Sunday, September 23, 2018

It's Here: A Revised and Updated Edition of "How to Be Sick"!

Mara here:

Most of our blog readers are familiar with my mom's book How to Be Sick about her experience of becoming chronically ill and then the mental and spiritual journey she went on to live with her illness.

It's hard to believe that it's been over eight years since she wrote it.

The fact that she wrote a book has never been surprising to me. She's always been a great writer. I lovingly tease her about the fact she talks slowly and a lot. It was difficult when she used to have to leave me three phone messages because my answering machine would always cut her off.

But her words become magic when she writes them down. It's part of what made her 1st in her class at law school. It's part of what made her a fantastic law professor. It's part of what made her a great Dean of Students at the law school. And it's what has made her book a long-standing best seller.

If you think she sounds like a person you would want to be friends with when you read her writing—it's because it's true.

And she's the most thorough researcher I have ever met. She honestly goes crazy when she researches things. This came in handy when she got sick because most general practitioners don't have time to research unknown illnesses. And it really paid off when she was able to basically diagnose her own breast cancer when the doctors failed to notice an unusual lump in her x-ray.

So when she decided to explore Buddhism, of course she dove in with the energy and enthusiasm she does everything she enjoys. It was a complete immersion.

Honestly, when my parents first became Buddhist, I thought it was a little strange. But the more I learned about it, it really made sense. I was surprised when my dad was attracted to Buddhism because it seemed to be the opposite of his nature, and it has really given him a new perspective on life. For my mom, it seemed very much in line with how she had always been. She's always had Buddha nature. She's always been very accepting and loving. She's always been someone who makes you feel better after you've spent time with her.

When she became ill, she was able to really utilize her spiritual practice to come to terms with the changes she faced. And in documenting her own journey she's been able to help others.

It was not a surprise that when she decided to write a book, she did it with her whole heart and it instantly resonated with people.

The same goes for the new edition. She put months of work into revising and updating her previously crafted words to reflect her new experiences and knowledge.

I had the privilege of reading an early copy and all these years later, How to Be Sick is still compelling and reassuring, but most of all it's helpful. She's still the teacher and the loving parent giving guidance. The new version simply has the benefit of eight more years of life experience and, of course feedback, from readers of the first edition.

I know everyone will enjoy the updated version of How to Be Sick.

Here's the (US) link to the updated version: Amazon.Com

Here's the Barnes & Noble (US) link to the updated version:
Barnes & Noble

I thought people would be interested in knowing more about the updated version of the book, so I asked my mom some questions about it.

1. When will the new edition be available?

The release date is this Tuesday, September 25. I noticed that on the book’s page at Amazon, U.K. and the Book Depository, the release date is listed as October 25. My experience with the other books I’ve had published is that sometimes they become available before the official release date. The nice thing about pre-ordering is that it locks in that price. Right now, Amazon in the U.S. has great pre-order price.

2. Just curious: why did you title the book How to Be Sick?

This is one of my favorite questions! Here’s how the title came about. After I’d been chronically ill for several years, I realized that I needed to learn how to be sick and so, from my bed, I slid my laptop over and opened a Word Document, titling it “How to Be Sick.” Over the next few months, every day or two, I opened the document and added my thoughts or wrote up a practice that I thought would help me adjust to my new life. I sent what I had to a few people I’d met online who were struggling with their health and they said, “There’s a book here.” And so, unlike with my two subsequent books where it took months to come up with a title, for me, this book could only have that title. Kudos to my publisher for agreeing to it!

So, in short, a bunch of notes, originally intended to help me and then intended to help a few friends, turned into a book with a worldwide following. I’m still amazed that this happened. Last month, a pharmacist in Iraq emailed me, asking how she could get a copy.

Every once in a while someone objects to the title, saying, “I don’t want to know how to be sick; I want to know how to be well.” But they’re far outnumbered by those who tell me that they bought the book because of its title!

3. Why did you write a new edition?

Early in 2017, my publisher asked if I’d prepare a second edition. At first I thought "no" because I know how hard it is to write a book—and, after all, I’m still sick. But when I read over the manuscript, I saw so much I wanted to add or improve or update—and even some things I wanted to delete—so I said "yes." 

I added a lot of new practices. In addition, I omitted almost all the Buddhist terms. They simply weren’t necessary because it turns out that only a small percentage of my readers identify as Buddhist. (I’d like to add that I don’t practice Buddhism as a religion. For me, it’s a practical path, which is why the book is intended for people of all—or no—religious persuasions.

Preparing this second edition turned out to be a lot more work than I thought it would be, but I enjoyed it because the basic organization was there so I didn't have to start from scratch. All I had to do was make the book better and I’m confident I’ve done that. 

4. You said you added a lot of new practices. Is there a theme running through them?

I counted the new practices the other day and there are over a dozen of them. I admit, it even surprised me! I would say that the new practices emphasize self-compassion, mindfulness, and equanimity. Those first two terms are thrown around so much these days that they can feel stale. My intent with the new practices is to make self-compassion, mindfulness, and equanimity come alive for people by suggesting very specific ways to integrate them into their lives.

5. In the new Preface, you say that the new edition will place more emphasis on chronic mental illness, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. Is there a particular practice that would be helpful to people who suffer in this way?

There are several that would be helpful. One is called “Disidentify from Your Inner Critic.” We could all use help with that! Another one is called “Three-Breath Practice.” I have to give your Dad credit for that one because I adapted it from a mindfulness practice he teaches to inmates at Folsom Prison where he’s a volunteer chaplain. It’s a simple practice where you take a moment throughout the day to switch your attention from whatever you’re doing (or thinking) to the physical sensation of three in-breaths and three out-breaths. 

This simple practice grounds you in your body and brings your focus to the present moment—that is, to what’s going on around you right now. This helps relieve mental suffering because it takes you away from being lost in that constant chatter in your mind—chatter that often consists of stressful thoughts and the emotions that go with them. I use this practice myself, randomly throughout the day. It’s very helpful.

6. Do you have any other new books on horizon?

No. People tell me that I should write a book called “How to Grow Old.” (My publisher wanted to keep “How to” in the title, which is why all three of my books start with that phrase.) But that’s not a book I plan to write. A large part of the reason is that many people tell me that How to Be Sick was helpful even though they don’t have health problems because they simply treated illness as a metaphor for the difficulties everyone faces in life. And so, I think How to Be Sick pretty much contains what I’d want to put in a book called “How to Grow Old.” In fact, I’m sure of it because, as I age, I find myself picking up the book for help!

Also, I’m busy with other writing—my online Psychology Today blog and the blog that you and I post once a week.


  1. I am so thankful for the work she is doing. One of the biggest gifts she gave me is how to be kind to myself.

    1. This is so wonderful for me to hear, Evin. It's why I write, even though my health is such a challenge. Take good care of yourself. Toni