This piece has a deeper meaning for me personally, as someone who suffered from debilitating depression for so long, “treatment” meant having my hope taken away time and time again, as I was told my life would be about coping, not being cured. Coping is just a fucking pretty word for suffering. My life began to unfold in unimaginable ways when I finally stopped listening to the the voices that kept me imprisoned by false limitations. I was finally able to define my own fate and find my way into those brighter days- Brighter days that I was told were just a delusion of a broken mind. Never let anyone take away your Hope. The brighter days are out there, my friends.
I recognized pretty early on in life that I didn’t have a chance in hell at having any self-esteem. All of the circumstances that I grew up within seemed like they were careful curated to erode that protective layer that we are born with, which delivers us into a comfortable adult life full of healthy boundaries and a nice yard with a house full of kittens. By the time I entered adulthood I had been reduced to an exposed bundle of raw nerves covered only with a nice coating of self-loathing for being unable to protect myself. For a really long time I created circumstances in my life which served to keep all those wounds from healing. Often wounded souls learn to wound themselves to keep themselves in false comfort, wrapped in the state of existence that they understand. I saw this pattern, but felt powerless to do anything about it. The seemingly infinite pain that clogged my heart and ran through my veins like shards of glass only got sharper and sharper. Over time, I lost the ability to feel the membrane of my own skin distinguishing me from the endless sea of the acid of self-pity.
At a certain point, I realized I was in no way heading in any direction towards feeling any sense of self love or deserving, and I got really fucking mad. Is this my fate that was laid out for me? Some kind of sentence I must serve? Should I just accept- this is the limitation of my personal existence?
There was a fire burning in my chest that was screaming, That’s just not fucking good enough.
As a result, I realized: We all have two fates. One is the result of whatever mess you were born into, and one is the result of deciding that’s just not fucking good enough.
And so, I began to build it myself. I began to earn my own love, respect and admiration by becoming a person I liked. This is different for everyone- for me it meant many things like spending a lot of time sober and developing the sides of my personality that I only had when I was wasted. It meant getting clear on my truth about all things, settling into a version that felt good to my heart and soul and developing the courage to share it with others so that they could love me or fall away. It meant defending that truth, not hiding it or adjusting it to accommodate others. It meant no longer conforming to ideas about living that made my soul feel like butterfly in a tiny airless jar , dreaming big- taking those dreams and building them in my life outside my head. It meant rebelling against the prison guard of shame and beginning to tell my story. In doing so, I found I had wisdom, unique perspectives, deeper compassion: VALUE.
Because I was not wired to love or accept myself, I fall back into old patterns quickly. This keeps me always busy building new things, things that are tangible- that I can see outside my own head and love- growing, showing myself new views of myself, kicking down walls, living in a state of continual renewal. It’s this frenzied state, desperate to keep earning my own conditional self-love that keeps renewing me. Keeps me renewing my vows to myself. Keeps me earning my own love.
Had I grown up wired to feel lovable just because I exist, I probably never would have pushed so hard to grow in these ways and build these things. There would be such a grand volume of gratitude that I never would have gotten to experience in this life. And whenever you are forced to build something yourself it runs way deeper and is way more stable. No one can take it from you.
If you can look at everything that you perceive within yourself as a disadvantage, with an open heart (not judging it as bad) and ask, What is this calling me to do? Your life will begin to unfold in ways you never thought possible.
I understand that to diagnose and treat problems we have to label them. I’d like to put that aside for a second though and look at a different piece of this picture.
Between what I have learned from the previous years of my own struggles and witnessing the healing of those that I have coached, I no longer see depression as a mental illness. Depression is certainly a legitimate condition- a debilitating one, which can cost you your life (even passively). However, through the lens of “mental illness” the implication is that there is something fundamentally wrong with your brain, and from this conclusion, the course of treatment is therefore medication. Medication is tactically branded as a fix-all for the vast multitudes of symptoms of depression- until the pharmaceutical companies want to sell you more medications, which is when the marketing strategy suddenly switches to “2 out of 3 people on antidepressants report unresolved symptoms of depression”. To me, this is further evidence that we are failing to understand what depression actually is, and therefore the main method of treatment is blatantly failing. Personally I’ve never taken a pill and had the color return to my world, as I have seen in countless ads. I have however, taken a pill and become numb enough to forget there even are colors.
The way that I have come to understand depression is that it is actually a function of being human. There is a spectrum, and we all lie somewhere on it. We are all sensitive, malleable, impressionable beings, collecting data about ourselves and our environments (mostly unconsciously) at rates that compete with world’s fastest supercomputers- and internalizing all of that. Depression, in its most simple explanation is a suppressed state of functioning. Wherever unhealed pain, false beliefs, and an operating system that is not based on your own truth- but rather the truth of others, intersects with what your soul or spirit really wants to experience in this lifetime, is where on the spectrum, your depression lies. The greater this gap, the greater the depression.
What I think is important about this perspective is that suddenly there is no separate population- “the people who suffer from depression”. Anytime you separate out a population they are inevitably seen as defective, lesser, tarnished in some way. It breeds stigmas and shame. Realizing that all humans struggle with unhealed pain, false beliefs, and trouble connecting to the language of their own truth, you begin to see that our suppressed states of functioning are actually what connects each and every one of us, and this changes everything.
This moment feels surreal. I am living inside my own dream. A dream that I buried in secret dark recesses of my heart, as so many have tried to pry it out of me. I had all my brain chemicals tested last week. I was just going over the results with my coach. She said, “You have the cleanest neurotransmitter profile I have ever seen on anyone.”
Flash back to that scared little teenage kid alone in the doctor’s office for the very first time being told they have a chemical imbalance. A brain that can’t regulate itself, it just doesn’t work the way it is supposed to. I inherited my mother’s defective genetics. Being told to think of it like a person who has a heart condition, they just have to take medication. Flash back to having my Hope taken away. It’s not about healing, it’s about coping they said. Being told I have a handicap, a mental illness. Flash back to the final moment of letting go of my God- who sent me to this earth with a brain that just wouldn’t work no matter how much work I put into it fixing it, no matter how much goodness was in my heart, no matter how much I dreamed of a brighter day… who mercilessly doomed me to a life sentence of suffering. Flash back to my best friend of 20 years telling me to accept I have a handicap and to just do less, dream less, want less, accept my fate. My dreams were the cause of all my problems. FUCK YOU. Flash back to my other best friend forwarding me an article about a new surgery where you can have part of your brain removed. Flash back to all the abusive relationships I engaged in because I felt so broken and undeserving of more. Flash back to 10 years later, fabric of my soul worn so thin that I could no longer sew any patches on it, sitting in front of a new psychiatrist. My dying seedling of hope his placed fully hands- trusting he would be the one to finally help it grow. He seemed really excited. He had good news, he said. “You’ve been misdiagnosed. Depression is only part of your problem”, he said. “You also suffer from a rare form of bipolar. Instead of cycling from high to low, you cycle from low to lower. Right now, you feel a little better because you are on an upswing towards down.” Flash back to filling the new prescription for anti-psychotics and collapsing in the parking lot. Deciding to die instead. Kicking them high into the sky and watching them fall into a dumpster along with my attachment to being alive. Flash back to getting off all the “non-addictive” meds which cost me almost a year of my life. The physical sickness, the extreme emotional dysregulation, I’ll never understand how I survived that. Flash back to finally working through my story, understanding how I had been shaped, awakening the rage within and letting it burn until it was released, grieving, healing, working, moving forward for the first time. Flash back to becoming alive. Becoming visible to myself and showing up in my life. Building a new fucking life. Flash back to changing my brain chemistry by healing, by growing. By kicking down the walls of that shitty existence, ditching that old operating system, and conquering the worst kinds of terror. Flash back to that little whisper in my fucking heart all of those years telling me there has to be more to existence, there just has to be. I never have any science to support that. All I had was Hope.
Sometimes when you believe in something and you don’t have any proof, you have to become it.
used to drown myself in NPR at night, listening to storiesof people who were refugees or victims of unimaginable circumstances. It had weirdly become part of my daily cycle of suck, listening to this and hating, beating, and shaming myself for feeling the way I did. Comparing myself to people with “real problems”.
We need to shift in the way we judge pain.
-It is not possible to simply “get over something” that affected you in such a way that it changed who you were and the understanding you had of your world.
– Time does not heal all wounds. Wounds can heal on their own, but only if they are superficial. Deep ones need attention and special care. The parts of you that hurt can’t see the outside world and use the logic of comparison to heal. Shame and judgment of pain only makes the injury worse. That forces you to hide your own truth from yourself and that leads to many other problems.
-Other’s judgment of how “you should feel” is irrelevant. That’s like telling someone who was raped they should have no problem getting over it because at least there was only by 1 attacker instead of 5. No one else can have an accurate perspective on what your experience was, and trying to force yourself to feel things the way they think you should, will only lead to more suffering.
-Our inner time is very different than external time. Years may pass between things that happen in the eternal world, but time doesn’t work like that on the inside. There is often no space between Then and Now when it comes to the things that have affected us. That is part of being human.
-You can’t talk yourself out of the things that hurt you deeply. To be free of them, you have to learn to hold space for your feelings. Allow them to be what they are in a way that you are not feeding them (so that they gather more volume and take you over) but rather letting them bloom, so that they can then die down. Listen to the messages in them while they are blooming, and go down the paths they are calling you to go down. Only then, can they evolve into lighter feelings of acceptance, healing and gratitude.
Looking through catalogs at families using their new camping equipment or appliances, one thing always jumps out at me. The clarity of the situation. There are no strange undercurrents, nothing that feels funny but you’re not sure why- nothing that is in reality the total opposite of what it seems on the surface. There is no mom covering you with a blanket to sleep in the hatchback of the car while she goes out to bars, and you feel loved because she cared that you were scared of being left home alone. Love is just love, and everyone is behaving based on standard definitions. When you are small and love is given to you in ways that make your heart and head have to disconnect, lines become blurry. You develop the confusing ability to love yet somewhere you don’t actually even LIKE. And then your adult life becomes one situation after another where things feel really off in ways that echo endlessly deeper into the recesses of your infinitely cavernous interior. Logic swoops in and attempts to silence the echoes. Except it never really does, and so the harmony within your own self becomes based on your ability to believe your own lies.
I spent most of my life without a clear idea of what was right or wrong for me. Just a big jelly fish of strange feelings that lived inside of me and would light up in different colors and sometimes it felt squished and then I would have to wiggle around in my life and make room for it in strange ways. Sometimes the colors go dark and I have to adjust things to get it to light up again. Mostly I’m grateful for this blur, it has made life more interesting- when lines are all a blur you are definitely more open minded to experiences that the people in Sears catalog world would not even entertain.
So there I was… I had spent enough time alone to hope that I had grown beyond all of that , 3 years to be exact. Three years of figuring out what I liked about myself and strengthening those things. Three years of building my own center of gravity so that I would not be caught in someone else’s orbit. Three years of figuring out how to build the things in my life that I had never been given. Dissolving aspects of myself that only served to feed some kind of strange addiction to pain. But I found myself in my brand new life recreating the same type of situation. My heart quietly said no, but really gave no valid reasons and so my head loudly discounted it. I was so disappointed to find myself trapped in this again, that I felt sick. My upper back muscles felt like they were vomiting and it made all of the nerves in my arms sore which made skin sore to the touch. But something was different this time; I realized there was no need to keep spiraling, drowning in disappointment. In the past I would’ve continued that inner conflict infinitely, but I now saw this was an opportunity to make a different choice. And that’s as perfect as life will ever get- when you realize there are no such thing as mistakes, just opportunities to evaluate if whatever you are doing is giving you the experience you intended to seek. One of the most awkward, uncomfortable feelings is that of shedding an old skin. Especially when you’re not shedding it for a new one, you’ve just decided that you don’t give a fuck if you have to stand there naked for a while.
That’s what I did. Cut all ties. Made space for the things that just somehow seem to happen when you stand trembling in that void. And they are never what you expect. .. which is the magic of life.
And so a couple days later I randomly came across a picture of a couple of squirrels sleeping in a pile. They were intertwined, holding little parts of each other in their little squirrel paws, little floppy bodies so relaxed there were no clear boundaries where one squirrel suit ended and another began. In that moment that sad kid who lives in my chest and looks out the window at all the other kids having fun out in the world clawed its way out and demanded to be heard. I suddenly saw all the lines in my lifetime that were blurred beyond recognition. Nurturing and destructive, comfort and safety, attraction and pain.
I felt some kind of internal shift in that moment, like when the Wheel of Fortune is slowing down and the last click lands on the prize. I wanted to find out what it feels like in that nest. Surrounded by those whose intentions and energy is in unison with mine. Terrifically close but not invaded. Intertwined for a greater reason. Safe enough to finally rest.
“If someone with a lot of money and access to the best treatment couldn’t be cured, then what hope is there for me?”
I keep hearing this asked in all different ways, and while Robin Williams’ life left behind a legacy full of bright colorful ripples, unfortunately his suicide also has a legacy- a frightening message sent to a population already clinging to hope like a parachute made of sand that the only way to be free from the hell that is depression, is death.
The problem lies in the way depression is understood and the courses of treatment that stem from that understanding. One of the most damaging moments in a depressed person’s journey ironically, is the first time they have the courage to reach out and seek help and they are labeled mentally ill. I spent over a decade in 3 different states seeking help for depression, and I have seen a broad variety of health care professionals from psychiatrists, holistic doctors, life coaches, therapists, psychologists, people who were new in the field, to people who had many years of experience. There is a very clear summary of all of their beliefs: Depression is a mental illness- a nebulous disease, some type of chemical imbalance that we don’t really understand and treatment is more about managing it and learning to cope than actually “getting better”. You are best to accept that you have a handicap and adjust your dreams and the things you try to achieve accordingly.
Who wouldn’t want to die after being handed that fate? And so this diagnosis begins to feed depression with all the things it needs to keep it alive- hopelessness, powerlessness, defectiveness, and a view of the future that is suffocating.
IT IS ALL BULL FUCKING SHIT.
Depression is a suppressed level of functioning caused many distinctly identifiable things. If you resolve these things, the depression resolves itself. Permanently. People who are depressed live in a thick murky soup of confusion over their own truth, anger that has been so stuffed down they don’t even know it is there, pain that they don’t have language for, grief that has not been allowed to evolve to a healed state of acceptance and gratitude, loss that is not so straightforward, trauma that is often complicated and psychological (if not physical), the feeling of a higher calling with no visible path or understanding of their abilities to arrive at those destinations, personality traits that have been overdeveloped while others that are necessary to support the weight of that are under developed, gifts that feel like burdens because they don’t have the tools to manage them, and tremendous sensitivities all sealed inside a pressure cooker of the body with a hefty sprinkling of shame. When you begin to understand this, suddenly a very faint map starts to appear. Routes to freedom appear. A logical progression of the things that must be done to heal. Ways to grow. Suddenly there is room for excitement. Empowerment. Hope.
Well, hope doesn’t sell pills. About $10 billion dollars a year worth of pills. They are selling a cure based on a carefully branded hopelessness. Is anyone actually getting better? Antidepressants are most consumed class of medication in the US, yet 2 out of 3 people taking antidepressants report they are still suffering from depression. Listed side effects include the possibility of suicidal thoughts or actions. People are committing suicide in alarming numbers (currently the 10th leading cause of death in the US) or living heavily medicated and/or in tremendous pain yet somehow managing to serve out their term of life until it’s natural conclusion. Both are equally tragic.
For over 10 years I was completely unaware of the message in my depression, that it was actually a calling to break myself apart, examine all the pieces and build something new. I was repeated told I was mentally ill (with implied permanence) by every doctor I saw, yet somewhere that just didn’t feel right to me. Eventually I concluded that was just another component of the mental illness- secretly believing in my own sanity. All I knew something was very wrong and I had no words for any of it. If it had been explained to me as I explained it above my entire life would’ve opened up. It would’ve been frightening, but with the nervous energy of a new beginning rather than a death sentence.
One of the biggest tragedies of my struggle was that all except one of the mental health professionals I saw didn’t have a fucking clue what depression really is or what to do about it . Overcoming depression requires tremendous growth. Most of the professionals I encountered were only equipped to help me cope. Coping is suffering. They didn’t recognize psychological trauma. They didn’t understand PTSD. I was so good at coping, I had no idea that I even was coping. They sat and stared at me with long awkward silences hoping that I would bring something up in a session that they could work with. I never did. I felt even more defective because after years of therapy I never got anywhere. I blamed myself. I felt more broken, more hopeless. I didn’t know that I didn’t have language for what was going on inside of me and therefore I had no voice. I had no idea that a big part of overcoming depression is finding someone who will reach into the darkness within you, asking the right questions and helping you to develop language that will shed light in some very dark corners of your mind and heart. It is that new voice that will set you free.
The thing people don’t realize is that going for therapy isn’t good enough. You have to find someone who has language that speaks to your wounded soul. You have to find someone that you have chemistry with where your story collides with their energy and special brand of wisdom and lifts you to a higher place. Something about the way the two of you communicate inspires deep revelations. And when you have outgrown that person, you have to recognize that and move on. It is important to understand the core beliefs of the person you are seeing. I had a therapist recently tell me that suffering is a great part of the human experience and I will always suffer to a certain extent. The more I am able to accept that, the happier I will be. No fucking thank you. That’s her truth and so if I had continued to see her since that is one of her core beliefs, she would not challenge me to any higher existence than that. I know enough to walk away from that now, but in the past the fact that she was very experienced, expensive and located in the Hollywood hills would have spoken to me louder than the fact that her version of truth made my heart want to die.
In addition to examining the roots of one’s depression (yes, there was a point when it formed) unraveling and processing the past, and sorting out all the confused feelings in that thick murky soup, another part of overcoming depression is also rehabilitating the present life. When relationships and friendships stem from the toxic soil of depression the dynamic feeds the depression in major ways. This can also be true for other circumstances in life, like aspects of a person’s career. I will never forget the time in my life that I felt like my eyes were slowly opening for the first time to the fact that I had actually reconstructed the emotional crime scene of my entire childhood with frightening precision as an adult. And that is what I woke up to and lived in every single day.
What we are doing to people- labeling them mentally ill, sending them down a dark tunnel of inadequate treatment, taking away the one thing that could save them (hope) and medicating them so that they live a shell of a life experience, is tantamount to practices from the past where we imprisoned people in mental hospitals and threw away the key.
What a tragedy that a person so full of life, love, and brightness suffered so terribly to the point where he saw no other avenue for relief than suicide. Even more tragic is that it taints his beautiful legacy with this dark message of hopelessness. That is my motivation in writing this, dispelling that message. It is not true. And I think he would want you to know that. I wish he could’ve known that.
The trouble with happiness is that we tend to believe it is a high, instead of a state of existence. Because of this we end up seeking to create it in ways that are not sustainable and it becomes just that- a temporary high. Picture an internal mechanical contraption that houses your spirit. Here are 5 components that when aligned, create a sustainable baseline of happiness deep within.
1. Your heart
Your heart is both the engine and the compass of this machine. It is a highly underestimated power source which can power you through things you don’t think you can survive, sometimes just by brute force. It also tells you what direction you need to pursue in life in order for your soul to be the most fulfilled, just like an animal somehow just knows which direction to migrate- sometimes thousands of miles, to get the nourishment it needs to sustain its life. It knows the deeper truth, beyond logic and we are never truly at ease when we are ignoring it.
At the front of this contraption, are lenses. They are the filters through which we collect information. The data points they detect are neutral in reality but the way we interpret and distort that neutrality is based on things that have affected us in the past. There are many published lists of cognitive distortions, but there are a lot of subtle personal ones too that are formed based on our story. For example, one of my personal lenses that I have always struggled with is Traps. I have a tendency to see everything and everyone slanted in such a way that I feel completely trapped and therefore powerless. At this point, I begin to suffer. The suffering used to feed itself and snowball to the point where the only way I could see out of it was to actually fantasize about death. It was a great milestone in my growth the day I began to see that this was a skewed perception of reality.
If you continually find yourself in pain, or just have a dull nagging feeling like you don’t really like life, you can benefit from exploring what exactly your lenses are, how they were shaped, and then work to adjust them in a way that gives you a view of reality that is in keeping with what your heart really wants to feel.
3. Thought system
Another component of this internal structure is our mind, which is our thought system. This is the part of the machine that processes the information brought in through the lenses and then gives the heart its orders on how it “should feel”. Often we end up in life with a thought system made up of scraps we have collected from previous generations, society’s conditioning, etc. – basically patterns of thinking based on the truths or limitations of others. This system doesn’t support our heart and this causes inner conflict and collapse. The bigger the discrepancy between the soft voice of the heart and the loud, logical voice of the mind, the greater the chance of depression, anxiety, and all self-destructive behaviors.
Often our thoughts actually take us in the exact opposite direction of what our heart wants to feel. Awareness of this gap without judgment is always the first step in fixing this. Surrounding yourself with teachers (people who have an inspiring way of processing life) and being open to what they show you is key. This can mean wisely selecting friends and mentors, or hiring a professional to help you rebuild the way you process the world in a way that feels good.
Your spirit is the sacred nature of who you are. It is the core of this machine, the reason the heart beats. A large source of pain in life stems from failure to spent time to get to understand it, and failure to see it as the most precious thing you have. This results in all sorts of other painful situations such as relationships that oppress and injure it. Often we have systems of thinking that cause us to inhibit our own spirit. We also often fear it, or fear that aspects of it are some form of mental illness or defect. Your spirit must exist in everything you do, for you to be living at your full potency.
Your voice is what gets this machine the nourishment it needs to keep running. When your voice speaks up for what your soul needs, that is how you receive things that make you feel alive. It is how you protect yourself from things that drain you. Often we don’t have language for what we need. And if we do, we don’t express it. This leads to a continual state of needing without any hope of having those needs satiated. It also leads to people never really knowing you, and a continual state of disconnect. Your voice is also the music that comes out of you. It is not just what comes out of your mouth, it is what vibrates out of you, into your life. It is what the people who know you, experience of you. It is your truth.
When you have lenses that give you a view of the world that creates joy, a thought system that is constructed to support the truths within your heart, and a voice that not only feeds your soul but also shows it to the world, that is when happiness becomes more than a temporary high, it is a state of living.
I had been suicidal most of my life. As a kid, I used to draw my gravestone over and over and over until I just went numb in the soul. I guess it was in my late teens though that the actual debilitating depression set in. I was raised basically in isolation by a mentally ill mother, who never received help, so I thought I would be responsible and go to the doctor and admit I had a problem. A serious one. I explained to my first psychiatrist how I was having all of these terrible thoughts that I couldn’t control they spun around and around in my head. I described these “flashes of death” that would happen every few seconds to the point where at the end of the day my nerves were so frayed all I could do was drown myself in alcohol. I described this tight knot in my throat that felt like a golf ball, and how all day long I tried to swallow it. I was diagnosed with OCD. The complicated medication regimen that I was put on would’ve required OCD to follow it. It made me lethargic, dizzy, frighteningly anxious, gave me vertigo, and extreme nausea. The thoughts became worse, to the point where I was afraid I was going to lose control.
I saw another psychiatrist who diagnosed me with depression and started me on Prozac since that was the flavor most of my depressed family was on. I don’t think I got out of bed for a whole month. I felt like my skin was a bag full of concrete. I could barely drag myself to the bathroom. When I was awake, my heart would pound and I could barely breathe. I felt crippled by fear. Then I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder too.
Over the next ten years, I was prescribed virtually every medication on the market. The effect of these meds never lasted very long; I’d start off on whatever the regular dose was, and over months of them becoming less effective, the dose would increase until it was at the max. For over a decade despite being in therapy and on constant medication management, I suffered from night terrors, gripping flashes of death, insomnia, panic attacks, times when I felt completely dissociative, depression that at times completely immobilized me, stints in the mental hospital because I was sure I was going to hurt myself, and consumed with thoughts of suicide every second of everyday. In this condition I managed to graduate college, co-author several books, and start my own business. I so desperately wanted the life I would’ve had if I wasn’t so dysfunctional and I never stopped fighting with everything I had to overcome this emotional disturbia that was trying to consume me. My idea of success was how little of my suffering anyone actually knew about.
Finally after all of those years, I broke and began telling people that I wanted to die. I was married at the time and my husband started doing research and found a seemingly hip younger psychiatrist who had impressive credentials and seemed like he might offer a different perspective from the older, more conservative doctors I had always seen. This was the tiniest twinkle of hope I felt in my heart in years.
He sat there with his trendy surfer hair and shell necklace and again began to sentence me to the same fate as all the other doctors I had seen over the years. He repeated what I had been told time and time again, depression was not about being cured, it was about coping. Trying new meds as soon as they came out on the market, upping dosages, mixing things. Being proactive about medication management. He then went on to diagnose me with a rare form of bipolar, where instead of cycling from high to low, I cycle from low to lower. I keep the paper that he drew on right here, where I can see it. He drew a relatively straight horizontal line- which represented the moods of a normal person, an exaggerated sine wave- representing bipolar high and lows, and my own special rare bipolar, way below the other two lines- where my “high” was the bipolar low. I felt like someone let the last teeny drop of air out of the already deflated balloon that was my soul, yet I managed to protest that I was feeling slightly better, brighter and more alive now that I had reduced my dosage slightly. He explained to me that that was because I was on an “upswing towards down”. He told me in addition to sleeping pills, anxiety meds, an antidepressant, he also wanted me on an anti-psychotic.
Standing at the crossroads of “continue descending into the dark hell that was my life on antidepressants” and “give up”, It was then that I decided I deserved peace. I had tried hard enough, been through enough therapy been on enough pills, enough side effects, endured enough pain and I had nothing left. I was going to kill myself. I deserved freedom. And so I prepared to depart this earth. This meant internally making peace with letting go of every single thing about my reality, my existence and my dreams. That was easy; there wasn’t much left.
But there was just one thing that bothered me, that I could not seem to let go of. Was the joy, happiness, inner peace that I had dreamed of all of these years- that I distinctly remember experiencing as a small child- just really the delusion of a sick mind? I decided that since I was going to commit suicide anyway, I would go on the journey of answering that question first.
I got off all the meds. This meant that I endured close to a year of the most excruciating physical and emotional detox you could imagine. I lost almost a year of my life in “protracted withdrawals” detoxing from medications that supposedly were not addictive. In addition to the “brain zaps” and other physical symptoms, the emotional symptoms were equally frightening. Waves of sheer terror would wash over me constantly, my vertigo was so bad I often had to crawl, I had zero ability to calm myself down. I had what felt like no control over my mind or emotions and mood cycles. When the physical symptoms finally subsided, I remember the first time I felt air on my skin. It was such a beautiful moment that I giant streaming tears just poured out from somewhere deep inside. Just to feel the breeze on my skin… To be coming back to life.
I found a new therapist, who for the first time in all the years I sought help, told me that she believed depression was curable. She talked about “when I reach the end of my treatment”. I couldn’t even wrap my mind around that concept. She said we were going to go back in time and explore how its roots. Bit by bit, guided by her insightful questions, I began to tell her my story. A story I had never told to anyone before. No one had ever asked.
I learned that being suicidal is not so much about wanting to die, as it is about wanting to be free. I found my way to freedom. The freedom I had been searching for my entire life.
That was 7 years ago. It was hard at first. I felt like I had literally woke up standing in the middle of my life. I saw how my marriage, my friendships, basically everything was built from a place of being a completely dysfunctional person. I started over, gaining momentum in my newly found freedom with each step. I rebuilt my entire life, this time with intention. I would describe my general state these last several years as a baseline of happiness with peaks of joy, and that is why I tell my story. I want people to know that is even possibility.
My story about living with mental illness is actually a story about living most of my life with a mental illness that I did not in fact, have.
Anger is not something ugly, shameful, or frightening. The ability to feel anger is actually a gift. It is the feeling that you deserve more. It is you having a truth, and a voice to stand up for that truth. It is a call to know yourself better, to understand what hurts you and why. It is a call to action. That is part of why our first impulse is to stuff it down instead of acknowledging it- because then we actually have to DO something. We have to set boundaries. We have to let people see more than just our surface. It makes you visible and therefore vulnerable. It is the beginning of healthy rebellion- going against things that have oppressed you. It burns off things that no longer serve you so that new experiences and growth occur can occur. Therefore your life becomes about renewal instead of stagnation or decay. It is a cleansing emotion- it separates you from what happened. Ultimately, it is powerful fuel to take action to live different.
I suppose I should clarify here, that I am not talking about road rage or people who use anger as a weapon or anger as a state of living. I am talking about the natural response of feeling anger when you realize you have been injured. I often wonder what would happen if, at the age that we are teaching kids to “say no to drugs”, if we taught them to honor their feelings and how to allow them to flow out into their lives in constructive ways. Instead kids are shamed for anger and pain, yet it still exists within them in ways they never develop language for, and so they reach for ways to numb themselves.
I like to think of anger as fire. In my own journey, awakening the ability to feel anger again was what burned off the thick layer of depression that paralyzed me for most of my life. Within the forest, one of the most important parts of it sustaining itself is fire. For many years, humans have fought to suppress these fires because we did not realize this. We ended up doing way more damage to forests by suppressing the fires than if we had just let nature run its course. In reading about forest fires, I find that every single aspect of this natural process is a metaphor for the process of allowing anger to rise up, using it as a catalyst to take action, and the growth that happens as a result.
“The forest floor accumulates dead branches and rotting organic material. Many tree species have seedlings which require higher levels of light. Tree seedlings can’t grow on the forest floor unless this ground cover is removed. Forests are ecosystems adapted to periodic ground fires.
Some seedlings need lots of bright light to grow well, and many species have adaptations which take advantage of ground fires. Some seeds don’t open unless heated by a fire. Pine seedlings also survive fires by producing a dense, open whorl of needles surrounding a tightly packed cluster of new growth. A fire will quickly burn off the outer needles and then run out of fuel and die before it can damage the growing tip.
Fire also releases minerals trapped in debris back into the forest soil. Due to the increase in sunlight and minerals, there is often a great amount of understory growth just after a fire. Understory in forestry refers to plant life growing beneath the forest canopy without penetrating it to any extent. Plants in the understory comprise an assortment of seedlings and saplings of canopy trees together with specialist understory shrubs and herbs. Young canopy trees often persist in the understory for decades as suppressed juveniles until an opening in the forest overstory permits their growth into the canopy.
For decades the American forest service considered all forest fires harmful and waged a vigorous publicity campaign aimed at preventing forest fires of any kind. The western pine forests then accumulated massive amounts of debris due to the suppression of natural fires. Especially hot and dry conditions towards the last quarter of the 20th century then resulted in some of the largest fires of all times in North America. Instead of just burning on the ground, the added fuel allowed the flames to reach up into the canopy of the forest. It then created crown fires which totally destroyed entire forests.”
I’ve been coaching people with depression, anxiety, etc. for a while now. At first I was kind of shy about telling anyone about this, but as time goes on I see the undeniable positive effect I am able to have on people and the way I am actually able to help them free themselves from suffering. One of my difficulties has always been that I think in pictures and then I try to translate that to words, but in this context I am finding it is actually a strength. It actually helps people to see a new broader perspective in way that is very easy to understand. I have decided start sharing some of the perspectives that I use in these sessions.
Picture an internal mechanical contraption that houses your spirit. Your heart is the engine and the compass. It is a highly underestimated power source which powers you through things you don’t think you can survive sometimes just by brute force. It also tell you what direction you need to pursue in life for your soul to be the most fulfilled, just like an animal somehow just knows which direction to migrate-sometimes thousands of miles, to get the nourishment it needs to sustain its life.
At the front of this contraption are lenses. They are the filters through which we collect information. The data points they detect are neutral in reality but the way we bend, twist, and distort that is based on things that have affected us in the past. There are many published lists of cognitive distortions, but there are a lot of subtle personal ones too. For example, one of my personal lenses that I have always struggled with is Traps. I have a tendency to see everything and everyone slanted in such a way that I feel completely trapped and therefore powerless. At this point, I begin to suffer. The suffering used to feed itself and snowball to the point where the only way I could see out of it was to fantasize about death. Was I actually trapped in any of those situations? It was a great milestone in my growth the day I began to see that I was not… nor was I ever.
Another component of this internal structure is our mind, which is our thought system. This is the part of the machine that processes the information brought in through the lenses and then gives the heart its orders on how it “should feel”. The bigger the discrepancy between the soft voice of the heart and the loud, logical voice of the mind, the greater the chance of depression, anxiety, and all self-destructive behaviors.
One of the greatest feelings of internal peace and stability in life comes from a combination of many things such as pulling a part all of these pieces and looking at them, clearing out the pain that built the dysfunctional parts, and rebuilding this machine that houses your spirit, this time with careful intention- with lenses that give you a view of the world that creates joy, and a thought system that is constructed based on who you are and the truths within your heart & spirit.
I awoke slowly to find myself standing in a passage darker than night. It was as if there was a subtle vacuum effect penetrating the seals of this hallway slowly sucking the darkness out into an unfathomable void beyond. The lack of light and hope was like a straight jacket that wrapped me tightly, as if in this situation I needed further restraint.
I was at a point in this vast darkness where I had lost the ability to dream of anything outside of it and had lost the ambition to keep trying to fight my way out. I felt a slight painful amusement at the irony of how many years I had spent kicking and fighting only to end up right here, as if all I along I was actually just some demented toy with imagined free will.
This place had all the qualities of a nightmare, where the things you observe are detached and opposite from the things you feel. The darkness was so black that my mind began to project colors into it- color schemes smeared everywhere matching the twisted colors from Edvaard Munch’s The Scream. Colors that were supposed to be bright and happy, but instead they were skewed tints of pure dripping horror.
It was as if the fabric of the universe that I had always felt secure in was becoming frayed, the weave was stretching, the holes between the threads were becoming so stretched that I suspected I would soon fall through. Death is frightening because of the unknown… but slowly over time, the known had become much more frightening.
I now understood people who took their own lives. As I stood here in this dark tunnel, I knew it was the view they saw when they made their final decision. I imagined I would soon slip through, as they had, absorbed by the swirling colors of the nightmare, the peacefully floating into pure terror. It was here, in this state of suffocating deepening darkness, this submission to its force, the dreams I could only vaguely recall slipping gently from my opening grasp, that I became curious about one small detail… one tiny question that I could not seem to let go of. Was the happiness I had always dreamed of… really just the delusion of a sick mind?
I realized I needed to find the answer this one question before I took my life, and in doing so… I finally began to live.
some opening paragraphs from the book I am working on, The Upswing Towards Down.
There was the tragedy of the circumstance in those moments, of whatever you had to endure, but that is only the obvious crest of ice that sticks of out of the frozen murky abyss. It’s the stuff you can’t see, that maybe you will spend your whole lifetime never living your way into awareness of, that is the real tragedy of the time you didn’t get saved.
When you didn’t get saved you lost your faith in everything as you had previously understood it, like one sour note that ruins the whole song because you keep listening for it, bracing for the impact of hearing it again. Just below the surface, the strings began to fray that once connected you to the fabric of humanity and maybe you lost faith in god, and maybe for the rest of your life you use a lower case g when you write that word. But you also lost faith in something more nebulous- your own competence, the ability to carry yourself to safety. The world splits, and you learn the sun can be shining right on your face but it can still be the darkest day. You realize there is darkness in the world that makes the blackest night look like noon. And so you become disconnected from the nature that seems to exist for everyone else, as you slowly begin to live in a new chaotic world under a separate sky.
During that time you became invisible to others and eventually yourself – a way of living that can last a lifetime by not addressing the needs of your self or helping others to love you the way you need. When you didn’t get saved, you learned the lesson that you’re not worth the effort in the eyes of Mercy and so you go through life like that, not expecting effort and not putting effort in beyond surface levels. You stop your emotional investment in life. You come to the conclusion life is some kind of sentence and if you’re lucky, you manage to find a quiet humility in serving it out within those bars set forth for you.
And all of that pain will become heavier over time and more uncomfortable inside of you until it changes your face and warps your body in your own eyes and you turn on your own self, for all kinds of very logical reasons, harping on flaws you’d swear are real obstacles instead of seeing your body more like a rental car- simply a vehicle for you to borrow to take the best care of that you can, with which to have adventures on this planet with.
From that time on, you became fractured. You separate yourself, your life, and your story into pieces, maybe learning to accept some pieces but burying others at all costs and living with the discomfort of these pieces as if you were full of glass shards, always feeling their sharp jagged edges, where they rub up against each other- never understanding that everything about you adds up to a loveable picture. Never knowing that all of your parts actually add up to the solution to a brilliant and perfect equation, not possible without the subtraction and division.
Love feels invasive, or at least like a repulsive sort of weakness. You spend your life with blurry boundaries that cause continual compromise of your spirit and leaks of your strength where there used to be solid barriers. You become diluted and weak. A victim.
You go into all things expecting to suffer. This is the smallest sentence in this bit of writing, but the most important. Realizing this is an awakening.
You don’t know that sometimes just by speaking… your whole world can start to change. Sometimes just hearing words come out of your mouth is enough. No one has to avenge anything in some brilliant act on your behalf. Just the act of hearing your own voice speaking about what you have been living with- the act of not holding something in, releasing that tension, defying the prison guard Shame, is enough. Sometimes just the look in the eyes of someone who has no answer but hasn’t run away, and in that moment, knowing you have affected compassion in someone, is enough to start healing. You don’t realize that one of the greatest triumphs is becoming visible again, the way you were before all of this happened. Instead you hold it in… it’s not important anyway, you can swallow it, make it to the next moment, survive it tearing around inside of you like a circular saw shredding your soul just a little longer. If you tell people they may judge or reject you, and it’s far better to be accepted for who you are not and to fool yourself into believing people who don’t really know you at all can still love you. Maybe the exhaustion from that dual reality is how you have spent most of your life. Maybe you’ll never know the full extent of the leak of your life energy being sucked up by bearing your burdens alone because it’s just always been that way and you have no reference point for what freedom of the soul feels like.
And so you continually find yourself in situations where you are in need of saving, with no Hero ever coming to your rescue. The circumstances change, but it is the same broken record of pain you aligned your dance to once upon a time. Mistakenly believing we are powerless, invisible, it never occurs to us that we might look for the things we need inside of ourselves. Never in fairy tales do we learn the lesson that sometimes you have to reach deep down inside of yourself and find things you didn’t know you had and be your own fucking hero. Set your own self free.
And you obsess over “why” as if the furor of your obsession can manifest an answer that will set everything right. “Why?“ is a trap which keeps us chained to whatever happened, believing we can’t be free of suffering until we find the answer. “Why” keeps it replaying again and again, like we are reevaluating a crime scene looking for new clues.
“Why?” is a journey, not a question. A question for which ironically, there is no set answer. You make the answer yourself, which is the ultimate power in life. It is on this path you discover new highs that you would not be capable of experiencing had you not suffered. You begin to define your own fate the moment you commit to living a life that answers the question of “why?”. If you had gotten saved, you would have no chance to go on a journey along the highest peaks of life, having ascended from a deep sunless valley.
You can begin to see all of this unfold before you by embracing it- all of it. Cleanse it of the thick tarnish of emotions. No shame, no guilt, no horror, no judgment, no regret, no what ifs. No human assignment of value at all so that you can really begin to see- and ask yourself one simple question. What do I have now that I didn’t before? Aligning with that simple question changes the whole drift of your life. Life’s circumstances can seem cruel, but in reality they are a sharpening device, leaving you with an edge that you will realize glints in a full bloomed miracle in the sunlight in a way like no one else’s. This is the edge you that you need in order to fulfill your purpose. You begin to see possibility and magic where before there was only pain and curses. It draws you in, and you start to feel a pull down a very dark path. It looks dark because you can’t see where it leads. You can’t fill in any details because they don’t come from anything you have known up until this point. But you notice it doesn’t feel dark… It feels warm, it feels like home. If you go down this path, with courage and defiance I can promise you one thing.
You will only look back and be grateful that something once happened… that left you with nothing left to lose.
I’ve spent a whole lot of time being diagnosed with nebulous miseries that really only served to exacerbate whatever I was trying to alleviate. I saw my differences as shameful problems that played as the background music while I did the awkward dance of both trying to hide them and “fix” them at the same time. The more labels I had, the more I felt I had an identity, and it didn’t matter to me what I softly felt it truly was. I let others who were more aggressive paint that picture for me and then I tried to live in it, no matter how much it felt like it didn’t match. My life was like a bad Photoshop job.
I thought trying to label my inner anguish was an honest labor that would buy me peace. Instead it caused a great crevasse right through my core. On one side were the things I just always innately knew as truth. When I was buried within myself, this side was home. This was where I felt comfortable. This was where all things made sense. It was as if I had been born with some deeply embedded code or manual for my own self that made no sense when viewed through the lenses of others, and so for that reason I distrusted it. It wasn’t until much later that I got over the anxiety of that and began to follow the magnetic pull of that compass I had always sensed in the background. The opposite of what I expected happened; that comfortable inner space actually began to build itself before my eyes in my external life. On the other side of the great divide were the diagnoses, labels, opinions and theories of others. I lived on this side for way too long, simply because I thought I was being responsible. It didn’t matter how bleak and barren it was, or how strongly I felt the call to come home, to cross the divide deep within my soul and live in the colorful gardens of chaos that only made sense to me.
There should be a word for a person who is placed in your life through random situation that you will not get to know beyond these brief moments, who mentions something seemingly of no consequence, something totally unrelated to you, and of no interest to you directly, yet the impact of this tiny data packet causes time to suddenly stretch out in slow motion like gooey caramel between the contact surfaces of one moment to the next, and suddenly you realize whatever they just said has explained something within yourself that you didn’t previously have language for, or has unlocked a doorway in the meandering halls of your existence so that you may climb up slightly higher, gaining a slightly broader understanding of the structure that contains you, structure which you can only narrowly call your Life, because there is no other term for the journey you take on this strange planet along with all of the lessons you learn, and wisdom you acquire, the arc of feelings that are carved into you, and the experiences and memories you collect.
It is these people, whom there is no word for, have been the greatest teachers, healers, therapists of my life. These people and these collisions have had more effect on me than anyone I have ever paid for their expertise.
Lately this effect has been amplified, in the sense that it is much more frequent and these people are coming into my life in a sequence that I can only explain as threaded together by a mysterious twine of magic. Maybe it is because I have stopped searching for answers. Stopped looking for meaning in everything and everyone like a neurotic squirrel frantically digging for acorns. That used to be a very anxious place, where the moment gets lost in its entirety, trying to find meaning and squeeze value out of every circumstance. Now it’s more like I lay back and float and enjoy the warm water, watching the puffy clouds and if one happens to takes shape into something that makes my heart smile, then so be it.
And so I think because of this shift, that the speed at which I have been overcoming my personalized set of soul obstacles has increased (the things that cause me great suffering- the things I just somewhere know I was meant to free myself from in this lifetime with such certainty that at times its all I secretly really care about). By loosening my grip, not trying to direct or control anything at all besides my focus on each passing moment. By not exhaustively trying to move forward, which at many times merely translated to fighting currents, instead submitting to the flow of life.
I recently spent 5 hours sitting next to a man on a plane just talking about nothing, not caring if I advanced myself in anyway, just enjoying the meandering conversation, the little peek through a window of someone else’s life. Giggling internally at the difference in myself between the old me, frantic squirrel digging for nuts and feeling hated by the universe when I came up with empty shells, to now- breathing, simply enjoying the clouds go by no agenda… Not desperate to be saved by some golden bit of wisdom. He told me about the mantis shrimp and how it possesses a blunt club which gives it the ability to smash clam shells to smithereens despite the pressure of the deep ocean. He told me how much radiation is in a banana, which is about half as much as sleeping next to someone. He said I a word I didn’t know… And so instead of my old self- nodding and labeling it irrelevant and letting him go on without me really being there, I asked what it meant. Capacitive… The ability to collect and hold a charge. He had said it in the context of the iPhone screen vs the outdated technology in the touch screen in the backs of our Delta seats. And in that moment time slowed down almost to a halt as I felt it stretch out like that gooey caramel. Some people are capacitive, I realized. More importantly, I am capacitive. Everything that happens, every person I pass, every single thing I experience, no matter how insignificant generates electricity which I feel and hold internally until I somehow manage to internally dissolve it. It is often tremendous tension. It is sometimes falling into an abyss of horrors and sadness; it is sometimes a tremendous wave of joy. It is feeling the true impact of precious moment in all its true colors, dark and light.
More importantly, up until that very moment- it was always fighting and fearing this because I had only been given language for the dark side.
Despite the weird name, I’m just a plain old American, and haven’t even really traveled abroad that much, but for some reason every day of my life I am so grateful to live here or at least in a place where I can pursue whatever the hell interests me in the moment or build whatever kind of strange life I want to have. To me, being able to pursue art and all that goes along with it, is the greatest luxury and one that would not be possible in many places in the world, where I might have to worry about my fundamental safety and survival, or conforming to oppressive cultural norms. I don’t have golden toilets or gray poupon in the fridge, but I think it is because of these things that no matter what goes wrong in a day, my life still feels like it is full of luxury. And so this is what I am most grateful for, thanksgiving and every day… that I live in a place where
you can one day wake up and lift your head out of whatever hole you’ve been living in and decide to head in an entirely different direction in life, and suddenly things can begin to unfold in mysterious ways letting you know you’re heading in the right direction, and turning your life into an unpredictably fantastic adventure.
a place where you have the luxury of making your life whatever kind of personal journey you want, instead of being stuck inside the cage of other’s dogma.
a place where you can pursue art & learning, or whatever kind of creative expression appeals to you instead of worrying about basic human rights, survival and safety.
a place where you can spot a twinkle of mischief in a stranger’s eye from across the room and instantly know you’ve just had a collision beyond coincidence and you just know you are already friends.
a place where you get to decide if the security of ceiling over your head makes you happy or if it makes you feel more claustrophobic than the thought of death, and you decide instead to live a life of uncertainty pursuing whatever vision you have for the imaginary ding you will make in the universe.
a place where you can fall into a rabbit hole for hours exploring the designs of the human and animal machine, marveling at whatever it is that made us all in equal parts random chaos and precise perfection.
a place where you can pursue the oddest, strangest version of what you want love to be like just because you’re heart tells you there are things out that will make you happy in ways that you can’t quite articulate.
A place where no matter what hand you are dealt in life, no matter what black clouds loom above you, you can find the resources to clear the sky above you and climb as high as the view inspires you to.
A PLACE WHERE YOU CAN CHOOSE YOUR OWN FATE.
When I read Sinead O’Connor’s open letter to Miley Cyrus I was expecting to think it was dumb and move on, but it actually got me all kinds of fired up in some very uncomfortable places.
When I was in high school I frequently got called down to principal’s office for my wardrobe, or lack thereof. I prided myself on being a rebel and shaking up conformist suburbia a little, and thought I was better than all the girls at school who dressed in sweaters and comfortable shoes and pants that weren’t completely shredded or 5 sizes too small. I thought they were boring and had no balls. I did things for attention that still make me cringe 20 yrs later. My whole life revolved around shocking and outdoing other girls. In reality, the way those girls dressed and behaved protected them from the perils of the dangerous world that Sinead describes in her letter. A world that I have known very well.
When I was 16, I had an affair with 30-yr old. A couple years later I realized he was a pedophile, and had forced his wife to secretly marry him at 12, and have 2 kids at 15. As a teen, I was an angry little fucker and it felt good to me to be a force of destruction in that family. I wasn’t really attracted to him but he paid such special attention to me because of how I dressed and acted. I mistook his intense attention and the various things he did to protect me from a ridic bad situation at home and school for some kind of love. The letter that Sinead wrote really spoke to the exploitation that young girls mistakenly experience as feelings of love and protection from men. Especially older ones secretly seeking to gratify themselves.
As I started to change as a person I developed extreme shame and remorse for what I had done. To this day, I have never told a soul. For so long I was terrified of bad karma, positive that if I ever got married or fell in love I would be cheated on in a really foul way. What I have learned is that Karma doesn’t work in the sense of “an eye for an eye”. It is more that you end up living inside the life of the skewed perspectives that you strengthen. I have always had such weird chemistry with older men and now I see how I brought that on myself and all the ways I embraced it, strengthened it, and thrived on the power of it. And so now I live at the other end of those beliefs about men and the world at 37. On some deeply painful level, I feel like I have no value any more, my life feels like it is over. On some level, I don’t understand healthy relationships without that weird chemistry as glue. That is the karma of that path.
I was an artist, writer, infinitely creative in any direction you could imagine. But I never saw that as my value as a human. I never knew things that came from deep inside your soul are the things that should be the foundation of your life, not your face or the skin you are willing to show, or how shockingly you are willing to compromise yourself. Going down Miley’s path is a slippery slope because it is based on feeding ego and looks inevitably fade, therefore the success and highs of that can only be temporary. I love that Sinead referred to it as ending up in the rag heap. I learned the hard way the importance of growing the sides of yourself that become more potent as your life evolves, and don’t just fade or die because of time and society’s rigid doctrine of what is attractive to men.
The open letter was written to Miley, but I believe it speaks to a much broader issue than just her career. Most of my female friends are several years, if not a whole decade younger than me. Not one of them is in touch with what they really need to have a baseline of happiness and joy in their daily experience, and so they have no ability to go create it. Just as I did, most of them suffer from anxiety, depression or just general feelings of self-loathing and shame. They blame their moods on hormones, depression, not taking the right vitamin, PMS, etc. But I believe the truth is that they don’t have the tools to navigate emotionally in a very perilous world. (The world is not perilous based on whether you see the glass as half empty or full- it is simply a fact that there are a million things out there waiting to eat your soul if you don’t know to protect yourself.) It is smaller scale than Miley, but they still exist within the truths set forth by multi-million dollar industries which operate in the ways described in Sinead’s letter, industries which bombard us with messages that we must be a certain age and look and act a certain way if we want to be worth something in this world.
We are all guilty in furthering this, myself included. I admit, I eagerly pulled up Youtube to see what the big deal was. The thing that really struck me the most about the whole performance was that her tongue was coated, which I think is often a sign of internal imbalance. I sent a little wish out into the sky that she is taking care of herself and someone is truly looking out for her.
Often the world we live in feels like sheer chaos. But the reality is that within a society driven by the dollar, ultimately the consumer is in control. Maybe it is time to step up and think about the consequences of what we consume. Protect our little ones.
I* keep having flashbacks to the time when i was little my mom took me to a craft fair. there was a lady making big easter eggs by wrapping string around balloons and dipping them in fabric stiffener and then popping the balloons when it dried. so we bought some and made one. i guess this wasn’t satisfying enough on some level for my mom, who never did anything ordinary. so without warning, she whipped off her lunch meat-colored underwear and draped them inside out over the balloon, and dumped the rest of the bottle of stiffener on them. when it hardened, she made herself a hat, decorated with peacock feathers and one very long thin pheasant feather that stuck straight off the back like a long tail, and bobbed with the gravity of her stride. and so it was that i developed a deep affection for Edward Munch’s the Scream. perfectly captures the look of the faces in the crowd as we made our way through the mall…
This day marks the 5yr anniversary of a decision I made that changed the entire course of my life. i consider it my real birthday bc it’s the day I started listening to my heart and stopped listening to doctors. i gambled with my life and a lot of people bet against me. turns out, it’s been the best five years of my life, and slowly over time I lived my way into a life that is even better than i ever dreamed it could be. i’ve been working on this project for a couple years now and decided to share it on this day in celebration, even though a couple things are still being tweaked. fucking panicking about putting all of this out there, but what is the point of suffering if you don’t use it to help others? love me anyways.
I used to have two favorite hobbies. The first was Ambien in the bathtub. I’d take a couple and sink down low into the oversized tub, tilting my head back and nodding off as the warm water would slide up my nose and down the back of my throat. Eventually, I’d use the last drop of my strength and pull myself out and pass out in a pile, a wet mess of dead weight, on the bath rug because I had a little skittish dog who found great comfort in me and who wouldn’t understand. My second favorite hobby was climbing to the top of cranes. I loved the way my hands would get damp from nerves and make it that much more slippery. The thrill of reaching the height where the world went silent. The point when fear freezes you like an exoskeleton of ice and you realize you’ve climbed too far to turn back. I’d climb way into the sky just to feel the gravity… just to feel close to the one thing that I knew wouldn’t let me down.
Yet through all of this, I never stopped dreaming of a life where waking up wouldn’t be the most disappointing part of the day. Where I had so many things in my life that I was actively involved in accomplishing, that they would open my sleeping eyes, pull on my lifeless arms, and send a shock wave of life straight to my heart and snap me out of bed with their promises of adventure. A day where the sunlight felt fuel, like pure goodness, and not invasively sharp or turned up to an intrusive level of brightness.
After way too many years of skating on the edge of exiting my life, I found a new doctor. I had been to too many doctors to count and was tired of talking about my problems which never seemed to go away, they would just change shape and morph into new frightening variations. She was different. She wanted to hear my whole story, not just what I had for breakfast or what somebody had said that hurt my feelings last Tuesday. I had never told more than brief, safe excerpts to a few close friends who cared enough to aggressively pry things out of me. I had spent my life trying my hardest to put the past behind me and be grateful that I live in America and have indoor plumbing and can ride a bus without being gang raped.
At first I had absolutely no words for any of it. I never even knew that. It had never occurred to me what a massive problem this was, when you can’t even articulate what you have been through and how you feel about it. I saw for the first time how this affected so many areas of my life. I began to see how all of my closest relationships grew from the barren soil of me having no voice. I realized I didn’t even really know a damn thing about myself. I met with her for a couple hours each week and for the first time in my entire life, I began to speak.
I started to hate her. I blamed her for making me feel brutally angry and sad every second of every day. But then I began to understand that all of these horrible feelings were there all the time, just shoved deep down inside weighing me down like sacks of rotting carcasses with the toxic stench of death seeping up from deep below, poisoning my life. The grief was overwhelming, well beyond the threshold of what I could handle… but it was nothing compared to the anger. I had never felt truly angry before in my life, and now I was so angry that I could feel it in my teeth, in my bones… I wanted to claw my skin off. I could feel the pure violence of the past suddenly awake and ricocheting around inside my hollow body. I was so uncomfortable, even air touching my skin hurt. I lived in constant agony as the months wore on. The whole world was covered in tremendously long sharp pins and everything crashed into me. I begged into the sky constantly for death.
Eventually it got to the point where I stormed into her office and told her I couldn’t do it anymore. I told her I couldn’t live in this constant state of grief and anger anymore. It had all been stirred up, and it just wasn’t dissipating. I had just gotten off spending my entire adulthood doped out of my mind on antidepressants and it was unbearable feeling all of this in its new raw state. It seemed never ending and I was done.
She looked me up and down coldly and said “When I took you on as a patient, I had to believe that you had what it took to make it to the other side… But… maybe…. YOU JUST DON’T.”
In that moment I felt completely alone in the most merciless and furious of seas. No boat, no hint of light in the sky, no one even bearing witness to my death. I felt the abyss below me pulling me down and down with the type of surreal force I’ve only experienced in nightmares. I felt the emptiness of my soul; there was no life left in it. I felt the darkness enter me and in that moment had the deepest understanding of how alone I truly was in this world. I saw her in her little lifeboat pulling away without hesitation and leaving me there completely on my own to drown in much more fearsome manner I had ever drowned before.
And then suddenly a furnace kicked on deep down inside me somewhere… I felt pure fire. Pure fire that started in the center of my being and radiated out until my edges were consumed by it. “FUCK YOU… You have no idea what I am made of. You know nothing about my spirit. Fuck you….” . I raged. I don’t know what happened. I blacked out.
When I finally snapped out of my rage I was bright red and sweating … and she was just sitting there with a big old smile. She knew.
And so I swam to the other side. That was about 5 years ago, but these shores still feel like a whole new world, full of magic, full of wonder. Most importantly full of freedom. I stand on these shores and I look back at the rough black seas and I see people drowning and being thrashed in the waves.
I know all too well that you can’t see the shore from out there, but I want to tell you, it’s here… waiting for you… just a little further…
This is a story of how I spent many years in the backseat of a melted Volvo. We all have moments in life where we take a situation and define ourselves by it. Often we carry this scenario with us throughout life, like a duplicate of the original crime scene, re aligning all the components of our current reality so that they match. It’s as if life only makes sense when our pain is lined up with the pain of that which defined us at some point. And we re-play it over and over with many different characters and settings, but the ending is always the same. We re-affirm whatever it was we mistakenly learned about our self that day.
When I was about 7 or 8 my mom’s parked car got into an accident. You can only really understand the story as it was told to me if you have ever had a conversation with a schizophrenic. The story was wildly colorful and completely unfeasible, yet so convincing in detail and in the emotion with which it was conveyed. She was in the bookstore at 3 AM reading self-help books trying to be a better person and finally get some where in life after years of everyone trying to thwart her. She tried to read as much as she could in the book store so that she didn’t spend money on books and instead could afford to buy organic vegetables. She stayed up all night making baby food out of organic vegetables when I was a baby, unlike other mothers who pumped their babies full of pesticides. The owner closed the shop at 9 but gave her the key because he could see she was a sincere and conscientious person and trying to better herself, if only she could get a break. Her sciatic nerve was irritated again and so she had to stand to read and couldn’t read as fast as others who had the luxury of reading sitting down in the store, so it wasn’t fair that she should have to leave the bookstore at the same time. Listening to this story as a small person, I was confused by the strength of the words in contrast to what I was observing- which was bloodshot eyes, the stench of cigarettes and alcohol, and an outfit that said “I’ll do dirty things to you behind a dumpster for the right price” much louder than “I’m settling in for a long haul of power reading while standing for hours in the self help section”.
In any case, as the story went, a pickup truck was towing a corvette on a rope that was too long and when it went around the corner it smashed my mom’s car all along the side up over the curb and into the side of building, compacting it bumper to bumper along both sides. The doors no longer latched, nor did the hatch back. (I am not going to mention the part about this very same suspicious accident happening twice, years apart, to 2 separate cars.)
And so after the accident, any one else might’ve called their insurance company, junked the car, etc., but not my mom. She went straight to the junk yard and got some giant industrial chain and hooks and chained the inside of one door to the other so that they stayed shut. To get in the car, we climbed through the hatchback and over all the piles of junk that were accumulated back there like two demented Billy goats. I would’ve followed my mom anywhere. That’s love, I suppose.
Driving in the car was a special sort of hell, leaning against the chains and having my mom scream about the carbon monoxide being sucked in the trunk and into the car and how we were being poisoned and going to get bladder polyps. The blurry, yet distinctively horrified faces of people driving by. The sound of the road coming in from every angle, the creaks of the giant chains and the general instability of the parts of the car they were attached to. We began to sneak around whenever possible, early morning hours and late at night so that we wouldn’t get pulled over.
Imagine these two characters climbing out of the hatchback at the grocery store a midst a sea of new minivans and SUVs, like rats infected with the Bubonic plague emerging from a sewer. Imagine climbing out of this demented circus car at school, a midst the church-going, cookie-baking moms and shiny, freshly cartooned and spaghetio’d children.
And then came a ray of hope. Jonathan was a guy that my mom met at the health food store. She was a highly skilled predator and he was exactly the kind of guy she would devour. The kind of guy who has had the same haircut since 2nd grade and seemed to be missing any genetic contribution from a father. They had some kind of ongoing thing which is another story in itself. In any case, he said he found a car for sale and was going to get it for my mom.
When he arrived with the car, I got into the back seat. I listened to Jon and my mom in the front and their crazy banter for a bit. It puzzled me that Jon seemed to have no awareness about the alternate reality that my mom existed in. I started to zone out and look around. There was sticky tape residue at the tops of all the windows as well a strange smoky film on the glass. The backs of the seats had a black soot coating. The smell was acrid, maybe like burned thick plastic. It was like notes of Bbq without whatever the final component of that smell that makes you think “yum”. Instead it was thick and bitter and frightening. The interior ceiling was black and charred over the front seats. All of these horrors coming into focus lead my eyes to crescendo of this amazing sensory experience, and I realized the dashboard was melted like a Salvatore Dali painting all the way to the floor.
Finally I asked what happened. The guy whose wife was selling the car had committed suicide by taping the inside of the windows and putting a hibachi in the passenger seat and lighting it on fire. Through out my life I continually flash to the mental image of my little face in the rear view mirror upon hearing this news. I remember looking through the filmy foggy windows and seeing the oblivious kids playing on the lawn next door. I remember looking up at the blue sky that they played under and wondering why I never got to play under that sky too. I remember feeling the smell of the car and the death it contained seeping into my skin like acid. I remember the feeling of being completely contained in this, completely separated from whatever connection I felt to other kids, and other humans, just the rest of humanity in general.
I constantly get flashes of my little face in the rear view mirror, alone in the fading light of the day, the fading hope of my life, the expression captured timelessly in my mind at the moment of being told what had happened inches from where I sat. I never knew why, but now I get it.
I never really got out of that melted Volvo. I left the part of myself in there that felt equal to others, deserving of the same love, happiness and mercy as others. The person who deserved the same types of relationships as everyone else. The person who deserved to be treated with love and kindness and taken care of in important ways, just like everyone else. I became a person who lived under a separate sky.
I have always found myself in “special circumstances” without being sure why really. There are countless examples, but perhaps the biggest one is that I have only dated people who create a certain type of atmosphere of tension and negativity where I cant help but look around and notice other people all relaxed and enjoying themselves in ways that I have only dreamed of. Somehow I always seem to find myself enveloped in this dark sooty scenario right in the middle of everyone else’s Rockwell painting, separated by special laws of suffering that only apply to me. I have recreated this scene where I was involved, yet separated from the rest of the world and suffering in a personal hell through out my entire life. I’ve never looked for love the way other people do, because somewhere I just don’t feel that things like and all the things that go along with it apply to me.
I suddenly realized the other day why I constantly have flashes of the image of my face in the rear view mirror that day. That little person I abandoned is calling me to let them out of the car. After all this time, after all these years, I’m finally reaching for the handle to let that little person out into the sunshine. Time to live under the same sky.