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One of the pitfalls of depression is that because it tends to come in waves, the habits we gather while we’re feeling okay often fall by the wayside when we’re feeling rough. And while I’m a huge advocate of forcing yourself to maintain those habits during times of darkness, I know that sometimes, it’s just not possible.

Luckily, we live in a time where technology is literally at our fingertips. There’s a lot of junk in that app store, but there are also a handful of stellar apps that can help hold your hand through the waves. Here are a few of my favorites.

Created by game designer Jane McGonigal, SuperBetter is an app that builds resilience. Born after a traumatic brain injury left McGonigal suicidal, SuperBetter brings the concepts of gaming into real life. For McGonigal, this meant accomplishing Power-Ups like putting on socks and establishing Allies with friends and family to help her achieve her Quest of returning to a normal life.

The game is fully customizable. If you are battling Depression as your Bad Guy, accomplishing little tasks like drinking a glass of water, walking the dog, or getting up off the chair and moving around all generate points that count toward your win. Over time, these accomplishments create change on a neural level, leading to an overall more positive state.

screen shot of superbetter application home screen

MoodMeter is an aesthetically pleasing, data-driven app designed to help you track and shift your day-to-day mood. This can be especially helpful for those suffering from depression because depression is the great manipulator. One dark day can feel like it erases ten days of progress, but if you have visual data that proves you are ultimately on the upswing, it can be easier to manage those dark days.

screen shot of mood meterapplication home screen

Drawing on 40+ years of research and clinical experience by psychiatrist Dr. David Spiegel, Reveri is a digital hypnosis app designed to create immediate relief from pain, stress, anxiety, sleep problems, and more.

Hypnosis is a tricky word often associated with quack therapists or stage shows. But in this context, it’s more of an imagination tool that helps kick the mind and body into a state of active rest. It is a state of highly focused attention, where distracting thoughts are decreased and the mind becomes more open to new ideas and perspectives.

Each exercise takes about 10 minutes and can be treated like a daily meditation. The one caveat is that because the app is new, it can be a little buggy. But given the team of people behind it, including neuroscientist Andrew Huberman and technologist Ariel Poler, it’s likely these issues will sort out over time.

screen shot of reveri application home screen

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

gold the fuckit bucket charm

may cause side effects a memoir book picture and author brooke siem

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 September 6, 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.

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Healing Depression through Factual Optimism

How do we find happiness when we are still depressed or in antidepressant withdrawal? We don’t. At least, we don’t aim for big changes. Instead, we go for getting it right 51% of the time. If we quantify happiness onto a scale that ranges from 0% happy to 100% happy, every decision we make alters our position on the scale. If we can get our life to a 51% Lifetime Happiness Average, our choices are validated by default.

The goal isn’t to reach 100%. On some days, 80% can seem like a stretch. Fifty-one percent, though, is almost always doable. And at 51%, we’re winning.

Little Changes Bring Big Results

Quantifying emotions helps us remain grounded and make decisions rooted in reality, as opposed to the reality created by the chatter in our heads.

If we have one “good” day a week, we are at 14% happiness. By making small changes to bring us to two good days, our happiness average rises to 28%. To hit 51%, we need to have average 3.6 “good” days per week.

To set ourselves up for more good days in a week, we apply the 51% theory to individual decisions.

pinteret graphic for blog post the fifty one percent, or, factual optimism

As long as each singular decision falls at 51% or higher, it puts us closer to our overall 51% Lifetime Happiness Average.

Decisions are based not on logic, but on how they make us feel. When we are faced with a situation, take a moment and simply ask, “Where does this decision fall on the scale? How do I feel when I think about it?

If the decision feels like it will bring 51% Happiness, go with it, even in the absence of logic or practicality. If we don’t know the answer, wait and gather more information. Patience is often the difference between 49% and 51%.

The beauty of the 51% Theory is that all decisions become easy decisions. Even difficult decisions are easy decisions. They may still carry immense consequence, but once the 51% threshold is crossed, nothing else matters. At 51%, we are already ahead. Make the decision and go.

It only takes a 1% shift to create momentum that can change your life. At 49%, we’re still struggling against the current. At 51%, we’re moving with the river.

When in doubt, make a graph!

The 51% Theory is not finite. If, over too many days, a particular decision that started off at 51% or higher begins to fall, something needs to change. If a situation falls to 40% or so, that’s the time to get curious. Is the drop tied to your emotions or external logistics? Did the situation change or did you change? Is the effort involved in getting it back to 51% worth your time?

When you don’t know the answer, focus on a situation’s effect on the overall average. Since the goal is to hit 51% over the course of your life, a situation that sits around 45% for a few weeks only incrementally lowers your overall average, whereas a situation that sits at 5% for a few days can be intense enough to bring the whole average down. The lower the situation on the Happiness Scale, the higher its priority. If I have you nail in your foot, don’t focus your energy on the splinter in your finger. Even if you have 10 splinters in your finger, it’s the single nail is causing the bigger issue. But over and over again, people focus on the splinters while ignoring the giant, rusted nail in between their metatarsals.

In years of implementing factual optimism, my life has changed dramatically. I wanted to see a visual representation, so I made a graph:

chart presenting happines average in 2016

This isn’t a true lifetime representation, of course. My father died in July 2001, when I was 15. Anything before that seems arbitrary since my childhood definition of “happiness” was whether or not my mom packed an Oreo in my lunchbox.

I was a typical teenager until my father passed, so I give 2001 a 35%. The “peak” in 2008 was thanks to a debauchery filled final semester of college that was quickly squashed with the reality and uncertainty of moving to Manhattan on my own. Overall, I estimated around 2.75 good days per week in 2008. I opened my bakery in 2011 but by 2013, I was lucky to get one good day per week. I implemented the 51% Theory in 2014, and by 2015, my day to day massively improved.

The Lifetime Happiness Average only tells a broad story. It’s more interesting to break down by year:

chart presenting lifetime happiness average

As you can see, 2016 was an emotional mess. In February, I made a decision based on the 51% Theory to leave my life in New York City travel around the world. Because one life altering decision apparently wasn’t enough, I also decided to get off the cocktail of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills that I’d been taking since my father passed away. Both of these decisions barely squeaked in at 51%, and I ended up creating a perfect storm of logistical and emotional hell that was extremely painful and even more expensive.

Even though the immediate consequences of these two 51% decisions created five of the worst months of my entire life, the after effects are proving to be worth as high as 86%. That’s six good days per week — the highest I’ve ever averaged.

In the depths of those five months, I reminded myself (and was reminded by others) that I made those decisions because of that 1%. Even though 49% and 51% feels similar in the moment, that 1% is the tipping point that creates momentum for positive change. At 49%, you’re still struggling against the current. At 51%, you’re moving with the river. And at the end of our life, however many days away, we can look back and say to ourselves, “It was all worth it. Fifty-one percent of the time, everything was beautiful.”


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

three images of the fuckit bcket collection

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 September 6, 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.

may cause side effects a memoir book picture and author brooke siem

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In a day and age when information travels at warp speed and lives can be irrevocably changed by one photo or a single tweet, there was something poetic about the speed of the 2020 federal election. All the bandwidth and technology in the world couldn’t move it along any faster than it was going to go. The outcome was too precarious and the stakes were too high for anyone to make an honest call. And so we waited, and waited, for more information to come in.

It is moments like this that pierced through my own fourth wall and grabbed me tight around the chin, forcing me to face the greater collective storyline and apply it to my own. While the United States idled at a crossroads that led us toward two very different futures, I also stood at a major junction. There were two choices, and I needed to choose one. Each somehow felt both beautiful and awful, and yet the rest of my life hinged on this choice.

It was too close to call.

But life imitates life. For all the faults of that election and the missteps of all the people involved, there was one thing huge lesson to learn from it: when a decision remains unclear, it is because all the information has not yet arrived.

We have conditioned ourselves to think that when we are presented with a choice, our only options are to pick one or the other and to do it fast. But there is an ever-present third choice that often holds the most power — the choice to wait.

Waiting is itchy. It prickles at you like a stiff wool sweater on a frozen winter night. But to rip it off too soon is to expose yourself to the elements without having first found shelter. If only you could wait until dawn when the sun rises to light the way. Life might look a little different then, the two paths now illuminated, obstacles in clearer view.

So we waited. And I waited, itchy and squeamish, for the information to come in. Because the outcome was too precarious. The stakes were too high.

It was too close to call.

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

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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

Back during my days of deep depression, one of my unconscious coping techniques was to put down the little things that brought other people joy. The phrase “that’s stupid” fell out of my mouth like a tick. Nothing and no one was safe. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Stupid. Just donate money without the attention. Disneyland? Stupid. The most miserable place on earth. Hobbyist birding? Stupid. Who cares about random birds?

This reaction, of course, came from a most selfish place. I couldn’t find joy in anything, and it pissed me off that delight seemed so easy for others. I never stopped to think that maybe they took responsibility for their own happiness and worked for their joy. It never occurred to me that maybe they had pain too, but that they didn’t let suffering define them as a person.

The ability to experience a glimmer of joy is a litmus test for your psychological state. When I work with clients in antidepressant withdrawal, one of the first things I ask them to do is to start noticing little flickers of creativity, joy, or clarity that tend to come up as the drugs leave their system. These nanoglimmers of light may be barely perceptible at first, as simple as a deep inhale of freshly ground coffee or noticing how your eyes linger on the details of a flower. For people working through depression and getting off antidepressants, these nanoglimmers signal the mind’s innate ability to stop the mental loops and detach from the physical weight of depression—even just for a moment.

In my experience, as the nanoglimmers grew from fleeting seconds into longer chunks of time, the use of the phrase “that’s stupid” faded from my vocabulary and gave rise to curiosity and spontaneity. Birding might never be my lifelong passion, but what did it matter if other people enjoyed it? Who was I to put it down when it had no impact on my life?

To let others do their thing without making it about you is a hallmark of healing. They are on their path. You are on yours. It may take weeks or months or years of hard work to grow one nanoglimmer into a life filled with joy, but noting the existence of a single nanoglimmer proves that it is possible. What you can do one, you can do again. With time, one can always become two.

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

No fate is worse for those with anxiety than the act of doing nothing. But there is one tool you were born with that can help calm your mind and body when the weight of a situation becomes too much: your breath.

I am an XPT certified breathwork coach. Often, with my clients going through antidepressant withdrawal, I use my training to teach them how to breathe through the unpleasant side effects. But the techniques are relevant to anyone who suffers from anxiety, and yet little attention is paid to our breath.

Though breath is the single most important life-force on the planet, studies suggest that breathing dysfunction occurs in up to 83% of anxiety sufferers. Breathing dysfunction can negatively impact the body in a number of ways, including reduced blood flow to the brain, and sleep apnea, and higher instances of stress and anxiety.

Anxiety is the body’s way of alerting you to potential danger. It’s that “fight or flight” response that historically, motivated our ancestors to get scared and run away from a hungry tiger. But these days, most people aren’t being chased by a tiger (or its metaphorical equivalent.) Instead, anxiety is created in our minds.

Just because anxiety is created in the mind doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Physiologically, the body doesn’t know the difference between anxiety created because of a physical source and one created in our head. Think of a nightmare, for example. Even though we are safe in our beds without any physical threats, the situation created in our mind can shoot us up out of bed, drenched in sweat, and panting as if the dream was as real as the mattress underneath us.

The breath is like a remote control for the mind, and learning how to harness its power can mitigate the body’s stress response. Several studies have shown that deep breathing, specifically belly breathing that activates the vagus nerve, significantly reduces the stress response in the body. The vagus nerve runs from your brain all the way down to the belly, with branches that extend into your throat, heart, and lungs. When properly stimulated through deep breathing, the nerve regulates the nervous system’s response by turning down the intensity of stress and anxiety.

By breathing with intention, each of us has the power to operate our internal remote control, thereby gaining some authority over the anxiety. With an undetermined future ahead, there’s no better time to gather tools to manage our new uncertain world. You’re going to need every edge we can get, so let’s start with the one you were born with: your breath.

Morning breathwork, to set a calm foundation for the day:

Cadence Breath

Designed to keep you mindful of your breath while also helping your body to kick into a parasympathetic (calm) state, cadence breathing is an ideal breath pattern to ground yourself first thing in the morning.

To begin, sit in a comfortable upright position, either crossed-legged or in a chair. Take a moment to become aware of your breath. Actually look at it. Can you see your belly going out and in? Or maybe your chest moves up and down? Are your lips parted, allowing you to take in air through your mouth? Or is your jaw clamped down tight?

No matter how you typically breathe, commit to spending the next 10–15 minutes breathing only in and out through your nose and into your belly. Keep one hand on your stomach for a tactile reminder, and feel that hand rising and falling with each breath.

Begin with a cadence tempo of 2:2:4:2. That means you’ll inhale through your nose for an honest count of two (one one thousand, two one thousand…), hold your breath for a count of two, exhale through your nose for a count of four, and hold your breath at the bottom of the exhale for two. The crux of cadence breathing is to keep your exhale twice as long as your inhale, so if you’re comfortable at 2:2:4:2, increase the tempo to 3:3:6:3 or even 4:4:8:4. The slower and deeper your breath, the more the vagus nerve is stimulated to lower overall stress.

Breathing for when the anxiety is too much and you need to calm down, now.

4:7:8

If you find yourself on the verge of panic and you don’t have 15 minutes to step away and collect yourself, the 4:7:8 breathing pattern can knock anxiety down in just a handful of breaths.

Simply breathe in the nose for four seconds, hold your breath at the top of the inhale for seven seconds, and exhale audibly out your mouth for eight seconds. This is one breath cycle.

Repeat the breath cycle three more times.

If you find the 4:7:8 too challenging, simply speed up your counting while keeping the inhale:hold: exhale ratio the same.

Breathing for bedtime, because insomnia and anxiety are inextricably linked.

Long exhale + humming

Though humming has long been a staple of yogic breathing and meditation, science has only recently revealed the potential reasons why. Our paranasal sinuses are the main producers of nitric oxide, a gas that plays an important role in vasoregulation (opening and closing our blood vessels) as well as neurotransmission, immune defense, and respiration. When we hum, our nasal passages produce nitric oxide up to fifteen-fold in comparison with quiet exhalation, which leads to lowered blood pressure, heart rate, reduced anxiety, and a grounding feeling of calm that can lull us off to sleep.

Know that there’s a high chance of falling asleep during this exercise, so make sure you’re ready for bed before you begin.

Lying on your back with your head in a comfortable position, simply close your eyes and inhale through your nose, taking in a big breath into your belly. When you’ve taken in a full breath, begin humming and slowly exhale out all your air. Keep the hum deep and low and long, with the vibration coming from the back of your throat rather than your head. Repeat the humming breath for 10 minutes, or until you fall asleep.

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

“The calmer and quieter you breathe, the larger your blood vessels open, enabling better circulation and distribution of oxygen throughout the body, including the brain. Oxygenate the brain—breathe less.”

– Patrick McKeown, author of The Oxygen Advantage

In 2018, two years after I’d taken my last antidepressant, I found myself still struggling to remain steady in an unmedicated world. After fifteen years of relying on antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs to do all the coping work for me, I didn’t have any sense of how to self-regulate my emotions or nervous system.

Around this same time, an acquaintance of mine, Taylor Somerville, became certified as an XPT Coach. Built on the researched-backed principles of managing stress response and wellbeing through breathwork, movement, and recovery, I went down the XPT rabbit hole and decided to get certified myself. Using Symmetry as a blueprint, my intention was to eventually use the XPT principles in my work with clients in antidepressant withdrawal.

Like most things in life, my plan strayed from reality. The majority of XPT’s methodology wasn’t a great fit for people in active withdrawal, but it was a perfect fit for where I was in my recovery. While Taylor went on to build Symmetry, a business dedicated to helping people regulate stress through breathwork and exposure therapy, I decided not to follow in his footsteps and instead, learn from him.

Two to three times per week, I pop into Taylor’s 45-minute, virtual breathwork sessions. Designed to combat dysfunctional breathing patterns and lower stress response, these sessions act as internal barometers, providing me with immediate feedback on my mental and emotional state.

You might be asking yourself, “How are breathing and stress connected? Doesn’t my body naturally know how to breathe?”

Take a look at this chart:

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the metabolic stress messenger in the body. Suffocation, for example, occurs when oxygen levels go down and carbon dioxide levels rise to lethal levels. Although the body can survive without air for 4-6 minutes, most people will panic within the first 30 seconds due to increasing CO2 levels that create uncomfortable sensations throughout the body. These sensations release stress hormones into the body which increase heart rate, constrict blood vessels, and create a flustered state. Assuming we are not actually suffocating, all of this makes for a continual, negative feedback loop. Sustained over time, our CO2 tolerance goes down and our body remains in a constant stressed and anxious state.

The good news is that breathing is the only system in our body that acts on both a conscious and unconscious level. Because we have control over it, we have the power to change the level of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our blood. That’s where intentional breathwork comes in. By learning to manipulate our breathing, we can reverse dysfunctional breathing patterns and increase our tolerance to CO2, which leads to a lowered stress response.

I’m sharing all this with you today because Taylor is opening his virtual breathwork sessions up to a larger audience, and I figured someone out there in Happiness Is A Skill land needs to hear about it.

Come join me! Hit this link to sign up!

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

A parable, borrowed from the religious but relevant for the atheists: A man is alone in his home when the storm comes. The local news channel tells him to evacuate, to move to higher ground, but instead, he shakes his head and says, “I will pray to my God and he is going to save me. I have faith” The rain beats down and the wind picks up. The streets start to flood and just as the water begins to rise over the man’s driveway, a knock comes at the door. A local policeman, with a rowboat, says it’s time to go, but the man shakes his head and says, “My God will save me. I have faith.” The wind wails and the water rushes in. It rises to the man’s ankles, knees, then hips. He climbs the stairs to his second floor, where it is dry. He waits there, for hours, and when a break in the storm comes he spots someone in a motorboat. “Come with me!” the floating figure yells, “The storm is only half over!” But the man shakes his head and says, “My God will save me. I have faith.” The eye of the storm gives way to more rain, more thunder. Water tickles the man’s toes, and he climbs the ladder to his attic. The wind rips the roof off his house, but when the man looks up, a rope is falling from a helicopter. “Grab on!” the pilot shouts, but the man shakes his head and says, “My God will save me, I have faith.” Reluctantly, the pilot recoils the rope and flies away. The man waits for his God to save him. But the house begins to crumble and soon the water is rising rising rising. It splashes over his legs and his torso and soon it is at his shoulders, his neck, his chin. The last thing the man notices is how the water shimmers on the tip of his nose. When the man reaches the heavens, he finds his God. “I had faith in you,” the man says, “I prayed to you. I believed in you. And you didn’t save me. You let me drown!” To this, the man’s God replies, “I sent you a warning, a rowboat, a motorboat, and a helicopter. What more could you ask for?”

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

To my favorite group of humans on the planet, this blog post is a little different because it exists just to tell you about my new favorite thing I’ve made: The Fuckit Bucket™.

Tee hee hee.

The Fuckit Bucket™ was born out of sheer delight. A friend of mine, embroiled in the world of C list celebrity and a nasty split from her baby daddy, was talking about how her life was so screwy that she was running out of fucks to give. I suggested that she put all the fucks in a bucket for rationing. A “Bucket ‘o Fucks” we called it. I even made a prototype:

I thought, everyone should have their own bucket. For two years, the Bucket ‘o Fucks noodled in my mind. I giggled every time I thought about it, and wanted to make a talisman of sorts to keep me giggling day to day. And then, sometime between 2016 and 2018, I heard the phrase, “Chuck it in the fuck it bucket and move on.” Fuck it bucket had a better ring to it, so I stored the phrase away. I would know when it was time.

In 2019, I caught a headline about how the Supreme Court deemed that swear words were, in fact, a form of free speech. The US Trademark and Patent Office would no longer be allowed to reject applications with swearing or immoral words or symbols. I searched “Fuck it bucket” on the USPTO website, and found that the phrase had not been trademarked. It was time to create.

As a former small business owner and small business lover, I did not want to produce the bucket overseas, even in exchange for a lower bottom line. After designing my little bucket, I found a smelter in upstate New York to cast the product. While he was pouring molten metal into my design, I went to work on trademarking. I figured that best case scenario, people would get a giggle out of the Fuckit Bucket™ like I do and snag them up on Etsy. Worst case, I wouldn’t sell a single bucket but I’d never have to buy anyone a Christmas or birthday present again.

Turns out, people love it. I launched the Fuckit Bucket™ just last week, as a response to the train wreck presidential debate. This year continues to pound down, and I decided it was time to bring a little levity back to the dog & pony show that is 2020. And given that we still have two more debates, an election, and the holidays coming up…well, everyone is going to need their own Fuckit Bucket™.

Buckets are available on a necklace, keychain, or as a stand-alone charm.

We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming soon, folks. After so many years of depression, I am basking in the fact that I can find so much joy in creating a silly little bucket. This is why we do the work. Because when we clear out all the emotional crap, we make room for creation and laughter to come in, which results in both art and delight!

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

Happiness Is A Skill was created as an outlet for me to reach the kind of people who email me every day. Ever since my Washington Post Article, “I spent half my life on antidepressants. Today, I’m off the medication and feel all right” became the #1 read piece on WaPo National the day it was published, my inbox likes to fill up with people who are struggling to get off their antidepressants or benzodiazepines. I respond to every person who contacts me, and often that correspondence leads to a longer conversation.

About 12 weeks ago, after one of these conversations melted two hours away from my day, it occurred to me that I was spending a lot of time saying similar things to lots of different people. Why not take all that information and distill it down into a digest that could reach lots of people at once? And so Happiness Is A Skill was born. There are two overarching themes of these emails. First, people are desperate to find relief from the pain of withdrawal, all while trying to process the anger they have for prescribed drugs and doctors that were supposed to help them. Second, they are looking for someone, anyone, who understands. Psychiatric drug withdrawal is an excruciatingly long and lonely process that you simply cannot relate to unless you have experienced it. It’s rare to encounter another person going through withdrawal in the wild because people in severe withdrawal probably aren’t leaving their house. (And those who are experiencing mild or moderate withdrawal are likely so irritable that they aren’t exactly projecting warm fuzzies.)

Until recently, antidepressant withdrawal was swept under the rug by psychiatrists and doctors, largely due to a lack of substantial research surrounding long-term use and tapering. (Antidepressants and benzos are designed, studied, and tested for short term use, i.e., weeks. There is not a single study on the effects of long-term antidepressant use, and yet 1 in 4 people on antidepressants have been taking them for more than 10 years.)

But in 2019, a group of American and British psychiatrists came together and urged national withdrawal guidelines to be updated after they “discovered” what many patients already knew: it is a hell of a lot easier to start taking antidepressants than it is to get off of them. In a systematic review of existing research, the authors determined that “nearly half of those experiencing withdrawal (46%) report it as severe, and that reports of symptoms lasting several months are common in many recent studies.”

The authors go on to say that their evidence directly contradicts the position of the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines, which state that “[withdrawal] symptoms are usually mild and self-limiting over about 1 week.” In short, this research shows that half of all antidepressant users will likely experience withdrawal of a substantially longer duration and severity than current guidelines recognize. Shockingly (to this American, anyway), the NICE guidelines were updated to reflect these findings, giving suffering withdrawal patients a smidgeon of validation. All this to say that the tides are changing. My article and others like it are finding space in mainstream media and a new cohort of psychiatrists and researchers are starting to take our claims seriously. But arguably the biggest contribution to bringing this issue to light is the new documentary, Medicating Normal. I had the pleasure of watching a screening a few days ago, and it both broke my heart and fed the fire within me.

A synopsis:

“Combining cinema verité and investigative journalism, Medicating Normal follows the journeys of a newly married couple, a female combat veteran, a waitress and a teenager whose doctors prescribed psychiatric drugs for stress, mild depression, sleeplessness, focus and trauma. Our subjects struggle with serious physical and mental side effects as well as neurological damage which resulted from taking the drugs as prescribed and also from attempting to withdraw. Says one psychiatrist, ’There’s not a chemical on the planet, to my knowledge, that can require years to tapernot Oxycontin, not crack cocaine, not heroin, and not alcohol. But psychiatric medications, any tapered patient will tell you, can take sometimes years if possible, at all.’ … [Medicating Normal] is the untold story of what happens when profit-driven medicine intersects with human beings in distress.”

Statistically, a good chunk of Happiness Is A Skill readers are taking some form of antidepressant or anti-anxiety/benzodiazepines like Xanex or Ativan. For those people, none of this is meant to scare you or bully you into getting off the drugs. You do you. However, if you ever do want to get off these drugs, I implore you to do your research and work with your doctor to create a slow, deliberate tapering plan. Doctors are not required to give patients informed consent when it comes to psychiatric drugs, nor are they well versed in safe withdrawal. It’s not their fault. The medical system simply doesn’t teach them how to take people off these medications. It is possible to wean off psychiatric drugs safely and with few side effects, but the techniques for doing so are being developed at a grassroots level by people who have experienced it, like me. For more information on safe withdrawal, check out SurvivingAntidepressants.orgMad In America, and the Inner Compass Initiative. You can also email me directly. Lastly, Medicating Normal is being screened virtually at several film festivals and hosted events. I would recommend it to anyone who is taking antidepressants or benzos, but I believe it should be required watching for all practicing psychiatrists and doctors. You can find tickets and upcoming screenings here.

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

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Over the past six months, I have watched a curious trend develop amongst the people in my circle. Faced with a clear threat —COVID-19- two courses have emerged. First is the group that follows whatever rules and precautions that exist where they live but who also generally accept that COVID is a part of life. These are the people who went back to the gym when it opened, socialize within their bubble, and go to restaurants. Life is normal (ish).

The second group follows strict, often self-imposed rules. One thirtysomething friend of mine hasn’t left his house since March. Another makes sure never to miss the nightly news, so she can stay informed on the latest numbers. Still, another barricaded herself in the attic to keep distance from the family. They put these practices in place to keep themselves safe. They are running from the threat. And it’s been working. Until now.

The thirtysomething friend came down with a fever and a deep, dry cough. Coronavirus or otherwise, he asked himself, “How the hell did I catch something when I haven’t left the house?” The friend watching the nightly news experienced so much anxiety that she gave herself raging ulcers that ate through her stomach lining. And the acquaintance in the attic? She developed a lung infection unrelated to COVID but refused to go to the hospital because she was worried about catching COVID. The lung collapsed. She was hospitalized and left with a much bigger problem than the initial infection.

It is a most human act to focus on an outside predator, convincing ourselves that if we just get stronger or run faster, we will evade danger. But the process of protecting ourselves from an obvious beast can skew our perception. Fixated on a single threat, we lose our peripheral vision and are blindsided by an unexpected blow…even though signs were there all along.

At its core, this tendency stems from the brain’s inability to truly conceptualize its death. That’s all we’re doing right? Telling ourselves that if we stay inside, watch the news, and keep away from other people we will not die. Death is a scenario that will befall other people. But not us. Because we are in control.

Except, we will die. Yes, even you. Fixating on this one particular method of death is futile. Avoiding it does not eliminate the end result. It simply shifts the target.

Easier said than done, of course. Your psychology, risk tolerance, physical health, and life experience will dictate how you handle a crisis with so many unknowns. But no matter your particular brand of peccadilloes, it’s worth asking, what exactly are you running from? And what is happening around you, when you’re blinded by the chase?

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Gratitude. Oh how I loathed that word for so many years. Throughout the depths of my depression, gratitude taunted me like a schoolyard bully sniggering at the poor kid’s hand-me-downs. What was there to be grateful for when my world was nothing but darkness and pain? Why be grateful for the basics of life — food, water, shelter, breath — when I didn’t want to live in the first place? How could I create a practice around something I didn’t feel?

It’s not that I didn’t try. For a while, I scribbled in a gratitude journal. Or as I referred to it, a fucking gratitude journal. When that didn’t work, I tried a gratitude jar, but all I wanted to do was shatter the thing against the wall. Then I tried reading some Stoic philosophy. And listening to Oprah. Nothing stuck. Gratitude, I determined, was for suckers or the anointed. I was neither.

Color me surprised when, in January of 2017, I stood in front of a lopsided fir tree growing just off the highway in Prague and felt a surge of gratitude so great, it warmed me down to my frozen toes. It’s like its needles reached into my heart and jolted me awake with the force of a defibrillator. I stopped cold in the middle of the sidewalk, turned, and stared like it was the first tree I’d ever seen. They grey highway and the grey sidewalks and the grey sky melted away, leaving nothing but the deep green tree swaying in the breeze. A sort of tingle twitched between my shoulder blades that flooded through my body — gratitude for life itself.

I went back to the tree nearly every day during my four weeks in Prague, trying to encode the flush of gratitude into my cellular memory. I worried that the tree was a beacon I might never find again, like I would leave the city and lose the signal. If I could only hold onto it and recognize it, I figured, maybe it would find me again.

And it did. Slowly but surely, it did.

When it comes to living a happy life, gratitude sits at the center of almost every teaching, philosophy, and religion. The Bible says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18.) The Buddha said, according to Kataññu Suttas scriptures, “A person of integrity is grateful and thankful. This gratitude, this thankfulness, is advocated by civil people. It is entirely on the level of people of integrity.” The Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius coined the phrase, “the attitude of gratitude” and the modern spiritual teacher, Ekhart Tolle, says that “It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up.”

But for years, no matter what I tried, I couldn’t access it. Why?

Two things are at work here. First, gratitude is a feeling, not a reasoning. In my experience, it is impossible to access gratitude through the intellect alone, which is why my attempts at gratitude jars and journals failed. The practice was there but the embodiment was not, and without the physical and emotional connection, the reasoning was futile. This is the same reason why it’s useless to tell kids to clean their plates because there are starving children in Africa. Knowing that people are starving is at odds with the fact that the kid feels full, and the lesson does not sink in.

Second, gratitude is no match for grief, loss, or the untrodden path of phenomenal change. It is simply too delicate, too nuanced. The image of a flower tossed into the base of a waterfall comes to mind. Beauty and wonder crumble under thousands of pounds of force.

The waterfall could not thin and let gratitude shine through until I began to stabilize from antidepressant withdrawal and work through the grief — and subsequent depression — of losing my father. But once I finally felt gratitude, I learned to recognize it when it randomly showed up. After recognizing it a few dozen times, a practice allowed me to access gratitude on command. Only now does that gratitude journal serve its purpose.

Think of it as software. Until the software is downloaded onto the hard drive, the computer cannot access it. But you must format the hard drive to remove any corrupt data before the software can be downloaded, otherwise, the software will also corrupt. But once the hard drive is formatted and software is downloaded, the computer can run the program. It runs best when the hard drive is clear of viruses and clutter, but as long as you clean up the hard drive now and again and don’t let malware seep into the system, the software can run forever.

This is gratitude. It must first be felt before it can be regularly accessed, but it cannot be felt until the corrupt energy is cleared away.

Thus, the first step to healing and happiness is not “be grateful.” It’s to start clearing the corrupt files, one byte at a time.


From Productivity to Psychedelics: Tim Ferriss Has Changed His Mind About Success | GQ
From Productivity to Psychedelics: Tim Ferriss Has Changed His Mind About Success | GQwww.gq.com

I find few interviews to be truly worth reading, but this interview with Tim Ferriss is packed with useful nuggets about managing the mind and overcoming yourself. A quote: “The inescapable fact that if, at best, you tolerate yourself, and more often berate, hate, or criticize yourself, how can you possibly fully engage with others, accept and love them, and find peace of mind and life?”


The secret to happiness is simple: live like a Stoic for a week | The Independent
The secret to happiness is simple: live like a Stoic for a week | The Independentwww.independent.co.uk

What have the Romans ever done for us? Well, obviously the roads – the roads go without saying. How about guidance for how to live in the 21st century? That seems less likely, but in fact the last few years have seen a flurry of interest in the work of three Roman Stoic philosophers who offered just that.


Why you can smell rain
Why you can smell raintheconversation.com

The smell of rain, or petrichor, is one of the few sensory experiences that instantly transports me into a state of gratefulness. But why does that smell happen? This 2 minute read explains why.

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My mother always told me that I was born to do something big. This idea sprouted just a few months after I was born, when my parents took me to an astrologist my father had been working with for years. According to the planets and the stars, the astrologer said, it would never be enough for me to help just one person. I would want to help the whole lot of them.

While this prophecy motivated me to take risks and aim high, it also set me up to equate recognition with my own definition of success. And not just any recognition. The right recognition. It’s not enough for friends, family, or some no-name publication to tell me that I write pretty or cook well. If it’s not big and obvious, I see it as meaningless.

Obviously, this isn’t a great way to live. And like all stories we tell ourselves, life has a way of taking our bullshit narratives and making us repeat them over and over again until we learn. Case in point: my memoir about antidepressant withdrawal has now been rejected by 16 presses, most of whom work under the umbrella of major publishing houses like Penguin/Random House and Harper Collins. The rejections are fabulous. The editors that read my work are over the moon with the quality and power of my writing, but for whatever reason, they “have to pass but can’t wait to see where it ends up.” These are the gatekeepers with the money and status to take a book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and turn it into the mega-bestseller and blockbuster movie, Wild. They are my definition of big. And they are falling out of my reach.

Watching the window close to the major publishers is devastating. I quite literally ripped the shirt off my own back and tore it into tatters after I received my last rejection. That’s how much this matters to me. But after weeks of mourning and an uncomfortable amount of anger, 16 repeats of the same pattern is enough to get me to start reevaluating. And so I’m asking myself, what does it really mean to be big?

Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, for example, comes to mind. Semmelweis died in a Viennese insane asylum in 1865 after his life work, The Etiology, Concept, and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fevers, was rejected by a panel of German physicians and pathologists. Semmelweis’s thesis? Disease is caused by a lack of cleanliness, and that postpartum mortality decreases by tenfold if doctors wash their hands before delivering a baby.

It would be another 20 years after Semmelweis’s death before Louis Pasteur’s work on germ theory led to an acceptance of Semmelweis’s claims and practices. Today, of course, washing hands to prevent disease may as well be a global sport. But Semmelweis would never know about his big contribution to the world. His work, through the lens of his own existence, did not make a dent.

I wonder how Semmelweis felt about his work. During his early stages of madness, did he regret all the time spent on a life that amounted to ridicule? Was the fact that he saved a few hundred women from dying of infection enough to offset the knowledge that countless more would die because other doctors rejected his thesis? Or was it the weight of perceived failure that drove him to despair?

***

Do you know of any other ordinary figures whose little known work changed the world? Please send them my way!


Are You Downplaying Luck’s Role in Your Life? - Facts So Romantic - NautilusAre You Downplaying Luck’s Role in Your Life? – Facts So Romantic – Nautilusnautil.us

Think blood, sweat, and tears are the reason for your success? Think again, says Robert Frank, a professor of economics at Cornell University. Luck, he says, is the invisible hand.


Ridding Happiness Contaminants 1: Ego Anxiety | Psychology Today CanadaRidding Happiness Contaminants 1: Ego Anxiety | Psychology Today Canadawww.psychologytoday.com

Russell Grieger Ph.D., breaks down the concept of Ego Anxiety, a never ending cycle consisting of the desire to always do well and be approved, followed by the idea that failure = worthlessness, which in turn furthers the need to always do well and be approved.


Ignaz Semmelweis, "father of infection control," pioneered hand-washing but died before many took his advice - The Washington Post
Ignaz Semmelweis, “father of infection control,” pioneered hand-washing but died before many took his advice – The Washington Postwww.washingtonpost.com

If only Semmelweis could see how his contribution changed the world…

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