In June of 2016, I had a middling successful job as a food writer, an awesome (way) uptown Manhattan apartment, the best dog ever!, and family and friends I loved dearly.
I should have been happy. Period.
But I was… happy? Question mark?
I wasn’t happy.
Or even… happy?
Despite decades of discipline, my chronic illness was getting worse. Despite hosting a radio show about dating, I hadn’t been in love in years. And despite overworking, my ‘successful’ writing career had me in falling further and further into debt.
I was thirty-four, sick, single, broke, and wandering in an indefinable fog because counting blessings masked how unhappy I really was.
So one day, I walked away from trying to fix things by doing and went without.
First I took a break from social media — just for forty days. My face out of the phone, I faced a few demons and sat with myself and the sky again. Then I stopped shopping for ninety days, then didn’t eat sugar or drink alcohol for thirty. Then I did more stuff I messily journaled on this site: holiday gifting, packaging waste, television, coffee…
As I went, I crafted a personal, changeable, self-self-help plan in the desperate hope it would clear the fog and set me on a path to somewhere happy. period.
Time and again, I was shocked to discover how easily I had fallen prey to habits of modern convenience — like the proverbial frog caught in a pot of boiling water, I didn’t realize all had slowly come to heat around me while I kept idly swimming the entire time. Going without such habits was like ripping off emotional Band-Aids: social media hid how lonely I really was; sugar numbed physical pain from my illness, and feeling unlovable after dating led to breakup time and again. Things got dark as wounds exposed.
It was the worst Year of my life.
But then, I learned how to make active choices. I started questioning and reframing my values. My self-identity started to sharpen. I discovered confidence. Wounds healed.
It was the best Year of my life.
The book The Me Without: My Year on an Elimination Diet of Modern Convenience is a recording of that path.
It’s 60% memoir, 40% case study. Each “Chapter of a Challenge” includes studies from psychology, sociology, and neuroscience, interviews with artists and intellectuals, and references from literature and pop culture – I take inspiration from anyone who can explain why I changed and how my story fits into the greater picture.
Interviews include Happy documentary director Roko Belic, psychologist David DeSteno, neuroscientist Nicole Avena, tech designer and cyborg anthropologist Amber Case, The Lonely Hour podcast host Julia Bainbridge, and many more. Our discussions are friendly, sometimes funny, and sometimes contrarian. (I don’t like what the No Sugar team won’t tell me what I want to believe about sugar.) I quote Anne Shirley because she is my kindred spirit. And Henry David Thoreau, because he is, too. Carrie Fisher tells me to fuck off a few times. (Not in real life. In my head.) Tarot cards and the Gilmore Girls might be lifelines.
When I fail in a Challenge, I fess up.
I expose my mess.
Because we’re all beautiful, messy humans.
Laying those messy cards out helps me clean up and move on.
I hope the book helps others take the leap to reexamine the habits holding them in a fog. I hope it helps others question habits, expose wounds, and give them space to heal. Because being human can be so, so hard. But it’s a kinder, gentler world when we know ourselves and see each other clearly. I had to go without for a while, to find me within.
The Me, Without: My Year on an Elimination Diet of Modern Conveniences is a working title. But this book is set for publication with Ixia Press in December of 2018.