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

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Depression, Mania, Mental Health, Narratives, Reality, The Mind, Yoga

The Lenses Through Which We See Ourselves

I really don’t like going more than a week without posting something new, but my novel has sucked me back into it. This is a blessed joy that also feels kinda like a violent storm.

I’m convinced that giving birth and creating art are pretty similar in terms of intensity and magic (though I’m sure a billion mothers would roll their eyes at this). But what I mean is that artistic creation can also be an incredible, laborious process gifted to us from the great beyond. The gestation period here is much more unpredictable, though. And at least you know what you’re getting when you’re pregnant, and in most cases, it comes out all beautiful and squirmy and warm. I’ve found that when I write, the more I think I know what I’m creating, the more my creativity laughs in my face. (Surprise! You’re giving birth to a hairless purple giraffe that shoots lasers out its eyes! Hope you still love it!)

When something I’m working on says “please pay attention to me,” I listen. This necessarily means that other things have to fade into the background. Sometimes these things fall into the category of “basic necessities,” such as eating and sleeping. Doing these things feels so irrelevant when a project needs me. If you love me and this worries you, just know that I’ve also begrudgingly accepted that eating and sleeping are things most people need to do on a daily basis.

But I feel like I should say that very advanced yogis (like decades-long trained, hella deep yogis from India) tend not to eat and sleep as often as we in the West do. The human body doesn’t require anywhere near 8 hours of sleep if the rest of the system is kept in good balance. This is especially true if the mind isn’t given free reign to burn through psychic energy with all of its cyclical thoughts; such thoughts further exhaust us when they intensify emotions. Seriously, the undisciplined mind uses sooo much energy.

There’s a relationship between a yogi’s feelings of wakefulness/decreased need for sleep and bipolar mania: What is referred to as full-blown mania is an unchecked, unplanned expansion of consciousness. Whereas a yogi has trained to feel awake, alive, and supremely transcendent, a manic patient hasn’t. It’s like jumping straight to the top of a very precarious ladder: The view is phenomenal, but of course we fall.

This is extremely meaningful with regards to the way we look at bipolar disorder. Like perhaps it’s inaccurate to label these experiences symptoms of severe, chronic illnesses?

Speaking of bipolar mania: This is one of the lenses I want to discuss self-beliefs through.

Beliefs are extremely powerful things despite the fact that they are, by definition, not based on personal experience. Here’s an easy way to understand what I mean, inspired by one of my most favorite mystics, Sadhguru: Do you believe you have ten fingers, or do you know it?

The things you know for sure don’t require belief. They’re solid and you don’t question them because it’s all right there in front of you.

Direct experience is the only thing to trust regarding all things existential and God-related.  My awareness of God is based on things I have felt and seen, and I would never dream of picking up a belief system—this includes atheism, by the way—instead. I would not even believe a famous prophet if he were standing right in front of me. This would be an insult to curiosity, a slap in the face to the incredible opportunity I’ve been given to seek and find out what reality is. It’s important to live from Truth based on what you actually know, and frankly, it’s a bit weak to put faith in a thing that has never been made really real to you. Millions of people do this. (I find it equally weak not to seek at all, but that’s a different conversation.)

On the other hand, I’m more than willing to simply believe that mankind has set foot on the moon. I didn’t see it and I wasn’t there, but if pressed to say if I “believe” it happened, sure. The evidence seems sufficient enough. (Mostly, I just don’t care if it’s true or not, but that’s a thing I believe.) “Beliefs” really should be saved for stuff that doesn’t matter so much.

But the big stuff? Re: Life and death and reality and God and who you actually are? You shouldn’t “believe” a thing! Find out for yourself. Until then, it’s far more honest to admit that you just don’t know.*

*But please don’t insist that just because you don’t know, the Truth “can’t” be known. I have heard this from more than one skeptical person. The most interesting thing about this statement is that usually, these people (whom I love) have not even really looked. They’ve consulted their minds up to a certain point and explored themselves no further. Truth cannot be found in the mind.

And yet, to make it through the day, we all have beliefs about ourselves.

The relationship between stories and beliefs is close: Beliefs reinforce stories, and stories reinforce beliefs. They hold each other up. If one starts to fall, the other one does, too. I’m inclined to say that stories come first in the form of tiny micro-stories (memes) traded around in the hivemind, but I haven’t parsed it all out yet.

The most powerful stories and corresponding beliefs are those that are about ourselves. Stop and notice: What kind of narratives do you have going on in there about yourself, right now?

“I am a failure;” “I am a good person;” “I am lost;” “I am an American:” These are all tiny stories that we can come to believe throughout the course of our lives. While meaningful, they are still just stories, and to me, every story becomes less true with every added judgmental adjective.

These beliefs can fluctuate a lot based on our mood and what has happened to us lately, and ultimately, they depend on whatever is most commonly reinforced in our own minds. We all have the capacity for self-hatred and/or self-love; it just depends on which one of these things we cultivate regularly.  Positive or negative, beliefs are strengthened the more often we tell ourselves stories (i.e. have thoughts) about ourselves.

Your self-beliefs are inextricably linked to your emotions. This is why Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (which commonly guides people with depression to question automatic, negative thoughts) works statistically just as well as antidepressants do—no side effects, bodily poisons, or Big Pharma required. Of course, in dire need, use both! Do all the things! (Unfortunately, CBT does not prevail for existential depression because you can’t think your way out of death.  Existential depression is where the deep, deep work begins.)

Today I felt like drawing pictures, so I drew some. My goal here was to represent the way we view our mistakes through various lenses and their corresponding self-beliefs: Depressed, manic, healthy (by Western parameters), and ultimately, from the perspective of higher consciousness. I don’t know if it’s going to make any sense to anyone who might be reading this, but it does to me, so here goes:

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In the grand scheme, mistakes aren’t even a thing. Everything you’ve done that you regret has been necessary for your growth and evolution, and for the evolution of those whom you affected. Some part of you created the mistake so that you both could move into deeper understanding.

I don’t just say this as someone who has made a lot of mistakes (and who is probably currently making them). I also recognize that the mistakes which have harmed me were also part of what brought me to the truth and the light. We can acknowledge when past behaviors have caused emotional harm, and we can apologize for those behaviors—and we should.  We can honor another’s feelings when they say “hey, that hurt when you did/said that thing.” This helps us to understand one another and ourselves.  Understanding is a prerequisite for love.

The balancing act is this: It’s all already perfect. It’s all exactly as it is. Events are occurring and you have done things; it is only the reactive mind and emotions which codify these events into things that are good and bad. There is another dimension of you that doesn’t need to do this with everything, and really doesn’t want to. (Psst: This is what Nietzsche was talking about when he wrote, “That which is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil.” I freaking love that quote, and only after I lost my mind did it really become like, “oh DUH!”)

Does this mean we go forth behaving however cruelly we wish, knowing that morality is false? On the contrary: When we see how perfect the truth is, we naturally become more mindful of our behaviors and guided towards less harmful courses of action. The whole Universe is an exquisitely balanced math equation on its own; behaving in harmful ways screws up the beauty of this equation.

The whole notion of morality is actually based in higher consciousness; it’s just that the mind can make everything way too complicated, trying to intellectualize things like normal human decency. In an expanded state, love and compassion are as logical as drinking water when we are thirsty.  Explaining the “why” would be pretty silly, no? If we know we are all each other, we automatically lose the need for morality and self-beliefs. It’s all just so clear.

Then, after we realize it, living in such a state of balance as a human being is possible with only one thing: Practice.

Have an awesome day!

– Lish

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Conditioning, Narratives, Reality, The Ego, Well-being

Happy 4th!

Nations Are Illusory

There has never been a need to cut the world up into nations. There is land. There are climates. There are variances in topography and coordinates which correspond to unique geographic locations. But there is no such thing as a nation once you have become unconditioned.

What we refer to as “our country’s history” is a collection of stories passed down from one generation to the next.  Stories can be twisted to fit any agenda; they are the most manipulative device known to man. I could tell you stories about myself that would make me look awful, and I could tell you some that would make me look great. I expect the same is true of you. Neither one would be based in reality because reality only exists here and now; also, everything is so much bigger than any single story can touch. 

Stories are the things your mind holds onto in order to keep your ego intact, or in this case, the ego of the nation. And so, from moment to moment, I am a woman without a story unless I choose to make one up. I do this often—and we all do. The only question is whether or not we’re aware that that’s what we’re doing.

According the story that is perpetuated in American culture, today is Independence Day. Here’s that story as I see it: A few hundred years ago, some people freed themselves from the tyranny of one guy and went on to oppress a bunch of other people. In the following years, some people ended up way better off; others ended up way worse off. Today, the remaining people are among the richest, saddest humans in the world. Regardless of their comforts and rights, they remain neurotic. Many are outright miserable.

I know there are more poignant aspects I could focus on, and that with the right intonation and rhetoric of glory, I could say something  patriotic: “The founding fathers emancipated themselves from an oppressive, greedy monarch and went on to build a country based on the ideals of liberty and individual pursuit of happiness.” See?  I can do it; it’s just so obviously one-sided.

Anyway, if the goal was for us to be very materially wealthy and very psychologically ill, I’d say this thing is a great success.  But of course it wasn’t.  The goal was freedom, and we are still so far from it.

Freedom is a State of Being

This isn’t meant to be a rant against the US or against Independence Day; it’s meant to be a post discussing actual freedom.  I’m so totally pro-freedom that I want us to be free of nations.  I want us to be free of limiting beliefs.  I want us to be free of borders and security agents with guns and hostility towards one another.  I want us to be free of fearing our fellow humans and free of fearing death.  I especially want us to be free of fearing life. I want us to be free of suspicion. I want us to be free of fearing that at any moment, freedom can be taken away, so we best militarize and lock up.

True freedom can never be taken way, nor can it be granted by another.  It is an individual’s personal work to get and remain free of his/her limiting mentalities (and, of course, to understand what that “self” actually is). Someone who is retired with millions of dollars can easily be mentally enslaved. Someone who is in jail can live outside of the confines of the body and mind and dwell in a kind of peace that eludes everyone else.

It is the work of the collective to create functional communities wherein we don’t treat each other like equipment, constantly assigning value to one another. In this made-up lala-land I inhabit in my imagination and envision as a real possibility, we would give of ourselves as we could and accept when needed. No one would fear for their survival, thereby becoming free to devote energy to inner development. This is the place I want to live, and it is one I know can exist because I can think of it. It is also clear to me that creating such a culture is a requirement for allowing the Earth to heal itself from years of abuse.

The story I want to be able to say regarding the transformation of consciousness goes like this: “Humans freed themselves from their own oppressive minds, ceased to identify with illusions, and came together to clean up the mess they’d unconsciously made.”

What I am Free From

I get that this has all been very pie-in-the-sky: Nations dissolving, people treating each other with love, blah blah blah.  I know it seems like there are a million steps we have to take before we get there, but the truth is that awakening happens in just one moment. One click of light and it’s all over. The self that thinks of the self falls away. The self that is separate from others is revealed as a facade. It all seems so idealistic until you get a taste for it and begin to feel the changes within yourself.

Suddenly, it’s feasible: We really don’t have to keep waging war on this planet or on one another if only we could drop every single lie that stands between us. The war within us is the war without. The things that leave us feeling like we’re 50 different people all the time are the same things that divide us on the whole. Total system overhaul is dependent on us transforming ourselves and  moving forward consciously.

To round this little post out in a much more normal and personal note: Today is my 100th day alcohol-free! I didn’t plan it, and if I had, it wouldn’t have been as good as it is. I’ll be spending the day playing outside, being with loved ones, watching fireworks, and drinking a bunch of nonalcoholic ginger beer and grapefruit soda. I choose to see today as a celebration of my freedom from alcohol addiction.

I’m working on a big post on alcohol right now: Why I don’t drink (it isn’t because I’m an alcoholic) and how I’ve practically spring-boarded from poor decisions, constant shame, and self-recrimination into positivity and actions that are more in accordance to who I know I really am just by giving it up.

The post will go up when it does, and until then, I hope you are all enjoying this beautiful summer. May you celebrate real freedom, as well—whatever that means to you.

Love,

Lish

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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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Mental Health, Narratives, Well-being

About Stigma

The reduction/elimination of stigma towards mental illness is an admirable goal. However, as with most things related to mental health and society, I often see this issue discussed in a way that feels somewhat surface level.

There’s basically one main reason why stigma exists. Here’s a breakdown of it, and why stigma isn’t an isolated thing we can do away with by espousing more information in the form of statistics and stories (although I fully encourage you to share your stories—bearing in mind that they are just stories, of course).

No problem exists in isolation; all things are interdependent. This piece of knowledge is crucial to understanding ourselves and creating a healthier world.

Our current paradigm measures the worth of a human being directly by their economic output. For real. This is made obvious by the fact that people with less money die of treatable things all the time, even though the power of money is upheld by nothing but widescale delusion.

Stigma is not about people collectively misunderstanding the reality of mental illness. They’re actually seeing it clearly and noticing that those who are mentally ill tend to not to be so good at playing the do-career-get-stuff-climb-ladders game. One’s success or failure at this game determines whether or not they are valuable individuals in the eyes of the machine, and sadly, often in the eyes of the individual as well. This belief in turn compounds depression and anxiety because shame makes everything worse.

Whether or not you personally believe in this form of measurement (and I hope you don’t!), it is a view that gets conditioned into us by the larger culture day in and day out. This valuation of human life is where stigma comes from, and it is this deep-seated mindset about human “worth” that must be overturned before stigma can cease to exist.

Right now, I’m on leave from work because I’ve decided to discontinue my psychiatric medication. I’m feeling out my new brain, taking a lot of baths and naps, meditating, exercising, reading up on yogic psychology, writing, and generally doing whatever it is my body needs at any given moment. This whole process is necessary for me to be the healthiest (and best) me that can exist.  It also feels far more responsible than anything I’ve ever done.

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Common bed scene.

But essentially, I’m “doing nothing.” My current value through the economic lens is quite low, whereas someone who gets a lot done, spends money, and builds businesses is simply considered more important. This type of thinking is based on about a million layers of delusion that I’m not going to try and take down here.

It feels important to note that many “successful” people often have tremendous neuroses they are specifically trying to avoid/compensate for with big busy lives. The truer truth is that those who hoard resources at the expense of others are much sicker than a person who doesn’t want more than they need. They are unaware of their sickness; the lack of awareness is precisely what makes them more sick. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” applies here. Thousands of years later and it’s still simple unconsciousness which drives this system.

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I got this picture during Catholic mass when I was traveling through Ireland. I am not a Christian (or an anything -ist), but the guy knew what he was talking about.

I know I’m healing and growing in ways that will ultimately lead to new heights (whatever that means), but those things have no tangible function under this paradigm. Genuine human development (i.e. beyond an ego) is often discouraged and shied away from because of this. It’s like, if healing and growth don’t have an end result of more money (or love or whatever it is you’re lacking), what’s the point?

From the egoic perspective, progress can only be measured egoically, when there’s so much more to learn and gain outside of this construct. You can never know what the result of the path will be, because it requires deliberate steps into unknown territory. It is scary and comes with absolutely no guarantees.

But we can pretty much guarantee that if we remain attached to financial wealth as the defining feature of well-being and security, we will turn our backs on growth time and again. It’s not that money on its own is “good” or “bad” (and if your path brings it to you, awesome), but that many people see losing money as The Worst Thing, even when doing so is necessary to get well or to help others get well.

I have no reason to believe that my (or anyone else’s) highest potential will result in money. The vastness of human potential lies far beyond this little idea of success, and the feeling of having money cannot compare to the richness of touching the infinite inner dimension. Global change is dependent on understanding that material wealth always plays a very small role in one’s attainment towards abundant joy.*

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Genuine half-lotus smile. I also bought bought decaf today. I don’t even know what I am anymore, guys.

In the end, “worth” in and of itself is a conditioned delusion. We are all simply here, living and breathing and being. We have come with unique traits and talents; some of them lend themselves to financial wealth and others do not. Neither is better or worse. We can learn to appreciate the variations in human ability without measuring each other (and ourselves) in a crude, hierarchical way. And as always, the only way such hierarchies will begin to really fall away is when we individually cease to view each other through the limiting labels we cling to.

If all humans would see through all delusion at once, stigma would disappear along with a lot of things we know are very unhealthy for life on Earth.

*It’s getting a bit old seeing the word “abundance” thrown around as a synonym for “financially wealthy.” Right now, if you’re reading this, you are enough. That’s the whole truth and trick of being abundant.

Secondly, mental illness really can be quite scary and uncomfortable. I have a lot less to write on this matter, because that’s basically it. People who are in psychotic episodes can be totally unpredictable. Unless you’ve been there and/or had extensive training on compassionate care for fragmented human consciousness, witnessing these experiences can be unsettling. I say this as someone who has been acutely psychotic.

There’s a lot more to dig into about the fear of losing one’s mind, which a lot of people (particularly those who undergo major spiritual shifts) harbor. When the mind is “everything,” the loss of it is naturally interpreted as horrific. I’m not going to extrapolate on all that here, because it isn’t as directly related to stigma as the other stuff. Still, it feels relevant to mention that our fears of extreme madness are generally the result of us all being a little mad.

Given the complex and deeply-rooted nature of stigma, it can feel like “okay, so, what do we do?”

I feel this way about all the suffering in the world, and my answer is always the same: Cultivate a life based on eliminating the delusive ways you view yourself and others. Delusional beliefs are innumerable; there is always work to do. Most of us have dozens and dozens of them that go unexamined because the loss of a belief often results in external changes that the ego interprets as inconvenient or undesirable. (Plus it feels like we are “less,” and the ego never likes that.)

At the “end,” when you have at least a sliver of awareness about the nonsense you’ve been telling yourself, live from what you know with love and intensity. (I really am trying my best to do this.) Make the process the goal and there can be no such thing as failure. Commit to this path and remember that you’re always on it, even when you “fail” by judging and/or abusing yourself.

We’re not talking about quick-fixes anymore, friends, and we’re not talking about the “little I” that wants the path to result in ego-based success. We’ve gotten smarter than that. “Getting rid of stigma” will require a fundamental shift in the way we see ourselves, just like all other true change. We can do it.

Love,

Lish

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Mental Health, Narratives, Well-being

Doing Away With “Mental Health”

Everyday: More changes, more evolution.

I’ve decided to move away from my focus on mental health, even though this issue has played a huge role in my life:  At 25 I was diagnosed with major depression, 28 brought me bipolar 1, and all of this was laid atop a solid foundation of substance abuse that kicked in shortly after my Dad died.  I was 17, and the subsequent plunge into alcohol abuse was not a coincidence.

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Dad’s the one with the beer.  It always runs in the family.

I’ll continue compare the view of yoga psychology to mainstream psychology throughout my blog, and it is a goal of mine to help dispel the myth that mental disorders are “forever.” Humans were not meant to be slaves to themselves. We are each the operator of a brain and a mind, and we can learn how to master them.  As I said in this (long) post on the mind, it isn’t necessarily easy—until it is: At some point, your old ways of looking at life become nonsensical, and deepening awareness is the only goal.

What consciousness really comes down to is holistic well-being. A person doesn’t need a diagnosis of any kind to be unwell: Stress, worry, anger, negativity, and apathy are very common emotions to carry around. It’s taken as a given that stress is factually “a part of life,” and numbing out is a favorite pastime. These are “normal” modes that “normal” people live in. They may not be in therapy or take psychotropic medications, but that doesn’t mean they are well.

If we look at people’s eyes, we can discern which emotions are playing out within them, and it usually isn’t great. It is only a rare individual who carries him/herself in joy wherever they go. Again: I am not this person, but I know it’s possible. This is this level I aspire to above all else, because I know there is nothing more beneficial to this planet than getting there and maintaining it. A place of enduring, unshakeable joy is where the exploration of consciousness can get us, and this is what we’re aiming for: Permanent recovery from all forms of unwellness, be it a formal DSM thing or the simple stagnation that routine life brings to us.

Somehow, we’ve gotten all chopped up.  We have overcomplicated and split the whole of the human experience: In reality, we do not have a work life, a love life, a family life, etc. We only have life and are life. Cutting it up into discrete chunks is a surefire way to create confusion, for from this perspective we are no longer viewing ourselves as complete, singular people. Only certain parts of us are acceptable in certain situations, and figuring this out requires much thought: “Don’t say this around so-and-so.” “Don’t drink around family.” “Don’t get into politics at work.” Anxiety sprouts if we unthinkingly show a side to someone who may not be accepting of us. Before we know it, we’re doing backflips to try and smooth tiny incidents over in our minds, forgetting where we are, and acting unconsciously.

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Endless wisdom from the illustrated Tao Te Ching.

Similarly, there is no sense in cutting “health” up into a bunch of different categories: Physical health, mental health, sexual health, emotional health, etc. For pragmatic reasons there are of course sub-specialties, but overall we are either well or unwell, and this is primarily a state of mind. A happy person on their deathbed is well; a physically fit person with suicidal thoughts is unwell. It is possible to become such a way that even the threat of death cannot shake our joy. (In part, this is because we learn that the death we fear is fictitious: The decay of a physical body is not the “end” of consciousness.) This inner state lies beyond the realm of what is known as “mental health” in our society.

In the West, being in “good mental health” tends to more or less mean “capable of semi-comfortably holding down a job.” If you are able to do this, you will avoid much of the mental healthcare system. But if you are sensitive (by which I simply mean more affected by cultural memes and negativity), you probably will get a diagnosis someday.

I’m not interested in whether or not an individual can “function in society.” This is the largely the goal of mental healthcare in the Western world: Get people to be stable and functioning. This is a relatively low place to rehabilitate a suffering individual to in comparison to the total human potential.  Both parties—practitioner and patient—know this on some level, but to admit it would violate the rules of capitalism: People have to do the jobs and make the things and keep the machine a-runnin’.  Because the economy is more highly valued than our wellness, base-level functioning is how mental health is measured.

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My interest lies in human happiness: If someone is homeless and happy, I find him/her more successful than a miserable person making $150K per year. We need to examine the reasons why it is so difficult to be happy in a day and age where we can literally sit around and have food brought to us by tapping a phone screen. Our material and technological comforts haven’t helped psychologically, and we’ve pillaged the Earth to create complex forms of hollow, fleeting happiness. In short, we have taken down innumerable other life forms in order to be miserable. There is only one more place to look for that which we so deeply desire: Inward. This is where it all is.

I’m not here pushing for well-being and joy just because it’s awesome: I’m all for these things because reversal of the fear pattern requires it. There are many causes aimed at “defeating” evil in this world, but it all comes to a very basic principle: People who are blissful don’t hurt other people or other living beings, and when we feel whole on our own, we do not take from others. With deep inner peace, the need to hoard resources and wealth evaporates.

Higher consciousness brings about great joy and an equanimity that cannot be touched, and these are the attitudes we must cultivate if we care about life on Earth.  And, hey, if you’re not really interested in saving the world and just want to be happy for yourself, that’s totally fine.  Whether your intent is to enjoy your life or benefit all life on Earth, the deepening of consciousness will achieve both.

Lastly, I’m axing the focus on “mental health” because it’s become a pejorative term. The word “mental” says it all, I think. Even more excitingly is that I am not convinced that “I am bipolar” or even that “I have bipolar disorder.” I’m a sensitive person on an unstable planet that taught me nothing about how to be a human. We are at such a low level overall that severe healing and growth paradoxically presents as illness.

The intensity that has come through me without training or awareness has resulted in behavior that is totally regrettable from a higher perspective. But I will not dwell in shame, for it only hurts me and others. And I will not doom myself to a lifetime carousel of highs and lows by committing to the “I’m bipolar” story.

I encourage all people to examine the stories they’re telling themselves, and see if they can find one that is healthier and truer to them.

– Lish

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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.

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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.

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