Brooke Siem is a true renaissance woman. She’s a professional chef (and Food Network Chopped Champion), world traveler (30+ countries), breathwork coach (more nasal breathing, please!), and grief/mental health advocate. Her broad range of life experience helps her to connect to clients while providing actionable tools that help them navigate the mental and emotional challenges of modern living. She believes in the power of using life’s triggers as a roadmap to healing, with self-awareness and self-compassion as the driving force for positive change.
Brooke had been prescribed antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs at 15 years old after her father’s sudden death. An unexpected opportunity for a life abroad sparked the realization that she had been heavily medicated for half of her life. She decided to make a massive change.
First, she booked a one way ticket to Malaysia. Then, she got off all the prescription drugs.
Two years and 19 countries later, Brooke’s primary focus is on advocating for mental health and wellness without the use of antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. Though she believes that these sorts of drugs can have their place on the road to healing, her own experience has taught her that these medications are often poorly monitored by doctors, prescribed without thought of the long term consequences, and prioritize the notion of “existing” versus thriving. Brooke’s goal is to show that it is possible to live a joyful, centered life without the use of antidepressants, no matter how far down the rabbit hole we once were.
We get into the backstory that lead to being on medication for a decade and a half, the catalyst to come off them, the process of doing that (and what she discovered about herself through that very difficult journey), and how she’s lived her life since.
Key Points from the Episode with Brooke Siem:
- Brooke had built a life in New York City around a bakery she found success at, but was also struggling with the demands of New York (and the costs of living there). Despite the bakery’s success, the cost of doing business in New York were so high that it made it hard to feel like you had real success.
- She found herself struggling to fit in and find her path or her opportunities, and was judging herself for not being able to find them in New York – a place with so many opportunities abounding. Seeing people in successful paths only compounded that as she felt inferior to these other people who seemed to know where they’re going, and the competitive nature within her made her feel like she wasn’t winning in the path she had created.
- When her bakery’s lease was coming up for renewal in 2017, her world changed. She got an opportunity through a program called “Remote Year” to travel around the world and work remotely with 70 other people in the program, and she went for it. The only trick was that her work – owning a bakery – wasn’t something she could do remotely. She figured she wouldn’t get accepted into the program anyway, so she didn’t let that stop her. She figured if she made it, she’d figure out how to make it work. And that’s what happened.
- She felt she was at such a low point that she new she needed to get out of her situation and would regret not doing it if she could.
- This all brought about another major change. When Brooke was 15, her father suddenly passed away, and she was subsequently put on a cocktail of drugs to manage the emotional impact. She went through all of life’s major, pivotal growth periods – adolescence, high school, college, entering the work world and becoming independent, without the drugs effecting her mind.
- As she was turning 30 and looking at this nomadic existence, she realized she wouldn’t be able to get her prescriptions refilled reliably, so she suddenly realized she needed to find a path off of them, which also helped her realize she had been on them half of her life already and that got her wondering who she would be without them.
- This sparked a very fast path to coming off the drugs so she would be clear by the time the trip came just six months later. As many of the drugs have long half-lives and withdrawals, this would be both tricky and intense.
- When this all started, she described her feelings as misery, suicidal and essentially just waiting to die. It went so far that she found an online life expectancy calculator, got a date when it said she would die, and put it in her calendar. She actually quoted the time remaining when we were talking.
- In the midst of this withdrawal, Brooke actually was chosen to compete on the cooking show, Chopped, which was incredibly hard in and of itself, but so much harder because of the emotional impact of the drug withdrawal. She actually went on to winning her competition despite what she was going through. She described seeing herself on the show as watching a twin who wasn’t her.
- Brooke touched on her competitive side, which manifested in a competitive dancing background when she was younger, which obviously served her well on Chopped (and other things in her life).
- She described coming off one of the drugs specifically, where her hearing became painfully heightened, making her hyper sensitive to everything around her (and NYC not being a particularly easy place to be that way). She described it as having all of these emotions and sensations bottled up for years, and then coming out all at once, which can feel unbearable.
- She described the feelings she had through her therapy approach while coming off the drugs, and this feeling like her real feelings had been stifled and she had a dream where a rope was being pulled from deep in her throat, and that symbolized a freeing. It lead her to need to go outside one night and scream at the top of her lungs to physically release all that was inside, which was a pivotal, transformative moment for her in facing all that was inside.
- Ultimately, the travel was a very clarifying thing for her because it helped her realize that the only constant in her life was her. She was able to completely isolate all of the variables in her life, which changed each time she moved to a new place, and found the way she could be the grounding center and could learn and grow in each place she went to. For example, with her heightened sensitivity to noise, traveling to Malaysia was incredibly difficult as the noise and bustle was even greater than in NYC. Had she not done that, she wouldn’t have gotten as good at dealing with the sensory-overload of life as she became after a month in Kuala Lumpur.