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

 

 

Completion

Celebrating a Finish Line

I’ve talked before about how I’m not thinking of the end of my HCG journey as some sort of arrival at a mythical “I never need to think about detoxing again” kind of place. Nonetheless, a former co-worker of mine always talked about how necessary it is to celebrate the finish lines you achieve. Yes, there’s always a next thing, next task, next project right around the corner, and that deserves attention and energy. But it’s also essential to honor the tasks/things/projects you’re able to complete, and honor yourself for being able to complete them.

Completion
http://www.learntarot.com/todesc.htm

And tonight is a moment where I may not have reached the finish line on my detox journey, but it certainly have reached a finish line. Because today was my last day under the post-HCG dietary restrictions, meaning that I have successfully navigated through and to the end of this nine-week experience.

So: yay.

Though no exclamation point on that, because I am decidedly of mixed feelings.

I am truly proud to have accomplished this, to have found the self-care and discipline to live within the rules of the protocol. I am also looking forward to releasing the strictness of these rules — to being able to start weaving grains, legumes, and carbohydrates back into my diet. (In fact, I think there may be a batch of my famous three-bean “chili” to cook up some time soon…)

I am grateful for the opportunity to get a clearer sense of the distinction between physical and emotional hungers, though there’s another post to write about how I don’t actually think “emotional hunger” or “emotional eating” are necessarily a bad thing. Even though I’d sort of known about this already, it was truly shocking for me to really see and understand the quantity of foods that have added sugar in them, and I’m going to try and limit my intake of added sugars as I move forward.

From an energetic perspective, I am also glad to have taken this HCG journey. Obviously, as last night’s post revealed, I still have many ways in which I am limited and lots of places to keep learning and growing. But it does sense as if the nurturance in this experience — the role of HCG as a sort of “mother vitamin,” allowing myself to be supported by the center and my coaches, practicing maturity and self-care — has really helped take my victim identity off-line. Some significant piece of chronic resentment and suppressed rage that I’ve been carrying with me for rather a while seems to have resolved itself.

Ultimately, though, I also feel slightly embarrassed at the notion of being too proud about this “accomplishment.” Because, honestly, it wasn’t that difficult an experience to go through for these months.

Still: there were some moments of difficulty here and there, and I did manage to weather them. So, honor the finish line, honor myself for getting there, and much honor to Spirit and to my teachers for aiding my way on the path.

full glass of water

Watching My Levels, Listening to My Body

Certain aspects of the HCG protocol are designed around the reality that one’s body will build up a tolerance to the hormone. This is why the protocol lasts only six weeks,* and also why you take a “day off” from your HCG injection every week — this helps lengthen the amount of time before your body goes into what I’ve been calling “HCG saturation.”

full glass of water
All full up…

Obviously, the idea of “HCG saturation” is rather significant because once you’ve built up HCG tolerance, then your body can’t use the hormone to sustain ketosis, which means that instead of drawing energy out of your body’s fat stores, you’re just trying to extract it from your super-low calorie diet — which means that, given enough days, you could start going into ugly starvation mode with your hair falling out, etc.

This has been on my mind because the last few days, I have been feeling a much higher level of physical hunger than I’d had during the rest of my HCG journey. Now I’ve talked at other times about having emotional food cravings and habitual ones, but in those cases I was always able to distinct between those cravings and the level of physical satiation I was feeling. This week, not so much. The feelings of hunger have been genuinely rooted in the physical body, and I’ve been watching this carefully to try and figure out if I’ve hit “HCG saturation” a couple days early.

Another indicator I’ve been watching is my morning pee-stick. I talked about this briefly before, but I don’t think I explained that the purpose of said pee-stick is to check/confirm the level of ketosis your body is in. Well, after the first few days of the protocol, my ketosis levels have been consistently reading as either “medium” or “large” throughout my entire HCG experience. Until yesterday morning and today, that is, when my ketosis level read as “small” instead.

So there is some evidence that my body might be reaching this finish line a tad earlier than expected.

As of tonight, my intention is to finish out this phase of the HCG journey pretty much as originally scheduled: shots ending Monday, and (mostly) staying on the low-calorie diet till the end of Wednesday. (I am going to be giving myself some extra leeway to have some additional vegetable or protein during these days, if my body needs it — staying strictly within this phase’s rules about which foods are allowed, but taking a little flexibility as needed around the amount of said foods).

But if my morning ketosis level goes down to “trace” or — more significantly — to “negative”? All bets may be off, and I might be hitting the next HCG phase ahead of schedule.

———-

One extra fascinating aspect to this is how my detox/consciousness center is currently running a weekend course, which means my coaches are deeply occupied in the important work of running said course and taking care of that group of students. And Mr. Mezzo is out of town for the weekend.

So if my levels drop to the stage where I need to make a call about staying the course or making a pivot, I’m pretty much on my own.**

Given all the ways this journey has been about accepting help, guidance, and support, that’s really kind of ironic. On the other hand, considering my ultimate goal with the detoxing and the consciousness work is to become a stronger mother to myself and my world, there could also be something very fitting about reaching this decision point on my own, in centeredness and maturity.

* “Only” six weeks, she says. (Have I gone mad?!?)

** I say “pretty much” because I can imagine some text-message consultation happening: certainly with Mr. Mezzo, even if that’s not possible with the center staff. And I can always pull cards to help guide my next steps.

———-

Image credit: http://moodahocka.wordpress.com/2010/01/03/a-full-glass/

Reading the Signs

ant-manA few weeks ago when I was assaulted by my breakfast apple, I shared my own personal belief that there are signs and messages from Spirit everywhere, and that I’m working to grow my practice of noticing them.

Part of this decision stems from the ways I am naturally someone who watches and contemplates and studies life’s energies. After all, if you use a muscle instinctively, you might as well consciously grow its strength and stamina.

Part of my ongoing process stems from a corollary belief to “there are signs everywhere” about the progressive nature of ignored signs: Spirit may first speak to you in a whisper, but if you ignore that whisper, it’ll be followed by a shout —  and then perhaps a brick to the head. (Here’s two formulations of a quote where Oprah has shared a similar sense of trajectory: it’s highly possible her statements helped me see this pattern more clearly for myself.)

But sometimes there are days when the whispers come through loud and clear.

This morning at the coffee machine, I found myself in a conversation about a co-worker’s whose been out sick — turns out she’s having a gallbladder attack, and she’s currently resisting her doctor’s advice to have the organ removed because “the stones are too big to be treated any other way.”

And of the three colleagues discussing this situation with me, two of them have had their gallbladders removed, and the third served as closest geographical relative/convalescence site for her niece who goes to college up here in Boston and needed to have her gallbladder removed mid-academic-term.

By the end of the conversation, I was very clear on one point. Whatever else may remain in consideration for detoxing next steps, I am certainly going to be doing a gallbladder/liver cleanse in the next few weeks!

———-

It may be my imagining, but I do think some of the signs life brings me these days are clearer than they used to be. Or I’m gaining practice in listening for them, or something.

As I understand it, that’s one of the purposes of detoxing one’s physical and energetic system — to clear the channel for receiving and listening to spirit’s guidance (or one’s inner wisdom, whichever phraseology more closely resonates with your understanding of the world). I’d like to think that the clarity of today’s message about giving some loving attention to my gallbladder is a result of the detoxing I’ve been doing during the HCG journey.

Some messages remain less easily scrutable. Or, at least, they carry a bit more annoyance here in the physical plane, even if the spiritual meaning is pretty clear.

———-

With the turn to warmer weather, we’re having a bit of an ant invasion in the house. Since I turn to Professor Google in so many other circumstances, I figured I’d do the same here:

From shamanicjourney.com:

Each ant does his bit to ensure the survival of the whole community, no matter what role it has in society. Activities include gathering and hunting. They work hard, are patient and co-operative. An ant is able to carry a leaf, a crumb or a dead ant for miles – just to get back home to the anthill, requiring a load of stamina and patience. . . . As well as being extremely hard working they possess an extraordinary ability to work as a team – the power of their medicine – to build their homes, to feed and protect all members of their colony. There may be a social order in ant colonies, but all ants honour and respect each other and work toward their common goal – the good of the community. Worker ants are great architects and can show us how to construct our dreams into reality. They are also very persistent and can teach this skill as well.

From spirit-animals.com:

Encountering an ant you should consider that all good things come with time, and effort. Work with diligence, with conviction, and work with others in order to forge your dreams and turn them into reality. Despite their tiny size these little spirits are immensely strong, great strength of will and accomplishment can come even in the smallest of packages.

Alternatively it may be time to consider your own role, concentrate on your specialties and make sure you are making the most of your natural gifts. However, remain aware that nothing can be accomplished without the unity of the whole. Think about how your own contributions in your career, your family, and day to day life fit into the larger picture. No matter how small your task, or your contribution, it is still essential.

Message received, lovely ants. Now, please get off my kitchen counter and into the beautiful outdoors. Kthxbai!

———-

Image credit: http://culture.pagannewswirecollective.com/2013/06/super-heroes-totem-animals-and-pagans/

Breadcrumbs 2

640px-BreadThis may become a recurring feature for days when I have a backlog of small thoughts and no big theme to pursue. I gotta admit, though, that I’m not even sure I have a collection of small thoughts to pursue.

Nevertheless, after “dropping the blogging ball” at the end of last week*, I’m strangely invested in the idea of getting a post in tonight. So: breadcrumbs it is.**

———-

Last time I did a “breadcrumbs” post, I talked about the immense desire to use lip balm during the winter months. Unexpectedly enough, that longing has only been increasing the last week or so as the seasons have shifted. I have no idea why my lips are feeling more chapped in the spring than they were in the winter. Is it the way that spring and winter keep handing off the meteorological baton on a 48-hour cycle? Have I been cooking more meals with cayenne or ginger?

Whatever the cause, my poor lips are hurting. Even if I do end up obeying the advice about being very slow to add fats and oils back when I’m transitioning to my next-phase eating regimen next week, I can promise you that I’ll be having my own one-woman festival of appreciation for (and liberal use of!) Burt’s Bees Lip Balm starting Thursday.

———-

Day 2 of Five by Five successfully completed, with a couple categories achieving the “more than 5” benchmark. Let’s see how long I can keep the streak alive!

———-

Six more days of shots, eight more days of way-strict eating regime. Counting down

———-

Among the many restrictions of the HCG protocol is a suggestion not to take most over-the-counter medicines: especially painkillers. No ibuprofen, no naproxen, nothing in the family of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-imflammatory drugs).

I’ve been lucky enough not to need anything during my HCG experience. At least, not till now — unfortunately that’s changing. I’d hoped the strange side benefit of getting old and having less frequent periods might be that I’d have one of those two-month cycles and completely miss facing the challenge of menstrual cramps sans painkillers. Alas, ’tis not to be.

Guess I’m in for a few days of playing mind over matter.

* Since I started up again this spring, had I ever missed two nights in a row before this past Friday-Saturday combo? Corollary question: why do I think of two nights off as such this huge lapse?

** Damn, I miss bread.

———-

Image credit: http://thehungergames.wikia.com/wiki/Bread