Monday, March 1, 2010

Replying to Michelle....

My friend Michelle, at Full Soul Ahead, asked an interesting question to my previous post: "Re the depression, how did you climb out?"

At least here among my blog friends, I've made no secret of the fact that two pretty serious bouts of depression & anxiety have visited me twice in my life. When people ask me about how exactly I beat it, though, I agonize a bit over what to say. I fear that people may take my experience as a prescription for their own course of action, for one thing. Each person's experience is different, and I worry that people will assume that my method will work for them. Everybody is different, and I most assuredly don't want anyone assuming that my way is for everyone.

But for what it's worth, I will tell you what salvaged me:

• Chemistry counts. I know people who steadfastly believe that they can and should pull themselves out of depression by their own bootstraps, without the benefit of medical help. They see it as a moral failing, and insist that moral strength is the only prescription. I"m not one of those folks. Refusing all medical help for these things is a bad as seeking medical help indiscriminately. In my case, medicines did help me both times, but I did quickly learn that I was helped by doses that were far smaller than what is normally regarded as therapeutic. Even at the smaller range of normal prescription levels of an anti-depressant, for example, I became exceedingly irritable. At one-third of that small dose, though, I found that strong feelings became muffled just enough that I could recognize and deal with what I was feeling. Beyond this, I became aware that the types of foods I ate had a dramatic effect on my mental world, and as I ate more carefully, I became less susceptible to depression and anxiety. Whether it's Prozac or garlic, I approach these substances somewhat in the spirit of alchemical elixirs that offer benefits if used carefully.

Chemistry, though, turned out to be part, but certainly not all, of my emotional well being.

• Surrender. This is certainly something I hesitate to recommend broadly, but in my own case, I eventually found that an enormous amount of my unhappiness came about because of trying desperately to avoid my own unhappiness. Turning directly into it, the path of least resistance, finally was the only option left to me, and ironically was what led me out. I'm not a traditionally religious person, but there was certainly something like "turning over to a higher power" at work here, where acknowledging the depth of misery was crucial to coming out the other side. I came to understand that these dark nights of the soul existed for a reason, and that, well "resistance is futile." Because depression can and does kill people, though, I think that one cannot go down this path unless you have some kind of good teacher or therapist watching out for you as a safety net. In some regards, my depressions were normal life events that had to extinguish themselves before I could move on, and I'm well aware that some form of higher power or buddha-nature helped me in this.

• A mystical lifestyle. That might be putting it too radically, but I did come to realize that a highly rational, scientific outlook wasn't a good fit for me in the long run. In the periods before my depressions, I was living in a pretty rigid manner, while in reality I was much better suited to a "more things in heaven and earth than dreamed of in your philosophy" kind of life. When I woke up and became aware of an archetypal, symbolic style of living, I found that my depression and anxiety lifted, and that both the inner and outer world began to make sense to me. At the point where my life has become exceedingly literal/scientific again, I run the risk of more depression and anxiety. When I stay open to other interpretations, I'm far happier. So it's not Carl Sagen and Stephen Hawking that does it for me, but Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. For me, anyway, the traditional Western lifestyle feels like living in black & white, while technicolor exists in the world of Black Elk, and Tibetan Shamans, and the bhagavad gita.

Perhaps this all just makes me sound flakier than before. Still, Michelle did ask....


excavator said...

Answer a question and two more will spring up in its place.

Will you say more about an "archetypal, symbolic style of living"?

And is "more things in heaven and earth than dreamed of..." a quote? If so, where from?

Both of those kind of jumped out of your post, and I'd love to hear more, if you'd like.


Tzeitel (Stacy) said...

As a fellow sufferer; I think the greatest help you gave by answering this question comes with the acknowledgment of the suffering itself. There is so much negative stigma surrounding mental illness and depressive disorders.It is comforting to me to hear people who I perceive as being "great" announce publicly they have depression and what worked for them in the past. Each person is very unique and I could hardly admit what has worked for me in the past- but there were drugs involved- one time legal, another no.
Recently I experienced an enormous paradigm shift in a positive, enlightening direction by reading, The Disappearance of the Universe, by Gary Renard. I highly recommend it, if you haven't already read it. Joseph Campbell works pretty darn well too:) Thank you for sharing this answer.