A Momentary Regression

Last night I was still working to finish my first Emma Watson post (and mentally beginning to compose my second for typing and pre-scheduling), when Mr. Mezzo told me he was about to head off to bed. And I remembered: I still needed to take my laundry out of the washer and hang it out to dry.

That task had occurred to me at least two or three times earlier in the evening. I think once before dinner, and definitely right before sitting down to write, and then again in the midst when I was walking to the kitchen to refill my water glass. During the last of those three moments, I even calculated to myself how I was probably about 10 minutes from concluding my post, so I could knock that out and then turn my attention to laundry before writing post #2.

But then gathering and writing my concluding thoughts became a longer and trickier process than I’d expected, and Mr. Mezzo’s schedule update summoned up this incredible sense of (internally-generated) pressure about how I needed to quickly shift attention and get the laundry hung out ASAP so’s not to disturb his chances of falling asleep. (The drying racks live in our bedroom, you see. Usually that’s a very good thing — but all good things have their down sides.)

That pressure, cascading on top of the frustrations over another wasted weekend, the awareness of how much more writing there was left to do, and the general dread over going back into a work environment that’s been kinda ugly for the last couple of weeks. All of it hit me like a ton of bricks. And then I said it.

I hate my life.

Continue reading “A Momentary Regression”

Seasonal Spice

I had myself a bit of a pajamas day today. I take some comfort in the fact that I took a shower and changed into fresh PJ’s during the late afternoon. I don’t know why that matters to me as strongly as it does, but it does somehow feel more ambitious to have done that instead of to be wearing the same set of PJs from sun-up to bedtime again.

There’s a few contributing factors to this kind of nesting day. Last night’s Shakespeare event was very fun, but we didn’t get home till after 12:30 AM — nothing much for younger folks, but WAY later than Mr. Mezzo and I are used to being out. There’s also been a lot of stress and tension in the office, so I am plum worn out from that.

There’s also the undeniable shift over to autumn.

Continue reading “Seasonal Spice”

Handing Out Sticks

Famous blogger Matt Walsh has kicked off a bit of a tempest by writing two posts about Robin Williams’ death. The first one, basically, tried to draw a bright-line boundary between the concepts of depression and suicide. This interpretive framework (and Walsh’s reasons for wanting to drawing this sharp boundary) is pretty well summarized here:

First, suicide does not claim anyone against their will. No matter how depressed you are, you never have to make that choice. That choice. Whether you call depression a disease or not, please don’t make the mistake of saying that someone who commits suicide “died from depression.” No, he died from his choice. He died by his own hand. Depression will not appear on the autopsy report, because it can’t kill you on its own. It needs you to pull the trigger, take the pills, or hang the rope. To act like death by suicide is exactly analogous to death by malaria or heart failure is to steal hope from the suicidal person. We think we are comforting him, but in fact we are convincing him that he is powerless. We are giving him a way out, an excuse. Sometimes that’s all he needs — the last straw.

Then, after the post went viral and lots of people took issue with it, Walsh wrote a somewhat testy follow-up to: 1) decry the vitriol of individuals who misrepresented/misunderstood his first post and 2) provide more detailed justification of his position.

Among the many voices I’ve seen either directly or indirectly rebutting Walsh’s argument….

Pastor Jean-Daniel Williams, who writes:

If I commit suicide, perhaps, as you claim, it will be ‘’my’’ choice. But I doubt it. I have spent more than half my life listening to my own body betray me, my own mind telling me that it would be better to die. . . . Living is the pro-active choice. Is suicide a choice? It has been a free choice every time I have ever said no so far. I have chosen to say no. That is not because we can blindly, arrogantly, say that it is a moral choice, though. It is because I have been really lucky that I am (still) healthy enough to say no. The thing is, saying ‘’no’’ to suicide is evidence that I am healthy enough to say no. But, if I should ever commit suicide, it will not be because ‘’I’’ made the choice, but because my depression would have.

Kristi, on the blog “What is Matt Walsh wrong about today?” provides some valuable information about the effect of depression on one’s cognitive and decision-making capabilities:

Matt says suicide is a choice, but what makes a choice a choice is the presence of logic, reason, and objectivity to evaluate its merits. Depression can rob your brain of the ability to think that way. My friend Derek, a pharmacist, knows a thing or two about this. In his own words:

“In a euthymic (or normal, mildly-positive) attitude, the effect of a choice is either a reward, perhaps the blast of dopamine from a great run, or a detriment, the exhaustion of inactivity. In a person with clinical depression, both sides of that choice respond with a similar lack of neurotransmission.

A patient suffering from severe depression may not even be able to tell the choice apart. Even if objectively they know that running is good, couch is bad, they will experience the same neurochemical state regardless.”

[. . . ] So no, depression doesn’t appear on autopsy reports. But when a 500-lb thirty-year old drops dead at his desk, the autopsy reads “cardiac arrest” rather than “morbid obesity”. As usual, Matt is glossing over nuances. He thinks things are black and white—that a choice is a choice. He’s wrong. In absence of a healthy neurological system, not all actions are choices.

[SIDEBAR] Even though the fat activist in me is yearning to give significant bandwidth to the false assumptions and lack of medical evidence in Kristi’s facile conflation of “cardiac arrest” and “morbid obesity,” I’m mostly going to let it slide because I’m on a different topical horse tonight. Allow me merely a gentle hat tip to my HAES basics post, my critique of BMI, and my puzzlement at the unproductive insanity of fat-shaming. [/SIDEBAR]

[SIDEBAR THE SECOND] I am clearly way too ill-informed about the blogosphere as I hang out typing furiously in my little isolated corner of the wild, wild web. I don’t think I had ever heard of Matt Walsh till this folderol, yet he’s a prominent enough Internet figure to have earned his own dedicated counter-narrative. I don’t know if I’m impressed or horrified. [/SIDEBAR THE SECOND]

Although he doesn’t name check Walsh at all, Peter DeGiglio might as well be writing a targeted counterpoint against Walsh, articulating more reasons for understanding Williams’ death as being caused by the disease of depression:

I tried to get the old friend to understand by using my go-to comparison in this conversation. I asked, “Well, what if it was cancer?” His answer came back like a clichèd line from an after-school special. He proclaimed, “Well, that you can’t help!”

And therein, my friends, lies the problem in our dialogue on mental illness. [. . .]

What I believe people need to understand is that Robin Williams took his own life because he lost his battle with a serious medical condition. Take again my cancer analogy. Think about it: The last possible stage of any type of cancer that can effect a person is death. When one loses their battle with cancer, they die. The cancer cells take over and shut down the body for good. The same can be said for Bi-Polar Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder (aka simply “Depression”). The last possible stage of these diseases is death. The difference is that instead of cancer cells destroying the body, the body is destroyed instead by thoughts and feelings, causing the afflicted person to be convinced that the only way to end the suffering is through death at their own hands.

Essentially, he had “Thought Cancer”

———–

I feel half-vulture playing all this out on the screen. Yet another fan doing pop psychology when a celebrity dies, and doing so without much regard for the feelings of those individuals who are actually, acutely, intimately affected by his death.

So why am I even sailing these rocky waters?

Because however much I disagree with Walsh’s perspective, no matter how fervently I believe that those suggesting we say Williams died of depression are onto a deep psychological and spiritual truth — well, here’s an uncomfortable truth of my own.

Part of me wants Walsh to be right.

I want to believe that my depression is something I can rein in, get under control. I’ve been really lucky to be able to manage the condition for several years now without prescriptions. This is nothing I’m saying as a mark of strength, of health, or of any other sort of virtue. The operative word is “luck.” Yes, I work damn hard to maintain my psychological health, but I also know you can do everything “right” and still be challenged with disease. So, yeah, I am deeply grateful for my good fortune, but I know that tomorrow’s health and tomorrow’s brain chemistry are far from guaranteed.

It’d be easier if Walsh were right. More comforting, in a childish control-freak kind of way. To know that I just need to find and follow the proper recipe so’s to be sure that I will never have to stare down the maw of despair and depression again.

But that’s not how life works.

no-cry-for-help

———-

Image credit: http://en.webfail.com/855852d8b8b

A Test of Spiritual Maturity

So, my next retreat weekend is in two weeks. Yup: very close in time to my return from The Trip, so I’ll admit I’ve been wrestling a bit with the decision of whether to go or not.

On the practical side of the scale against going is the fact that I just got back from a big ol’ trip and I’m not really loving the idea of getting in another plane and missing more workdays so quickly after the big vacation. It’s also true that I’ve come back to the office in time for a couple intense projects, which makes me even more uncomfortable about skipping work. Especially since one of the projects coming to deadline during this fortnight is one that I’m particularly excited and inspired by.

On the practical side of the scale towards going is the value I hold for this work, and the ways I know to my bones that it has helped move my life and my soul’s mission forward.

So, looking rationally, there’s not a super-strong weightiness towards either choice on the should I stay or should I go? see-saw. Which at some level, isn’t surprising. My life at work and at home here in Massachusetts are sufficiently rich that I bet I could always come up with a list of reasons to blow off a particular retreat weekend.

But I don’t ever skip the weekends. Like I said last time around: the weekends are always hard work, but I have never regretted going. In fact, I have always felt the gratitude and benefits of going.

And so, a week or two before The Trip — well after my usual 5-6 weeks ahead of time discipline in buying plane tickets and making travel arrangements — the fact that I hadn’t been able to bring myself to make time off and travel arrangements had me really curious. Some part of me, some strong identity, was really not wanting to go to this particular weekend. And the resistance was stronger than anything I’ve felt before.

I mean, I’ve had times where I contemplated skipping a weekend — there was one right after we moved into the house here, and I remember taking a good long look at whether it made sense to be on a plane so soon after moving. But the temptation to skip was never this strong this far into the game, so I really began to wonder if maybe the soul-centered decisions this time around was to stay in New England after returning home from Europe.

So I was putting a lot of reflection to the question. Like, a spinning myself into a panic level of reflection. After talking to a couple friends and classmates, I realized that, being as the source of my resistance was in the energetic/instinctual/emotional realm — and quite frankly, being that the primary value I hold in the work is similarly energetic and instinctual (though probably energetic/instinctual/spiritual rather than emotional) — this was not a decision I was going to be able to think myself to. I can make all the pros and cons lists I could possibly wish, but that sort of rational tool isn’t going to help me make what is ultimately a soul-based decision.

So I let go of the question and prayed to Spirit for a sign. A nice, clear, brick to the face kind of sign.

Nothing pertinent showed up during The Trip itself. (Not too surprising: there was so much to see and learn on other fronts, what room was there in the days for a message about this particular question?) So, Friday morning, I used my normal journal-writing time to pull cards on the question.

And the cards were as clear as they could possibly be: it is in my best and highest good to go down for the retreat weekend.

spiritual-disciplinesAnd I have enough spiritual discipline and maturity to follow through when the signs are as clear as this one was. So my plane tickets are purchased, and I worked with my teachers and the Center to create a somewhat-modified schedule that will allow me to balance my responsibilities to work and then take the last flight out of Boston Thursday night.

But I’ll say this much: it’s a hell of a lot easier to follow Spirit’s guidance when the cards are telling you to do what you already want to do. In this case, when the the ego-identities and emotional body are still running strong with resistance and rebellion? It is a veritable challenge to hold centered in that.

At some core, mature soul-centered place, I know I’ve made the right choice. (The sign in the cards was that clear. Really and truly.) Now I just need to hold the ego-identitites and fear-selves with a mixture of compassion and discipline. I know you’re scared. I’ll keep comforting you, and I’ll be here the whole time. But we’re going. Together, we’re going.

———-

Image credit: http://sportsandspirituality.blogspot.com/2011/11/personal-inventory-sports-spirituality.html

Quicksand of a Different Sort

Some days it’s like moving through quicksand. Each step, each motion carries the extra weight of pushing through the muck, knowing that every motion carries its own risk of dragging me deeper into the suffocating, drowning mud.

Some days it’s like being wrapped in fabric. It’s hard to hear things clearly. Lights and colors are dulled. The sharpness of time and recollection fade around the edges. Thoughts and attempts to find voice are all muffled, and not even muffled in nice, soft flannel. More like rough-spun wool, with its scratchy, sharp-edged fibers.

escif_May10_2_uSome days it’s like swimming in the riptide. An immense effort is required to make even the slightest bit of progress, and the risk is high that all one’s energy reserves can be depleted making this insignificant progress. Without vigilant awareness — and the judicious support of a life preserver here and there — the risk is also high of getting pulled under to breathe salt water and seaweed.

Some days it’s like the gravitational pull of a black hole. The forces of weight and gravity are so strong as they could cause a star to collapse in on itself, devouring the light and heat and energy of nature’s expression. The dark spiral of the bed-covers entwine me, holding me still and silent. Sound can’t travel in space, and the same dearth of oxygen bubbles around me, constantly suffocating.

Most days it’s like living with some sort of energetic tapeworm. Whatever nourishment I take in — rest, joy, encouragement — there’s some portion of that soul food that gets siphoned away, devoured by the parasite I carry in my brain chemistry. It seems selfish how much more nourishment I crave and request: you can’t see the hidden passenger thieving my life, thieving your gifts of kindness, love, appreciation.

Every day there is the vigilance. Have I stayed in bed a little too long? Is my resilience a little bit too shaky? Is my energy level a little too low?

I was first treated for depression back around the age of 15. Looking back beyond that, I think that some pieces of that tapestry were woven into the fabric of my life long before then. And I’m well aware that there is a vast chasm of difference between true clinical depression and the kinds of smaller sadnesses and blue moods that so often get referred to by the term.

Yet for me, there is a tonal connection from one to the other. A dotted line that sometimes-but-not-always connects the border of everyday sadness into the terra horribilis of a depressive episode. So I remain ever-watchful at any sign of sadness, energy drop, memory lapse. Analyzing any break in routine, any chink in the psychological structure.

Is today the day the beast starts crawling back?

———-

Post in response to the Day 17 prompt for Writing 101:

We all have anxieties, worries, and fears. What are you scared of? Address one of your worst fears.

Today’s twist: Write this post in a distinct style from your own.

I don’t usually go so full-out poetical, so this was a dip into the waters of that styling. Can’t decide if I think it’s genuinely evocative, or just too, too precious. It was an experiment worth trying, if nothing else.

Also, full disclosure: the “depression as tapeworm” metaphor is one I first saw a few weeks ago in a post by Mani Cavalieri on Quora. (I can’t figure out how to directly link to his answer, but you’ll find it as part of this thread.) I was very deliberate in not going back to re-read the post tonight, so my own spring-boarding off the metaphor would be solely (mostly?) my own. Still, credit where credit is due: I don’t think that metaphoric thread would have been anywhere on my radar without reading his writing on the subject. And it’s so brilliant and so entirely apt.

———-

Image credit: http://www.unurth.com/Escif-In-The-Mountains-Spain