Now and the ego. The ego is the main character in A New Earth, so now you know its origins.)

So let’s dive into it, beginning with Chapter 1.

The Flowering of Human Consciousness. 

The thesis of A New Earth is, more or less: Identification is the cause of all suffering. 

Said another way, when you base your identity around any number of situations or things—relationship status, body image, illnesses, power, a big house, a fancy car—all of which are driven by the ego’s desire for more or better, you are inevitably doomed to suffering because the ego is never satisfied. Furthermore, the ego is not you. It is a distraction from who you really are, which is the “divine life essence, the one indwelling consciousness or spirit in every creature, every life-form.” Once this essence is noticed, it is possible to see it in all living and non-living objects, which allows you to “recognize it as one with their own essence and so love it as themselves.” 

I know, I know. That sounds like a lot of woo-woo mumbo jumbo. Stay with me, and I assure you it will start to make more sense. 

As Eckhart says on page 11, “If the history of humanity were the clinical case of a single human being, the diagnosis would have to be: chronic paranoid delusions, a pathological propensity to commit murder and acts of extreme violence and cruelty against his perceived ‘enemies’—his own consciousness projected outward. Criminally insane, with a few brief lucid intervals.”

Keeping this in mind, the only conclusion we can come to is that what we’re doing isn’t working. It’s the reason why I don’t look at Eckhart’s words as hippy nonsense. Each individual has to get a whole hell of a lot better at existing in this world, otherwise we’re doomed. 

“Fear, greed, and the desire for power are the psychological motivating forces not only behind warfare and violence between nations, tribes, religions, and ideologies, but also the cause of incessant conflict in personal relationships. They bring about a distortion in your perception of other people and yourself. Through them, you misinterpret every situation, leading to misguided action designed to rid you of fear and satisfy your need for more, a bottomless hole that can never be filled.” 

It is not enough, however, to try to be good. Attempting to let go of fear and desire doesn’t work because fear and desire are a side effect of dysfunction, not the dysfunction itself. For the dysfunction to actually dissipate, a shift in consciousness is required. 

“You do not become good by trying to be good, but by finding the goodness that is already within you, and allowing that goodness to emerge.” 

One of the easiest ways to understand this shift in consciousness is to tap into big-P Presence, by looking at a flower. Though flowers have utility in the plant world (pollination), for humans, they are largely decorative and ceremonial. There is a shift in the present moment when you receive flowers or happen upon one in the wild. Some part of you recognizes the beauty, and this recognition is an essential part of your “own innermost being,” your “true nature.” The ability to feel joy and love are intrinsically connected with this recognition, which is why the simple act of observing a flower can be so powerful. It connects to a greater realm.

To sense this recognition, this Presence, when observing the beauty of a flower is one thing. To do it in all scenarios, especially the difficult ones, is to have true mastery of the practice. Puppies, kittens, crystals, flowers, lambs, babies—all of these things act as a clear window to Presence and often, momentarily, cut off access to the ever-present ego. 

Aside from the benefit of relieving individual suffering through Presence, humanity is at a collective tipping poing. For the first time in history, the human egoic mind is threatening the survival of the planet. Therefore, a shift in consciousness is required. “If the structures of the human mind remain unchanged, we will always end up re-creating fundamentally the same world, the same evils, the same destruction.” Until, one day, there is nothing else. As Eckhart says plainly: Evolve or die.

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I can’t say I’ve been happy as of late. Any indication otherwise is an illusion, a flick of the wrist and a wave of the hand designed to distract from reality. 

I’m sure I’m not alone. The Russian/Ukrainian war and the unavoidable media salivation over the whole thing is enough to make anyone wish they could press pause on the human experience. Combine that with the drama of day to day life and speed at which we jumped from one worldwide crisis to another has, quite simply, brought me down. So much so that I’m back to tracking my Daily Happiness Average as part of my brief, nighttime journaling routine. (For more on that practice, go back to the HIAS archives and give issue 26 a read.) 

All week, I’ve been hovering in the high 30s and low 40s (on a scale of 0-100, with 100 being the best day of my life.) After so many years of happiness practice, I usually hang around a content 70-80 that tends to stick even during times of stress or frustration. Thus, these low numbers—and especially their consecutive nature—stand out to me. 

As Steve Jobs said in his 2005 Stanford commencement address, “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

Jobs’ never mentioned his criteria for “too many days.” I have come to learn, though, that three weeks is an optimal length of time for observation. Excluding emergency circumstances, it’s long enough to be truly uncomfortable but short enough to muster through. It also allows enough time for meaningful change, creating a sort of personal clinical trial that allows you to recognize patterns within a situation without having to commit long term.

A three week trial period also prevents rash decision making. I know that when I’m suffering, my instinct is to pull the emergency cord and parachute out of the discomfort. In my younger years, this resulted in a variety of amusing and problematic situations ranging from quitting jobs without a plan to cutting people out of my life to the sudden acquisition of a four-legged creature known as the Demon Dog. While I’m lucky that no true tragedy came from these quick decisions, the fallout from all of them could have been mitigated had I simply waited a little while before acting.

Jeff Haden, contributing editor to Inc. put it succinctly in his recent article about two-week goals: “There’s no way to know what it takes to achieve a certain goal until you embark on the path toward that goal; that’s when you find out what you really want. Or in some cases, don’t want.”

My three week countdown started once I noticed the third consecutive day of low Daily Happiness ratings. One low number is part of life. Two is coincidental. Three indicates a pattern is forming. I have a hunch about what’s going on and if I wanted to, could make an appointment and end it tomorrow. And believe me, that is what I want to do.

Instead, I am going to wait. Over the next two weeks, I’ll see how things unfold, track how I’m feeling, and notice what new information comes in. It’s highly unpleasant and I am not happy about it. But two weeks of discomfort in the grand scheme of my life is irrelevant if the patience helps to guarantee clarity and avoid regret. 

(Grumble.)

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Want is a word I don’t seem to understand in the way other people do. I want my dog to live forever. I want to teleport to Paris and eat all the croissants without gaining an ounce. I want time to stop each morning, so I can bask in the luxury of dozing in bed for hours—and still start my day at 7am.

I want the impossible. The fantastical.

Over the years, in an effort to help me snap out of depression or guide me to a solid path, people have asked, “What do you want?” And when that question didn’t go anywhere, “What kind of life do you want?” The hope, of course, was for me to answer with something concrete. A doctor. A mother. A business owner. A wife. 

I never had an answer. I still don’t. It is easy enough for me to know what I don’t want, but I’ve never known what I want. Because from my perspective, all earthy options come with strings. The gooey brownie comes with a blood sugar spike and post-indulgence lethargy. The $100,000/year career comes with the corporate bullshit required cash that check. There are no free lunches, and I can’t seem to wantsomething with conditions. 

There’s a saying that goes, “If you want better answers, ask better questions.” Asking myself what I want results in paralysis. I just can’t get there, likely because all my answers are rooted in solving an existing grievance, instantaneously. (If I want my dog to live forever, then I never have experience her loss. Problem solved!)

Instead, I’m learning to shift the focus from what I want to asking myself how I like to feel. This has been particularly useful lately, as I’ve been considering a run for local government. Do I want a third job? Not particularly. But I really like the feeling of making sense of a mess, and the satisfaction of knowing a job is done well because I was there to take part. I like feeling purposeful, and after five years of writing and selling a book entirely about me (as is the nature of memoir), I’m craving projects about someone or something else. 

Still, there is trepidation about entering into an endeavor I haven’t spent my life dreaming about. I know just enough to know there’s so much I don’t know. The fog of it all butts right up against wanting. I want safety and predictability. I want comfort and ease. I want to go to bed each night with a quiet mind devoid of responsibility. 

I want the impossible. The fantastical. 

No life is without strings. Not running for office—or whatever Big Thing you’re considering in your life—doesn’t guarantee that life will be free of worry. So if you’re at a crossroad unable to decide what you want, try asking better questions. 

How do you like to feel? Does the Big Thing bring up feelings you like—determination, purpose, focus? What makes you feel satisfied? At what point do you just take a big swing? What might you be capable of if you take the chance? What if you do what reflects who you are?

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As one of the few people to have successfully published an article about the realities of antidepressant withdrawal in a major newspaper, my inbox is filled with inquiries from people whose experience is similar to mine. One of the most common comments is from people who say their doctors pulled them off psychiatric drugs over the course of days or weeks, leading to unbearable withdrawal symptoms. 

This type of message makes me irate because as far as I’m concerned, this is patient abuse. Dangerous psychiatric drug withdrawal is avoidable, and when it does occur under a doctor’s care, it is a direct result of physicians not doing their due diligence on research that has existed for over twenty years. 

A little background: 

Despite years of patient suffering, research into antidepressant withdrawal has been a low priority for doctors and psychiatrists. The first systematic review of antidepressant withdrawal did not even exist until 2015, a full twenty-eight years after Prozac was first released to the public in 1987. 

Finally, in 2019, the first comprehensive systematic analysis of antidepressant withdrawal found that more than half of people coming off antidepressants experience withdrawal symptoms, and half of those—like me—experience severe withdrawal (Davies & Read, 2019), also known as protracted acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). A separate, 2020 study of those suffering from antidepressant-associated PAWS found that participants experienced withdrawal symptoms for an average of thirty-seven months, with eighty-one percent of participants reporting suicidality as a direct effect of their withdrawal symptoms. (Hengartner, Schulthess, Sorensen, et al., 2020). 

The research on withdrawing from benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, etc.) is much more robust. Benzodiazepines and antidepressants both emerged in the 1950s, but it was benzodiazepines that became known as “mother’s little helper” and were prescribed to keep housewives from becoming “hysterical women.” Their immediate, tranquilizing benefit thrust them into the spotlight, and as the decades went on, their reach became more ubiquitous, eventually leading to the benzodiazepine addiction crisis.

Enter Dr. Heather Ashton, a British psychopharmacologist and physician with a focus on benzodiazepines dependence and withdrawal. It was Ashton who first realized that long-term use of benzodiazepines led to physical dependence, but that short-term use sometimes had its benefits. (Remember the Thai soccer team stuck in a cave back in 2018? They were rescued in part thanks to Xanax, which was part of a cocktail used to lower their anxiety before they were sedated and guided out of the cave. A perfect, one-time use of the powerful drug.) 

Ashton dedicated her life to working with people addicted to the benzodiazepines. In 1999, at 70 years old, she published “Benzodiazepines: How They Work And How To Withdraw,” now known as The Ashton Manual.

The Ashton Manual advocates for extremely slow tapers, much slower than the average recommendation by physicians (and most governments.) Faster tapers can lead to restlessness, irritability, insomnia, muscle tension, racing heartbeats and other debilitating symptoms, much of which can be confused with anxiety which leads the patient to pop another pill to alleviate the symptoms. 

If you’re a long time reader of Happiness Is A Skill and/or have read some of my other work, you might think benzo withdrawal sounds similar to antidepressant withdrawal, and you would be correct. Although The Ashton Manual initially focused only on benzodiazepines, the sharp rise in antidepressant use in the 2000s led Ashton to update her guide to include antidepressant withdrawal. Today, the distinction between withdrawing from antidepressant or benzodiazepines is minimal. Both should be done extremely slowly and done under the care of an informed physician.

The Ashton Manual is available for free on Benzo.org.uk or via Kindle. It is an invaluable resource for anyone struggling to get off psychiatric drugs or for physicians looking to understand how to manage a patient’s taper. 

Lastly, if you feel your health is being mismanaged or you are getting resistance from your doctor about taking a slow and controlled taper, do not be afraid to seek out a different qualified professional. I cannot over stress how not all MDs are created equal, and that there is someone in your area who understands the delicate nature of psychiatric drug withdrawal who will help you create a plan.

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When I began Happiness Is A Skill early in the pandemic, I imagined it as a space where I could freely share my tips and strategies for recovering from depression and antidepressant withdrawal. Sixty-eight issues later, I’ve decided it’s time to bring in other voices. As much as I’d love to pretend I have all the answers for everyone on the planet, the truth is that the first step to becoming a great teacher is being a great learner.

Happiness isn’t like riding a bike. You don’t learn it once and know it forever. It requires maintenance, and without practice, can slip away. When you return to it, weeks or years later, it can feel like you never learned it at all. I am deeply curious about how other people learned happiness, what techniques they’ve developed to keep themselves on track, and how they know they’re sliding off track in the first place.

I’ve reached out to a slew of people from all sorts of backgrounds. Even though we’re all in different situations, at the heart of it, I believe that depression and anxiety feels roughly the same for each individual, with varying degrees. If you’ve experienced either one, you know what it’s like to feel like your body is made of lead or for your heart to jump into your throat. You know what it’s like to lack motivation and curiosity, for the world to literally lose its color. You may not know how to recognize early patterns that signal an incoming bout of mania or melancholy, but learning to recognize those signals early is part of the practice.

Jenny Blake

This week, Jenny Blake (@jenny_blake), international keynote speaker and author shares her strategy for managing overwhelm—a feeling she is all too familiar with. After launching in 2016 as the top career pick by Axiom Best Business Books, Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One, by Jenny is now the go-to career development framework for forward-thinking organizations, pivoters, and entrepreneurs. Her next book, Free Time: Lose The Busywork, Love Your Business, tackles all that creates overwhelm in work and life: hustle culture, busywork, and overly-complicated systems.When asked to share a strategy to manage difficult or stressful times, Jenny said:

“As a highly sensitive introvert, sometimes the basics of family life—on top of running my own business—overwhelm me. I check my energy gauge to see if I feel like I’m drowning (as I did recently), treading water, or gliding and in flow. As much as I wish I could consistently be a good partner to my husband and dog mama to my two-year-old German shepherd within the constraints of my day-to-day and our WFH-household, sometimes I just need an escape. Booking a 3-night “staycation” or “workcation” in the city (I live in Manhattan) recharges me like nothing else. I know it’s not always financially feasible for everyone, and it can certainly feel like an excessive luxury (at first) to spend on room-and-board in one’s own city. But if I go into the trip with clear intentions (either deep rest, or deep work), I always come out with a renewed sense of self, feeling like it was a priceless investment.I got this idea from Cheryl Strayed and Maya Angelou, who said it was integral to their writing process.”

Two things stick out to me. First, Jenny stops to check in with herself before making any decision. Is she drowning, treading water, or gliding in the flow? Drowning signals a need to escape. Treading water is manageable, but it could also be a warning that an escape may be needed in the future. Gliding in the flow is calm, easy. All is well.

If she decides she’s drowning, she books a staycation and sets an intention. It’s not enough to mindlessly book a hotel and hope it works out. She creates a plan and sticks to it. After all, we can’t know if we’ve succeeded unless we’ve created parameters for success.

How could you take Jenny’s strategy and apply it to your own life? If a staycation isn’t on the menu, how about a solo hike or an overnight camping trip? Perhaps it’s about asking those around you for an hour a day, away from the kids. Or hiring someone to help you complete a project that’s been weighing on you, like cleaning the house or organizing the garage. Maybe the first step is simply asking for help.


Related resources: 

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After a marathon few months, I’m headed into a much needed hiatus from all things work. Until then, I wanted to leave you with a selection of books to help you mentally settle into these unsettling times. I ingest the wise words of others during troubled times always helps me re-center.

Here are 10 Books for a Happier You


I recommend this book all the time, including in recent issues of HIAS. If you are depressed or have a depressed family member, this is the one book I’d recommend over all others.

“There was a mystery haunting award-winning investigative journalist Johann Hari. He was thirty-nine years old, and almost every year he had been alive, depression and anxiety had increased in Britain and across the Western world. Why?

He had a very personal reason to ask this question. When he was a teenager, he had gone to his doctor and explained that he felt like pain was leaking out of him, and he couldn’t control it or understand it. Some of the solutions his doctor offered had given him some relief-but he remained in deep pain.

So, as an adult, he went on a forty-thousand-mile journey across the world to interview the leading experts about what causes depression and anxiety, and what solves them. He learned there is scientific evidence for nine different causes of depression and anxiety-and that this knowledge leads to a very different set of solutions: ones that offer real hope.”


Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton, PhD.

Biology of Belief was one of the first books to bring the world of epigenetics and the power of thought to the mainstream.

“The implications of this research radically change our understanding of life, showing that genes and DNA do not control our biology; instead, DNA is controlled by signals from outside the cell, including the energetic messages emanating from our positive and negative thoughts.

This profoundly hopeful synthesis of the latest and best research in cell biology and quantum physics has been hailed as a major breakthrough, showing that our bodies can be changed as we retrain our thinking.”


The Emperor’s New Drugs by Irving Kirsh, Ph.D

“Do antidepressants work? Of course — everyone knows it. Like his colleagues, Irving Kirsch, a researcher and clinical psychologist, for years referred patients to psychiatrists to have their depression treated with drugs before deciding to investigate for himself just how effective the drugs actually were. Over the course of the past fifteen years, however, Kirsch’s research — a thorough analysis of decades of Food and Drug Administration data — has demonstrated that what everyone knew about antidepressants was wrong. Instead of treating depression with drugs, we’ve been treating it with suggestion.

The Emperor’s New Drugs makes an overwhelming case that what had seemed a cornerstone of psychiatric treatment is little more than a faulty consensus. But Kirsch does more than just criticize: he offers a path society can follow so that we stop popping pills and start proper treatment for depression.”


Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker

“In this astonishing and startling book, award-winning science and history writer Robert Whitaker investigates a medical mystery: Why has the number of disabled mentally ill in the United States tripled over the past two decades?

Interwoven with Whitaker’s groundbreaking analysis of the merits of psychiatric medications are the personal stories of children and adults swept up in this epidemic. As Anatomy of an Epidemic reveals, other societies have begun to alter their use of psychiatric medications and are now reporting much improved outcomes . . . so why can’t such change happen here in the United States? Why have the results from these long-term studies—all of which point to the same startling conclusion—been kept from the public?”


This book has changed the way I approach decision making and helped understand what is truly essential, as opposed to a shiny distraction.

“Essentialism is more than a time-management strategy or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution toward the things that really matter.

By forcing us to apply more selective criteria for what is Essential, the disciplined pursuit of less empowers us to reclaim control of our own choices about where to spend our precious time and energy—instead of giving others the implicit permission to choose for us.”


A more practical application of epigenetics (whereas Biology of Belief focuses on the science), It Didn’t Start With You explores how the traumas suffered by your family have a direct affect on you.

“The latest scientific research, now making headlines, supports what many have long intuited—that traumatic experience can be passed down through generations. It Didn’t Start with You builds on the work of leading experts in post-traumatic stress, including Mount Sinai School of Medicine neuroscientist Rachel Yehuda and psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score.”


The Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle

The Power of Now was the final piece in my puzzle of healing. I read it when I was in Prague, in January of 2017, and felt the shift occur as I read the book. It is one of those books that will be over the head of those who aren’t ready, but for those who are, it is transformational.


The Choice by Dr. Edith Eger

I believe this book should be required reading. It is astounding—for those who are ready to receive its message.

“At the age of sixteen, Edith Eger was sent to Auschwitz. Hours after her parents were killed, Nazi officer Dr. Josef Mengele, forced Edie to dance for his amusement and her survival. Edie was pulled from a pile of corpses when the American troops liberated the camps in 1945.

Edie spent decades struggling with flashbacks and survivor’s guilt, determined to stay silent and hide from the past. Thirty-five years after the war ended, she returned to Auschwitz and was finally able to fully heal and forgive the one person she’d been unable to forgive—herself.”


Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

“‘Believing that something is wrong with us is a deep and tenacious suffering,’ says Tara Brach at the start of this illuminating book. This suffering emerges in crippling self-judgments and conflicts in our relationships, in addictions and perfectionism, in loneliness and overwork—all the forces that keep our lives constricted and unfulfilled. Radical Acceptance offers a path to freedom, including the day-to-day practical guidance developed over Dr. Brach’s twenty years of work with therapy clients and Buddhist students.”


Money is one of the great causes of mental anguish, and yet few people are willing to pick up a book and learn how to get out of debt, invest, and change the invisible scripts that run your monetary life. Whether you don’t think you have the income to save an extra $50/month or you don’t know what to do with your riches, I Will Teach You To Be Rich is as educational as it is entertaining.

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In 2018, after thirty-two years of relishing in perfect eyesight, a routine optometry appointment indicated that it was time for me to get glasses. My first question was, “What about contacts?”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had strong reactions to tactile sensations. Mostly, I don’t like it. I pull away from touch, get little nauseated around pockmarked surfaces, and am picky about fabrics. The wrong type of sweater doesn’t just make me itchy, it makes me irate.

When the glasses hammer came down, I hoped that contacts or laser eye surgery would keep me from having glasses touch my face. But my eyes don’t tolerate contacts well, and I’m not a candidate for LASIK or PRK (something about odd shaped corneas.) Bespectacled I became, begrudgingly.

It was all manageable enough until covid hit and masks became the norm. I’ve loathed those pieces of scratchy cloth from the moment they arrived, not because of their (bizarre) association with political peacocking and righteous indignation, but because of the fury that rises with in me from having so much stuff on my face. The masks could be made of silk and I’d still want to burn every one of them.

Of course, they aren’t always optional—at least not where I live. I’ve gone through dozens of styles of masks, desperate to find one that doesn’t make me want to jump out of my skin when I have to put it on. The ‘ole surgical standbys are the least rage-inducing, especially if they’re black or white. (The blue ones make everywhere feel like a hospital.)

Overall, it’s been frustrating to step into anger every time I go somewhere with a mask requirement. Because there’s so much emotion swirling around the pandemic in the first place, I always assumed the irritation that arrived was connected to spending the last two years living in what can only be described as a clusterfuck.

But a few weeks ago, in a startling example of delayed logic, I had an epiphany: take off the damn glasses. My eyesight is strong enough that I can make my way through the world without specs. I may not recognize you in a crowd 100 feet away, but I can still make out the fuzzy brands of crackers on a grocery store shelf. When I simply removed the glasses obstacle, my anger evaporated.

For two years I’ve been hearing people say, “I don’t even notice the mask anymore,” to which I resisted the urge to punch them in the face. Now, I leave my glasses in the car peruse retail stores in peace. It’s been a revelation, I tell you. Such a simple solution, too.

It’s not always the destructive choices that that contribute to melancholy or anger. Sometimes, it’s a basic assumption you’ve learned to take as truth. In my case, the assumption was that my glasses were an extension of my body, always on me unless I was sleeping or showering. Because of that benign assumption, it never occurred to me that taking them off might actually beneficial. As a result, I spent almost two years fighting daily anger over something I was in control of all along.

My challenge to you, and a journaling prompt for those of you so inclined: Examine your life and look for opportunities to take off the metaphorical glasses. How might this contribute to inner overall peace and happiness?

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The Root of the Problem

Over the past few months, I’ve been undergoing a series of extensive and thorough medical tests to get to the bottom of some physical issues I’ve been struggling with for years. Since well before these tests began, I’ve intuitively known two things to be true: something is inside me isn’t right but that whatever it is, it is treatable.

And yet, all my interactions with the American medical system thus far have led me to dead ends. Despite my history of extended international travel, few tests were run, with doctors dismissing my hunches because by most metrics, I’m a functioning individual. Instead, they assumed inconclusive diagnoses like IBS, lupus, stress, age. The solution was to relax! Drink more water! Eat more fiber! One doctor even suggested an antidepressant to help with gut issues, to which I smirked, raised an eyebrow, and resisted the urge to hand over a draft of my book along with my absurd $100 copay.

In September, after five years of this song and dance, the right professionals appeared at the right time. Instead of looking at each one of my issues in a vacuum, as if each symptom existed independently from the rest, my team analyzed my lab results and lifestyle from the perspective of an interconnected organism.

A saliva test, for example, indicated high cortisol (stress) levels but nonexistent estrogen and progesterone (sex hormone) levels. Looked at independently, the answer is hormone therapy that lowers cortisol and raises estrogen and progesterone. Simple, right?

Nope. A urine analysis revealed nearly nonexistent levels of metabolized cortisol, and a blood test showed signs of kidney dysfunction. Therefore, it’s not that my body produces too much cortisol, it’s that it can’t process it, which is a totally different problem that would not be fixed by lowering cortisol through drugs.

Still, this wasn’t the root of my complicaitons. My poor cortisol production was a symptom of a greater issue we discovered: a raging bacterial infection and parasitic presence, likely picked up while I was traipsing around the globe back in 2016. The constant stress of the infection increases cortisol production (and therefore lowers sex hormones because evolutionarily, it was unadvisable for our ancestors to focus on baby-making during stressors like famine or tribal war.) But because my gut is renting out space to unwelcome squatters, it’s not absorbing nutrients or electrolytes. Thus, I’m dehydrated no matter what I drink, which explains the kidney dysfunction, and the kidney dysfunction leads us right back to….poor cortisol processing! Hallelujah! Answers!

Why am I telling you this?

Two reasons. First, my gut bug story is a reminder to follow your intuition when it comes to your health. Half a dozen doctors dismissed my complaints, for years. I get it. They’re trained to look for extremes and to fit people into boxes of symptoms because that’s how we bill insurance companies. But the only person who knows you, is you. If you’re not a hypochondriac and you think something is off, follow that thread. Either you don’t find anything and you can breathe easy, or you turn out to be right.

Second, in going through this process, I was struck by how a whole-body approach to physical health is so similar to successful treatment of mental health. In both cases, few professionals actually look at comprehensive systems. An internist analyzes the gut and an endocrinologist analyzes the hormones, but at no point does either specialist talk to the other. The same is true for our approach to mental health. If you meet the criteria for depression, a psychiatrist gives you a diagnosis and a prescription slip. If you’re lucky, you work with someone who lets you talk a little bit about your wounds and your stressors for forty-five minutes, once a month.

While a series of lab tests were able to diagnose my root physical issues (the rent’s about to skyrocket, gut bugs), it’s rare to find people who are willing to dig around for root issues in their psyche. This work requires radical acceptance, ferocious commitment, and an unrelenting belief that it is possible to heal. It will ask someone to face their deepest shame, make extreme changes to their life, and to prioritize this work above all else. It requires financial commitment. It often gets worse before it gets better. It is hard. But it is also how we heal, how we build the strength to support a beautiful life.

I will be spending the next six months on a strict diet & supplementation schedule to evict the unwanted tenants living in my belly. What if you also spent the next six months committed to your physical and/or mental health? What if you went all in and committed to addressing the issues you know, intuitively, are bubbling inside your mind or body? What if you trusted that the work would pay off? What might your new life be like?


image of Fuckit Bucket™ products

Need a little giggle? Order one of my Fuckit Buckets™.

Look, we know that life is a special sort of disaster right now. Your closet is your office, the kids are still at home, and still your mother-law is calling you fat again. Let this little charm be a reminder that sometimes you have to chuck it in the Fuckit Bucket™ and move on!

Get your own Fuckit Bucket™

Coming September 6, 2022

May Cause Side Effects

Brooke’s memoir is now available for preorder wherever books are sold.

This is a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have. It’s moving and important.

Johann Hari, author of New York Times bestseller Chasing the Scream and international bestseller 
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions

More articles from the blog

see all articles

September 23, 2022

The Flowering of Human Consciousness

read the article

September 16, 2022

Three Weeks

read the article

September 9, 2022

Wanting

read the article

September 2, 2022

The Ashton Manual: A guideline for withdrawing from psychiatric drugs

read the article

Thank you everyone for your support over the past few months. I’ve spent the time in monk-mode, putting the last serious edits into my memoir, MAY CAUSE SIDE EFFECTS (Central Recovery Press, June 2022).

The work paid off. Johann Hari, award-winning journalist and author of the international bestseller Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and Unexpected Solutionssaid my book is “a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have.” Lost Connections is arguably the best book on depression and depression recovery in the world, and I am honored to have Johann endorse my work.

MAY CAUSE SIDE EFFECTS is available for preorder. If you can, please consider ordering from your local independent bookstore. Not only does it support local business, but bestseller lists rank orders from independent bookstores higher than orders from Amazon.

Barnes & Nobles | Amazon | Indiebound | The Writer’s Block

Ask Brooke: Lessons on Grief

Because so many people reach out to me with questions about depression, antidepressants, and recovery, I decided to make those questions part of my blog repertoire.

If you would like to Ask Brooke a question, you can do so here.

Today’s question is from a reporter at HerCampus who asked:

What advice would you give to a young person about grief?

My father died when I was in high school, so I spent much of my college experience “grieving” his death. I say “grieving” because at that point, I was medicated up to my eyeballs on psychiatric drugs given to me to inhibit the grieving process. The decision to medicate me as a response to grief has had long term consequences on my life (it’s what my book is about), so this is a topic that sits deep in my heart.

There are two key aspects to processing grief, especially as a young person whose mind isn’t fully developed. The first, and arguably most important, is to understand that the response to grief is not necessarily aligned or timed with the trauma itself. 

Hours after my father died, I went to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show and laughed with my friends. The adults around me were perplexed, and I remember feeling like I “shouldn’t” be happy (cue the shame) even though I was happy to be there.

Now, as a 35-year old, I understand their confusion. But as a teenager, I didn’t get what it meant to lose a parent. It was kind of like the first day of calculus. I had a vague notion that it was going to be hard, but because I didn’t understand any of it on the first day of school, the looming difficulty didn’t mean anything to me. It took time for me to understand enough about calculus to even have the vocabulary to describe how difficult it was, just like it took months for me to show any sort of outward grief from losing my father. But by then, I’d been sent to a psychiatrist because I wasn’t “grieving properly.”

What actually happened was that I was in shock from the trauma and slow to release emotion. I wasn’t aware that trauma and emotion can be separated by weeks, months, or years, so everyone (including me) thought I was “doing okay.” When the emotion finally did come out, I blamed it on the circumstance at the time, thinking that because I’d been “doing okay” so far, my emotions were unrelated to grief.

This is tricky because grief is often mistaken for a psychiatric illness, which leads to misdiagnosis and overmedication. Over the years, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has changed its criteria for distinguishing between major depressive disorder and grief. The third edition of the DSM, which governed the psychiatric industry from 1980 to 1994, gave patients one year of bereavement leeway before they could officially be diagnosed with a mental disorder. The fourth edition of the DSM slashed the timeframe down to two months. And the DSM-V, published in 2013, eliminated it entirely. Rather, if you’re not “over” a in a few weeks, you can be officially diagnosed with a mental illness—an unconscionable change, in my opinion.

It’s also important for young people to understand that grieving includes joy. Grief is not necessarily a blanket of blurry darkness in which no levity can get through. It comes in waves, which means there are pockets of time to feel joy. Fully feeling that joy or happiness is just as important as feeling the loss. Joy reminds us that we are alive and that we have something to live for. It honors the person or experience that’s been lost.

Had I known that back when I went to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, I may not have stepped into the shame of experiencing joy during grief. I may not have learned to view the world through a nihilist, depressed lens. I may never have been medicated for a mental illness I don’t know if I ever really had.

What I know for sure is that when I got off all the antidepressants, after 15 years, the grief I’d medicated away for so long was still there. I had to process it, a decade and a half later, which was much more destructive than it would have been had I let it unfold naturally.

Grief will always wait for you. It can be delayed but not avoided. Embrace it when it comes. Process it. Know that by feeling it you are transforming it into light and love.


image of Fuckit Bucket™ products

Need a little giggle? Order one of my Fuckit Buckets™.

Look, we know that life is a special sort of disaster right now. Your closet is your office, the kids are still at home, and still your mother-law is calling you fat again. Let this little charm be a reminder that sometimes you have to chuck it in the Fuckit Bucket™ and move on!

Get your own Fuckit Bucket™

After 15 years of depression and antidepressants, my mission is to help people find hope in the name of healing. My memoir on the subject, MAY CAUSE SIDE EFFECTS, publishes on May 10, 2022. Pre-order it on Barnes & Nobles, Amazon, or wherever books are sold. For the most up-to-date announcements, subscribe to my newsletter HAPPINESS IS A SKILL.

More articles from the blog

see all articles

September 23, 2022

The Flowering of Human Consciousness

read the article

September 16, 2022

Three Weeks

read the article

September 9, 2022

Wanting

read the article

September 2, 2022

The Ashton Manual: A guideline for withdrawing from psychiatric drugs

read the article

One of the most underrated and useful techniques in creating a steady life is to understand the purpose of priority. And yet, like most things in our hustle harder society, “priority” is a word that only comes up around work. We instinctively know that when it comes to our job, there are certain things that are more important than others. We’re okay with letting busy work fall to the wayside when a deadline is looming, but when it comes to our personal life, prioritization is often replaced with the phrase, “I don’t have time.”

As in, “I don’t have time to work out” or “I don’t have time to cook” or “I don’t have time to write that novel.”

white puzzle and text overlay image for pinterest

This is, to be frank, bullshit. You do have time to work out. You do have time to cook. You do have time to write that novel. It’s just that none of this is your priority. You are not choosing to build these activities into your day, and therefore it doesn’t get done.

Whenever I point this out to people who complain about not getting around to one thing or another, I’m always shocked by how defensive they become. When it comes to things we “should” be doing, we have a nasty habit of defending our own choices in order to rationalize our lack of action. We let the excuses fly, as if not working out or not cooking is somehow an attack on our character.

But if we shift our mindset from “I don’t have time” to “it’s not my priority,” we relieve ourselves of the guilt that comes with not accomplishing a task. Working out simply isn’t a priority. Cooking is not a priority. Writing a novel is not a priority.

And it’s okay.

As long as you’re being honest with yourself about why you choose to spend your time the way you do, it doesn’t matter if you never step foot in a gym or put pen to paper.

This blog is my priority every Monday morning. Objectively, the few hours of dedicated writing are probably better spent on paid work, pitching editors, or trying to build a better following so my book gets bought. But, even though it won’t be winning a Pulitzer and I’m not influencing millions of people with my words, I like starting my week with a low-stakes task that keeps me writing and reflecting. And I know that if I don’t do it on Monday morning before I get bogged down with other jobs, it won’t get done. So I prioritize it first.

What frustration would melt away if you acknowledge that all the things you “don’t have time to do” are simply not your priority right now? How might your life be more enjoyable if you stop beating yourself up for everything you’re not doing? And what might happen if you shift your priorities toward what you really want?


image of Fuckit Bucket™ products

Need a little giggle? Order one of my Fuckit Buckets™.

Look, we know that life is a special sort of disaster right now. Your closet is your office, the kids are still at home, and still your mother-law is calling you fat again. Let this little charm be a reminder that sometimes you have to chuck it in the Fuckit Bucket™ and move on!

Get your own Fuckit Bucket™

After 15 years of depression and antidepressants, my mission is to help people find hope in the name of healing. My memoir on the subject, MAY CAUSE SIDE EFFECTS, publishes on May 10, 2022. Pre-order it on Barnes & Nobles, Amazon, or wherever books are sold. For the most up-to-date announcements, subscribe to my newsletter HAPPINESS IS A SKILL.


Coming September 6, 2022

May Cause Side Effects

Brooke’s memoir is now available for preorder wherever books are sold.

This is a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have. It’s moving and important.

Johann Hari, author of New York Times bestseller Chasing the Scream and international bestseller 
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions

More articles from the blog

see all articles

September 23, 2022

The Flowering of Human Consciousness

read the article

September 16, 2022

Three Weeks

read the article

September 9, 2022

Wanting

read the article

September 2, 2022

The Ashton Manual: A guideline for withdrawing from psychiatric drugs

read the article

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Victor Frankl

In a recent interview with Tim Ferriss, author and business strategist Greg McKeown talked about a concept he called, “The Lighter Path.”

The Lighter Path, in essence, is the ability to cultivate a spirit of hope and ease even in the most difficult of times. Its antithesis is not the darker path, but the heavier path; the path that creates more chaos, more hurt, more work.

scale and text overlay image for pinterest

McKeown developed this idea after his bubbly, chatty 14-year-old daughter, Eve, began to turn morose and awkward. Her personality change was originally written off as typical teenage behavior, but after Eve failed a basic physical therapy test, she was taken to a neurologist. Despite a battery of inconclusive tests, her condition worsened to the point where Eve could no longer talk or write her own name.

brooke siem in the tulip field image with text overlay for pinterest

“Everything came back negative, sort of good news, but bad news because you’d have no idea what’s going on,” McKeown said. “And she is fully on the way to becoming comatose and then dying in a coma…this is the stuff that agony is made of, right?”

McKeown realized that despite his daughter’s grim condition, he had two choices: he could take the lighter path and make this already awful situation easier on himself and his family, or, he could take the heavier path and make it more even more difficult.

In a crisis or as a response to trauma, the heavier path is tempting and easy to fall into. It starts with complaining or trying to solve the problem through sheer effort. Focusing all that energy on one person or problem can take the air out of the room for everyone else, leading to destroyed marriages and families.

“All of these things weren’t just hypothetical,” McKeown said. “They were right there. There was that opportunity.”

The lighter path, though, creates a space of trust and hope. While it “doesn’t feel super light,” it is lighter than the heavier path. And in times of crisis, we need all the help we can get.

McKeown said, “We would get around the piano and we would sing. We would read together at night. We would do the small and simple and even enjoyable things. And so, what was at times agonizing, but could have been seriously worse, even, was actually punctuated with joy.”

Despite never getting a formal diagnosis, Eve McKeown fully recovered. Though her story creates a poignant container to explore the idea behind light and heavy paths, it’s important to note that we don’t need a crisis to choose the lighter path.

Take a moment and think about the topography of your life. Are there any burdens, grudges, or transgressions you haven’t forgiven? Are you in a constant state of anger and defensiveness over the injustices of the world? Is there clutter, literal or figurative, that simply makes life harder?

All of this leads to a life lived on the heavier path. To become aware of the heaviness and to consciously choose to rewrite the stories around this heaviness—that is the work. That is your job. And it isn’t all or nothing. Removing even 20% of your psychic drag could have a huge impact on your life.

Start small. Maybe it’s saying “no” to a draining project, smoothing things out with an old friend who voted for the other guy, or pausing before you write a knee-jerk text message that’s sure to cause more chaos.

Simply ask yourself, before you make a choice, “Does this have to be difficult?”


image of Fuckit Bucket™ products

Need a little giggle? Order one of my Fuckit Buckets™.

Look, we know that life is a special sort of disaster right now. Your closet is your office, the kids are still at home, and still your mother-law is calling you fat again. Let this little charm be a reminder that sometimes you have to chuck it in the Fuckit Bucket™ and move on!

Get your own Fuckit Bucket™

After 15 years of depression and antidepressants, my mission is to help people find hope in the name of healing. My memoir on the subject, MAY CAUSE SIDE EFFECTS, publishes on May 10, 2022. Pre-order it on Barnes & Nobles, Amazon, or wherever books are sold. For the most up-to-date announcements, subscribe to my newsletter HAPPINESS IS A SKILL.


Coming September 6, 2022

May Cause Side Effects

Brooke’s memoir is now available for preorder wherever books are sold.

This is a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have. It’s moving and important.

Johann Hari, author of New York Times bestseller Chasing the Scream and international bestseller 
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions

More articles from the blog

see all articles

September 23, 2022

The Flowering of Human Consciousness

read the article

September 16, 2022

Three Weeks

read the article

September 9, 2022

Wanting

read the article

September 2, 2022

The Ashton Manual: A guideline for withdrawing from psychiatric drugs

read the article

During my decade and a half of deep depression, my mother often said to me, “Honey, you can choose not to be depressed.”

To which I responded, seething, “Depression isn’t a choice. Why would I choose this? I can’t just turn it on and off.”

And then I’d huff out of the room and stew in twisted satisfaction, my depression a badge of honor. I didn’t believe that depression was a choice, but I did believe that enduring my depression made me stronger than everyone who wasn’t persisting through darkness.

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Today, I cringe at my own response. Here was a woman who, after being widowed at 47, survived breast cancer, underwent open-heart surgery, kept a business with 40 employees afloat during the recession, and did it all while raising an only child who spent those years huffing out of the room. My mother had every reason to fall into a hole of depression, and yet she never succumbed. That’s real strength. Some people might look at the difference between my mother and me as a difference in “brain chemistry.” Rather, one of us was “wired” to go off the depression deep end while the other was not.

I don’t buy it. Not only because the chemical imbalance theory has been debunked over and over and over and over and over again, but because in looking at how my mother and I processed the traumas of our individual lives, she chose to exercise the muscle of it-can-happen-to-anyone resilience while I exercised the muscle of moral elitism. Rather, I repeatedly chose to feed my inherent belief that I was special and therefore, tragic.

Part of this was age. I was 15 when my father died, arguably the most self-involved age in existence. And while I’d love to say that my lugubrious swim in the seas of melancholy was unconscious, the reality is that I knew exactly what I was doing. I liked the pity. I liked the attention. I liked the freedom of loss. No one expects much of the grieving, and I was happy to be left alone.

Had I shed this narrative once I graduated high school, perhaps I could have started to build the muscle of resilience. Instead, I doubled down on moral elitism, working that muscle from all angles until I was left with nothing but suicidal thoughts. It was never a choice to To Be or Not To Be Depressed, but the culmination of fifteen years of small choices that atrophied my resilience.

That is the choice my mother was talking about all those years ago. Depression is a beast that rips the reigns from your hands and drags you along for the ride. But it ebbs and flows, leaving pockets of opportunity where it’s up to you to find the strength to pick up those reigns and right yourself back on course.

No, there isn’t an on-off switch. But there is the single choice to commit to making thousands of little choices, building more and more resilience and awareness. Like a muscle, it gets stronger over time. And just like building muscle, it starts slow. One little choice. One little change. One little life.


image of Fuckit Bucket™ products

Need a little giggle? Order one of my Fuckit Buckets™.

Look, we know that life is a special sort of disaster right now. Your closet is your office, the kids are still at home, and still your mother-law is calling you fat again. Let this little charm be a reminder that sometimes you have to chuck it in the Fuckit Bucket™ and move on!

Get your own Fuckit Bucket™

After 15 years of depression and antidepressants, my mission is to help people find hope in the name of healing. My memoir on the subject, MAY CAUSE SIDE EFFECTS, publishes on May 10, 2022. Pre-order it on Barnes & Nobles, Amazon, or wherever books are sold. For the most up-to-date announcements, subscribe to my newsletter HAPPINESS IS A SKILL.


Coming September 6, 2022

May Cause Side Effects

Brooke’s memoir is now available for preorder wherever books are sold.

This is a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have. It’s moving and important.

Johann Hari, author of New York Times bestseller Chasing the Scream and international bestseller 
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions

More articles from the blog

see all articles

September 23, 2022

The Flowering of Human Consciousness

read the article

September 16, 2022

Three Weeks

read the article

September 9, 2022

Wanting

read the article

September 2, 2022

The Ashton Manual: A guideline for withdrawing from psychiatric drugs

read the article