Self-Help That Doesn’t Suck #7 : MoodGYM


The first page...
The first page…

Title: MoodGYM

The Break-Down: MoodGYM is a comprehensive on-line cognitive behavioral therapy tool. Through a set of modules, you learn how to really see how your thoughts color and affect your behaviors in actual life. Cognitive-behavior therapy is one of the most common, modern therapy modes out there and has found it’s way into many mainstream discussions. You’ve probably heard of it even if you don’t know the name. Anyone ever told you to challenge your negative thoughts? To locate and befriend your “inner critic”? If so, they are talking in the language of cognitive behavioral therapy.

Why I Loved It: My boyfriend suggested it to me  and being that I am obsessed with any kind of make-me-less-of-an-anxious-person processes, I did. MoodGYM is Australia-based and has the funny slang to prove it. (Unfortunately, I think this also translates to a lack of diversity on the site with the illustrations, all the cartoon-pictures of people are a watercolor beige color.) The modules are straightforward and still enlightening. It is free. I liked being able to see the kinds of common prisms with which I see the world (MoodGYM has online “characters” which represent our most common archetypes for seeing the world. “Elle” is self-hating and sad, “NOPROBLEMOS” is happily well-adjusted, and “Moody” is well…you know, moody).

I’ve read and worked through lots of cognitive behavior therapy, but we all need reminders about how our thoughts color our interaction with the world. Despite never having been formally diagnosed with depression or anxiety, I have had both in my life. I am pretty sensitive, can get stuck in stale thought patterns, and my inner critic eats her Wheaties. I know that I need to be very aware of my mind and have seen how my invisible, negative thought patterns color how I view the world, myself, and other people (usually in a not-so-great way).

Some of the characters...
Some of the characters…

For You, If…: You want to try out therapy but are mired in cultural shame or don’t have disposable income enough to warrant $175/hour appointments. You have bouts of depression or anxiety and your tried and true method of “just ignore that shit until it dissipates” is not working. You want to giggle at some Australian slang (someone please tell me what a “tinny” is…)

Woo-Woo Factor: 0.5 out of 5 amethyst rocks. CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is pretty locked in with sciencey stuff.



Self-Help That Doesn’t Suck #6 – Rock My Soul

Yet again. Another shooting of an unarmed black person. There are no words.

I wonder what to DO. I usually feel even more useless when I post hashtags and Instagram photos commemorating the murdered. I hardly do it for that reason. I have no qualms with how others choose to protest, but it does not work for me. I probably think way too much on these things…

My “doing” tonight in light of this recent tragedy is to offer one of the most impressionable self-care/self-help titles I have ever read.

Also: for my black people. I see you. I see us. And I really pray you take care of yourself as best as you know how.

And for those who are true allies out there, thanks.

book cover of rock my soul with sepia image of black hand wrapped in athletic bandage holding onto pole

Title: Rock My Soul

The Break-Down: From the inside cover, “In her most challenging and provocative book to date, bell hooks gives voice to what many black people have thought and felt, but seldom articulated. She offers readers a clear, passionate examination of the role self-esteem plays in the African-American experience in determining whether individuals or groups succeed or self-sabotage. She considers the reasons why even among “the best and brightest” students at Ivy League institutions “there were young men and women beset by deep feelings of unworthiness, of ugliness inside and outside.”…With true brilliance, she rigorously examines and identifies the barriers — political and cultural — that keep African Americans from emotional well-being.”

Why I Loved It: hooks does not mince words as to what living in a racist society can do to the self-concept of black people, but she is also careful to include the ways self-esteem is a universal issue and the myriad of actions black people have taken to own their own story surrounding it.

There is no one “black” experience. I grew up in a relatively safe, majority white and Mexican city in So Cal with Nigerian immigrants as my parents. Yet, so many of hooks’ stories and explorations rang/ring true in my life. I did not escape the feelings of inadequacy and the urge to “prove them wrong” as I journeyed through school, into the military, and of course, in my personal life. I too questioned my beauty and ability based on my race and gender.

I love that reading this book was a healing act in itself against this torrent of trauma and often unspeakable pain.

For You, If…: You want an honest look at one of the buzziest words of the 90’s (self-esteem is to 1990’s as self-love is to Now…) but also want real social/political consciousness surrounding this. You are a black person who has been dogged by feelings of inadequacy or shame but have found no real lasting outlet to explore these feelings (Instagram platitudes can only go so far…)  and maybe therapy didn’t work for you or you don’t have the money/time/energy to see someone. You want to feel less alone. 

Woo-Woo Factor: 1 out of 5 Doreen Virtue Angel Cards. hooks doesn’t delve into much “woo” in this book.

Onward and don’t forget to take care of yourself,


Self Help That Doesn’t Suck #2

One thing I’ve really learned in my self-help journey is the whole “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater” adage. In today’s highly divisive internet landscape, it can be tempting to disavow leaders, political ideologies, and even TV shows based on single problematic inclusions.


Sometimes saying no is totally warranted and it’s useless and demeaning and plain dumb to stick around to read/watch more.


Other times, I think it’s better to just be AA about what we consume and “take what we like and leave the rest”. Perhaps, this is waffle-central but it has worked for me thus far.


Sometimes my eyebrow will raise at some culturally tone-deaf remark an author will make and I’ll find myself reacting with all my intellectual fury.


I let myself have this reaction.


However, if my spirit still can see great insight, intelligence, and compassion for the majority of the text, I will continue to read the book, admire the person, follow the group on Instagram. 


We are not simple concepts us human beings so easily reduced to black-and-white definitions. People who do not contain multitudes kinda scare me if I’m being honest.We all have those parts of ourselves that are not perfect in our social, political consciousnesses. We are all still growing.


In the spirit of this, here is the newest incarnation of Self Help That Doesn’t Suck.

cover of shadows on the path book with black and white picture of branches and title of book in black. author title in red.
                 The Book


Title: Shadows on the Path


Author: Abdi Assadi


The Break-Down: Acupuncturist and spiritual counselor delves into the concept of the shadow, the differences between spiritual versus psychological maturity, and the lure of “gurus” among many illuminating topics.

Why I Loved It: I continually looked past it when I first saw it at the yoga studio I frequented in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. But, fate intervened about two years ago and I finally picked it up. I was immediately like WHOA (<—-said in the Blossom Joey voice…if you don’t know what that is, I feel bad for you…)


It’s slim volume really betrays the crazy amount of wisdom packed inside. I loved how relatable Assadi was, how his honesty about his life wasn’t delivered with some slick fake-sincerity bullshit.


He also really dug deep on the corruptible ways of “gurus”. How many times has some top yoga teacher or some famed New Age author been caught doing things not-so of the Middle Way? A sex scandal here. A weird race thing there.


Usually we react two ways:

  1. Shrug our shoulders at how messed up human beings are and offer cynical asides
  2.  Feel shaken and utterly fooled


Assadi outlines that emotional and psychological work are two VERY different things and that is is rare to find people who have done deep work in both. Instead of putting all our hopes and trust in any single person or ideology, Assadi advocates looking toward the reoccurring lessons and wisdom of our lives for guidance. What problems do we run into again and again? How are our relationships speaking to us? What are we actively avoiding?


His work on “the shadow” was also extremely eye-opening for me. Assadi himself espouses a love of cursing, rides motorcycles, loves and participates in the martial arts. These are attributes that are pretty far away from what the Western world associates with being “spiritual”.


We must own all of who we are–especially those parts we have squashed down because they were not acceptable to our societies, families, and definitions of being a true “spiritual” person. He’s not advising people to go around punching people in the face or completely succumbing to greed, but to work with our darker desires and qualities of being. They too deserve our loving attention.


I also really love that he has awareness of our capitalistic, racist world and neither ignores these facts nor allows them to obscure our common humanity.


For You, If…: You hate guru worship. You want to own your full self, even aspects of yourself that aren’t considered spiritual or “good”. You want advice on how to trust the experience of your own life.


Woo-Woo Factor: 3 out of 5 sage bundles: Assadi does mention Carlos Canstaneda and spiritual warfare after all. And there’s a lot of talk about the universal consciousness, so if these things weird you out, stay far away.




Self Help That Doesn’t Suck #1

 I love a good self-help book/course.


Those ” change your ______, change your life!” titles are sirens to my defenseless sailor. They call to me over and over, eventually leading to my watery death.


Just playin’. 


But, yes the Call is powerful. 


I am equally amazed and slightly envious of people who do not share my attachment to all things self-help.


Don’t they think they need, um, assistance? But then, hey, maybe it’s nice not to live in a state of constant self-fixing and over-analysis. 


Well, I’ve read a lot of self-help and not all of it has been stellar. 


Sometimes I wish there was a Fairy Help Mother who would have steered me clear of narcissistic carpe diem instructions or the too-woo-woo-for-earthly-beings titles. 


Sadly, there are few titles that I can really attest to having made much dent in my life. So many self-help “gurus” are recycling ancient wisdom or long-known psychology principles and dressing it up real pretty. So many courses and books sit on the superficial and shut their eyes away from Real Life with all her incongruities and instances of oppression.


Still, I am of the “take what you need and leave the rest” mentality. (Sometimes I just have to leave whole books. Life is too short to waste on mediocre self-help.)


Once in awhile, I want to share those books/courses/random weird shit I do marketed in the self help category that have truly helped me.


I’m no expert book reviewer by any means, but I can share what I  have learned. And maybe if you’re into self-help or just want to try something new, you can use these “Self Help That Doesn’t Suck” posts as a nice little guide.


Here goes:


Cover of radical acceptance book with light purple cover and white lotus in middle
 She also has a great podcast.

Title: Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha


Author: Tara Brach


The Break-Down: Well-known psychotherapist and Buddhist practitioner Tara Brach uses this book to bridge the Western worlds of psychology with that of Buddhism. Using vivid and IRL anecdotes that are not banal or otherworldly, she teaches people how to relate to those behaviors rooted in self-hate or self disregard. 

Why I Loved It: This book truly changed how I related to “bad emotions”. We are often taught to shut down feelings like anger, grief, self-hated and mask it with an optimistic, cheery “I’m taking the positive” attitude. Tara Brach is not about that life. Her way of being real about the suffering we all face and methods of meeting one’s hard places with inquiry and self-compassion truly resulted in a paradigm shift. I felt like I learned something each page and it never felt like she was talking down to me or obfuscating the pain of the world. The topics she covers here are not namby-pamby in the least. They showcase the things I often deplore, those emotions and bodily sensations that make me reject and hide from myself in equal measure. Her talk on the body was also especially eye-opening for me. 


For You, If…: You are a person who sometimes suffers. If you have trouble with self-compassion or self-love. If you can get down with Buddhist thought, spirituality, and are open to Western psychology practices. You are not too cool for school. 


Woo-Woo Factor: 2 out of 5 Rose Quartz Stones. Yes, there is definitely a book about a Buddhist practice. Yes, she uses the words “compassion” and “joy” pretty often. But, there isn’t really anything too woo beyond that.