In this episode, I am speaking with Dr. Kelly Brogan, a holistic women’s health psychiatrist and New York Times best-selling author of A Mind of Your Own, and the new book Own Your Self. We talk about why it’s time for the old paradigm of mental health problems to end, and the new paradigm how to heal anxiety and depression. She talks about why our experiences of life aren’t a just pathologies and “chemical imbalances” to be medicated away — and why they reflect what we need to accept, acknowledge, and transform in order to truly become who we are. She also talks about why “owning your self” is the path to come home to your true self.
MY TOP HEALTH BOOK OF 2019: Dr. Brogan’s new book — Own Your Self — is honestly my top recommended health book of 2019. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy from Amazon right now. You can get it HERE.
In this podcast, Dr. Brogan will cover:
- The spiritual awakening and expansion that comes when you reclaim your real self from conventional medicine
- The 5 main drivers of mental illness (and the critical “order of operations” that you need to address them)
- What is means to “own your self”
- What is REALLY driving the epidemic of depression and anxiety
- The critical component in beating addiction (This will surprise you)
- Why conventional M.D.s are unable to help many of their patients
- How a physiological disease can be diagnosed as a psychological disease
- The most important factor in health and wellbeing
- Understanding what the science has to say about psychedelics as a tool for awakening
Download or listen on iTunes
Listen outside iTunes
Own Your Self – How To Heal Anxiety and Depression The REAL Way with Kelly Brogan, MD – Transcript
Ari Whitten: Hey there. Welcome to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. I’m your host, Ari Whitten. And today, I have with me, Dr. Kelly Brogan, who is a holistic women’s health psychiatrist, author of the New York Times bestselling book, A Mind Of Your Own, the children’s book, A Time For Rain and Coeditor of the landmark textbook, Integrative Therapies For Depression. She’s also the author of the brand-new book, Own Your Self, The Surprising Path Beyond Depression, Anxiety And Fatigue To Reclaiming Your Authenticity, Vitality, And Freedom. A little bit more background on her. She completed her psychiatric training and fellowship at NYU Medical Center after graduating from Cornell University Medical College and has a BS from MIT in systems neuroscience. She is board certified in psychiatry, psychosomatic medicine and integrative holistic medicine and is specialized in a root cause resolution approach to psychiatric syndromes and symptoms. She’s on the board of Greenmed info, Price Pottinger Nutrition Foundation, Functional Medicine University, Pathways To Family Wellness, Mind Foundation, SXSW wellness, Chickasaw nation wellness, and the peer reviewed Index Journal Alternative Therapies In Health And Medicine.
She’s the medical director for Fearless Parent and a founding member of Health Freedom Action. She’s a certified KRI Kundalini Yoga teacher and a mother of two.
So welcome, Dr. Brogan. Such a pleasure to have you.
Dr. Kelly Brogan: I was just thinking as you’re reading that, that it really sounds like I’ve not been having any fun for the past 20 years.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Have you been having any fun?
Dr. Kelly Brogan: I have! It’s very misleading.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. So, my first question is you have this like pedigree background, MIT Systems Neuroscience, Cornell University, NYU Medical Center, you’re being groomed for this career medical school. Then you go into psychiatry, you would think… and I have some background. I have, I’ve gone through a PhD program in clinical psychology, so I know the space pretty well and what psychiatry is all about. You would think you’re being groomed perfectly for this whole paradigm of this massive respect for western medicine and everything that they do. And this reductionist biochemistry focused paradigm of psychological illness of depression and anxiety and, and all these other illnesses of just being reduced down to chemical imbalances that need to be fixed with drug solutions. And I’m sure that you at one time were maybe a full believer in that.
Dr. Kelly Brogan: Yes.
Ari Whitten: And now you’re not, you’ve busted out of that paradigm very thoroughly. So, I’m wondering what the story is behind that. How did that happen? How did you to see through all of that?
Dr. Kelly Brogan: Yeah, so I’ve come to appreciate like many of the mystics of old that we have the opportunity to experience multiple incarnations within one lifetime and that when the unexpected comes our way, we either dismiss it, resist it, and otherwise, struggle with it or we embrace it and we let the old version of us die. Right. And so, and then you have this rebirth of a new you and the next time something unexpected comes your way, then you have a new opportunity to expand and grow. My opportunity that I turn toward, and I still to this day can’t explain how or why I did other than that it was some sort of a magnetism. Was a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, so an autoimmune condition. That was my first real medical diagnosis, and this is a common story doctors who are turncoat or renegade clinicians for the most part is so because we have personally bumped up against the glass ceiling of what our training could offer. I could have prescribed myself Synthroid for the rest of my life and I just wanted another option I wanted out.
And it was through the portal of that experience that I saw in black and white, my numbers come into the normal range because of simple changes I had made to my diet at the recommendation of a naturopath. And I was enraged. Like, a fire of anger was lit inside of me. And it was a feeling of betrayal, like intense betrayal. I’d given blood, sweat and tears, $200,000 of debt, best years of my youth to my education and training and I was more than just a supporter. I mean, I was front of the marching band kind of a doc. And you know, the evidence for that is the fact that I was one of the first 300 in the world to specialize in prescribing psychotropic drugs to pregnant and breastfeeding women. That’s how much I believed in that model as really the only responsible form of medicine.
So, when I put an autoimmune condition into remission and I did so through the implementation of basic dietary change, many red flags were raised right. One, I only had an hour of nutrition and my entire training, which is very typical.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. I was going to say that was the first thing. It’s like, why was I never taught anything about nutrition in medical school?
Dr. Kelly Brogan: Now, I understand why, and I actually think it’s almost like a misapprehension of reality to suggest that it should be different. It’s kind of like I say, you wouldn’t go to a butcher to learn about veganism. You don’t go to a conventional allopathic doctor to learn about wellness and to learn about root cause resolution and to learn about self-discovery that wasn’t ever on the menu.
Right? So, so let’s not be surprised when we don’t hear about it from the horse’s mouth. It only becomes problematic when allopathic medicine is foregrounded as the dominant orthodoxy of our time. Right. And everything else is marginalized as at best ineffective and at worst dangerous. And this is the moment when we find ourselves in is that it’s up to us who have had real lived experiences of our inbuilt capacity to heal. It’s up to us to bring this into the light. And that’s certainly what we’re doing obviously here today. But it was with this like fire in my belly that I wrote my first book, A Mind Of Your Own. And I felt so convinced that… cause it’s hundreds of references in there. I spent years obsessively down a rabbit hole on PubMed, just turning over every stone.
Like I took birth control for 12 years. What about that? I thought statins should be in the water. What about that? What about antibiotics? What about vaccines? What about over the counter pain meds? What’s the full story? Tell me. That was kind of my energy and I jammed it all into this book and I took my sword out of its sheath and I was ready to go to battle and I came to see that I was incapable of changing anyone’s mind, literally. I’m Italian Irish stock, I have like a sharp tongue and a big mouth and I know how to use it. And it was really irrelevant. And that’s what led me to a deeper understanding of what I now conceive of as the true bedrock of medicine, which is a belief system.
And I have moved from any interest in fighting that belief system. It’s like, should the Muslims and the Jews fight about which one is right, all of us sort of recognize the futility and now there’s no winning that more, right? Literally and figuratively. Or do we just as Dr. Fuller says, “do we just kind of create a new paradigm that renders the original one obsolete or the dominant one obsolete.” And so, in the past several years I’ve dedicated myself really to that mission, just making sure that as many people as possible know that radical healing is imminently available. In the knowing of that, how do you consider a more broad base of information around medical, interventions and specifically the perhaps lesser shared risks, and adverse effects. Not to mention the over promised benefits. So now we can really engage in an exploration of the risks, benefits, and alternatives. And everyone can be free to engage the medicine that feels consistent with their deeper belief system.
The biggest challenge with the allopathic paradigm in healing
Ari Whitten: I want to come back to something you said a minute ago about the allopathic paradigm and the idea that they would be taught nutrition being a misapprehension of reality. And here’s what they have to offer. And I agree with you completely. However, I think the big problem as you alluded to is that that model, that paradigm is for the vast majority of… the average American, the typical person that those are the people they think are the ones who know about health. And a lot of those people are looking to anybody that’s like into holistic health or let’s say they’re a naturopath or a chiropractor, they’re like, “Oh, those are quacks. I need to see an MD.” Like my wife’s parents for example. Or my wife’s father in particular. Or a number of other people that I know that they just have that kind of attitude. The MD is the only one who understands health and science and everybody else is a quack.
Dr. Kelly Brogan: Yes.
Ari Whitten: So, having said that I agree with what you said, I also just want you to speak to why this current understanding is a problem. And why it’s also a misapprehension of reality to see MDs as the only ones in possession of science.
Dr. Kelly Brogan: Yes. Well that’s why, obviously, I’m in a unique position as are a number of other MDs who are speaking out about their outcomes in the holistic realm because I haven’t habited that consciousness that says only the MD knows. That’s why I became one. Why else would I have bothered, if I didn’t think that that was a meaningful sign of expertise and authority. So, I do think that there are folks like myself who can play potentially an important role as ambassadors as a bridge. Because science can tell any story you want it to. It can tell the story of medicating pregnant women with lithium and Prozac. I could show you the science I used to tell that story. And it can also tell you the story that says the gut, brain, immune system, and hormones are all interconnected. You can influence them with your thoughts, and you can heal a chronic recidivistic disease in a month through lifestyle change. And I also have the references for that story. So, if I can serve as a bridge using science is kind of like the moonlit gluten free breadcrumbs on the path then, then that’s what I’d like to do. But I think the only conversation potentially that we can have across the sides of the bridge is around informed consent, because doctors become doctors largely because they’re interested in helping other people. Right? They’re arguably of very pure intent, I would say. And they want to practice safe medicine, but they simply aren’t given the tools to do so. And so, either we recognize that it’s not realistic ethically for them to be in a position to practice informed consent, which may be a more realistic goal. Because of the pharmaceutical subsidization of education because of the belief system underpinning their training. Either we recognize that, or we demand an integration and sorta like a reconciliation of their stated intentions and the reality of what’s being offered clinically, which is not consistent with informed consent. And I’ll tell you, because I prescribed to people for many, many years and I never once informed them of what I would inform them of now. Again, all based on what’s published in the literature. And, of course, at the time, for example, around antidepressant dependency and associated withdrawal at the time it wasn’t in the literature, but now it is. So how can we set up checks and balances and accountability so that those who are in the position of authority and power as prescribers. How these clinicians can actually be tethered to what the research is actually showing in terms of the risks and at least a nod to controversy around the benefits. And then a presentation of evidence-based alternatives. Like, is that a realistic goal? I’m not sure. But it is probably the only one that we can hold in mind because it is a stated intention of the Hippocratic oath.
Ari Whitten: So, your new book is called Own Your Self. I was given an advanced copy of it and I was reading it all this morning and I absolutely love it. I think it’s an amazing book. I think everyone listening to this needs to go out and get this book. I think it’s just critically important information. Why did you write it? And what does Own Your Self mean?
Dr. Kelly Brogan: Hmm. So, I mentioned how I was in a tailspin rage as an activist during and after my first book and we began to get these testimonials back from the book that were really largely inexplicable. Like they were, so dramatic in terms of the kinds of recovery, again from let’s say chronic bipolar disorder or how a woman read the book and now she’s tapering off her final med that she was on since she was 16. Or we had migraine outcomes and the lupus outcome. And you know, I’m not a rheumatologist, right? So when we started getting all of these testimonials back and then it became even more clear to me that this was not a matter of changing minds and not a matter of transmission of information, and that perhaps what I was in a position to do was simply validate for those who are open, ready and interested, that there is another way and a better way, and that they already have exactly what they need to walk into that path.
And then I started to hear that from my own patients who finish working with me, off medication, having relinquished their diagnostic label, never to be visited with again. And they would kind of turn back and say you were the only one to tell me that I wasn’t sick. And I really have always in my heart, even when I was prescribing, fundamentally believed that. Like, these aren’t broken, damaged people. And I saw little glimpses, again reflecting like even when I was prescribing it, just the, the, the exquisite sensitivity that these individuals who are captured by the system and who are told that something is wrong with them and that they’re dealing with pathology that they possess. And so, I found myself in a position to really perhaps just provide the support kit to those people who want to come into another kind of orientation towards themselves.
And I began to observe that as people recover from their diagnoses and begin to get to the root cause, whether that’s a blood sugar imbalance that was labeled as panic disorder or gluten intolerance that was labeled as ADHD or birth control adverse effects that now has you on an antidepressant or whether it’s a psycho spiritual emergence and you have clairvoyant gifts and you have to learn how to inhabit a reality that’s really pretty three dimensional and you need guidance and support and to learn how to wield that. Right? So, it could be any of any of these and more. But as individuals walk this path of really ending the victim stories and beginning to step into their own authority as their own doctors. I found that they came into contact with all of these gifts, I mean literal artistic gifts musicians and painters and singers.
And then also sort of more, esoteric gifts like in terms of becoming philanthropists and healers and activists really sacred activists. The heart centered change makers. And I could see, wow, what a tragedy would it have been for these people to go the rest of their lives thinking that they were somehow in the, in the kind of like gutters of a functional productivity and achievement oriented society when the truth really is that their greatest power lies in what we have maligned as their weakness. And so, I really came to appreciate Krishmanurti saying that it’s no sign of health to be well adapted to a profoundly sick society. Right? Are these people sensitive to what’s really wrong? With our diet, with our toxic exposures, with our lifestyles, with the, the absence of community and tribe, with the degeneration of the environment in our relationship to it as some utilitarian resource.
Are they just sensitive to all of that? Are they expressing symptoms as in, as a means of communicating their sensitivity to themselves and others? And we’re saying something’s wrong with you, right? Like where we’re missing the, the very important context. And so, I wrote this book for those people. So that they have the validation perhaps from somebody who has been in the trenches on both sides of the aisle. So, mixing of Metaphors. To really begin to feel assured that what they’re feeling called toward is real. And that that kind of healing is absolutely possible. And we have testimonials and written, published case reports in the medical literature. I have a randomized trial going on right now. I mean, it’s real. And if it’s for you, then you can claim it.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Beautiful. I just want to contrast this picture you’re painting and this paradigm that you have with like, to some extent that both the traditional psychology paradigm, clinical psychology as well as the, especially the traditional psychiatry paradigm. So, like within psychiatry you have this history going back to Freud and Jung of this focus on the psyche and psychiatrists means this, a doctor of the soul, the psyche. So, the traditional training in psychiatry when the, when it first started as a profession was very psychotherapy focused and then the psychotherapy training as part of that profession got phased out and it became very much dominated by this biochemistry chemical Imbalance model, paradigm of psychiatric illness, of mental illness. And now, I almost think of the whole profession as kind of, it’s, it’s almost like a caricature of something that’s just ridiculous. Where these complex mental illnesses and these people and all of their complexity of their personalities are being reduced down to these pathologized chemical imbalances that as luck would have it, some pharmaceutical company has developed a really nice chemical intervention that will correct their chemical imbalance and bring them back to “normal”. Even within my psychology training I was baffled that… cause I had already had a decade plus of training in nutrition and lifestyle and holistic health. I was baffled that they don’t ever teach a class on nutrition or any of the other known factors that we know affect things like depression and anxiety and bipolar and schizophrenia. There’s a lot of research around this and none of it’s being integrated into either psychiatry or psychology. And so, you have all these, these professionals who are, who are the professionals to deal with people with mental illness who know nothing about this vast expansive of literature around all these different factors that can actually help them.
Dr. Kelly Brogan: That’s right. Yeah. I mean, where’s several centuries into a Cartesian model, right? Where the mind and the body are distinct and also where dominant religions have sort of inculturated us around this idea that the spirit is out there, and the dirty matter is down here. You know, the body is down here. And I think that that’s a part of what’s in, it’s incredible about science itself as again, a narrative tool because psycho neuroimmunology for three decades has been attempting to resolve the discrete entities model of, human health by suggesting that there is this interconnectedness and that all of these seemingly disparate regions of the body and systems of the body are communicating and responding to the environment. Right. And that’s of course, epigenetics and the microbiome. We have this deepening scientific knowledge that tells a very different story than the mind is up here floating around and the bodies down here doing its mechanical thing. But the materialist perspective says that what you see, what you can quantify and what you can measure is all that’s real. And that’s why, as a materialist practice. Allopathic medicine does not account for the soul. I never heard the word once in my entire and almost decade of training. And as a psychiatrist, which you’re correct in referencing the etymology of that word the notion of the body as expressing anything relevant to the mind or the spirit or the soul is really anathema to conventional medicine.
But I think that there is as quantum physics and quantum biology kind of begins to emerge and all of these exciting ways we are being ushered into deeper understanding. That served us for a time and now we see there’s actually more to the story and it could be that matter has the emergent properties of Spirit Grit, right? That that matter itself is sacred and that they’re not distinct. Right? So that when I am diagnosed with a thyroid imbalance that actually there is deep narrative meaning in the significance of that to me, that’s me telling me about me. And that’s what that is. And because I couldn’t get the memo about how I needed to take this opportunity to step into the expression of my voice and my personal power and, and what it is that I have to say as a human being on this planet, right? All the fifth Chakra stuff. Without that it’s just a breakdown in machinery. And I think we’re becoming increasingly unfulfilled by that version of the story. That that leaves no room for the individual, for the, the relevance of this to the individual And it can expand into realms that are seemingly objective, like infection. We all know we could be in the same room with somebody who has the flu and two of us get it a week later and three of us ever do. What is that about? Is it really just like some of us are more resilient than others or is there more poetry there? Is it more interesting? And that’s what I find exciting about, about some of the emerging science is it suggests that it actually is more interesting and that the story that you’re telling yourself about what’s happening is probably the greatest predictor of a clinical outcome.
And we call that expectancy in the literature or placebo effect. But it really is, it’s narrative medicine. It’s what is this about, right? Like what is this about for me and what is my body telling me about my emotional pain, about my hidden secrets, about rage I’ve never expressed what is my body telling me about how exhausting it is to hold this mask up for decades of my life? What is my body telling me about the fact that I have yet to utter to another human being the, the experience of sexual violation I had as a 10-year-old or whatever it is. You know? So, I think that this is becoming, it’s almost more logical that it would be that way then that it would be some random, bad luck, bad genes, bad timing kind of a model.
The importance of community
Ari Whitten: Yeah. There’s another aspect of what you’re doing, what you’re talking about in your book that I love, that I think is really important and I’m sensing a growing awareness of this was something that’s very personally meaningful to me, that was actually played a big role in why I do what I do now. Instead of pursuing a career as a clinical psychologist and as a psychotherapist. One book that I read was by a guy named Phillip Cushman and he wrote a book called a, I think it was called constructing America, constructing the self. And specifically, he’s looking at the historical and cultural origins of psychotherapy and he specifically tracing it to post World War Two, the loss of community, the loss of extended family, the loss of even the nuclear family. People started traveling a lot more easily and going to two different countries where siblings would be in different cities.
And so, we historically we’ve lost these communities. We’ve lost these tribes with even down to losing your brothers and sisters and being in separate places from your parents, right. So, everything has just become fragmented. And he specifically it’s a little bit more complex than this, but the primary factor that he actually believes is responsible for the emergence of most of the common mental illness, most depression, most anxiety and the emergence of psychotherapy psychologists as a profession to deal with that is actually the loss of community and tribe.
Dr. Kelly Brogan: Yes.
Ari Whitten: And you said in your book, you said, “there’s a general malaise in our culture. People feel homesick. They’re missing feeling at home in themselves, in their communities, and then the fabric of society as a whole”. So, I that that line in particular really resonated with me and I connected it with Phillip Cushman’s work and that whole thing that I just painted there. But I’m wondering if you can speak to specifically what you see as the role of community and tribe in this whole picture.
Dr. Kelly Brogan: Yes. I’m not sure if he references, I’m guessing the timing is not quite right in terms of the analysis, but the rat part’s studies, which I learned about not too long ago. And I find totally fascinating collection of Canadian studies that look at the role of community in addiction, right? So, in psychiatry, addiction is considered a disease that is often treated with abstinence plus psychiatric medications. Which of course is something of a horrendous revolving door because you can quit alcohol, crack cocaine, heroin, cigarettes or Oxycontin, and you can be treated with literally the most habit forming chemicals on the planet, which includes every class of psychotropics, but chiefly antidepressants and Benzodiazepines as part of a gold standard treatment. Right. And if you thought those illicit substances were difficult to come off of there are a couple hundred thousand people on the Internet, who will caution you about you know, what it is to come off of these medications.
So, this is the, penetrant concept this is a disease, this is the only way to manage it. So, what they did was in a nutshell, they addicted to, there are a couple of different ones, but at least one that looks at a cocaine. These rats, in isolation and the rats exhibited addictive behavior around cocaine, consuming it from the water. And then they conducted a series of experiments where they would put the cocaine and water separately in what they called the rat park. So, it’s kind of like a rat playground and there are other rats around and there’s like toys and they can play and mate and do whatever they do, but they’re together in a group and they do not touch the cocaine. And then if they’re addicted in isolation and then put in the rat park, they will electively detox themselves.
That to me, obliterates the disease model of addiction and it tells us a very important thing about animals, let alone about something we intuitively know about ourselves that you’re referencing, which is that there is a pain that that grows and there is a resiliency that’s lost and there is signaling on the level of our nervous system that cannot be masked. It will not go away. And how you choose to medicate it, whether that is with alcohol or work or sex or your phone or psych meds or how you choose to tamp that down is going to be different from person to person. But it demands attention. And that’s the only way I can explain. For example, I’ve been in one-on-one practice for many years and I’ve just had this protocol operationalize for a number of years and I do the same protocol, month-long protocol that’s in the book, the same protocol with my patients, literally the same pdfs, the same materials that I have in my online program, Vital Mind Reset.
And the only difference is that there’s a community for Vital Mind Reset. And my patients do not. I don’t have a community. I don’t run a group. I don’t do anything like that. It’s just me and them. So, it’s the authority figure and the patient like master and you know, apprentice teacher – students. That kind of power dynamic is that play. And they don’t have their peers, right? They don’t have the eyes of others to reflect to them what they can’t reflect to themselves in a moment of challenge. Right. And the outcomes that we get and have gotten many, which are in the book from vital mind reset, make it look like I’m doing something very wrong in my private practice. Here’s like, it’s like humbling on an ego level. When we first started to get these outcomes so rapidly for me to see the more distance that somebody has for me, the better apparently because on my program I don’t interact with…
Ari Whitten: We should just stop this interview right now and I should just join their community instead of talking here.
Dr. Kelly Brogan: [inaudible] for your health. I know it was some unbelievable and I know now of course that it’s, it’s because of this is an online community. This is not even the real deal, but it’s, it’s like you’re so thirsty at a certain point that you’ll drink anything. So, I think that that’s really demonstrated to me to the extent that now my practice is a group-based model and I no longer do the one on one because I just know it’s not in the best interest of the patient and their desired outcome. And I’ll say I have as we were discussing before the interview I’ve recently moved down to Miami and have been gifted from on high, a community here of other mothers who are like-minded at [Walter Fray] school. And it’s like, I didn’t, it’s like missing was any sense that something was missing. I never knew how much I needed this. And how much I needed to feel held in my parenting held in just like sort of a nurturing way. So, not in a didactic way or collegial way. These people don’t, they’re not gonna like, in fact, one of my favorite parts about my friends here is like, they don’t even, they barely know what I do. It’s not relevant. They love me for, for the me, for the, that I’m only coming into contact with myself and not for all of my defensive armor of am I lovable yet kind of a exercises out there in the world that we all have in the form of our professions and our achievements and this endless search for acceptance. So, I think that’s also what a community offers. It’s an opportunity to feel seen just for your soul, for being a human with all sorts of flaws and all sorts of challenges and just showing up, taking responsibility for that, owning it and being there at the same time for someone else who’s going through the same thing. It’s a beautiful thing I think we’re coming to appreciate is non-negotiable.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. It’s, I think it’s interesting that within prison, the worst punishment is solitary confinement. Even among prisoners, it’s like, it’s more pleasurable to just be in a, in a room with some other guy. Maybe even if you hate him or you think he’s an asshole or you have, you’re fighting or angry with each other. You’re worried he’s gonna kill you or something like that. That’s better than being alone.
Dr. Kelly Brogan: Totally. Yeah. I mean, I think of the kind of Holo fractal applications of this because I, I think where it’s like we’re awakening to the fact that we’re all cells in a Meta organism and alone a cell doesn’t thrive. Right. And warring against other cells, aka like a cancer model that doesn’t work either. So, it’s like we’re sort of figuring out that we’re each have different tissue types and cell lines and we’re kind of organizing ourselves like, oh, you’re a liver cell too. That’s awesome. So, my like, so there’s 10 others over here and, and the heart cells are going over there. We’re sort of understanding that the mercenary programming that so many of us have inside is incompatible with our native biology. And so that’s why the sensitivity to isolation is not just like the touchy-feely emotions thing.
I mean it is, but it’s also I think part of our biological imperative that we learn to function as one as a collective with all of our differences with all of our distinctions. And that was a big sort of spiritual arc for me in coming to understand that the longer I fight the system, the deeper the divide that I have to live with. The more endless, the war that I am participating in. And so how can I come to a place where I let everyone be who they are and I make my chief responsibility, my own self attention, my self care, and really, really coming into contact with a heightened awareness of the wounding that drives a lot of my patterns as adaptive as they may have been.
I think there comes a point for most of us in our thirties or so where we just sort of feel like, you know what, this doesn’t feel good anymore. And all the things that have come from it, the job, the partner the success, it’s kind of hollow. I don’t even feel it, you know. And so now what? And that’s where the desperation sets in because it’s not clear what the, now what is and that it might be this paradox of, of engaging the inside job while also collecting among those you can do this solitary work with. And I think that’s kind of the moment we’re in.
The top five factors that drive mental illness
Ari Whitten: Yeah. You used the word hollow a second ago. It’s interesting going back to the two Cushman’s work, one of the things he points out is the loss of community and tribe creates this sense of hollowness of emptiness inside of us. And this constant like void. Like something’s missing something. I feel like some general like malaise, something’s missing from my life. Something’s wrong here. And we fill it with materialism, with buying new stuff. We fill it with addiction, we fill it with, I’m trying to pursue this success of getting a better job, go out and going to a better school and making more money and eventually we’ll arrive at this destination of success where I’m finally happy and it never quite gets there. So, we’ve talked about a lot of reasons there. You know, for some of these, this epidemic of mental illness. I think community and loss of tribe is a big one. We’ve alluded to certainly nutrition and some of these other aspects of holistic health that played a big role, but can you just kind of paint the big picture paradigm of what are maybe the top five factors that are driving mental illness?
Dr. Kelly Brogan: Yes. So, I have a very kind of like ones and zeros mind. I like things to be organized and black and white. And certainly, when we’re in this kind of terrain of complexity, it can feel very quickly, very overwhelming to imagine navigating it. And so that’s often why it’s easier to just dismiss it and keep on with what’s familiar. So, I’ve come upon what works for me and works for many, which is kind of basic order of operations. Where we first engage the physical body, right? We first engage these highly reversible physiologic imbalances. I call them the psychiatric pretenders that can masquerade as mental illness. And I would say the five most common ones that I noticed over the years are all resolvable and remediable in the space of weeks. I’m with the same templated engagement, which I’m happy to talk about in a minute. But yeah, the most common ones would be blood sugar imbalance. So, I remember when I first saw this patient years ago who was having by her report, six panic attacks a day. She was on multiple psychiatric medications and she was heading to electroconvulsive therapy. Cause we do that in New York and many other places around this country. Believe it or not. And within the space of a month on a high natural fat diet, she was symptom free still on meds, but for the first time in her adult life. And that’s when I really was like, wow, this is not just about like losing a little belly fat and feeling a little more energetic this is the disappearance of a seeming pathology. Right. So, and I think most of us, but particularly the [inaudible] kinds of folks who are diagnosed with things like ADHD or major depression or generalized anxiety tend to be reactive hypoglycemic.
So, they tend to be people who have arrived that blood sugar roller coaster and can have brain fog and fatigue and poor concentration and fluctuations in mood and sleep disturbance simply because their body is wisely responding to a mismatch with either processed flour or sugar in their diets. So that’s one.
Another would be thyroid imbalance. And of course, I had a very intimate look into the way that thyroid imbalance can feel and also a tour of the literature that suggests that it’s relevant not only to major depression, but it was part of psychosis to bipolar disorder. And that if you don’t have a savvy clinician or you yourself haven’t educated yourself about the kinds of labs that can reveal that this is what’s going on. You could end up taking Zoloft for Hashimoto’s. Like it’s just not intelligent medicine, right?
So that’s an important thing. If you meet the sort of symptomatic criteria to just consider investigating, you could do that on your own or with a functional medicine doc or naturopath. Another is the role of gluten and dairy, antigenicity in again, psychiatric pathology. So, I came to all of these lifestyle interventions, not because like I was went to a lot of yoga classes and heard my teacher talk about this stuff because like I read wellness blogs or cause I had any interest in anything related to healthy living. I’ve never been interested in… I came to it because I found medical literature that told me this was worth looking at and whether it was case reports written up in the New England Journal of Medicine, of gluten antigenicity leading to a psychotic depression so severe that this 37-year-old woman had her family took a restraining order out on her. And it wasn’t until she removed and eliminated gluten in a clinical setting that she was completely symptom-free so case reports like that. But also, a large body of literature that implicates these proteins in a lot of psychiatric symptoms. And that’s become like the, I would say largely the bedrock of my dietary recommendations is really a focus on strict elimination of those what are typically processed foods. So, then there’s the role of micronutrient deficiency and the one I focus on most is B12 deficiency. There are many, many, folks who come to me as vegans and vegetarians. I myself was identified as an ethical vegetarian at a point in my life and this isn’t, we’re certainly not going to get into the realm of, consideration of ethics and consciousness around eating animal foods. But just from a strictly physiologic standpoint, I learned from my mentor, Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez about the role of a red meat inclusive diet for certain patients. He called them parasympathetic dominance. And that B12 was very important nutrient for these people versus perhaps others who I might never see cause they have different kinds of struggles in life. I would find case reports on the role of B12 replacement or nutrients sufficiency in reversing catatonic depression that was otherwise untreatable. And it’s a very real factor. And, and then lastly is something I’ve devoted a lot of my time and energy too, which is just making sure that that, but we know before considering of prescription medication what might be some of the adverse effects that fall into the realm of mood, behavior and cognition, right? And so, I’ve collected quite a long list, references some of them earlier, but from birth control to vaccines to antibiotics over the counter painkillers and statins, and, and they’re documented acid blockers, they’re documented impact on, on mood, behavior and cognition, right?
So, you don’t want to garner another diagnosis that’s going to require other medications if the culprit is actually the medication you weren’t told had this adverse effect. So, I believe in sort of as the Zen say like chopping wood, carrying water. Like, let’s start with the basics and make sure that we create a strong physical foundation. We send your nervous system, this signal of safety so that then you can begin to understand what else is potentially driving your state. And what is being asked of you. Is it that you need to look at your marriage or family relationships or your job? Do you have toxic dynamics anywhere there that are, that you’re sensitive to? Or is it that you’re being called to awaken and it’s, this is a spiritual journey and your soul was saying “no” to the punching the clock, nine to five at some meaningless job that has nothing to do with what you’ve incarnated for. Is it that, who knows? Could be all of the above, right as it is for, for many of us. But let’s start with the basics because maybe you don’t need to go on a spiritual walk about if you just need to cut wheat out of your diet and B12 deficiency. Right? Exactly. Let’s see. Let’s start with the low hanging fruit.
How psychedelics play a role in addiction
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Well, let’s say it is a somebody does need to go on a spiritual walkabout. I’m curious about the role of psychedelics in this and I know that you have some experience with this, and you have some, some thoughts to share on it. I would love to hear your thoughts. I have also a personal hunch though, don’t know if you’d be willing to talk about it, that you have some personal journeys that were probably instrumental in your own path that you’re walking now. But I’m curious what you see as the role of psychedelics in all of this that we’ve been talking about.
Dr. Kelly Brogan: Yeah, it’s a great question. I became very interested again just being the science bridger that I can be in the published literature. You know, we don’t even have to get into the realm of anecdotes because the published literature is, is telling a remarkable story of the power that particularly psilocybin Ayahuasca LSD. And if you want to consider MDMA, in that category just blow conventional psychotropics out of the water. And sometimes one sitting. And there’s some really, really elegant, research playing out at places like Johns Hopkins who just opened up a department. And I think it’s very interesting to me cause there’s also a skeptic in me that says, “what do you guys up to?” Being interested in indigenous medicine and ceremonial medicines that have never seen the fluorescent lighting of an ivy league lab. So, I do have some circumspection around it, being sort of potentially co-opted by the guild of psychiatry. That being said, I also know that we’re in a time where people are going to find what they need and that more and more people are finding tremendous amounts of healing through plant medicine. That is largely if not completely risk free. Now, where does the risk lie and what I would sort of shine a light on is that again, I believe in an order of operations and that there is a cultivation of a certain level of witness consciousness or adult consciousness, whatever you want to refer to it as. It’s that neutral watching eye that is resistant to taking the bait of the momentary narrative and leaving its station, right. So that watching eye, as you strengthen it, becomes ever, ever, ever present. Tragedy strikes, adversity comes knocking, your partner says you look fat, you lose your job, whatever it is that watching i’s always there saying, “It’s all perfect. Everything is okay. You’ve got this right. This is simply a momentary happening. It’s nothing more than that, right?” So that watching I, if not cultivated I think can lead to potentially traumatic might, might be the right word, might be too strong a term, experiences when you enter into the realm of, of mystical, mystical experience and you don’t have command. And I think you can grow that muscle. That’s what my whole book is about is how to grow that and flex that in practice and train. But it starts with the body. I believe in, in many indigenous cultures she was do like there is a, there is a preparation of the body. Right? Cause remember it’s not just the body while you go have a spiritual experience, it’s all part of the same engagement. So that cleaning of the slate that I advocate for in a one-month protocol beginning to engage daily, contemplative practice or stress response mitigating practice meditation or chanting or whatever might suit you. I have my bias towards Kundalini Yoga. And then beginning to really clean house. Like how are you detoxing? How are you up leveling your consciousness in other areas of your life engagement? Because if you begin with that and ‘ I’d never had actually a patient engaged psychedelics during our work together. It’s only ever been after. And I have a beautiful I don’t know, you probably didn’t get to this part yet, but it’s a beautiful, breathtaking story from a patient, a former patient of mine who’s now off. In fact, we just published her case in a peer reviewed index medical journals, extraordinary case, off of five medications after several decades. Horrendous trauma history. And she engaged plant medicine, after probably a year after she was completely tapered off. And the healing that was made available to her through plant medicine was something she never thought possible, like in this lifetime. And she writes about it and I mean it literally could bring tears to my eyes just talking about it. So, so that that is available.
It’s something that people should know because my sense is that if you’re called to it, you’ll figure it out. You’ll figure out how to make this work for you. But I, I do think that it has a place at a certain point because you have to have developed some intimacy with most plant medicines. You know, I think cannabis is even, is even in this category, I know others don’t, but with your shadow material, because you may very well be shown it and you might not be ready. Right. And it might feel like an aggressor coming from some spiritually demonic realm when in fact it’s just your own dark parts that you never have taken the time to nurture or develop intimacy with. So that kind of, I mean, I’m a huge believer in the role of psychology. And basic counseling. I mean my family therapist, what that woman has done from my life, I just don’t even know if I’d be here without her. Right. So, so that if I put that later on in the order of operations then, then there’s all sorts of Boogie men in my own closet that I wouldn’t have recognized so, so I do think that it, it has its important place.
Ari Whitten: Yes, it’s important place. Yeah. So like hypothyroidism, B12 deficiency, first level of operations, then maybe some other lifestyle, holistic health, nutrition steps. And then psychotherapies infused in there somewhere. And then, and then at the end of the, the road spiritual walk about maybe if you feel called, explore plant medicines.
Dr. Kelly Brogan: Yeah. And I put some other things, things in that category like advanced the Pasana and advanced Kundalini practices contact with Shamans and other kinds of indigenous healers. But most of the time when we get to this part of this peeling back of the onion layer, we kind of already know we’ve just abused ourselves of this concept of the quick fix. And that’s a good thing. Like we kind of get, oh, this is a lifelong discovery process. So, know that Shaman is not going to fix me tomorrow and know that I lost the ceremony is maybe not going to be like the, the magic cure. Like we stopped looking for that. Most of us when we’re at that point in the journey, but when we’re starting the journey, it’s an inevitable that we’re still looking for the quick fix. And so that mentality, that secular mentality brought to these ancient ceremonies, I think can be somewhat problematic for the individual.
The importance of self care
Ari Whitten: [inaudible] yeah. I want to be sensitive to your time here. I would love to actually talk with you for another hour. I’ve really enjoyed this. But on a final note you said in your book, I want to read this little quote because I think it’s a really important thing to emphasize. You said my most urgent message and then this is like at the beginning of the book, you’re talking about how you want people to see this book, but I think it’s also very relevant to how people should consume this information. And they should also go buy the book and then take this advice for reading the book. But you said my most urgent message is about the commitment you must make in order to benefit from the lessons in this book. That commitment is this, put your self care first and do that every day. From that space everything gets clear and you find yourself the protagonist in the adventure of your most beautiful life. So, I would love for you to just wrap up maybe with, a little, a little bit on why you think self-care is so important. And I’ll also say I think a lot of, especially the women in my life tend to kind of put others before them and they’re kind of like, they have a tendency to neglect themselves. And I’ve seen this play like I’ve had to, to train my wife over many years. I’m like, put yourself first cause you can’t take care of anybody else very well while operating as your best self if you don’t do that. And it’s, it’s literally, it’s been transformative for her. So, I think this message is, is, is really important.
Dr. Kelly Brogan: Yes. Yeah. And I, and it’s, I think it shows up in different ways for men, right? Where the, the irresistible focus on work and achievement and evidence saying sort of their worthiness in these external ways comes before you know, nutrition and exercise and you know, other so, so, so what is self-care? You know, I think that it almost always feels indulgent. It almost always feels potentially unnecessary, like a distraction or a waste of time. And it feels like when you first engage it, there’s this skeptical voice that says like, “come on, you have shit to do”. And in my approach and protocol, the self-care that I ask is like probably about two hours, two and a half hours of the day, if not more. And so, it may simply be that the nervous system gets a message, a memo that it can change. That plasticity is forthcoming and, and, and going to be engaged simply because you have restructured your attention, right? Like you’ve restructured the landscape of your attention and now you’re spending many minutes of the day paying attention to yourself in this way that is like the way you would pay attention to a newborn baby. You would feed it high integrity foods or breast milk or you, you would bathe in and pet it and kiss it and dress it. And all of that kind of loving attention is his world creating power that we have. So, I don’t know, maybe that’s the magic of self-care is it’s disruptive to that default mode network. It’s disruptive to that autopilot consciousness that is keeping us stuck. But I think that you’re right that most people who find themselves in greatest need of self-care, which is arguably all of us we’re easily pulled in all of these different directions cause we feel how many things need our attention and how much help we have to give. And there’s this crisis and that crisis and what about who’s running for president and what about sex trafficking and, and what about the hurricane? And we can feel almost paralyzed because of our empathic sensitivity to what is amiss. Right? And so that’s always my reminder that, whenever I feel urgently that, that the world needs me kind of feeling that’s when I know no chop wood carry water, Kelly. Like first, first, first tend to this. And so, the tending to this really becomes like a reflex. It becomes like a reflex where when I feel off kilter, like triggered or, or irritated or somehow off center that my reflexes now to turn towards myself, sit for two minutes, maybe less just kind of put my arms around myself and check in “ what’s hurting? What is this about?” Cause it’s certainly not about like the piece of mail I just got or, or you know, what my daughter just said to me. You get to understand that the patterns in your, in your lives, third dimensional reality are just an opportunity for you to allow expression of these old emotions. And so, when your priority is your own internal management, if you will. Everything becomes like everything that’s going on out there becomes more okay. And you then understand how to interact with it. So, you’re not coming from the wound, you’re not coming from that old program. You’re coming from a, of just knowing what you’re meant to offer. And so that’s why I’ve come here. I to understand that that self-care is probably the most, most radical like radical form of, of activism. Cause activists are notoriously [inaudible] negligent, right? They’re so focused externally on what needs to be different in order for them to feel okay, that there’s not been time, attention and love turned with it. And so, I think without that, we’re just we’re like little kids running around in big clothing and it’s, it’s like a mess. We’re making because of it. And then I think self-care evolves over time. I have this protocol and it’s nutrition based in detox and meditation based. But then self-care might look like… for me it’s dancing. I dance six days a week and it’s not optional. You know, if my kids are home sick from school, I’m still going if I have five patients and six interviews, I’m still going. So, it’s really a commitment to kind of like understanding that that’s all that matters, right? That’s what matters. And it often also looks for many of us in the workaholic sort of programming like inserting fun and pleasure like even when you don’t feel like… Sayer and I went to a concert last weekend and he was finishing up his book draft and I was helping him with it and it was just hundreds of thousands of pages of stuff we had to get through. And we both were like, you know what, we’re stopping and we’re going and it’s so important. That’s self-care too, right? So, I think it starts with these very basic rituals and then it can progress into just a prioritization of, of pleasure, of sensuality, of the, the play in life. That comes from a commitment to the discipline of caring for yourself as if you were that little baby.
Ari Whitten: Beautifully said. To wrap up, I would love for you to just tell like, everybody listening, who are you trying to reach with your new book, Own Your Self? Who is it for and who should go on Amazon right now and buy it? I’m inclined to say everyone, but I’ll let you be more specific. If you have a more specific audience that you want to target.
Dr. Kelly Brogan: Yeah. So, I think, I think it’s those who are feeling the pull towards their more authentic self but feel a bit confused and overwhelmed around how to engage the process of getting there. I my, my passion is to liberate people from the seeming cages of chronic illness and specifically chronic mental illness. And a lot of my familiarity with the dark night of the soul comes from my work in the trenches around medication taper. But I’ve had a number of friends read the book who’ve never been on psych meds and tell me that it, it was instrumental in their understanding of just what it is to move through those tight spaces in our life where we are confronted with the aspects of ourselves that we would rather not engage and know about even let alone love. And so maybe it’s just, it’s what I needed to know. It’s what I needed to teach myself in my own awakening process. So, I think that, we’re sort of all feeling that we’re in this moment where something big is happening and it’s like terrifying, but also exciting. And the possibility feels really huge for this quantum shift that could, that could happen and how things may not progress in a linear way any longer? And so how are you readying for that? Right? Like, how are we, how are we training for that? How are we getting stronger for that kind of sacred engagement? And I’d like to think that this is, it’s a bit of a, a manual for that kind of training.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Wonderful. I agree with you. I think the work that you’re doing is really important. On a personal note, this was one of my absolute favorite interviews. I think you’re brilliant. I think you’re a beautiful person. And, I, I really meant that I would love to have you on for another hour. Maybe I’ll have to invite you on again in a few months. But, but really everyone listening, go get the book. It’s really important. Dr Brogan, thank you again so much for your time and for sharing your wisdom. Really, really enjoyed this and, have a wonderful rest of your day.
Dr. Kelly Broga: Thank you so much. Thank you for standing with me.
Own Your Self – How To Heal Anxiety and Depression The REAL way with Kelly Brogan, MD – Show Notes
The biggest challenge with the allopathic paradigm in healing (9:31)
The importance of community (27:40)
The top five factors that drive mental illness (39:29)
How psychedelics play a role in addiction (48:18)
The importance of self care (56:31)