Category Archives: reality

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.]