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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.

More articles from the blog

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October 28, 2022

The struggle to kill the serotonin theory of depression in a world of political nonsense

read the article

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Last Times

read the article

October 14, 2022

Newborn Babies Go Through Antidepressant Withdrawal

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October 7, 2022

The Core of Ego

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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.

blue orange image with full text overlay

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!

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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

October 28, 2022

The struggle to kill the serotonin theory of depression in a world of political nonsense

read the article

October 21, 2022

Last Times

read the article

October 14, 2022

Newborn Babies Go Through Antidepressant Withdrawal

read the article

October 7, 2022

The Core of Ego

read the article

This week, I wanted to draw attention to the work of Andrew Huberman, an American neuroscientist and tenured professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Huberman specializes in the visual system and how it affects brain development, neuroplasticity, and neural regeneration and repair. Our eyes, as it turns out, have two functions. In addition to helping us read, see colors, and identify objects, our eyes are one of two primary systems (respiration is the other) that help tell our brain whether to be relaxed or alert.

The most obvious example of this is how we use our eyes to communicate the time of day. Our eyes perceive changes in light and therefore, our brain tells our body to awaken or become sleepy through an “aggregation of neurons” that dictate things like metabolism (are you hungry?) and movement (do you want to be lying down?) This is why sleep experts recommend shutting off harsh lights and avoiding screens toward the end of the day. When your eyes perceive the light, it triggers wakefulness in the body instead of sleepiness.

pinteres image with text overlay

The eyes also have a direct impact on our inner state. Our pupils contract when we’re relaxed and dialate when we’re focused or under any kind of stress, good or bad. For example, when you’re staring out over a beautiful coast or vista, your pupils get smaller in order to let you take in the breadth of your surroundings. This panoramic vision opens our window to the world, literally making it look bigger, which leads to stress reduction. This is one of the reasons why we feel so good in nature.

Conversely, our pupils dilate when we’re focused or stressed. Now we see the world through straws, the peripheral fields of our vision narrowed. When the visual field shrinks, according to Huberman, it triggers an increase in alertness. In a negative experience, that alertness is called stress, anxiety, or fear. In a positive experience, it might be called flow, excitement, or infatuation.

Like breathing, this is usually autonomic. Or rather, we don’t have to think about how our pupils adjust to see, just like we don’t have to think about breathing to stay alive. But just like we can hijack respiration and use breathing to our advantage, either because we’re blowing up balloons or because we’re practicing breathwork techniques in order to manage stress, we can also direct our gaze to influence our state of mind.

When we’re in a state of anxiety or negative stress, we can cue our brain to calm down by forcing ourselves to expand our field of view, to literally see the bigger picture.

Huberman said in a recent podcast, “If you look forward and you expand your field of view, so you kind of relax your eyes so that you can see as much of your environment around you as possible to the point where you can see yourself in that environment, what you are doing is turning off the attentional and, believe it or not, the stress mechanisms that drive your internal state towards stress.”

In short, to help keep stress levels down throughout the day, look around. Take breaks from staring at your computer to look out a window or check out the patterns in your ceiling. And if you’re having a bout of anxiety, force yourself to see a literal, bigger world.

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

the fuckit bucket gold silver necklaces


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

More articles from the blog

see all articles

October 28, 2022

The struggle to kill the serotonin theory of depression in a world of political nonsense

read the article

October 21, 2022

Last Times

read the article

October 14, 2022

Newborn Babies Go Through Antidepressant Withdrawal

read the article

October 7, 2022

The Core of Ego

read the article

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.

More articles from the blog

see all articles

October 28, 2022

The struggle to kill the serotonin theory of depression in a world of political nonsense

read the article

October 21, 2022

Last Times

read the article

October 14, 2022

Newborn Babies Go Through Antidepressant Withdrawal

read the article

October 7, 2022

The Core of Ego

read the article

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

More articles from the blog

see all articles

October 28, 2022

The struggle to kill the serotonin theory of depression in a world of political nonsense

read the article

October 21, 2022

Last Times

read the article

October 14, 2022

Newborn Babies Go Through Antidepressant Withdrawal

read the article

October 7, 2022

The Core of Ego

read the article

I went for a walk this morning like I almost always do when I’m home in Nevada. My house is tucked up against the rolling desert, with trails zig zagging through the sagebrush. A small creek flows through the valley, prompting cattail to grow in the damp soil and mountain bluebirds to sing in the early morning sun. Cottontail rabbits and the occasional coyote bound through the hills, and there is no better chance of a good day than to begin it with a walk through the landscape I was born into.

I put on my coat and slipped my socked feet into a pair of stiff new boots, bought just a few days ago to get me through the winter. The half hour walk would double as an opportunity to break in the shoes in incremental bits. It will take dozens of these walks, I know, for the leather to soften and relax against my toes.

I locked my door and began to walk through the rows of neighboring townhouses and onto the trailhead. Not three minutes into the trail, I felt the unmistakable sting of a blister at the back of my left heel. Strange, I thought to myself, sure that there was no sign of the blister on yesterday’s walk.

I plopped down on a rock and pried my foot out of the stiff shoe. Sure enough, the blister was right there, pink and exposed. I considered turning around, but the birds were calling with gusto. In just over a week I go back to Vancouver, where I will be forced to quarantine in a one bedroom apartment for 14 days. But today I have the birds and the desert and the open sky, I thought to myself. I need to take it all in now, while I can.

Besides, the shoes needed a break in too.

So I kept walking, heel stinging. A few minutes passed when I saw a clump of teal colored plastic on the trail up ahead, a bag of dog shit that wasn’t there yesterday. I told myself that someone must be out on a run with their dog and that they left the bag of poop on the side of the trail for pickup on the way back…right? Because what kind of person kindly bags up their dog’s crap and then dumps plastic into the wilderness?

Giving the phantom dog owner benefit of the doubt, I left the teal bag and walked another thirty feet, heel screaming. Immediately, my eye caught a second bag of dog shit, black this time, and clearly from a different dog. Without thinking about what I was doing, I knelt down and picked it up. Then I turned around and went to the teal bag and picked that up too. I held up both bags and looked at them, suddenly aware that I was now saddled with a raw heel and two bags of shit excreted from dogs I don’t own. There was no point in walking on, so I limped back toward home.

For a moment, I considered getting angry. I could feel the choice to be angry. The jerks who left the bags of shit certainly deserved it, as did the boots that were growing sticky from the pool of my own blood. Both of these things took away my ritual, my solitude, the purpose of my morning.

But what good would come of the anger? Who would I have yelled at? Other than the tawny bunny hopping across the trail, not a heartbeat other than mine as far as the eye could see. Anger, in this situation, served no purpose. There was nothing left to but accept that today, the purpose of my walk was not to spend a little time in nature and break in my boots. It was to pick up other people’s shit.

It’s an apt and obvious metaphor—not every task is pleasant, things don’t always go your way, and there’s a lot of cleaning up the mistakes that other people make.

But hey, at least it’s garbage day. The bags of shit will only be in my world for a few more hours. And tomorrow, I’ll try again.

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

October 28, 2022

The struggle to kill the serotonin theory of depression in a world of political nonsense

read the article

October 21, 2022

Last Times

read the article

October 14, 2022

Newborn Babies Go Through Antidepressant Withdrawal

read the article

October 7, 2022

The Core of Ego

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

October 28, 2022

The struggle to kill the serotonin theory of depression in a world of political nonsense

read the article

October 21, 2022

Last Times

read the article

October 14, 2022

Newborn Babies Go Through Antidepressant Withdrawal

read the article

October 7, 2022

The Core of Ego

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

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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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Summer months in Vancouver mean endless hours of daylight. At its peak, light emerges around 4 am and does not wane until well past 10 pm. Earplugs, sleep masks, and blackout shades are the only defense against a bungled circadian rhythm, and some mornings—like this morning—it’s particularly hard to get moving.

I stumbled out of bed before 7am, a sliver of sunlight streaming through our northern facing apartment. I sat in silence for 11 minutes, my usual meditation, and found myself on the edge of dozing off. The gong signaling the end of my mediation sounded, and I wrapped myself in a blanket and took a morning snooze on the couch.

When I mustered the will to peel myself off the cushions, fuel myself with tea, and transform the bedroom from my sleeping place to my coronavirus office space, I opened up The Daily Stoic to read the day’s entry:

“On those mornings you struggle with getting up, keep this thought in mind—I am awakening to the work of a human being. Why then am I annoyed that I am going to do what I’m made for, the very things for which I was put into this world? Or was I made for this, to snuggle under the covers and keep warm? It’s so pleasurable. Where you then made for pleasure? In short, to be coddled or to exert yourself?”

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.1

I am awakening to the work of a human being. Aurelius seemed to interpret this awakening literally. He was a Roman emperor, and the demands of the job required the occasional morning pump up. I imagine that woven silk sheets of the imperial palace were significantly more pleasurable than managing 1st century Rome, but as Aurelius said, he was put on Earth to run Roman empire, not whittle the day away in bed. What choice did he have?

But in July of 2020, I am awakening to the work of a human being takes on a whole new meaning. To simply be human is the work. It is all there is and all there ever will be. Six months ago our work was our career, our success, our routine. But when it was all taken away, the real human work remained. The job, the schedule, the life—it’s nothing but a thin coat of paint.

What is the real human work that you were born to do? If you have trouble answering, look issues that have roared their ugly head over the past few months. What makes you angry? What are your patterns? What challenges has the pandemic revealed? And what gifts has it given you? What changes will you take with you?

Get clear on the work ahead, and know that it will not be easy. Deep work never is. But you will be doing the work you were made to for, the very thing for which you were put into this world. Are going to remain coddled? Or wake up, face the day, and get going?


If You Want to Change the World, Start Off by Making Your Bed - William McRaven, US Navy Admiral
If You Want to Change the World, Start Off by Making Your Bed – William McRaven, US Navy Admiralwww.youtube.com

I first watched this speech around 2010, after nearly 25 years of refusing to make a bed that I figured I was destined to mess up that night. Since I first watched it, not a day has passed where I haven’t made the bed. Why? Little things matter. And starting the day with one completed task, sets you up to complete the rest.


BBC - Travel - The unexpected philosophy Icelanders live by
BBC – Travel – The unexpected philosophy Icelanders live bywww.bbc.com

Icelandic people know they are not in control; their world is made up of volcanos, bitter cold, and endless nights. Living with the force of nature dwarfs wee human life, leading to the Icelandic phrase,‘þetta reddast’, which roughly translates to the idea that everything will work out all right in the end.


The Biggest Psychological Experiment in History Is Running Now - Scientific American
The Biggest Psychological Experiment in History Is Running Now – Scientific Americanwww.scientificamerican.com

DISCLAIMER: If you’re exhausted from covid content and/or someone who is easily riled up from covid content, skip this article. But if you’ve got the capacity, glaze over the usual covid terribleness and read this piece through the lens of ‘real human work.’ One line that stands out: “People who believe they can cope do, in fact, tend to cope better.”

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am not a doctor. I am also not a researcher, pharmacist, or psychologist. I don’t have a PhD. Or a Masters. My Bachelor’s degree is in history. Not a specific part of history, but of all time. I’ve also got a culinary degree that ultimately led me to compete on—and win—Food Network’s “Chopped,” as well as an XPT Life certification that allows me to coach movement and breathwork.

All this to say: On paper, I’m no psychiatric expert.

But life has a funny way of shoving us down unexpected paths, and despite a resume that suggests my time is best spent in the kitchen or the gym, I now find myself as an emerging voice in the fight against the depression and antidepressant epidemic.

I would be lying if I told you that I was happy to hold this torch. But like an avalanche that can’t be stopped, I sealed my fate when I tipped a snowball over the mountain back in July of 2017 and agreed to write a memoir about my year of international travel. The book was to be called Ladyballs, and it would have a snarky, boss bitch attitude about leaving a shitty life for one full of global adventure. Eat, Pray, Love for disillusioned millennials.

Disgusting, right?

Like most work that overleans on sarcasm, the book’s irreverent attitude was a coverup for the story I was still too ashamed to tell: I’d spent half my life on antidepressants, and after a hell year of getting off them, I had no idea who I was or what I was supposed to do with myself.

Ladyballs ultimately fell through, leaving me with nothing but a shitty first draft of a book no one should ever read. But thank God for that shitty draft, because buried in it was nuggets of the real story, the story of what happened after I booked a one-way ticket to Malaysia and got off fifteen years of antidepressants, one by one by one by one by one. As of today, my memoir May Cause Side Effects is out for submission.

Which brings me here. I spent the last two and a half years writing May Cause Side Effects, with no guarantees that it will ever get published. While my agent is busy doing her job, I am tasked with pivoting away from my image as a chef and to what they call, a “recognized expert” in the field. And since I don’t have letters after my name that automatically deem me an expert, I’ve got a different sort of work to do.

For years, I’ve been thinking about how I can use my experience to add value to the conversation surrounding antidepressants without making black or white statements, alienating other people’s choices, or getting overly political. Now that I’ve been published in a major news outlet, started seriously tweeting, and given a few speeches on the topic, I’ve come to the solemn understanding that there’s no undivisive way to enter into the conversation about antidepressants. Like climate change and income inequality, depression and antidepressants are inherently political. The message consumers are presented with is born in a profit-driven marketing machine fueled by researchers who depend upon government money to conduct narrow studies that result in limited data extracted by pharmaceutical companies who funnel billions of dollars into government policy and television commercials in order to convince you that your problems are all in your head.

Did your eyes glaze over a little bit during that sentence? Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. You and millions of other people have a mental illness, just like millions of people have diabetes! The brain is an organ, just like the pancreas. Diabetics take insulin for a faulty pancreas, so why not take antidepressants for a faulty brain?

Except despite a few decades of rampant and rising antidepressant use, depression and suicide rates continue to rise, so much so that psychiatrists from Keele University just published a review hypothesizing that prescribing antidepressants before someone becomes depressed might lower their chance of developing depression.

That’s like giving healthy people chemo just in case they get cancer.

Which brings me to why I’m here. My work over the past few years has led me to believe that without a (highly unlikely) overhaul of our entire mental health and healthcare system, the onus is on the individual patient to do the research and take their treatment, therapy, and healing into their own hands-or face the consequences of unknown, unsubstantiated long term antidepressant drug use. This means that people need to think for themselves, learn how to do their own research, and unscrew the notion that we have any real understanding of what causes depression. Because we don’t. And I don’t see us cracking that code anytime soon.

That said, I want to emphasize the following: Since getting off all my antidepressants, I have been honored to work with a variety of outstanding medical professionals, from psychologists to researchers to psychiatrists. There are solid humans out there working to help people truly get better. This is a stark contrast to the psychiatric and psychological experiences I had as a young adult, and I regularly wonder whether or not my life would have taken the same course if I hadn’t had shit psychiatric luck so early in my life.

But I did, so here we are.

My goal is to take readers through my own process of learning, uncovering, and understanding this complex issue. I reserve the right to question what I’ve been told, to change my mind, and to make mistakes. I can’t promise that I’ll always be right. But I can promise to admit when I’m wrong. Because the only truth I know is the one I experienced, and that’s not enough for me.
If you’ve made it this far and you like what I’m doing, I’d appreciate it if you could give me a follow on Twitter or share my work with someone who might appreciate it.

Thanks for sticking with me,
Brooke

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