Category Archives: Depression

Let it Be

Let it Be.  “When in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it  be.”  Lennon-McCartney.   

I recently experienced a minor time of trouble.  Call it depression, a post-retreat counterattack, call it what you will, I was not in a good place for a while.  All my old bad habits and thoughts came roaring back.  Usually I keep that stuff at bay with prayer and meditation.  In the past I used alcohol and marijuana, but they only postpone things. 

During the bad period my meditations were all about the unhealthy stuff and I did not pray.  A spiral into depression ensued.  I have enough things to do in my daily life to keep myself from slipping into a major depression.  I just don’t have the time.  In a major depression all I want to do is lie in bed or the bathtub. 

This go-round I watched a lot of car, motorcycle, and airplane crashes on You Tube.  I also watched a lot of the violence scenes from Sons of Anarchy and boxing knockouts.   Fun, huh? 

The weekend went pretty well, we went to a good modern dance concert after dinner Friday evening, did some gardening Saturday, and the Sunday Insight Meditation dharma talk was a good one.  

Monday morning I woke up to a new world.  I felt good, the weather was fine, and I found myself praying and my meditations went where they should.  Why the change?  I have no idea. Maybe my meditation and prayer practice is working.  I am again able to let it be. 

I tend to have some obsessive thoughts about sex or violence. They arise, and if I pray a short prayer, they pass away.  Over time, they have diminished a great deal.  However, during my down periods, they come roaring back.  If I entertain them at all, they stick around.  A sort of feedback loop is generated.  The thought arises, I entertain it, it gets stronger, and I slip into unwise actions.  

What to do when the thought arises?  Let it be.  It, like all phenomena, will pass away.  Prayer helps.  I know people who hold on to unhealthy thinking most of the time.  They suffer.  The more they suffer, the more the unhealthy thinking stays with them.   

To live like this is a decision.  Unhealthy thoughts may arise from the labyrinth of the brain, but holding on to them is a choice.  The choice is self-reinforcing, so breaking the habit is tough.  We can, however, choose to break the pattern.  Not all days are bad days, even for someone in the depths of depression.  We have opportunities to break out. Almost everyone has opportunities to end their suffering.  Still, at times, the choice is to suffer. 

Cycles

The Universe

The universe cycles.  Things arise, then pass away.  It may take a while, a few billion years or so, but the only constant is change.  So it is with my life, change is the constant, it is just that the cycles are shorter.  The big cycle is of course, life itself.  Born, live, decline, and die.  After that, who knows for sure?

Today, it is about my spiritual cycles.  Those cycles can run from weeks to years.  Lately it is weeks.  I am a seeker, and was drawn to Buddhism in college.  I read, thought, but couldn’t meditate.  Now I meditate and after a number of false starts, I can call myself a beginner Buddhist.   Well, a Bhuddapalian, because Jesus is still in my life, but that’s another story and other cycles.

I have made quite a bit of progress, and have experienced varying times when I am actually living in the moment, not thinking about the past or future.  After all, the past or the future don’t exist except in our heads.  A few weeks I went on a retreat of enormous benefit.  18 people at the Y of the Rockies in Estes Park where we formed a bond during a silent retreat.

Cycles.  After the high comes the low.  From being in the moment, I found myself trapped in my past.  Now, for the purpose of survival I  need the past.  I learned things and apply the knowledge for the sake of survival in a fairly hostile world.  I don’t need all the old traumas and mistakes filling my head, however.  I use that stuff to fuel addictions in order to block what is gone anyway.  That’s how the brain works sometimes.  I block with food, various drugs, sex, and depression.

The problem, those strategies wear off and I am back simmering in the cauldron of despair.  Old pains lead to compulsive behavior leading to despair and addiction.  The Buddhist strategy is to devote oneself to serving all beings, clean living, loving kindness, and letting go-detachment.  Lately, not working.  I watch violence on You Tube, eat, fantasize, and avoid drugs.  Letting go?  Hmph.

I had this dream.  I was back at work after a vacation and there was new stuff I didn’t know how to work with.  There weren’t any instructions, of course.  When are there ever instructions about what to do?  So, I just had to cope, even though the boss and an engineer were running around talking about the future.  They weren’t going to be any help.

That’s where we are, isn’t it?  New tasks and no owners manual.  I just have to sit with the situation until a strategy presents itself.  Oh, wait, I just laid out the strategy, didn’t

Change

Where We Started

As Neil DeGrasse Tyson points out, we are made from stardust.  It takes a supernova to generate the energy to create the heavier elements.  That stuff diffuses, then gravity slowly congeals into new bodies.  Now this takes time, many millions up to billions of years.  Even geologic time is somewhat inconsequential compared to galactic time.

That’s a reason why we are so deluded with respect to time.  For children, the weeks leading up to Christmas can seem like forever.  It’s no time at all.  However, sometimes when I sit in meditation, time seems to stand still and I get jumpy.  In truth, our lifetimes are meaningless when viewed from even the nearest galaxy to our Milky Way.

The message in this?  Chill, already.  The therapist I saw for my ADD had me put a sticker saying NBD on the dash of my pickup.  No Big Deal.  Universes come and go in the blink of Kali’s eye, and we are obsessed with He Who Must Not Be Named’s tweets.

What is important is what we do with this tiny minute we are here.  I am attempting to connect with that eternal universe I tend to ignore most of the time.  Going back to the roots.  Well, the roots are made from stardust.

My brain gets oxygen and food these days, so it goes into action, what it evolved to do.  The action is thinking.  Thoughts arise, mull around, and pass to something else.  We are physically safe most of the time, so it isn’t really necessary to be on alert all the time.  The saber-toothed tigers are gone.

So, my task is to stop thinking so much, and just be space and stardust.  It’s where we came from and where we are going, so why not just be with that?  When I am able to let the clutter go,  I am more in harmony with the changing universe, not my nearly ceaseless churning of the noise I absorbed yesterday.  What arises, fleetingly, is equanimity and serenity.

In the long run we are all dead, so what’s the big deal?  Maybe we need catacombs, ossuaries we visit regularly to remind ourselves of the impermanence of it all.  I would like ho hold Nietzsche’s skull in my hands.  So much for the Ubermensch.

Can’t we all just get along?  If I remember something, I wand to remember yesterday’s sunset and look forward to the breeze in my face as I walk out of the coffee shop.  Oops, there I am thinking about the future, not enjoying the nice people in the coffee shop.

 

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Winter Blues

Winter

As I sit here in the coffee shop it is a gray January day with a light rain falling, promising to turn to snow.  This is an accurate metaphor for my mood of late.  I’m prone to depression, get treatment for it, but this is probably Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  I haven’t been able to do much writing, and what I have written I haven’t posted.  This is unusual. My goal is to put something up every week and I haven’t come close.   

I used to have two of those lights which are supposed to help, but I gave one away and the other is over the bathtub I haven’t been able to use lately.  Why no baths?  Leaks.  The upstairs bathroom sink cold water faucet started leaking as well. 

For me, things happening around me are often related to the state of my psyche.  Water is also a symbol of the unconscious mind, and leaks are about something important trying to come to consciousness.  I am engaged in a struggle to keep things buried.  Thus, leaks I am slow in fixing, and gloom leading to inaction.  It’s easy to guess how my meditation practice is going.  

My meditations are supposed to have the goal of being totally in the moment-no thinking about the pas, the future, or Donald Trump.  I can stay with just observing my breath for maybe five seconds.  I usually am able to stay with my breath or a prayer for several minutes before drifting off to be with Dorothy and Toto.  I come back to the breath, stay there a while and drift off again.  Currently, I obsess.   

I think the real issue for me is aging.  I am 74 years old. Lifting a fifty pound sack of ice melt salt is hard.  I used to throw fifty pound sacks around.  I cannot go above the second step on the ladder for fear of falling off.  I sometimes cheat and go to the third step, no higher.  My balance is not very good.  I have stayed at the same weight for some time but the muscles are shrinking and the belly is growing.   

I forget stuff.  I have always been somewhat forgetful, an ADD-ADHD symptom, but it’s worse lately.  I am going to have to go back to writing reminders down, a habit I have slipped away from.  I also head downstairs to do something, do two or three other things and head upstairs with the task not done. At least I get some exercise going up and down the stairs all day.

I know this too will pass, but I am tired of waiting

 

 

Caregiving the Hard Way

mental healthCarol and I attend a support group meeting for caregivers of mentally ill loved ones.  It meets at the Mental Health Center of Denver and is sponsored by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI).Carol attends regularly, but I stopped for a while because the stories are just too heart rending.  One person has been a caregiver for various family members since she was seven.  She did take a break for a while, serving as an Army nurse in Vietnam.   

Many attendees have more than one family member they are caring for.  The hard part for them is there is probably no end.  Most mentally ill people stay that way.  There is no stability.  Sometimes the loved one is doing OK for a long time, working or going to school, and then, bang, a psychotic break and repeated hospitalizations.  There is often financial instability, the loved one experiencing extended periods of unemployment, and being repeatedly denied disability benefits. 

In addition, the mental health system is broken.  Years ago, if a person was severely mentally ill, there was an extensive mental hospital system.  No longer.  The development of psychiatric medications and attempts to treat the mentally ill in the community ended the hospital system.  Today there is a host of agencies, some nonprofit, some for profit, and some governmental.  At least veterans have the VA, which does a fairly good job despite the overload.  There is never enough money, and too many people in need. 

Here in Denver, there are the Mental Health Corporation of Denver, Denver Health, several private agencies, the police, Social Services, halfway houses, Vocational Rehabilitation, detox, and others.  Navigating the system is time consuming, frustrating, confusing, and often a failure.  People have spent many thousands of dollars at private mental health facilities with no discernible effect.  All it has done is get the person out of the house for a while. 

A big one is the uncertainty.  If the loved one is doing well, it’s waiting for the next episode.  The person may just disappear for a while, only making contact when at rock bottom.  Some caregivers are relieved when their person is incarcerated.  At least they are relatively safe.  Safety, how can one insure that with a suicidal person?  There is a crisis system, offering telephone support, referrals, and sending a trained person with the police to the loved one’s home.    Sometimes it works.

There are tragedies.  One person was the high school valedictorian, then Cum Laude in college, then experienced a schizophrenic breakdown, and is gone with a shotgun barrel in her mouth.  I haven’t even touched on the alcohol and drug abuse problems, which are also mental health issues. 

Why do the caregivers do it?  They sacrifice huge chunks of their own lives, living with anxiety and uncertainty, for no financial reward.  They are caregiving for a loved one.  Love carries them through almost unimaginable adversity, and most caregivers still display love not only for their loved one, but also maintain a positive outlook on life.  There are those caregivers who flee, just not able to meet the challenge of a seemingly unending task.   

It is said that love knows no bounds.  For the caregivers in the support group, that is true.  We don’t see those who just lack enough love to stay involved for so long.  There are lots of heroes out there, you just don’t see them, for they are too busy to be visible.  I am able to hang in there for the loved one, but I can’t attend the support group every time; I just can’t deal with all the pain.

 

 

Winter Blues

 

Winter Blues

Winter Blues

Here it is January.  It was cloudy and snowy for days.  The sun is shining today,  but bleakly.  Christmas and the rest of the holidays are over.  They served as a temporary lift from the dark, depressing days of winter that every year remind us of the inevitable destiny we all share.

But, no, it isn’t all bad, just mostly.  I don’t know why, but my regular seasonal depression is worse this year.  I started feeling flat and unhappy sometime around Halloween, a holiday that was started to point out the return of darkness, the time when the spirits of the underworld again manifest here in our vale of tears.  Recent news events have not helped.

For weeks I could not write, and painful memories and feelings arose.  I read worthless trash, and was even drawn to watching mainstream television programs (I mostly resisted).  I was crabby, restless, and had trouble sleeping.  In times past when the melancholy struck, I would turn to drink, but I know it is only a temporary bit of oblivion that makes the everyday reality even more painful.

I got my meds changed, and the depression has lifted enough to allow me to write and get out of the house for a movie (Into the Woods).  I feel a bit better, and the return of the sun is helping.

Abraham Lincoln said that the secret of happiness is happiness.  That is true but he remained a melancholy.  Maybe we have these times to remind us of the good times we so often take for granted.  Maybe depressions force us to go inward, to leave daily life out there and look into those corners of our being we try to ignore.

Carl Jung wrote about the need to integrate the shadow,  that part of the psyche that lurks behind the face we try to present to the world.  If that part of the personality is ignored, it will surface as beliefs and acts that seem to be the opposite of who we want to be.  The tragedies of  twentieth century point out how the shadow operates in society as well as in the individual.

Depression brings the shadow out, especially at 3:00 AM.  When it happens to me, I get to look at the events in my life I regret.  I have to acknowledge that I have hurt people, been a bully, lied, shirked responsibility, had rage episodes, cheated, stolen, and overslept.  If one tries to bury the dark side, it will surface in a more virulent form.

Learning to accept my shadow allows me to see when it wants to come out, and I am better able to deal with it.  Carol, my wife, calls it the other Bill.  Now my shadow mostly surfaces as irritability.  I usually am able to recognize it and deal with it before I make a big ass out of myself.  Depression makes me more irritable.

Today I am sitting in the doctors office while Carol has a procedure.  With a few days of the medication change and some sunshine, the depression has eased somewhat, even with less sleep than normal.  I think things are improving, even with the bad coffee here.