Bye, Bye, SNRI

DISCLAIMER: DO NOT ATTEMPT! What I did and describe here is DANGEROUS. When people suddenly stop using or quickly lower their daily dose of antidepressant medications, including Venlafaxine and Effexor, serious discontinuation symptoms may occur. I am providing this narrative for informational purposes only.

img_1116I had been taking 375mg – 525mg Venlafaxine ER (generic for Effexor XR, manufactured by Teva) daily for several weeks and was starting to feel pretty good. According to drugs.com, the maximum dose for “severely depressed inpatients” is 375mg. I seemed to have more concentration, be less tired, and overall feel better and more “normal” than I had in quite a while—years, at least. On Saturday, September 17th, 2016, I took a 375mg dose. Sunday, the 18th, I had only one 75mg capsule which I took in the morning. That was the end of my Venlafaxine. I expected to get a refill and return to the 375mg dose in a day or two but that didn’t happen. At this time, my wife was out of town and our 10 year old daughter was with me. Sunday and Monday were fairly normal. On Tuesday, I learned that my health insurance policy had lapsed and was being referred to the underwriter; they would let me know when and if the policy was to be reinstated. I did not have the money to buy the medication at retail prices so my only choice was to quit the Effexor cold turkey. That week was an emotional, psychological, and physiological roller coaster ranging from tears to violent outbursts. The dreams, hallucinations, and other experiences were disorienting and some were terrifying. Of course I cannot say with certainty what would have happened had I not had the grounding of the required daily ritual of getting my daughter to and picking her up after school but I firmly believe that there would have been a very different outcome.

Tuesday night, the 20th, I had the following dream—I am sure there was a more to the dream but this is all I can recollect.

I am in a large open room. It reminds me of the back room on the first floor of the church in which I grew up but larger. Hanging on the back wall are two potted plants. They have grown abundantly and, while the pots are at eye level, the foliage and vines hang down to the floor and extend up the wall. The one on the left has fruit which looks like bananas and the one on the right has spherical fruit with something like a crown on top. The banana-like fruit has a somewhat bland taste and I ask my wife (she is a chef) about it. She tells me that they are not bananas but plantains and, while they do taste somewhat bland, they are good fruit. The spherical fruit has the taste of sour cherries but the fruit is much larger than a cherry, more the size of an orange. I am advised by a man to wall up the back of the room. This would, obviously, result in the two plants dying. The man also advises sealing all the cracks and holes that lead to the outside.

Wednesday night, the 21st, while trying to fall asleep, I was laying on my back with my hands on my chest or stomach and had the very real feeling of being awake but totally unable to move; I was paralyzed and this terrified me. This happened two different times but I don’t remember what occurred in between. The first time it happened, I tried to call out for my daughter who was sleeping in my bed because my wife was out of town. I did not wake her up and after a short time I made myself stop trying to call out because I did not want to scare her. The second time I felt paralyzed I did not call out but waited until I either fell asleep or the feeling went away.

The next night, Thursday the 22nd, I had trouble falling asleep because I was very much afraid. I did not fear anything specific, I simply felt fear. After a short time, I checked that I was not near the edge of the bed and that my daughter was not sleeping too close to me. I then felt that it would be ok and I was able to fall asleep.

Saturday night, the 24th, as I lay in bed with my eyes closed I saw vivid, sharply defined, colorful images which moved around on their own as if I were watching a movie. The images were strangely-shaped, very elongated heads and faces. When I opened my eyes, I saw what looked like a dragon moving across the open window in the bedroom. I was very fidgety and felt myself moving around a lot as I watched the images. At some points it seemed as though I were physically fighting something. I thought about moving to another room, so I wouldn’t disturb my wife, but stayed where I was and eventually went to sleep.

Tuesday evening, the 27th, I took a nap. As I laid on the couch with my eyes closed I began seeing images of the backs of children, several different pairs of children, as if I were following them or watching them without their being aware of it. The scenes felt like they were from a horror movie and something bad was going to happen to the children or I was going to hurt them in some way. This made me very fearful. The windows were open and sounds from outside caused me to imagine someone or something coming into the room which increased my fear. I wanted to continue with the imagery so I started repeating to myself: “I’m safe. I’m safe.” I was able calm myself down and the imagery continued without interruption. I began feeling as if I were moving very quickly which was, at first, also scary but I worked through the fear and began to enjoy the sensations. During this whole time I felt awake but I did not try to control what was happening; I was simply witnessing and enjoying the show and the sensations. At first, “I” was moving very fast then I began flying in an airplane, I think. Then I was driving my car with great skill and at high speeds, maneuvering through traffic, going off-road, being chased and getting away. It was exhilarating. I had set an alarm for 30 minutes and reset the alarm twice more so I could go back to sleep. The “dream” returned both times but less explicitly or vividly each time.

In the next post, I will describe more of my “discontinuation symptoms” and start to explore what I’ve learned from all of this.

Finally! A non-inertial frame of reference

photo_7658_20081010Hello! You may not remember me. It’s been almost a year since my last post on 31 December 2014. For the past few years, I’ve been foundering and floundering, stuck in an inertial frame of reference—the bad, a-body-at-rest-tends-to-stay-at-rest kind. But I’m starting to realize some energy for writing (not sure exactly where it’s coming from but I’m not going to complain) and my intention is to get back to this blog with renewed interest and determination.

Whence stems my foundering and floundering?

That’s the question I’ve been pondering of late. My inclination has been to equate my f[l]oundering with depression and plop all the blame there. This (seemingly) allows me to vindicate myself of all responsibility and I can sit back, maintaining my (non-moving) inertial frame of reference, and wait for the drugs to kick in, or for the universe to step in, or for some other outside agency to strap some booster rockets to my ass and magically restore my former energy. All in all, a very easy, safe, plausibly deniable state of being.

I have also considered the effects long-term depression has on the brain, brain structure, the limbic system, and the body as a whole. Depression, as does chronic physical pain, rewires the brain and effectively changes who I am. How do I fight this automatic brain reorganization? Surely, I cannot be held responsible for my fate! Again, easy, safe, and plausibly deniable.

But then the thought crosses several synapses in my brain that, perhaps, just maybe, I’m nothing more than a lazy sack of possum turds. Perhaps it really is in my power to overcome my inertia and fire my own booster rockets, accelerating myself and throwing myself into the non-simplicity of a non-inertial frame of reference. I just need some self-motivtion and self-discipline, along with several other obscene words I shan’t write aloud and which trigger all manner of complexes in my psyche.

But this is definitely a positive feeling—which is quite a foreign feeling to me, of late. A few quanta of energy, a small fraction of the total energy currently locked away in the unconscious, are oozing out from under the basement door and making themselves available to me, initiating the restlessness I’m feeling. I’m still not writing every day and, when I do write, it’s for a short period of time but my excitement stems from the fact that I’m writing something!

Happy New Year

It’s 10:55pm, December 31, 2015. As I await the New Year’s arrival, I am reminded of something I wrote 6 years ago. Wanted to share it with you:

December 31st has become for me, perhaps because I am in early afternoon of life (around 2:16pm according to current statistics), no longer a time for celebration but a time of sadness and withdrawal; a time when I want to shut the office door and listen to music with headphones so that the sounds of visiting family and everyday life are drowned out; a time of funerary grief to be experienced while all those around me are making merry and doing whatever they can to avoid that very same experience. But for what am I grieving? There is nothing specific on which I can put a finger or at which I can shake a stick that accounts for my feelings – no rueing of things done or not done or left undone;  no remorse for failed New Year’s Resolutions, as I tend to avoid making them in the first place. The strongest aspect of my grieving is an aloneness, but it is an aloneness with which I find myself becoming more and more comfortable as the seconds tick by and about which I tend to joke with others though few of them take it with the seriousness it deserves, and yet, it is aloneness, nonetheless, and so is, as if by definition, a lonely feeling which is only heightened by the jovial group of family and friends amid a crowd of cheerfully shouting strangers as we await the ringing in of the new year. The loneliness peaks at 12:01am as I glance at my phone to see no emails, no text messages, no missed calls, no voice mails bearing “Happy New Year!!” while around me all are toasting and tasting and kissing. Of course, I am not sending out any texts or emails nor making any calls but that is not the, perhaps rationalized, point which is, in fact, the fact that, regardless of how I perceive all the people whose names and contact info are entered into my address book, not one of them perceives me as worthy, in whatever sense one would measure worthiness for inclusion in such a broadcast, of stopping at my entry as they scroll down from A to Z adding 10 Joe’s and 20 Jane’s and 30 John’s to the To: field of a message which, they hope, will be the first to arrive after 11:59:59pm and so will be the first of many New Year’s greetings and, therefore, in some ultimately inconsequential way, the most important. So, I am surrounded by people both close and far and yet, in a sense, alone and experiencing the loneliness but that is not, at the heart of it, the cause of my grief but most likely a co-symptom. Yes, the grief and loneliness I feel evoke the ambiance of a funeral because they are, in all respects, also engendered by death. All around outside there is death from the brown, frosted ground to the leafless trees to the cold, gray skies to the short days whose sure and steady lengthening is still too subtle to be noticed. But more poignant for me is what is and what is not dying within for this journey on which I have embarked, or rather on which I was forced, being abducted from my bed in the middle of the night and in the middle of dreaming, is one of embracing multiple deaths rather than one of eschewing all death, especially one’s own. Some things are as black and white as Jesus’ statement, “You are either for me or against me,” for something must die as surely as something must be born and if a tiny bit of the ego part of “I” does not die then a little bit of the imago Dei part of “I” must cross the river, travel out of reach; a little bit more of my Self unavailable, inaccessible, that is to say, for all intents and purposes, dead. So, the grief I feel on this auspicious and, yet, at the same time inauspicious night is the inevitable mourning the loss of those parts of me I knew so well and those parts of me I never knew at all and, now, never shall.

My Story: Chapter 3 – Prednisone-induced visions

Prednisone-induced visions

Prednisone

[Read the whole story, to date, here.]

No, you have not missed the first 2 chapters. I’ve decided to not start at the beginning but with the beginning of my depression. I will probably go back to the beginning in later posts and fill in my history as it pertains to my story.

This is the first time that I’ve put these experiences “out there.” Only a few close friends know the full extent of what I am about to describe. A few other friends know some parts but not everything.

As I was looking over my journals the other day, it struck me that I’ve never “done” anything with these experiences. I’ve never really tried to understand them and integrate them and they need to be, they are begging to be understood (at least to some extent) and integrated (again, as best I can). I am now 7 years removed from them but their impact is still fresh in my body and mind and soul. As I make the decision to write about my depression and my life, I am compelled to start here, with these experiences, for they were the catalyst for everything that has happened since. I also get the feeling that by not working with these experiences, by ignoring them and keeping them hidden, I am doing myself not only a disservice but real harm.

With that brief introduction and your understanding that I’m not sure where this is leading, here is what happened:

In late 2007,  I was 43, married, with an 18 month old daughter. I had already been through a very mild depression due to, as I thought then, my unhappiness with my job. I was in the process of attempting a reconnection with religion which was, to say the least, a surprise because of my very strict Fundamentalist Christian upbringing and my subsequent disavowal of all things religious. It was in this mindset that I found myself reading Huston Smith, among others, and stumbling over Carl Jung whose “Answer to Job” made an immediate impact on me for here was a rational approach to religion, something I had not seen in all my 40+ years.

I started meditating. I tried several different ways: focusing on my breath, chanting, Holosync (binaural beats). Over the next 6 months, I had some interesting experiences with bodily sensations—mostly in my stomach—while meditating. I interpreted these sensations as something from the unconscious working its way into my consciousness and trying to be “born.” I was never fearful of what was happening and was content letting things run their course. It was a slow and gentle process, like something was seeping out from under the basement door.

Around this time, I was getting sick frequently. Nothing serious; the illnesses amounted to not much more than a drain on my physical and emotional energy accompanied by the not unexpected feelings of blah-ness. I was also preparing for my first ever program for the KC Friends of Jung—an introductory class on Jungian psychology.

I had been recording and working with my dreams (from a Jungian point of view) for almost 5 years at this point but in February and March 2008 I had 2 dreams that were “unusual” compared to my “normal” sort of dream.

[I’m not going to relate the dreams in much detail because a) I don’t think the details are that important and I want to keep the focus on the story as a whole and b) I don’t feel that I’ve worked with them enough to air them publicly. But they are important to mention because they foreshadow what is to come.]

In the February dream a physical object becomes invisible and then disappears, but only for me; everyone else in the room still sees the object. In the dream, I am convinced that the object’s not being there is reality and everyone else who sees the object is caught in an illusion.

The March dream occurred while I had bronchitis and was taking an antibiotic which was not working at all. In this dream, I am unable to fall asleep and “I” (my dream ego) start looking for the “I” that cannot fall asleep. After a very thorough, very deliberate, very directed search all “I” can find is energy. There is no “I” who wants to sleep. Essentially, in this dream, I have the realization of “no-self.”

I believe that the bronchitis was my father complex in full swing. It, with the full support of my other complexes, brought about the illness in an attempt to sabotage the class and give me a reason to cancel without losing face. After all, who was I to put myself out there as someone who knows anything about Jung?! I might make a mistake! I might get asked a question I cannot answer! I’m not qualified!

When the antibiotic didn’t cure the bronchitis, I started a second, different antibiotic but my complexes were too strong and I remained sick. So, my doctor pulled out the heavy artillery and, a week after the March dream, put me on Prednisone. To continue the analogy from above, the Prednisone proceeded to rip the basement door off its hinges and allow whatever was behind it to hit me like a tsunami. I was completely unnerved; I starting having the body sensations all the time and felt forced to meditate. I obeyed and experienced some incredibly deep meditations accompanied by … by what I can only call visions.

I’ve never before called these experiences visions. I hesitate using that word  because of the connotations it evokes in today’s scientific, über-rational world. Many, I’m sure, will say it was “all in my head,” it was “just the Prednisone talking” and, therefore, I should pay them no mind. And I’ve struggled with that viewpoint, too, but the circumstances around these experiences—the fact that I’d taken Prednisone before without any affect at all; my life circumstances with finding Jung, returning to religion, and being dissatisfied with my work; the fact that I was at mid-life, a point where many people experience drastic changes; the dreams that I had before taking the steroid—all point toward something of meaning and something that must be handled, worked, taken in, digested.

There were 2 kinds of visions. The first had to do with the nature of reality along the lines of the 2 dreams I mention above. Things we see and interpret as “reality” are suddenly torn away exposing the illusion of our assumptions. Reality is “created” by how we see things but the physical objects are not really there. We live in a world we take for concrete and real but which is, in fact, nothing but facades.

One very powerful dream image was a wide open, empty, frightening space. I woke up terrified of the utter emptiness. I’m reminded of something Nietzsche wrote in Beyond Good and Evil: “And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”

The second kind were visions of people: a woman (who was a comforter, guide, and sage) and two men (who were mysterious and I never interacted with them). Some of these visions had a very corporeal aspect to them.

These experiences literally blew my mind. I was nervous, anxious, unsteady, totally out of it. I wasn’t interested in anything that I normally did. I felt compelled to sit and meditate. I was a total wreck. Just by looking at me, people knew something was going on. My entire demeanor, the very way I looked was different. At the time, I had no idea what was going on nor what to do with it, let alone how to deal with it. Not long after this, I started going to a therapist and in mid-May I started my first antidepressant.

[Read the whole story, to date, here.]

Speaking of self-disclosure …

Self-disclosure

Since I’ve gotten in a sharing mood, I’m working on putting more of my art online. I’ve added a blog for my writing and James is, right now, photographing more of my paintings. I hope you’ll stop by and read/see my work.

Thank you.

My Story: The Preface

Me2-blur-more[Read the whole story, to date, here.]

I’ve not posted much of my personal story on this blog. At the bottom, I have a section titled “About the Author” but it’s been empty since my website launched. My introverted personality probably has something to do with it. There is also a sensitivity about who will read this. But beyond my introverted-ness and sensitivity, there is an internal reluctance to self disclose.

But, that statement needs qualification. With people I know and trust, I am comfortable with self-disclosure. In fact, I was told by a member of a discussion group I attend that I was too self-disclosing and that he’d rather not know that much about me. So, I think I am reluctant to write about myself because I don’t know you (well, a vast majority of you, anyway) and, therefore, I cannot trust you. No offense intended! It’s not that I mistrust you because I don’t. I just don’t know you.

This was a big factor when I did my one-man show, The Melancholy Monologues, two years ago. But, now that I think about it, I was more anxious about the people in the audience that I knew. So, that doesn’t fit together with the trust scenario; almost everyone I knew in the audience were people I knew well and, for the most part, trusted.

Another idea that has some relevance here, I think, is — and while formulating the next few sentences I’m beginning to realize this is the reason — that my story is not just about me but is intimately tied to other people’s personal stories. It is those stories about which I am reluctant to write and from which I have not yet wanted to tackle extricating my story.

But, I think it is time that I do write my story. So, I will be struggling with what to share and what not to share with the resulting narrative having some unavoidable gaps and holes.

For now, however, I do believe I shall call this post The Preface and leave you sitting on the edge of your seat, biting your nails, for Chapter One. This way I get to publish something on the blog today and I get to procrastinate the arduous task of partial self-disclosure.

There’s a song lyric here: “what to leave in, what to leave out.” I’ll have to look up the song and artist while I’m procrastinating …

[Read the whole story, to date, here.]

Stop Trying to Cheer Me Up

This article on today.com dispenses, in my opinion, some very accurate information. It talks directly about people with “low self-esteem” but, hey, that’s one of the side affects of depression so I think it applies. Here are a few snippets:

[R]esearchers found that people with low self-esteem don’t want to hear your platitudes, and would prefer friends and loved ones see them as they see themselves. “Those with low self-esteem actually reject the so-called ‘positive reframing,’ or expressions of optimism and encouragement, most of us offer to them” …

Despite good intentions designed to boost spirits, people with low self-esteem “are simply more comfortable wallowing” in their misery, she adds. “What we think is well-intentioned support is really alienating for them. They feel as if people don’t understand their issues and don’t accept their feelings. It almost demonstrates a lack of caring.”

Here, I think I must take an exception or two. First, “wallowing” is never comfortable in a depression. It is agonizing. As I said here, “it consumes our time, our energy, our mood, and threatens to literally destroy us.” Second, saying something is “comfortable” seems, to me, to imply a choice. Yet, for me there was simply no choice to make. The “wallowing” was literally all I could do.

I do, however, agree with the rest of the paragraph. “The sun will come out tomorrow” aphoristic platitudes really are alienating. And depression is already so incredibly alienating to begin with. They do show a lack of understanding and caring because, to be honest, I’m not sure tomorrow will ever get here. What these trite nothingisms fail to take into consideration is that, when I’m depressed, I have no future so there is no tomorrow so there will be no sun!

The study showed that low self-esteem individuals would actually prefer “negative” validation, or an acknowledgement that their feelings are normal, reasonable and appropriate to whatever situation has them feeling down.

Ditto for depression. Trying to cheer me up is the same as trying to fix me which is the same as saying “you’re broken and that’s not ok.” Unfortunately, that’s a common mass attitude toward a lot of things that are deemed abnormal. To be honest, if you can’t or don’t want to empathize and try to understand what I’m going through, just keep moving along. I’d much rather you flat out ignored me than tried to cheer me up with drivel.

Egocide: an update

iStock_000002243886XSmall(For background on egocide, check out this post.)

The oddest thought crossed my mind the other day. I was driving on the highway, listening to music (which I rarely do) and the thought crossed my mind: “I am happy.” Now this may not seem like an odd thought to many of you but, believe me, it definitely is one of the oddest thoughts I’ve had in the last five years.

Now, I pause here for a moment or two because I’ve learned a lesson about talking about how good things are. Take my allergies, for instance.

I’ve had allergies all my life and everywhere I’ve lived. About five years ago, I went to a Chinese herbalist who was very successful in treating them. However, no matter how long I am allergy free, if I talk to someone about how good I feel the very next day I have a massive allergy attack. It never fails. I seem to live in that middle zone of “even Steven.” I get a little extra money and without fail I have an unexpected bill. I have a great week at work and am extremely productive and the next week I’m useless. It never fails.

So, with great hesitation and much knocking on wood I continue with my story.

As I was saying, the thought entered my mind: “I am happy.” This was such a strange thought to have that it really took me by surprise. I began trying to figure out how I could possibly have had such a thought. Here’s what I came up with:

As I mentioned in my previous post on egocide, I’ve been thinking that “computer guy Ken” is the part of my ego that must die. And it seemed that the Universe agreed with me because I’ve had only a handful of working hours the past few months. The Universe, however, was not providing an alternate revenue source which, in my current position, is really quite crucial to my longevity. So, as you can imagine, I was quite discouraged and disillusioned with the whole “the Universe will provide” mantra.

Upon further contemplation, I realized that I had made some decisions recently which had great bearing on the question at hand. For a long time now:

  • I have been living a life defined by depression.
  • All my actions and reactions have been modulated by the idea that, “I have depression.”
  • I monitored myself so that I did not appear too happy because if I appeared happy then people would not know that I suffered from depression.
  • I so lamented my life situation—work, relationships, lack of energy, &c.—that it was impossible for me to be other than sad and depressed because I was allowing external circumstances to dictate my emotional state.

In short, I was using my depression as a “scarlet letter A” (I guess a “blue letter D” would be more appropriate) and proudly bearing the stigma in front of the entire world.

Recently, however, I decided that

  • This attitude is extremely detrimental to my health and wellbeing
  • Who says I have to be depressed all the time?
  • I deserve to smile and laugh and I should allow myself to do both
  • Yeah, a lot of things suck right now but that doesn’t mean I can’t smile and laugh

So, almost unconsciously, I decided that my attitude needed to change. Drastically change. Well, that and I had to drink less. A LOT less.

When the thought “I am happy” crossed my mind the other day, and I gave it some thought, I realized that the ego I thought needed to die was not the ego that needed to die. “Computer guy Ken” was not the part of me that needed to die. Even though it’s the part I wanted desperately to get rid of, it was not the part that needed to die. What needed to die was the prevailing attitude I maintained about myself. And, guess what. After that “decision” was made, I found out that I am getting a semi-shit load of work in 2014. Since I’m no longer trying to kill off “computer guy Ken” this work is very welcome—I’ll be able to eat and put gas in my car!

The lesson learned here is that egocide is subtle; it’s not what you think it is.  I wanted a certain part of me to die but that wasn’t the part that needed to die. It took me quite a while to figure that out. Yet, once I did figure it out, other things seemed to fall into place. And that makes it difficult to talk and think about. When I read David Rosen’s description of his egocide and the account of Buckminster Fuller’s egocide it all sounded quite simple. Pick something and let it die. What could be easier? Well, it’s not easy. Not easy at all. My unconscious is far smarter and far more informed than is my ego. Yet it is my ego which does my thinking and it is my ego which wants to be in control and to survive. Getting my megalomaniacal ego to step aside and giving the unconscious free reign to decide what really needs to die takes time and patience and dedication. It takes the willingness to be surprised by and subservient to the unconscious.

But, if you remember that the unconscious really does have your best interests in mind, then it’s no different than following the direction of a mentor or spiritual leader. They don’t always tell us to do what we want to do and it’s oftentimes quite uncomfortable and disconcerting to follow their direction. But, in the end, we will see that their way was the better way.

Mental Burning: Tibetan Buddhism and Jungian Psychology

Dakini’s Warm BreathThe August 26th Dharma Quote of the Week from Shambhala.com was from Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism by Judith Simmer-Brown (on shambhala.com or amazon.com):

Examining the understanding of heat in Vajrayana gives insight into tantra’s somewhat different embrace of classical Buddhist imagery. From this perspective, the experience of mental burning is indeed the central suffering of our lives. It is the experiential dimension of the intensity of our obscurations, whether emotional, conceptual, or habitual. But rather than attempting to put out the flames with meditation methods, it is important to allow the burning to occur during practice. Certainly in the foundational stages of the path we must learn not to become engulfed in the flames, to tame the wild mind and emotions, and to train ourselves to open further to experience. Finally, however, through Vajrayana practice under the guidance of a guru, the burning we experience becomes a great teacher and a great blessing.

In some respects, depression could be characterized as “mental burning.” The incessant and insidious rumination consumes our time, our energy, our mood, and threatens to literally destroy us. And, it is true that “the experience of mental burning is indeed the central suffering of our lives.” But is the answer to do whatever it takes to eliminate the rumination; extinguish the mental burning at all cost?

Both Tibetan dharma and Jungian psychology say no. “It is important to allow the burning to occur during practice” and Jung said, “depression should therefore be regarded as an unconscious compensation whose content must be made conscious if it is to be fully effective” 1. As with most things in life, eschewing the negative, the painful, the unwanted usually leads to more pain struggle, and sorrow. Ignoring the pain associated with a burst appendix has dire consequences. Treating headaches with pain relievers can result in the underlying cause getting worse and worse. The ultimate avoidance, I think, is that of death. We do the craziest shit to avoid even the appearance of death. But look at the results of too much cosmetic surgery, the toll on our minds and bodies from un-experienced grief, or the acts of a health-care system fostering and profiting from our outright detestation and absolute terror of death.

The key, of course, is to not “become engulfed in the flames” but to “train ourselves to open further to experience.” I think our main objection to this is that it just takes too damn long! It’s like work! I want a pill that I can take once a day which does it for me because I’m just too damn busy.

Now, I’m not criticizing, I’m empathizing. Since it takes me forever to get the simplest thing done, I often don’t feel that I have any time for self-work. This is not even in the same universe as easy. But if you’re in this for the self-knowledge and self-power and not for the painlessness of it all, there’s no other way. The promise is –from both Jung and the dharma–”the burning we experience becomes a great teacher and a great blessing.”

Jung would have the depressed individual let go of his conscious efforts and fall into the unconscious, where the exuberant power of imagination lies latent. Only the experience of soul. Only the discovery that I “have” a soul and can even “become” my soul offers any solution for the depressed condition. 2

In our modern culture we have forgotten–learned to ignore is perhaps more precise–the wisdom that our bodies and psyches possess. We try to stay awake longer and sleep less in order to be more productive. No wonder our bodies revolt and we get sick and overly fatigued and need more and more caffeine to keep going. Our bodies have a natural rhythm–the circadian rhythm–which governs the production and release of melatonin which is what makes us sleepy at night. The melatonin producer sits just above the optic nerve so a lessening of light triggers the release which means we get tired at night at not at mid-day. So, what do you think happens when you work at your computer until 2am or watch TV right before going to sleep or read in bed with a bright light? You are convincing your body that it’s not time to go to sleep.

Many years ago when I was living alone and working at home 95% of the time (I’d have one meeting a week in the office) I tried an experiment. I didn’t set an alarm clock. I didn’t pay much attention to the time. I went to bed when I was tired and got up when I woke up. The result was a pretty regular 8 hours of sleep at night and I felt the best I’d felt in years. I’ve always had trouble waking up in the morning (my parents would have to wake me up on Christmas Day!). The only downside was that my body wanted a 25-hour day, so my bedtime started getting later and later and soon I was gong to bed at 5am. This made it difficult to make my 11am meetings so I had to stop the experiment.

But the point is that the body does have a wisdom and does know what it needs and what it doesn’t. Our modern culture has all but eliminated our bodies’ having any input whatsoever into what we do. No wonder it revolts and breaks down! And, no wonder it often times refuses to respond to external stimuli “designed” to correct an imbalance. Of course I’m mainly referring to “drug cocktails” that some doctors give their patients–one drug trying to correct the harm resulting from another drug’s side effects and a third drug to correct the second and so on. Of course, science and medicine have made unimaginable progress in helping the body when the body alone isn’t enough. But we’ve moved too far to the side of science and medicine–we no longer give the body a chance. “My kid has a 100° temperature so I’ve got to give him Motrin to bring down the fever!” Well, no, you don’t. The body is fighting off something and raising the body temperature makes things move along more quickly. You are actually undermining the body’s efforts by medicating too quickly. Of course, if the temperature goes much higher then it is time to step in and help with medication.

This is the point that I take away from the dharma quote and the Jungian psychology quotes: we’ve become too one-sided; we want to circumvent anything we feel stands in our way of progress. But “rather than attempting to put out the flames with meditation methods” we need to allow the flames to do their work. A balance point needs to be sought at which the flames are allowed to teach but not consume; a point at which we can “let go of [our] conscious efforts and fall into the unconscious” without becoming overwhelmed by it.

I am seeking this balance point but it’s an incredible struggle. Without medication my mood goes so deep that it is impossible to even think about doing anything. With the medication I have a little more energy, a little more focus but I often don’t feel like I’m making any progress. It seems to take so long to get done the things that must be done now that there’s no time and energy for anything else. I keep waiting for the “lesson” my depression is trying to teach me but it hasn’t come yet … or I’ve completely missed it. This blog definitely helps by giving me something to focus on. As I write these posts, I’m reminded of the work I need to do–to make time for–and I’m encouraged because I am focusing. And this, what I’m writing right now, in a way, IS the work.

Thank you for reading. I hope this work that I’m doing here can help or inspire–even just a little–someone else.

Notes:

  1. C.G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation, CW vol 5, par 625
  2. Haule, John Ryan, ”Depression and Soul-Loss,” www.jrhaule.net

I had a good day …

I had a good day …

 

Yesterday.

Yesterday I got up early.

Yesterday I didn’t want to sleep all day.

Yesterday I was able to focus on work.

Yesterday my daughter and I made a papier mâché pig using an OJ bottle and toilet paper rolls for the legs.

Yesterday I smiled and laughed.

Yesterday I didn’t watch any TV.

Yesterday I didn’t feel like crying.

Yesterday I didn’t look at my daughter and feel my insides being ripped out imagining all the pain that she will feel in life.

Yesterday was the best day I’ve had in a long time.

Yesterday was great!

 

Today …

 

was not a good day