Depression, Meditation, Mental Health, Narratives, Well-being, Yoga

When It Gets Bad

Note: As of this posting, I’m doing swell, which is just a testament to how quickly a mood can change. Still, I’m going to post it in its entirety because when I wrote it, I really needed to.

Guess what? The last few days have been, by and large, not great.

I work my ass off to not feel like total garbage: Daily meditation, a pretty rad diet, a lot of running, sobriety, journaling, baths… and of course I’ve done my rounds in therapy and with medication. In spite of these efforts, the thought that has dominated my mind lately has been along the lines of “I’m going to blow my brains out.” (Please know that I wouldn’t be putting this on my blog if it was really a concern.)

I keep wanting to drink (I haven’t) and sometimes I get devastatingly lonely. I know I have created my current circumstances—and we all have, whether we like it or not—but of course I don’t know why. I recently texted a loved one that my “5-year plan” involves getting back into binge drinking and shooting myself in the head off of a cliff. I was kidding, but there really are times when I feel, sincerely, that I am Not Okay, like at all, and I don’t think there is anything that will help. At night I ask the universe to just make me normal and good, but I never wake up normal and good. I wake up the same me who falls short in every regard, who doesn’t love correctly, who isn’t open enough, patient enough, consistent enough, un-thinky enough, kind enough, calm enough, or safe enough. I do not always act like who I am, and I haven’t yet figured out how to fix that permanently.

Why am I posting this even though I try to be all about light and the possibility of well-being? First, it’s real. We are supposed to share our experiences with one another, and I know that the feelings I have are shared by millions of others. The second we fall into the trap of believing our isolation, depression, grief, and self-loathing are any different than those felt by the rest of humanity, we become doubly lost.

Positivity and spirituality are sometimes treated as synonyms, and that’s just not genuine. The path embraces all feelings and states of mind, and it is generally understood that (for a while anyway) waking up hurts. And, even when it’s really horrible, I know that all of my feelings and thoughts are teaching me something. For whatever reason, I haven’t gotten the lesson. If I’d gotten it, this shit would cease. Maybe the lesson is simply in impermanence itself: Never, ever expect to feel All Good, because you will never, ever be static.

Mainly I’m posting this because hiding brings its own kind of pain. When we do this, we deny our true selves to the people who want to love us. It feels worse to hide, even though it definitely feels super uncool to write about my feelings, too. I also know I’m running the risk of sounding dramatic, and at some point—maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, probably right after I hit “Publish”—I’ll regret posting it. Soon, I’ll file this time period away into that which I psychologically label “my tantrums.”

The point is: I’m better than I’ve ever been, and still, I am This.

In spite of the intensity of these emotions, I remain unwilling to consider myself ill. I will not accept the bipolar story and I will not label myself “disordered.” This narrative doesn’t serve me, and if anything it damns me to believing I am fixed being. Part of that fixed narrative comes with the notion that I’ll never be fully healed, and I don’t buy that. The only reason I’m even here and in an overall healthier place than I’ve ever been in is because I’ve refused to buy it.

Of course I don’t deny the existence of mental disorders, but rather consider all life experiences as variations in consciousness. This way of thinking makes the difference between the chance at deep healing and perpetual, cyclical illness. One promotes a false “normal/abnormal, neurotypical/neurodiverse” dichotomy; the other promotes a much more realistic spectrum. Training oneself in higher consciousness (by way of self-care, meditation, journaling, etc.) can lead to the cessation of suffering, or at the very least, the dampening of it.

Because really, that’s what it’s all about: Suffering. Whether you call it depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or a personality disorder, the main concern of the human experience is suffering. The harsher felt aspects of life that are pervasive and repetitive—the ones that get called “disorders” in our culture—persist because we are, on the whole, in a very low place. Greed rules the day. “Every man for himself” is the prevailing ethos. “Us and them” is a mentality that very few people ever escape. When our overall level as a people reaches something higher, we will see mental illness fall away. I’ve said this before and I’m going to keep saying it.

I doubt that this will happen in my lifetime, since our system still seems hell-bent on letting individuals know that they’re the ones with “problems.” In our haste to diagnose—to codify, to limit, to “explain”—we tend to just not bring up the ugly truth of the situation, which is that the world is burning to the ground and our paradigm is truly fucked up. Sick societies create sick individuals, and vice versa. Healthy people depend on a healthy planet, and our planet is really not healthy.

When healing occurs, it does so on an individual and collective level at the same time: We heal ourselves and—brick by brick, mind by mind—build healthier societies that make wellness a possibility for future generations. Until we do this work, we can only expect to see rising rates of suicide, depression, addiction, and everything else we claim to be against. I for one am getting a bit tired of the short-lived outpour of concern that follows celebrity suicides. I am also tired of the idea that a person simply not killing themselves is a great victory: If all we’re doing is constantly pulling each other back from the brink, we’re still failing miserably.

Not a single professional I’ve worked with has really broached the fact that I suffer because A. Suffering is inherent in human existence (and so I have no reason to expect not to suffer), and B. Our culture basically breeds people to suffer for the machine. It was always about “my condition,” “my problems,” “my depression,” “my story of why I hurt.” We all have stories about why we hurt, and to some extent, these stories need to be explored. Some stories are more harrowing than others, but even the most well-off, well-loved people suffer.

Finally, meditation and yoga are being regarded as helpful treatment modalities for mental illnesses. I want to address that here: The science behind psychiatric medication is based on the theory that your brain makes the wrong chemicals and these other chemicals will kinda fix it. The science behind yoga is based on the theory that you are a universal being and ultimately, you are pure consciousness. Get in touch with the part of you that is pure consciousness—through systematic postures and meditation—and suffering begins to transform. This is true for all forms of suffering, be they given medical labels or are simply the “normal” malaise of routine adult life.

These theories/sciences are not mutually exclusive. I will always advocate doing all the things to help yourself. However, through my (largely unintentional and also explosive) exploration of inner space, I’ve found that the latter theory is a whole lot more complete.

There is tremendous power in stepping into the realization that it’s not you. You are not an addict or a depressed person or anything else because something is wrong with you. Instead, we have tendencies to harm ourselves because…

  • Our overall culture is unconscious of the way it thinks and acts.
  • We do not understand and/or accept the depths of the ways we all affect one another. Even people who fancy themselves hella woke tend to carry some amount of hatred and derision in their hearts. This doesn’t work, and it still hurts everyone.
  • We literally carry legacies of pain in bodily memory.
  • Fear is the default mode of living.
  • We have forgotten the truth of what we are.

It’s not that you’re a defective model, and you do have the power to rise above all of these things.

When it comes to mental health and overall wellness, that’s what it’s all about: The cessation of suffering through the exploration of higher consciousness. Not endless treatment, not an illness-oriented model, and certainly not a narrative that you will always be one thing or another.

Let’s end this on a high note, shall we?

Before I sat down to write this post, I went for a run. Even when I’m in the depths of it, meditating and running tend to lift my spirits. Near the end, I found this rosebush in someone’s yard, and it was too beautiful not to take pictures:

Being a good millennial, I put these on the Instagram where a friend commented, “Peace roses.” Again, being a good millennial, I Googled it. Lo and behold, this is what’s called the Peace Rose. And although I regard the entirety of my life experience as equally meaningful and meaningless, I’ll gladly take signs like this in times of need.

If you’re reading this, the message is meant for you as well.

– Lish

Standard
Meditation, Podcast, Reality, Spirituality, The Ego, The Mind, Yoga

Happy Solstice!

Dear Readers,

I wanted to post something quick today in celebration of the solstice and to recognize International Yoga Day. Happy summer for now; happy divine union forever.

Full disclosure: I don’t do the yogic postures, and I don’t really know why. Okay scratch that—I meditate, which is a part of yoga, but that’s it. At this point I’m more interested in yogic philosophy and its overlap/departure from the mainstream points of view in the West.

On that note, here’s one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read. I recommend that everyone give it a once-over, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with a mental disorder:

20170621_151222

Gifted to me by someone I once considered “my unwitting guru.”

I’m also working on a bigger post about how this book has helped to integrate my awakening as well as view my “illness” (bipolar disorder, type 1) in a new light. Seriously, it’s awesome.

First up: My friend Jill and I recorded a podcast yesterday. We’ve decided to call it The Free Fall. 

20170621_144225

I also scored this (enormous) whiteboard from a friend. I’ve been receiving a lot of help and love lately, and when I start to think about the magnificence of these things, my heart can get overwhelmed. Thank you to all! ❤

Essentially, that’s what we’re doing whenever we make the choice to live in alignment with our souls. It takes courage to follow our intuition and do what we know we’re supposed to do (as guided from a deeper place, not external/societal parameters) even when it doesn’t make logical sense. We’re free falling from moment to moment, being okay with the fact that we’re here and breathing in the present moment. It’s the wide-open unknown we’re traversing, after all. We’re following the breadcrumbs and trusting; always trusting and being grateful for what we’ve been given, big or small.

The mind prefers neat, seemingly clear paths: Get the degree, get the job, get the house, get the marriage, get the stuff, and then you arrive at security. This is the story the mind makes up in order to serve the ego’s need for safety. Of course, life tends to throw things in the way, and many people find that once they’ve finally arrived in this configuration there’s still a sense of dissatisfaction and anxiety.

There are many reasons for this, but it generally comes down to the fact that the truest parts of ourselves have been largely (if not totally) ignored in the ego’s grand plans. And, just like the rest of you, the soul wishes to be known, loved, and expressed. It’ll keep bugging you until all the parts are finally aligned. As always, I say: I’m not there yet! I’m always in process over here.

The first episode of The Free Fall will be up in the next week or so. It’s really just a thing Jill and I felt pulled to do, and after we got done recording it, we both felt so much lighter and freer. I feel very honored to share that space with her and with you.

And now, a few pictures I drew the other night when I felt like conceptualizing consciousness vs. the ego. I mentioned this in the podcast, I’ve mentioned it in other posts, and I will probably keep saying it until it feels understood: The ego isn’t a bad thing. The poor ego gets such a bad rap, and this is unnecessary.

I assume this categorization stems from our strong desire to have life be black-and-white, because this way of looking at the world is just easier for the mind to digest than the highly complex truth (so complex it becomes simple, really). Also, facing this complexity necessarily turns us to self-inquiry, and most of us have a lot of stuff in ourselves we’d rather not look into.

The ego is not bad; it’s just illusory. When we don’t know it’s illusory, we often make a mess out of life, trying to use this limited idea of what we are to get whatever it is we think we want:

ink (12)

 

ink (14)

 

ink (15)

 

ink (16)

& one last thing…

ink (17)

Love,

Lish

Standard
Meditation, Mental Health, Narratives

We Need New Narratives.

Dear Readers,

After I put this blog on Reddit and received some feedback, I felt compelled to put this piece up lest I be misunderstood so early on. I’d also planned to save some of it for several different posts on medication, but, stuff changes. I’ve definitely noticed that the more I grow, the less I plan, especially when it comes to self-expression.

I do not promote any alternative treatment. Recovery from mental illness is a private and unique process that each individual must take the reins on, provided they have the insight to do so. What I promote is an alternative narrative to the mainstream disease model.

There’s a more holistic perspective here; it is one that no one offered when I was tossed into the jittery machine of mental healthcare in America. It’s a view that takes the biopsychosocial stuff (upbringing, socioeconomic status, genes, etc.) into account, but also goes a step further. This step has made life clearer than everything I learned while getting my BA in psychology and from seeing various mental health professionals over the years. It takes evolution into account—more specifically, the evolution of consciousness.

Consciousness is not something that can easily be written about, and whenever I see a theory trying to “pin down” what it is, I know it is going to be incomplete. Its very nature is ever-moving and ever-changing, except in a timeless place of supreme consciousness where the universe was born. I could try to explain what this all feels like, but there’s really nothing I could write that would compare to you delving into your own consciousness. That’s what I recommend for everyone, whether they have been diagnosed with a mental illness or not.

I get how wacky this sounds from a Western perspective, but once fully understood, all of the pieces came together for me.

Most of us seem to believe that normal, everyday waking-consciousness is all there is, that this mode is where “reality” resides. This is not true. The evolution of consciousness is ongoing, and we are conscious beings. This means that you and me operate from consciousness that is always changing. When these changes are noticed, they are usually unplanned and transient: An inexplicable feeling of calm and stillness while standing nature. Some are bigger: Intense, life-changing love in the form of a partner or new baby that transforms the way your world is seen. And some are massive: The universe taps you on the shoulder, a light clicks on, and you are pulled along with the flow of it whether you like it or not.  (Pro tip: Resistance is futile.)

I do not mean to say that all shifts get us closer to the Truth, or that they all feel good. When manic, I was downshifting into extreme paranoia/anxiety and then back to being the totality of the Universe in a matter of a few minutes. The energy going through me was phenomenal: Walking felt like gliding above the ground and sometimes I had to spin in circles while texting. I was also very irritable, short-fused, and obnoxious. I made very poor decisions. This was the result of an unsteady, unplanned expansion of personal consciousness, and it was definitely not awesome.

I encourage no treatment other than that which agrees with your common sense and intuition.  I talk to my doctor, but I always I check in with myself first.  This is because even though my doctor is freaking awesome, nobody knows me like I do.  For now, I’m on daily meditation and medication, but the latter is going to go at some point.

medsandmed

I take one of those meds regularly, + practice + self-work + nutrition + sobriety.  Not easy, but worth it.

The narrative from a psychiatric perspective goes like this: Because of environmental and genetic factors, I have Bipolar Disorder, Type 1.  This severe illness is no different than diabetes or asthma, and I should treat it the same way—with medication—for most if not all of my life.  It never fully goes away, and going off of my medication will always present a threat to my health and stability.  I cannot help being this way, and my mood fluctuations/out of control behavior are the result of misfiring neurotransmitters in my brain.

The narrative from an evolutionary perspective goes like this: I am a being who is evolving in consciousness.  When my consciousness changes, I perceive the world differently and feel a lot of intense things.  With good habits, information, and practice, I can learn to use these expansions healthily, or just sit and watch it happen.  When I’m well enough, I can go off of my medication provided I take better care of myself than ever before.  I can alter my thoughts and behaviors; these new choices actually change my neurotransmitters over time.  I can be in charge of my whole self, be free from suffering, and live to my true nature.

I have chosen to go with the most empowering (and truest) narrative, live to it, and present it to others who are dissatisfied with story #1.  This does not mean that the psychiatric story is false, only that it is limited in the way it views illness.

I hope this post clears up some confusion about what it is I’m getting at.  In the world of mental health, there are many great treatment modalities, and we’ve come a long way from denigrating those who are honest enough to say “I’m not okay.”

But we need more than good treatment: We need a universal context for our illnesses, or they will never fully make sense.  As patients and as people, we need a new lens to look through.

Standard
Mania, Meditation, Mental Health, The Mind

The Upside of Losing Your Mind

Losing your mind instills you with a special kind of insecurity.  It isn’t just that you can see everyone’s judgment, pity, and/or worry, and it isn’t that almost no one understands what it’s like to touch something so intense.  Those things are rough, and every day post-breakdown can be a battle.  But mostly, you become insecure because of one disturbing fact: Your mind can no longer be trusted.  Reality can apparently fall apart at the seams, and you may be none the wiser.

When you’re mind-identified—meaning you think that your mind is essentially who you are—this is a very very bad feeling.  The logic goes like this: If I am my mind and my mind is deeply fallible, then I am deeply flawed.  From this perspective, it is not that you have a disease; it’s that you are a defective model. You’re sure it was someone’s mistake that you ever made it out of the factory.  And then, because our society is heavily mind-based (with extreme prioritization of a specific, wealth-generating mind, no less), a non-functioning mind pretty much renders you worthless.

So you’re humiliated from everything-you-did-while-insane, reality is maybe not-real, and you’re kinda worthless.  I’m not going to lie: It sucks.  A lot.  

But there is a way out of the horror show life becomes after you burn everything to the ground. The concepts in this post are also helpful for the more common hellscape of thoughts that millions of people inhabit.  With work, we can even learn to be grateful to our minds for finally forcing us to put them in their place.  It is only from this perspective that we can actually use our minds rather than living in them full-time. It really doesn’t matter what our thoughts are like when we are blissfully far away from them.

I don’t mean to say that it’s easy to get there. I know people hate to hear that, because we are pleasure-seeking creatures and because we’ve been conditioned to believe that good things should be happening like Right Now. Nevermind that your very existence is predicated on billions of years of evolution: If something doesn’t make you permanently happy within fifteen minutes, you’re out of here!  I’m sort of joking, but not really.  We are a culture of instant rewards, and it really screws us up.

The path of growth is necessarily a long game. Nothing about it is “easy,” but later on, you will not even understand what else you were ever doing. Or maybe you will, and it’ll be kind of funny because you’ll find that many (maybe even most) of your activities were done simply to avoid yourself.

If you decide that you want “easy” back, there’s always going to be booze and food and television and gossip and the smartphone and the shopping. It isn’t that these things are “bad.” Most of us have dabbled (and/or languished) in all of them. Sometimes I still plunge myself into bad habits, and I can confirm: They make excellent distractions from growth, and they are decidedly easier than sitting down to transform your way of being. (And of course some of these things can be used in non-self-destructive ways, but the line is very fine, especially with little self-discovery.)

By the time you’re ready to take steps towards not-hating yourself, you’ll probably be at least bored of that stuff, if not downright fed up with the amount of pain said things are causing you. So even though I want to jump in and start talking about the mind in its proper context, it should be noted that the first step towards freedom is to commit to yourself and to this life and decide not to settle for less than what you want, emotionally speaking.

This is the hardest step, and absolutely no one can make you take it but you. Anyone who has ever loved an addict knows this is true. A family’s pleadings pale in comparison to an individual’s commitment to self-destruction. It is the same with unhealthy thoughts and emotions: Until we make a resolute, unyielding choice to deal with our stuff and take responsibility for it, our thoughts and emotions will be subject to a very unstable (and quite horrific) world.  The result is unsurprising: An unstable (and quite horrific) inner world.

Getting out of the terrible thought-pit takes a few steps of conceptual knowledge. It also takes practice.  It also results in increased freedom, so of course, it is worth it.  The aim sounds simple, but if it were, many more of us would be healthy:  It is to step slowly away from your own mind.

The main difference between temporarily “losing one’s mind” and “consciously putting the mind in proper context” is often a matter of intention and insight.  I could’ve benefited from hearing all of these things while I was in-the-depths of self-hatred, and also when I was collapsing.

This first part is key: You are not your mind. Intellectually, you might totally get this, but living from this knowledge is no simple task. If we were able to fully accept this truth, most of our problems would evaporate rather quickly. I’m not just talking about those recovering from psychosis/mania, but for the more common neuroses as well: Depression, anxiety, addiction, cyclical unwanted thoughts, etc. Even seemingly “well” people would cease to take their thoughts so seriously, and the relief from all that noise would be incredible. Understanding that your mind is a small circus occurring within a much larger you is the first step to gaining mastery over it.

With this understanding, you can start to step back a little.  Watch the mind be busy and do whatever it does all day long.  You—the real you; the pure consciousness beyond your mind—just get to grab the popcorn and sit back.  In time, you stop buying into the bullshit part of you that’s been taught to think horrible things.

In order to illustrate the relationship between the real you (pure consciousness) and the mind-identified you, I drew a couple of pictures!

ink

1: When you are largely mind-identified…

vs.

ink (2)

2: From no particular identity, with full awareness of the Self.

If this makes no sense, don’t worry about it.  Watch the mind long enough, and it will.

One important aside before I move on:  For me, and probably many others, mania is the result of uncontrollably moving from 1 to 2 without practice.  It is consciousness-expansion without “trying:” The mind races to fill the newfound space and inevitably reaches its limits. The ego uses the mind to reinforce itself because it is under great threat, and therein lie your delusions of grandeur. From this view, one of the symptoms of a manic episode is easily explained: “Feelings of expansion.” When manic, you feel expansive because are literally expansive. Our culture does not regard this expansion as real or evolutionary, but it is both of those things.  Also, you haven’t been taught how to keep your behavior in check while you merge with the whole freaking Universe.

After I learned about the evolution of consciousness and did a small amount of practice, I was able to handle my second manic episode far, far better than my first. My depressive tantrums are more like short-lived storms rather than months of drizzle (also with storms), and my background feeling is stillness.  I’m sure some of that is due to luck or genes or whatever.  But most of all, I know it was even more important that I had an internal unwillingness to view my experiences through the lens of a permanent “disorder.”

Once you have semi-digested that the real you is much more than your mind (or your body for that matter), practice is essential.  The thing I’m going to suggest next is getting so much attention nowadays it makes me feel giddy: Meditate.  I feel like I’m always reading something new about how meditation helps with almost everything, particularly with regards to mood/thought/daily functioning.

I also know that it just isn’t something we do until we’re ready. None of my posts are meant to imply that anyone “should” do anything, or that they’ll have the same results as I have.  When it comes to mental health, individualized, intuitive approaches are sorely needed. However, mental structures function the same in everyone, and there are things that are beneficial to all bodies.

The most important thing to remember here is that there is no wrong way to meditate. Yes, there are Zen techniques and guided visualizations and breathwork and chants. To keep everything simple and not-too-woo-woo: Get comfortable, softly straighten your spine, and be somewhere quiet. Start very small; we’re talking 5-7 minutes.  It’s going to feel like forever and you will be whining in your head and all that means is that you’re diverging from familiar, shitty ways of thinking.  (I’m pretty sure if you Google “How to Meditate,” you’ll get about ten zillion results. It can be overwhelming, and that’s why I try to keep it simple.)

Meditative states also occur in a variety of daily activities. Basically, anything that helps you become calm, focused, and unaware of time can be considered a form of practice. For me, writing these posts is meditative, drawing clusters of spirals is meditative, and watching trees move in the wind is meditative. Though there is much to be gained by going deep into it in the “traditional” way, my point is that meditation can mean a lot of things.

20170419_183204

Meditation in Sharpie.

If you’ve never experienced a sober, elongated period of mental silence, this can be disorienting or enjoyable. It really depends on how big of a role your mind plays in your personal identity. Today, I deeply enjoy it, but at first, it was The Worst:  After my unplanned awakening, my thoughts immediately became much “further away.” Because I treasured my very-thinky mind and equated it with my whole self, this felt like a major problem to my ego.

At the time, it felt as if nothing had “meaning.”  What was really happening is that I had stopped constantly labeling everything and seeing the world through a million layers of preconception and judgment. Life became far less noisy, and it was uncomfortable because it was so, so new.

From a consistently expanded level of consciousness, we can learn to choose whether or not to think at all.  Existence without a constant thought stream is literally peaceful beyond words.  Those who are advanced in this regard can dwell in a space of stillness and silence whenever they choose.  (FYI: I’m totally not there.)

Detaching from the mind renders us no less able to think, but gives us the power to decide which thoughts we energize. I am still 100% capable of calling to mind that I want to kill myself and that I’m worthless—yes I can do all that useless self-talk.  Usually I choose not to think such things anymore, but just now, I did, and oddly it was kind of funny since I wasn’t taking it seriously. I got to look at my mind doing all its weird stuff and smile at it. Over time, we learn how see thoughts and reject them if they suck.

For me, there is still a threshold of emotion that, once met, all my spiritual shit goes out the window.  Usually this happens when I am tired or improperly nourished or a particular emotional chord is struck, totally unintentionally by others.  This is why prioritizing yourself and your health is of the utmost importance.  Smooth growth is dependent on balance, and I know that because I grew a whole lot while I was still highly imbalanced.  It did not go smoothly.

Anyway, this an incredible skill to learn: What is it that you want to think about, or do you even want to think? Do you want to think of politics and fear all day, or do you want to think of love and friends and light? I am of the persuasion that if most people could feel the profound peace of seeing the world without all their mental noise, they’d want to take a long break and dwell in all the beauty their minds have been covering up.

And if you don’t want to call any of this spiritual, don’t.  Because it isn’t and it is because words are always surface-level and if we get hung up on them, we will never stop fighting.

It doesn’t matter what you call it; it matters that it works.

As of this moment, I am grateful to my egregiously “fallible” mind. It has made Heaven and Hell for me within a breath, and I am just beginning to understand its power. This is not meant to be a boastful statement about me personally: Everyone’s minds are incredibly powerful. The human mind is an amazing tool; one that we have hardly even begun to put to use. This is because without consciousness, the mind falls into chaos and is used to achieve lower goals.

Getting it (somewhat) in order it has taught me the following lessons which I would not have known otherwise:

  • There actually is no stable external reality, and trying to force one causes much suffering.
  • Our five senses are also not reliable: That’s why we shut our eyes and stop moving to find out what is real,
  • There is much more to us than our minds,
    And, with some practice,
  • If your mind starts to “go,” you can learn to simply watch it go.
Standard