(And you should totally read this book…)
Every so often, I read a book that completely changes the way I think about something. I’m talking major, fundamental change, leading me to go in a new direction somehow.
When I picked up a copy of Lost Connections at Gatwick’s North Terminal, with less than a minute to grab-scan-run (I always manage to reach panic mode, regardless of how early I arrive at the airport), I was not expecting it to be one of those books. I wasn’t even expecting it to be good. But without a doubt, this book has been a revelation to me, so much so that I’ve been banging on about it to anyone who will listen. To put an end to my incessant calls for everyone to read it, here’s a mini review – and a challenge.
In Lost Connections, author Johann Hari takes us on his journey to discover the real causes of depression and anxiety. After being on antidepressants for more than a decade, he was shocked to find out the evidence for their efficacy was thin at best. So he travelled the world interviewing an array of characters – from professors to homeless activists to friends to Amish people – to dig a little deeper.
Contrary to what people tend to rattle off when they talk about depression, it’s not as simple as misfiring synapses and a shortage of serotonin. In fact, there’s little evidence to suggest that has much of an effect. Instead of being an individual problem – something going wrong in the brain – Hari argues that it’s a societal one. The way we live today, he believes, is making us depressed and anxious on a large scale.
He puts forward nine things that are contributing to our depression and anxiety. I won’t give them away (because, seriously, everyone should read this book), but suffice to say they are all related to connection. He then outlines seven things that could help us tackle depression and anxiety.
This isn’t a self-help book, it’s a brilliantly written in-depth analysis of what we know about depression and anxiety and an introduction to a new social-based approach to mental health.
Yet it has helped me already. I’m not depressed, but like most people, I experience moments of anxiety – a tight feeling in my chest when I look at the deadlines in front of me, sweaty palms before a day of meetings, a racing pulse as I scroll through the perfect lives on my smartphone screen. This, I now understand, is in large part a result of the faulty societal systems in which I’ve been operating at break-neck speed.
This revelation has perhaps come at the best possible time for me. Last year was epic. It included, among many other things, a new baby, a new city and a new house. But I didn’t take much of a break; I love my work, so I ploughed on. Towards the end of the year, the suggestion was floated to take April 2019 ‘off’. It seemed like forever away, so I played with the idea, threw it around and got a bit excited. Then March arrived and it got real. Could I do this, really? Could I take a month off work? What impact would that have on my company, my life? I started to chicken out. Then I read this book.
Taking a month off isn’t just about having a break from work. It’s about getting my head out of the cloud (literally and metaphorically) and getting my hands dirty. It’s about making life tangible – connecting to nature, to people, to my own values. It’s about planting vegetables in my garden and painting the living room walls. It’s about finally learning to use the sewing machine so I can make dressing-up outfits for my toddler. It’s about drawing with him, even if my mermaids are dreadful. It’s about putting down my phone and looking at the birds outside. It’s about writing from my heart, with a pencil.
April isn’t just a holiday, it’s a chance to reconnect with all the things that are important to me but that get buried in documents and spreadsheets and online meetings. And it’s a way to work out how life will look when those things are a bit more balanced.
Instead of chickening out, I’m going all in. I’m taking April ‘off’ in the extreme sense: no smartphone, no laptop, no internet. I’ll read newspapers and books, and I’ll have an emergency burner phone people can call me on. I’m booking work in from 1 May onwards (that’ll come around sooner than you think).
I’ll be keeping track of my month and will report back afterwards. It’s thrilling and terrifying. Have you ever done anything like this? I’d love your tips for going offline cold turkey!
And here’s a challenge for you: go offline with me for a day (or longer, if you dare) in April. Write me a letter and tell me how it went – just send me an email for my address (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll write back to you. See you on the other side!