Email from a reader. Please offer constructive advice in the comments. Dear Bryan Caplan, I need some advice. I know you're busy and lead a full life. I feel it's unlikely you'll respond and I certainly don't want to take up any time you don't wish to give. Maybe you can answer my question in your interviews or blogs.
When the writer Fyodor Doestoyevksy was 27 years old, he faced an execution. Men on a firing line were told to shoot him in five minutes, and he believed that he would breathe his last and had only moments to live. It turned out to be a mock execution, a cruel form of punishment. In his reprieve he went on to write his greatest works; Notes from the Underground, Crime and Punishment, and The Brothers Karamazov. I envy you.
You have every chance to reinvent yourself, your life, become everything you thought was unattainable. We all have that chance, every day. No book or teacher can teach you this because, like an article of faith, your conviction in the premise is the measure of how far you can go. So, believe it, and be well.
For anyone thinking of writing Bryan, don't be so apologetic about it, he's very responsive and happy to help. I once emailed him a question feeling it might be a waste of his time, and he tweeted out my question and invited me to lunch.
If you want to talk to him or meet him, just email him. His friendliness from his public appearances isn't an act.
Not advice but a thought. I don’t think you lost time. There is no alternative reality in which this would not have happened and you could have made better use of your time. Our lives are what they are. We don’t know how much time we have and it isn’t over until we die. This is an episode in your life which you are now very courageously trying to put to positive use, e.g. by reaching out. And it is because you are doing that that I am convinced you will be successful. I admire your strength and wish you the best.
The name of the company is in the second last paragraph. I presume it was also meant to be redacted.
There are many active, working people at age 80+. You probably see some of them in the news every day. As a woman, with a 43 year head start on these people (in terms of medical advances), you can plausibly be active and working for the next 50 years. That is much more than enough for a full career. Most people would think of 30-40 years as a full career. Don't think of yourself as 37 years old. The past is gone. Simply think of yourself as being at the start of a possibly very long career and do what you would want to do if you were younger and just starting out.
I went through something similar with Crohn's disease. I also know a young person who has Celiac and took quite a while to be diagnosed.
My only advice is to give yourself time to heal emotionally. After my last near-death experience and long recovery, my wife was wrecked. It took her many months to get back to herself, at which point she was fired from her job. She now works with special needs kids and loves it.
These stories and what I've learned from them are in my latest:
Which is free. I'm not out to make money - I just want to help people (and entertain them, too).
My wife and I are rooting for you.
Mushrooms/psychedelics. The type of crisis she is experiencing here is the exact type of situation that a single 2.5 gram mushroom trip is most likely to provide real deep psychological relief from. I can say with 90% confidence that she would have lasting long term benefits from just one experience, and long as she took steps to prepare a comfortable and safe environment with time to integrate the experience. This risks are extremely small, if any for the vast majority of people (as long as there’s no history of schizophrenia or other severe psychiatric sickness).
The reality is that this woman has so much to be proud of. A successful business and a loving family and two things that people dream about. Psychedelics force a wider perspective that allows you to integrate the trauma into your greater “story” in a more positive way.
As someone who has experienced great pain and has spent time studying works from our great wisdom traditions to find clues as to make meaning of it or cope with it- I have found that too much reading, study, and introspection can have an adverse affect on the psyche- it may sound strange but, I started swimming three years ago and I can’t remember life before it. Something about the meditative, but highly physical nature of the activity- repetitive, but concentrated- strenuous, but low impact. I started swimming with a local “masters” (adult) swimming group a few times a week and eventually signed up for a 2 mile open water swim in MD, my home state- it helped me motivate knowing that I had an event I was training for- I run as well, but running isn’t for everybody whereas swimming almost is.
Some good self-help books are: The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris and Feeling Great by Dr. David Burns. I think you can find a good mental health therapist. Look for one that uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, both approaches encourage challenging negative thoughts, and engaging in the world. Also Sam Harris's Waking Up app is a great resource. Even if you don't like meditation, it has an awesome resource library to listen to that helps put life in perspective. Good luck! You sound like you are already taking steps in the right direction. I'm sorry it took so long for you to get the proper diagnosis.
You might find this Substack helpful: https://genagorlin.substack.com/. It's by a Gena Gorlin, a clinical psychologist who focuses on ambitious "building" of what one wants out of life, rather than on justifying behaviors or (merely) treating disfunctions. She doesn't write much about recovering from health problems specifically, but it seems that that's not what you're interested in. You're interested in what more you can do with your life, now that you're able again to do it, and this blog has lots of helpful advice on that.
Something similar happened to me. The only thing you can do is redefine what you consider 'success' to look like. As a former sick person who is now better because of a radical lifestyle choice - I had to redefine my idea of success and let go what I think I wanted. There was no way I was able to live the life I wanted. I would never be able to reach the pinnacle of my career but that was actually a blessing in disguise for so many reasons. When one door closes, another opens.
I had an onset of severe arthritis when I was about 35 that tracked back to milder attacks in the preceding years. I always thought I pulled a muscle or something. Had random health issues. When I was treated i was a bit manic with my family, like I had been converted. What to do: I remember reading Moby Dick very slowly, not trying to plow through it like I was in high school. It was a good lesson about not piling up experiences but making sure to fully digest the art that’s in front of you.
So I don’t know exactly what physical state you’re in now, but (if possible) I think the number one actionable thing to do is: cardio. There’s a ton of evidence that people who exercise have higher subjective well being, and I find for myself that I never feel bad after a heavy bag class. Of course, what form of cardio depends on your preferences, so try things out! I do Krav Maga; perhaps it’s because I’m a dude, but I enjoy pounding the crap out of things. Of course, what you do specifically has to depend on your own circumstances.
I lost about a decade to depression. It’s not the same as Celiacs, of course, but still I know about being bitter and angry. To this day, if I could, the people who did it to me—well, I wouldn’t see them dead, because that would be too merciful. But I find today that it isn’t anger; it’s just an impartial sense of justice. Mainly, I don’t think about it. When I do, it’s just another thought.
Part of getting there is just time. You’ve got to process what happened and understand how to deal with it if it happens again, or anything like it. Unfortunately, I have no idea what that would even look like with Celiacs.
Aside from that, you need a mission of some kind. Something to dedicate yourself to that makes the future more of a concern than the past. In short, a plan of action. It sounds like you’ve already got some ideas for that; flesh those out further.
Above all, and pardon my language, but don’t bullshit yourself. One day, you might be tempted to say you’re not angry and bitter, though you really still are; or you’ll want to say that you’ve found a mission, when you really haven’t and it’s really just a fad; who knows what exactly it’ll be? Anyway, when that happens, stare reality straight in the face. You’ll just lose more time if you try to bullshit, and make everything worse in the end. (Not that I have any experience with that!)
Remember when you were a teenager and your mother said something like, "you have your whole life ahead of you"? Well, you have your whole life ahead of you. 37 may seem old, but it isn't. I've reached my three-score-and-ten and would have no interest in being 37 again.
You have a family, a business, and at least 25 years ahead of you before you reach typical retirement age; this is enough for several successful careers. Instead of feeling bitter and angry, you should feel elated that you have your health back and so much to look forward to. Your past experience will help you to appreciate and enjoy it all the more.
Your ordeal has given you a great gift of empathy and wisdom for others who are suffering or have suffered as you have.
Imagine yourself five or ten years ago being able to talk to yourself as you are today.
I can tell from the candor and quality of your letter that you possess excellent communication skills.
I'd imagine there are both volunteer and career opportunities for you in helping others.
As a foreigner I’m genuinely confused . Is it impossible in US as a 37 year old to “becoming a teacher or marketing for another business, making friends, traveling...”?