"I Need Some Advice"
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.
I've read 2 of your books, follow your blog, and I enjoy your content very much. I enjoy your authenticity and research-based opinions. I guess I'm writing to you because I find your self-help information to be backed up by real science. And I'm at a place in life where I need real help. I'm a 37-year old woman, mom of 2, business owner, and formerly very, very sick.
If you have time, here's my story....
I graduated from UC Berkeley in 2008 (your alum). I always valued my health. I ate well and worked out every day. My BMI has always been in the healthy range. Yet, at the age of 24 I started having serious health problems.
I developed systemic joint pain, balancing problems, skin wounds that wouldn't heal or would reopen, gastritis (an understatement for gastrointestinal inflammation), severe acid reflux, chronic gingivitis, fatigue and tingling and numbness throughout my body. Over the next 11 years doctors misdiagnosed me. I was told I had fibromyalgia, trench mouth, zollinger's condition, anxiety...etc... all wrong. I got worse and worse.
I was pretty low functioning. I started a business selling phonics books, a complete learn to read system I developed for k-2 called [redacted]. However, I could never work for anyone else.
The disease culminated in a terrible near death crisis. One night the acid reflux got so bad I was inhaling it in my lungs, my gi system began bleeding, and my gi system was paralyzed (unable to move food). I was in very severe pain. I openly talked about suicide in front of my husband and 5 year old son. I wept all day, I shook from what felt like electric shocks. I paced.
Finally from an endoscopy and biopsy, doctors discovered I had severe small intestinal damage and I was positive for celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that attacks EVERY system in the body. I know people malinger celiac disease for some reason, but doctors confirmed via biopsy and blood panel that "I definitely have it." It is a terrible disease with very embarrassing symptoms. I don't know why anyone would pretend to have it.
I was in very severe pain for 8 months. The small intestine takes a long time to heal when it's that damaged. It was a type of pain where I couldn't sit still. I couldn't relax and sleep or watch shows. During this time I was suicidal. I fought through the disease, got better, and had a child (partly inspired by your Selfish Reasons to Have more Kids book). Throughout the pregnancy I was severely ill again for varius reasons but the autoimmune disease exacerbated my condition. I was bed ridden the whole time (but it was better then my celiac recovery!). My daughter is beautiful and is now 6 months.
Why am I sharing this?
I got well. It's a miracle. Celiac disease was the black swan in my life, the thing I never expected. It stole my young adult years. It took so much from me. I am waking up from a near decade of chronic pain. I'm feeling better than I've felt in nearly my entire adult life. I'm beginning to realize all the things that were taken from me.
I am at risk though. At risk of being consumed with bitterness and unhappiness. Through my illness, I lost opportunities in life, in nearly every category of life. The disease compromised me. I was sort of a half self, unable to do stuff with friends, work normally, enjoy basic things like views and a cup of coffee. The other day I looked out the window and cried. I couldn't believe I was enjoying the view. Pain steals your ability to enjoy anything, even the best of things. I am very bitter and angry over what happened to me.
My ability to enjoy things is back. I am a mom of 2 kids, I own [redacted], but what else should I do? I'm thinking of becoming a teacher or marketing for another business, making friends, traveling... etc.
What basic, straightforward actionable items should I do? It's like I'm stepping out of a coffin. I need help. What book can I read? Where can I turn? I feel mental health therapists justify behaviors. I don't want one to say well yeah it makes sense that you are angry and bitter and don't have a lot of opportunity for a 37 year old woman.
Maybe I need a shift in attitude?
As I said, don't feel obligated to respond at all. I'll continue to follow your content.
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.