Thursday, December 15, 2016


Hey everyone, it's Mara. Welcome to the HOW TO BE blog.

For our first post I thought I would just do a brief introduction about me and my mom. Many visitors will be familiar with my mom, Toni Bernhard, author of How to Be Sick, How to Wake Up and How to Live Well. For those of you who don't know her, she was the Dean of Students at the UC Davis Law School, a mom and grandmother when she was suddenly struck with an illness on a trip to Paris 15 years ago. She has never recovered. Years of doctors visits and research have gone by and she has never gotten a definitive diagnosis or "cure." She wrote about her experiences coping with chronic illness in her first book, How to Be Sick, detailing her struggle with sickness, being forced to retire from work decades earlier than she would have otherwise, and the hardship of missing out on most social aspects of family and friendship. She's very excited that her publisher has asked her to do an expanded second edition of How to Be Sick. It will be published in Fall of 2018 and she's really enjoying updating it.

Her years of Buddhist study and her kindness and compassion give her a unique perspective on life. She is truly one of those people who make you feel better to be around. If you are interested in reading one of her books, you can visit her webpage

About me—my name is Mara. I live in Southern California with my husband and my teenage daughter. I was adopted by Toni and Tony from Seoul, Korea in 1977. (They were awesome parents in case you were wondering.) And although I don't suffer from chronic illness in the same way my mother does, I have spent years researching and reading books about how to deal with life. Life has always felt a little bit mysterious, often complicated and—well, for me, difficult. I have always felt as if I wanted to be happier, I wanted to be more successful, I wanted to be popular, I wanted to be left alone, I wanted to be less tired, I wanted to be less bored, I wanted to be less busy...I just always wanted to be something other than I was. Starting in high school I began suffering from severe depression and as an adult I suffer from depression and severe anxiety. So my search for relief from my various struggles is never-ending.

Now that I'm older, I'm coming to grips with the reality that there are no magic answers, that there is no easy fix. And that even if you don't have obvious hardship, you can still struggle. And that struggle is still valid even if nobody else understands it. And there have been times when I really struggled with the thought that I wasn't sure I could make things better for myself. But when truly faced with the stark choice of survive or don't survive, I chose survive. And once I chose to survive I had to decide if I wanted to survive in misery or try and find another way. I am choosing to find another way. 

I'm inviting you to come with me on my journey because I don't have answers. There's no ending to my story yet. so hopefully you can help me and I can help you too. Fortunately one of my coping mechanisms has been to turn toward humor and sarcasm, so the journey will at least be funny.

Facts about Toni: Breast cancer survivor, Sociology major, law professor, married for a long time, obsessed with her dog Scout, artist, has literally crocheted me about 100 scarves, has a left-handed son.

Facts about Mara: Cut my own bangs every week, Political Science major, dance teacher, married for fewer years than Toni but still for a long time, have two cats and a dog but would also like a pig and a goat, own at least 100 scarves, have a left-handed daughter.

So one of the things we want to do with the blog is give visitors a chance to ask Toni (or Mara) questions. The questions can be about chronic illness or not, about her books or not—anything! Please email us at or comment on our posts. Let us know what's on your mind!

1996 at Mara's Wedding


  1. I'm delighted about this! Looking forward to reading your blog posts.

  2. Mara, I am delighted to make your "acquaintance" at long last. I consider Toni to by my mentor, teacher, and one of my dearest friends. I look forward to being friends with you as well!

  3. I love that you are collaborating as a Mother/Daughter team. I look forward to getting to know you Mara as I have had the honor and privilege to get to know your Mom through the past few years. She is an inspiration and a wonderful human being and friend.

  4. What a wonderful adventure you have embarked upon! Bon Voyage.

  5. Thanks for the wonderful positive comments. We are very excited to share the blog with you all!

  6. Wonderful! I'm so looking forward to every posting.

  7. Congratulations in this new blog! It's a great and original idea to have started this virtual platform and I like the mother-daughter concept a lot. May this journey bring you plenty of fulfilment: I already know it will inspire many people. And Toni, thank you for your most recent book. I will read the previous ones too in the near future. Your words gave me plenty of insight and help me to feel strong and develop more self-respect, something that isn't really obvious as a 36 year old woman, diagnosed with the same chronic illness.

    1. Thank you for reading! Happy New Year! --M