Depression, Medication, Mental Health, Narratives, Podcast, Well-being

A Personal Note on Depression

Before I start this thing, I want to make sure to say that Episode 1 of The Free Fall podcast is now up on Soundcloud! 

The episode features our personal backstories as well as our intention to take part in a new conversation surrounding mental health in America.

On Wednesday we sat down to record episode 2, where we touched on the issue of depression as we see it. As you know, this is a big topic with no easy answers and no quick-fixes.

For whatever reason, the following post came out super personal. This is something I’ve largely avoided, because dwelling in stories isn’t really my way (anymore). Or maybe it is. Maybe we’re never all one thing or another, and I shouldn’t not post things just because they violate some rule about whatever I thought I’d post before a whole new day (and a whole new me) existed.

I take issue with depression being labeled a disease, even though I fully understand the neuroscientific basis of it. My BA is in psychology, and I received the MDD diagnosis at age 25.

From my place in life now, I understand the truth of that situation: I was living deeply out of alignment with my values and I had no idea who (or what) I was. This is why I was depressed. Never once did I have a medical condition.

At that time, I was drinking a lot to cover-up a mess of old pain I never dealt with. FYI: Suppressed feelings, particularly those of fear and shame, don’t just vanish into thin air. They actually get buried in our sub- and unconscious minds where they incubate. When one becomes fully conscious—as in during an awakening—that old pain can surface in some pretty harsh ways.

In addition to that whole thing, I was in a field of work I had no business in (mental health), because I was very much hurt and apparently on the brink of going insane myself. Driving to work felt like the most inauthentic, self-loathey, “wtf is this my life?” thing ever. I did not talk about this often. It’s a hard pill to swallow when the thing you worked for and thought you wanted feels even more ridiculous and wrong than every other step you’ve taken in your life.

Furthermore—and this is the biggest thing—I had unwittingly shut myself off from the inner dimension in order to protect my ego. The only real, abiding piece of me went ignored in favor of my half-baked plans. My soul was unexplored but I was very thinky, and this is a deadly combination.

For as fucked up as I felt, I was societally on track: The college degree was in the bag and I had a job with a salary. Holy shit, adulthood! I was doing it!

I didn’t even know how unbalanced and unhealthy I was. I just kept thinking hey, if I get the external conditions just right, some feeling of love and solidity will arrive. Millions of young people think this right now, and even more adults endlessly configure their external conditions, still chasing such feelings.

Shockingly, because this is a completely backwards way to live, I was pretty bummed. Almost always. These sad feelings took shape in misdirected anger, apathy, and isolation. They took shape in shameful behaviors I’m not going to talk about right now. And yet, because of the world we live in and the fact that the majority of people are living in this backwards way, it never dawned on me: Oh, I might be looking at this picture upside down. Maybe that’s why I’m so confused and frustrated with it.

Instead I got a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, a prescription for fluoxetine, and anorgasmia. Thanks, Western medicine. (I’m actually okay with Western medicine; it’s just the “you’re diseased, take this pill” message that’s limited and harmful and utterly Wrong.)

Essentially, I ended up depressed because I’d bought into the story that I was supposed to live a certain way; that I was supposed to use my intelligence and energy to do things I didn’t entirely understand or agree with, and that the best life available to me would be found in this One Way.  

I will write, again and again, that it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the college-and-career track. It’s that we all sell it to each other as The Only Way. We do this because if we don’t take that route, we can easily end up homeless and have no insurance and die prematurely. This is not a supportive way for human life to flourish. I also can’t imagine that anyone with an unconditioned mind would choose the life that billions of people are currently living.

With all the trappings of a decently good middle-class life, I still managed to hate myself. And that hate was 100% irrational. I knew it was irrational, and yet it was still there.  It was gnawing and punching me in the head day in and day out. Constantly. I poured booze on it and it was chill. On my way to work, I’d sob, and I wouldn’t know the reason for it, but I’d get a breakfast wrap and a humongous iced coffee and it was chill.

One time at work I cried a whole bunch and I explained only that I was tired. That was the tip of the iceberg as far as tears go, and yes, I was tired. I am still tired, but for very different reasons and in a very different way now.

I am tired of living in a world where we don’t take care of one another. I am tired of people who have completely valid feelings being told that they have chronic illnesses that they need to manage, sometimes with medication that creates more problems than it fixes. I am tired of those same people being told, in various ways, to expect the bare minimum out of life. I am tired of the fact that even what we consider “a good life” is still nowhere near what humanity is capable of. Mostly I am tired of people misunderstanding the Truth, which is that we are all each other. Realizing this to the core clears everything up.

Luckily, I am not tired of writing.

Love,

Lish

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Depression, Mania, Medication, Mental Health, The Ego

Mania, Depression, & Consciousness

I’d like to say that (for at least some of the time) being manic rules.

If you’re ever stuck wondering why a bipolar person won’t stay on their medication, know that it’s because they can naturally touch aspects of the human experience most people can’t fathom. And, as hard as it is to admit, the pull of these dimensions really does feel like it outweighs the consequences: It’s like being on MDMA + shrooms for two months straight. There’s a depth and intensity too real to resist, family and responsibilities be damned.

To the outsider it looks horrifying and out of whack, but to the manic person it all makes sense and can be pretty fun. We recognize that something is really wrong with the humorless masses; why can’t they see how awesome everything is? Isn’t it obvious that we all just need to grab a beer together before setting out to clean up the world?

It’s like this whole thing (life, that is) has been an enormous joke and you finally get the punchline after years of believing the joke was dead serious. You’re just laughing and laughing and lashing out at anyone who impedes you. Then you stumble upon those who still believe in time and routine and the economy and sleep, and apparently they’re still calling the shots. It’s lame.

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One of 10,000 pictures I drew while hospitalized.

On a more serious note, people often don’t stay on their meds because it feels disingenuous. When you become committed to growth, you have to know how your brain functions without all the stuff it’s been subjected to. I’m including everything in this: processed food/chemicals, harmful cultural memes, friends/family who might not be as good for you as you once thought, and, yes, drugs. This is why spiritual retreats exist and why transformation tends to be at least somewhat solitary.

Whether a doctor prescribes it or you’ve been poisoning yourself with drugs and alcohol, you know that these things are not you, and you must know you.  In order to realize yourself as a being without false identities and attachments, it doesn’t matter if it’s 11 beers or 200 mg of Lamictal.  There’s a need to wash out of both if we have any hope of discovering what our day-to-day consciousness is really like.

This is not something that very many people who go off their meds can articulate, probably because consciousness is still vastly misunderstood. For them, it just feels better not to take them (there are also side effects which are often straight up not worth it). I’m not suggesting that everyone’s choice to go unmedicated is wise. This is very personal stuff, and we are each responsible for feeling out where we’re at on our journeys into wellness.

Being that my manic episodes have both coincided with abstinence from alcohol, I’ve come to the conclusion that regular drinking truly does function similarly to a pharmaceutical regimen.  It’s not that I was stable when I was drinking—hell, I’m not “stable” on Lamictal, either. I still get angry and short and finicky and deeply negative sometimes, but both do prevent me from going up up and away. However, I now know that I just might have to go up up and away to clean out every last one of my old wounds and get to a new resting level of consciousness that is truer to my nature. (Psst: That nature is God, and it’s your nature, too.)

Here are a couple drawings of what alcohol does to consciousness and what happened when I stopped drinking:
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Everything comes up.

It bears repeating that consciousness is the underlying principle in all behavior, thought, and emotion. When it springs up, everything springs up, including the production of dopamine, serotonin, and epinephrine. Alterations in consciousness result in alterations of neurotransmitters, not the other way around. Scientifically speaking, the principle of neuroplasticity shows that there’s some higher thing that can guide/change the biological organism of the brain. We are capable of accessing this higher thing and using it to our benefit. 

This is amazing.

It is the ego which feeds on seeing itself as special in any way, even if that means being “the worst.” It just wants to be the most anything: Most good, most bad, ugliest, prettiest, most-in-pain. It doesn’t matter. The genuine “middle” (emotionally, materially, relationally) feels less preferable to the ego than the drama of being the best or worst. That’s because the ego’s whole thing is separation, and possessing qualities which others do not have makes us seem further from them, i.e. more separate.  All of these delusions of superiority and inferiority are simply a way for the unconscious ego to remain in charge.

There seems to be a misconception that ego inflation is always a good feeling. For instance, when we get a new thing that we don’t need, the “happiness” that results is the ego thinking “oh yay, I’m more now!” Being that it is “your” possession, its acquisition makes you feel a little bigger. This reinforcement of the ego is what fuels our culture of endless garbage and useless products.

But there are more insidious aspects of the ego that are harder to notice, such as when we cling to pain as an identity. Constant self-loathing is just as ego-based as pride, and it is from this frame of mind that suffering gets interpreted as precious. Don’t get me wrong: We are almost all super-highly-very-wounded. Western culture thrives on wounding its citizens, and the resulting hurt is real. The issue here is when we remain mired in our wounds because we unwittingly (or maybe even wittingly) feel that our darkness and hiding and sadness make us unique.

Healing of wounds requires radical self-love and an “I’m not messing around here” attitude. It is a sacred process. It demands that we compassionately sit with pain rather than automatically turning to behaviors of avoidance or making the whole thing into our own private soap opera.

On the other hand, egoistic self-hatred must be sustained with constant negative thought content. It is an unconscious process, but a very common one: When losing our pain means losing part of us, we may do anything we can do keep that pain, even if we sincerely think we don’t want it. Deep down, of course we don’t want to suffer (we simply don’t suffer, period), but the unconscious ego sure does:

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The ego interprets the loss of a pain identity as a negative thing, because it is becoming “less.”

This is why the idea of “depression” as a permanent condition doesn’t sit well with me. As soon as the diagnosis is built into one’s identity, the odds of healing drop dramatically. Sadly, it’s a persistent belief in the mental health field that certain emotional states are chronic and will always need “managing.”

This is false, and I hope to be living proof of it. As of this post, I’m three days medication-free. Please know that I won’t try to play it like I’m all good for the sake of what seems to be my truth. When and if I start losing my shit, I won’t be afraid to say so, and I’m not attached to being off medication. I do, however, have a strong intuition that doing this will eventually result in more frequently-felt union with the divine. I think that sounds a lot better than a life lived on a wobbly carousel bolted to the ground by a mood stabilizer and several IPAs.

– Lish

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Mania, Medication, Mental Health

You are the Upward Mind

Dear Readers,

You might’ve noticed that my site address and blog title have changed! The layout/look may also be changing in the next few days as I figure out which theme feels right.

In keeping with my growth and deepening awareness, Sanity Now has become The Upward Mind. I’m also working on a new About page, where I’ll soon share my personal story and, when I’m ready, my name. After going rather publicly insane in 2015, I’ve had a lot of fear around showing myself and my truths.  It’s about time to let that go.

When I started writing this blog (formerly titled “Sanity Now”), I was manic—like, bordering-on-psychosis manic. The title and the first posts are indicative of the urgency of my mental state. This in itself is a lesson: Our mindsets and attitudes have a serious effect on what we create, and I’m not just talking about our writing/art projects.  Our collective belief in a holistically healthier world is a requirement for it to become true.  When we continually carry ourselves in anger, apathy, and pessimism, we shrink the possibilities for what the world can look like.  Our way of being in the world literally determines what we see.

Back to my most recent manic episode: This time around, I didn’t end up in the hospital.  This is progress. Even better, as I sat with the awful physical sensations that go along with the external “manic magic” I’m sure some of you can relate to, I knew I was healing from personal pain and collective pain, since the two are actually inseparable.

My understanding is that psychosis—particularly that associated with bipolar mania—is meant to be a healing process. More so, full-blown mania is often the result of an accelerated rise in consciousness while one is still identified with the mind, and/or unaware of the evolution of consciousness. I’ll be exploring these ideas at length in the future, and I’m super excited about it.

Although I knew these things to be true, my mind still went really far down the rabbit hole. One night, while sitting up in bed, I entered a trance. Some intense stuff happened while in the trance—ultimately I made the conscious choice to remain in my body rather than go into the white—and then I pulled back to watch Parks & Rec bloopers to stay grounded in this world.

The next day I had enough insight to go my (awesome) doctor, who listened to me and felt my electricity and wrote me a few prescriptions. I begrudgingly took the pills after being unmedicated since my release from the hospital in December 2015. I guess I shouldn’t say “unmedicated,” because I was drinking periodically throughout this time, and alcohol is definitely a drug. Prior to the onset, I’d been sober for almost 3 months—much longer than I’d been sober in about 10 years. If there’s anything I know for sure, it’s that being sober for a few months will reliably result in mania for me.

I could’ve rode out the episode without medication, and I would’ve preferred it. However, that choice might’ve cost me my job in the process, and that’s not an option for me right now. Even though I caught my symptoms and got on meds ASAP, I had to take some time off of work so as to not yell at anybody and/or dispense unsolicited spiritual wisdom. I am blessed for my current employers, who haven’t fired me after two major manic episodes, though I will say that the second one went much, much more under the radar than the first.

Taking time off to “rest” means something entirely different when you’re manic than when you have, say, the flu. I knew if I left the house everything would get weird (because it really, really does), and the only time I did leave was to spontaneously join a march protesting the immigration ban. That choice felt obvious.

In order to stay half-sane, I watched a whole lot of Parks & Rec, or rather, I put it on as background noise while I drew clustered spirals and made cards for everyone I knew I’d be seeing within the next two months. The episodes started playing in reverse and the order of events within them didn’t make any sense whatsoever. And then there was the time that the television actually sent me a message. So yeah. That’s where I was.

Baths were good—sometimes three in one day—and Calming tea was good and fresh juice was good.  Taoist wisdom was almost too real. Zen aphorisms were too real.  When your consciousness is in a nondualistic space but you’re still out of balance, it feels like the energy of certain spiritual ideas will pull you right out of your body and into the ether of the cosmos.  I didn’t want to go; I wasn’t prepared. I knew I’d come back having forgotten everything, and I’d already come so far in the game.

I ate as much nutritious food as my snarling stomach could handle and didn’t force myself to sleep, trusting that it would come when it was time. Yes, I did sleep every night, even if just for a few hours, and even though manic sleep tends to be oddly still-conscious. I spent one unfortunate night on Trazodone, and awoke from a dream I was sure was real: It was the sound of someone jiggling my doorknob who was trying to get in to rape me. No more Trazodone for me.

It was during this time that I quietly launched Sanity Now, taking care not to put much time in it, and telling exactly no one.

In my first episode, I was beyond disorganized, Internetting everywhere all the time, expending energy as quickly as it came in. My deluded confidence and impatience were at an all-time high; everyone else felt extremely slow and dull and needy—oh god, the needs. I don’t feel great about saying all that, but that’s how mania goes. This time, I took care not to get lost in an Internet hole or try to express too much about the Universe. There were some tearful nights where I felt certain I would vanish from existence if no one “understood” me, and watching my behavior so as to not do anything crazy was very challenging.

It took about a week and a half for me to stabilize on lamotrigine, and today I’m on 100 mg a night and nothing else. Technically this is a sub-therapeutic dose, but it’s working for me, and my (awesome) doctor wants whatever works for me. Let me be perfectly clear: I do not want to be on medication, and as soon as the time is right, I will stop taking it.  At such a point, I will get manic; I will let my subconscious swallow me up; I will burn away every last shred of my unconscious ego and all my old pain. Until then, I will keep writing this thing and all the other things I need to write.

Whereas Sanity Now was a reflection of my personal urgency while manic, The Upward Mind is meant as a reflection of worldwide consciousness.  I’m talking about the collective mind that each of us has the power to shape: This is the mind that is the machine, and you have an active role in it.  The spiral and its unending nature are symbolic in many spiritual traditions.  To me, the thought of an upward spiral is representative of our ever-expanding personal and global awareness (again, they are one and the same). Raising the total level of consciousness is how we transcend our own suffering, and how we extinguish suffering for everyone else.

Just as unstable, diseased foundations came about one mind at a time, a new world is also necessarily created one mind at a time.  I’m not saying everyone needs to have a catastrophic breakdown like I did—what I am saying is that catastrophic breakdowns are to be expected in sick cultures, and covering them over with the idea that the illness lies within the individual is narrow-minded and simplistic and false.

Almost everyone is anxious, depressed, or at least a little resentful about how things are going in their own lives and in the world.  Millions of Americans are medicated for depression.  This is ridiculous.  If we are going to call these people “sick,” let’s put it in the proper context: They are having perfectly normal responses to living within an ill society, and this problem will continue to worsen until we all wake up.  Furthermore, the relationship between neurotransmitters and mood gets us nowhere closer to the root of mental illness than saying that cancer is caused by abnormal cell growth. It’s like, okay sure, but why?  There’s a whole lot more to the story of humanity than that.

I look forward to further developing this site and being more open about my experiences with mental health and how they relate to the evolution of consciousness.  With so many suffering people in the United States alone, I know there are people who can relate to all this, who feel like something is missing from almost every discussion on this issue.

There will be much more soon.

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