Why has nobody told me this before?


Why has nobody told me this before?

In these uncertain times, KERNEELS BREYTENBACH turns to nonfiction that attempts to provide answers.


LIFE blows your mind. Whether you want it that way or not, you're going to have days when you're down. Sometimes weeks, sometimes years of savagery, emptiness, sorrow and all the agues of the spirit. Maybe you don't have the time or the inclination — or the money — to see a psychologist. To the rescue, then, is Dr Julie Smith.

But careful, huh?


Smith is a clinical psychologist from Hampshire in the UK. She has shared a wealth of insights with humanity since 2019 via TikTok. During the Covid pandemic, more than 3 million people “consulted" her daily. From that experience, she distilled Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? It's an international bestseller, and it's likely to remain one in the same way that Bessel van der Kolk's The Body Keeps the Score has been an international bestseller for 183 weeks.

Smith is the kind of person who doesn't take offence when someone calls her a head-shrinker. In fact, she bluntly states that Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? is a toolbox for every Tom, Dick and Harry, offering ways to help restore your own mind.

She readily concedes that the book cannot be regarded as therapy in any way, just as books like Van der Kolk's cannot be considered medicine. One has to go through the table of contents to look for a section that applies to you in your moment of despondency.

According to this book, life is a composite of problems that fit neatly into compartments: motherhood and depression; lack of interest and motivation; emotional pain; sorrow and mourning; lack of self-confidence; anxiety; stress; and how to give meaning to your existence. QED.

The great thing about Smith is that she doesn't clothe her reflections in jargon and the kind of terminology that would be foreign to people who have never read a book or seen the inside of a psychologist's consulting room. If this useful book had been available as early as 2016, it would have saved me a lot of money. 

But. In my small circle of friends, there has recently been a case of someone of advanced years developing a problem that one might describe as psychosis or an acute mental disorder. Someone who refuses to approach a psychologist or a psychiatrist. For such people, Smith's book would be of absolutely no value. For such people's distress, it would be extremely foolish to think that something like Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? is the easiest solution to the problem — but you, as the caregiver of that troubled human being, would be able to apply the sections on anxiety and stress to yourself in such times.

Think about it this way: books, the internet and TikTok give temporary relief to people whose horizons are not broad. For real problems, seek the help of trained people who can give you the full focus of their attention. That's the sensible way.

Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? by Dr Julie Smith was pubished by Penguin and costs R350 at Exclusive Books.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

Good stress

Man has accomplished a tremendous amount since the wheel was discovered. But there are things that always remain the same — the kinds of things one has to remember in a world in which Donald Trump will once again become the main court jester of the US, in which the ANC will remain in power in South Africa, and in which millions of unemployed people want to live longer. Morgan Housel offers scant comfort, but at least a kind of respite.

Always look for the risk, says Housel, because that's the option that remains when you think you've taken everything into consideration. Always expect the worst (Trump, Cyril). Remember that politicians' promises always sound better than the statistics. Everything that was completed in a hurry has already started to crumble. Stress is good for you because it makes you focus. If you enjoy your life without stress, you see no danger signals. You're not going to get anywhere in life if you can't reconcile optimism with pessimism. I can go on — what a delightful, sober book!

Same As Ever by Morgan Housel was published by Harriman House and costs R400 at Exclusive Books.


With the wars in Gaza and Ukraine still raging with no end in sight, one remains puzzled. What does it take for one side to be able to declare a victory? When does everyone know that the war is going to end undecided? When can one say, without fear of contradiction, that the leaders made the wrong decisions, that bloodshed could have been reduced?

Mike Martin, a British expert on war who has published numerous books on this subject, gives detailed descriptions of all facets of modern warfare in How to Fight a War. The most interesting part tells what needs to be done to end a war. Take, for example, the Gaza conflict, where Hamas is winning the propaganda war but has been reduced to its last handful of divisions on the battlefield. Will that be enough for the myopic Benjamin Netanyahu? Possibly he is waiting for the day his troops occupy all of Gaza and the Palestinians are subject to his legislation.  Martin has no optimism for the modern situation — there are no leaders with “sufficient clarity of thought and vision" who can make the right decisions.

How to Fight a War by Mike Martin was published by Jonathan Ball and costs R300 at Exclusive Books.

Pigging out

It must have taken either a lot of cheek or great courage for Lottie Hazell to call her main character and the novel itself Piglet. This is seriously non-PC. But if she could do that, I'll follow her example. Piglet is about a woman who eats too much in the prelude to her wedding. A bride should beam and not bounce. Her future husband is named Kit. Can't he see his intended is engulfed in hidden fat?

Piglet would have been described 30 years ago as a robust debut. Now, in the grip of great egalitarianism, one feels deeply concerned about people who are so blind to everything around them. Poor Piglet. “What day is it?" asked Pooh. It's today, Piglet exclaims. “The day a glutton like me is going to burst out of my seams." I saw that one coming. At least Lottie Hazell is a name that's going places.

Piglet by Lottie Hazell is published by Transworld and costs R365 at Exclusive Books.

♦ VWB ♦

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