Category Archives: depression

So, I had this great idea . . .

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Another semester has been survived . . . barely. It seems that with each subsequent semester  more personal wounds get reopened and more triggers pulled. That’s what I get for studying the humanities, I guess.

Workload-wise this last semester was challenging because I had another round of the Humanities Seminar. Each week we had to read books by authors such as Plato, Shakespeare, Wolff, DuBois, Emerson, Thoreau, etc. Procrastination was not an option with that class. You had to read a book each and every week and be prepared for discussion, as well as some written work that was also due. Loved the material. Hated the pace. My other class was my science requirement – Environmental Science. The lectures were really interesting, but the lab was poorly organized. It was taught by two different professors who apparently had very different standards when it came to grading.  A paper graded by the old fellow would maybe get a C+, while a paper with the exact same effort graded by the younger woman would yield me an A.  The class was made up of a lot of middle-aged white ladies who take their grades VERY seriously. So, naturally there was a revolt. Deans were called. Complaints filed. And ultimately, grading responsibilities were taken away from the old fellow. Don’t fuck with middle-aged white ladies.  We will cut you . . .well, probably not, but we will file a complaint and make a few phone calls.

The most taxing of my courses was the little 1 unit P/NP class called the Senior Project Workshop. Every senior has to do a Senior Project.   You can either do a 30-page research paper, or a creative project with an 8-page research component. I am, of course, opting for the latter. The point of the workshop is to help hone your topic, find an advisor, and get a good start on your research.

I came into the semester really excited about my project. You see, I had this great idea: I would do my research on trauma and memory and then as the creative bit I was going to revisit the event that was the beginning of the end of my academic career in my 20s.  There was something poetic about coming full circle and transforming that trauma from being destructive and painful to something  triumphant and  healing. It was going to be fucking awesome.

The idea was to revisit this event by interviewing the witnesses and those close to me at that time. I wanted to film the interviews. I thought their expressions as they revisited that time would tell more of the story than their actual words. Two filmmaker friends of mine agreed to help me.  Friends as well as my academic and spiritual advisors were cheering me on. It was bold. It was brave. And, of course, it was doomed to failure.

The problem with a project such as this is that is dependent on other people willing to play along.  Over the years I’ve done lots of processing of this event, and I was ready to look at it with a new lens.  I wasn’t prepared for the resistance I encountered from the other witnesses: one refused to speak to me at all, two initially were willing, but blew off our appointments to talk; one, I sadly discovered, killed himself; and my brother said that he “has chosen to forget everything about our shared past together.”

Ouch.

For the workshop, our final deliverable was supposed to be an introduction to our project, complete with thesis statement. I wrote, instead, a eulogy for not only my project, but for any hope of me having anything substantial to say ever. It was pretty bleak.

My advisors offered me suggestions for salvaging my idea. They tried to prop up my spirits. I felt completely depleted, bereft of hope or inspiration. As you can imagine, this made the holidays super fun.

As of this writing, I still don’t know what the hell I’m going to do. However, having had a little bit of rest and solitude, I feel slight sparks of inspiration returning. There may even be something in the failure of this project that may become a project. There have been learnings, but they really have nothing to do with the original trauma I wanted to explore.

School starts again in about three weeks. I’m hoping that those little embers of inspiration don’t burn out, but rather become some wonderful creative fire so that by the time the semester starts I’ll once again be brimming with enthusiasm.

Wish me luck. I’ll need it.

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That’s how the light gets in

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In anticipation of seeing Leonard Cohen again tonight, his music has become my constant companion on my commute to and from work.  The other day I had a bit of an epiphany while listening to the refrain from his song “Anthem”:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

A couple of posts ago, I used a rather long and graphic metaphor of my past traumas and emotional hurts being like a wound – at first it’s bloody and oozing, (and possibly pustulant) and then moving on to a crusty scab and finally to mere scar tissue.  And as much fun as that was to write (because who, after all, doesn’t enjoy the word “pustulant”?),  now I think I was wrong.

Like most everybody, I find a certain comfort in thinking that there can be certain recipes, certain prescribed steps that one must take in order achieve whatever it is you want to achieve, whether your goals be mundane or sacred. Back in my New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) days, I chanted “The Stages of the Path” several times a week. And while the tune was quite saccharine, there was comfort in knowing there was a path and if I worked very hard and was a good little Kadampa, I could progress along that path and eventually become enlightened. And while I wasn’t very far along the path,  I sure as hell was well acquainted with the map and how to get there.

When it came to my relationship with my past, I think I was falling into the same trap of thinking that there was this inherent path to perfect healing.  Step one: regurgitate all your painful memories and trauma and present on a platter to your mental health professional.  Step two:  work together with said mental health professional to take all the pieces of your psychic jig saw puzzle and make it whole.  Step three: having put Humpty Dumpty back together again, move on with your life.

Part of the problem with these paths, I’m starting to realize, is that there is this assumption that where you are right now is not good enough since, after all, you haven’t made it yet to your destination. It doesn’t take into account the beauty of our flaws, our vulnerabilities, that tender desire to simply be happy. So, the other day, when I heard that lyric

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

it occurred to me that our most Buddha-like quality – our compassion – does not come from our perfection, but rather from our cracks, our broken places, the holes in our heart.  So, why would I want to completely to seal my psychic wounds with scar tissue? How would my light get in (or out)?

Of course, all this is not to say there isn’t spiritual progression or movement towards healing.  There is. Yet, there is nothing wrong with this moment, whether I’m feeling whole or feeling the hole in my heart.

Ripping off scabs

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Warning: Due to the use of an extended metaphor which include scabs, pus, blood and generally oozing bodily fluids, this post should probably not be read while eating.

A few months ago I found myself feeling like my life had no luster. My stability felt like stagnancy. I had no drive, no ambition.  And I was spending more and more time in what felt like a low grade depressive funk.  So, being no stranger to mental health professionals, I decided it might be time to get my ass back on the couch. A therapist’s couch, that is.

While I have nothing but gratitude and warm feelings towards my previous therapist, I wanted a different approach this time – a Buddhist approach.   Now, anyone who is familiar with Spirit Rock Meditation Center in west Marin county knows you can’t throw a stick there without hitting a psychologist (or a Prius, and chances are good you may even hit a psychologist driving a Prius). And since I didn’t want to see a total stranger, I called  H, one of the teachers who lead the week-long retreat I went to last year.  He struck me as exceedingly kind and nurturing, which was I felt I needed.

My intention was to simply get unstuck and maybe get some help in clarifying where I wanted to go and perhaps some direction in getting there.  The last thing I planned was to pick at old scabs.

Life can really do a number on a soul.  But, most of the time we bounce back from our emotional bumps and bruises and are as good as new. Other psychic injuries are a bit deeper and take more work to heal up properly and  to leave only a cool scar and a good story.

Some people, however, wear their psychic pain like open, oozing, pustulant  sores.  Many have developed some sort of secondary or even tertiary infections from keeping their wound so open, raw and unattended.   And while outsiders can clearly see these open sores, and think “damn, that’s nasty”, often times the person covered in sores can’t even see them anymore, or have become so identified with them that they wear them like a badge of honor.

In my 20’s I was covered in open, weeping psychic sores – some were from childhood, but many were acquired in my early 20’s when, over the course of three years, I was violently assaulted, and both my parents died (aka “the cluster of trauma”).  My 30’s were spent trying heal these sores with the help of a good therapist.  When I terminated therapy after nine years, I felt I had pretty well cleaned up most of the wounds and what I had left was simply some scar tissue and some quasi-tragic stories where I end up persevering against the odds.  I guess I was wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, my therapy took a turn from dealing with current life issues to rehashing the cluster of trauma.  From the tension in my body, I could tell that we weren’t picking at well-healed scar tissue, but rather at a scab – an old, crusty scab, that should have come off years ago if the wound had completely healed. Apparently it wasn’t. H suggested I do a little writing exercise to investigate some of the questions I still had around one particular issue.  “How bad could this be?” I thought. “I like to write.”  So, one evening I took pen to paper and let loose.

My intention was merely to pick around the edges of the scab and investigate it a bit.  Instead, with this little writing exercise, I ended up ripping off the whole damn scab.  Shit!

The good news is that I can see that this wound is not gangrenous nor does the pus looked green and infected. But, I can see it needs a bit more tending before it can be healed properly and become just scar tissue.  But,  the bad news is  that  I once again have an open, bloody, oozing emotional sore to deal with.

I’m hoping I’ll have the good sense to keep it covered up with a band-aid whilst at work and with friends.  God forbid I get any salt in those wounds. But, at home, or on the therapists couch, I’ll need to tend to it, clean out any infected bits, and let it, and myself, finish weeping.

Writin’ it out

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It’s an old friend, this sense of discontentment, this sense of being lost, not knowing where I want to go, much less how to get there.  But, like all humans, I want.  I suppose in Buddhist-speak, we’d call that craving.  Some cravings are pretty concrete and attainable – I want chocolate, I seek chocolate, I eat chocolate.  Craving satisfied. For now.  Others are more amorphous, like I want something different, something new, something to distract me from how mundane my life feels.

For a while I thought it was recognition I wanted. I mean, who doesn’t want to be recognized for the witty, fabulous, talented ________ (fill in the blank with your aspiration du jour) that you know deep down inside that you truly are. For me, my most recent aspiration was to be a Writer.  And yet, when I started to get recognized and complimented in the real world, by real flesh and blood people, my output shuts down.  The veil of  the LazyBuddhist falls and underneath you find the quivering mess that is Mary.  So, Mary runs and hides and can barely eek out a word for even private consumption.  I could hardly put together a grocery list, so severe my graphnophobia became. God forbid I put anything down in writing and possibly reveal to the world I need cheddar cheese and toilet paper.

So, I’ll blame the holidays and the darkness. It’s a common phenomenon, this winter funk.  With the new year mere hours away, I’m taking steps, again, to crawl out of my comfortably-appointed well of self-consciousness and self-pity.  I corralled some of my friends to join me in signing up for a 10 month long program called Awakening Joy.  I still miss not having a sangha.  I know I want that back in my life, and to be able to know I’ll be seeing a handful of my good friends at least once a month while hearing some great teachings makes me happy.

And it appears that writing and I are once again on speaking terms.  I wouldn’t say we’re friendly or particularly close at this time, but it’s a start.

Happy New Year, my friends.  May you all find the peace and contentment we all crave.

In which I am honored

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honest_scrap_award

My buddy Amurin over at Stop and Wander has bequeathed upon me this lovely “Honest Scrap” award for remarkable honesty in blogging.  Thank you, Am.  I want to  thank WordPress for making this possible with their  lovely, easy and free software and hosting.  And a big hug to my real life friends who completely ignore online ramblings thus freeing me up to write without worrying what they will think.  And finally, to my parents who slapped me three ways to Saturday whenever they caught me in a lie.

When you get the Honest Scrap award, you are meant to grace your readers with 10 honest things about yourself, and then pass on the award to other blog friends who write honestly and truly about themselves and events in their life.

  1. I live in constant fear of an 80-something year old lady whom I have let down.  She wrote me a lovely letter in longhand requesting that our company grant free parking to senior citizens.  I promised her I would get it delivered to someone who might be able to do something about it.  Being as our organization is so vast, I have no idea who would care that an elderly member feels as if her age should grant her a pass on paying for parking.  So, the letter sits.  And I await in fear of her phone call.
  2. Instead of meditating or writing in the mornings like I know I really really should, I fart around playing stupid games on Facebook.  It seems like people are writing all kinds of apps and games for Facebook, so here’s an idea: I think there should be an app that kept a running total of all the time a person spent on Facebook.  And then to add to the cruel reality of that frightening number, it would compare your total hours to something useful like:  Your Time On Facebook:  172.25 hours / 172.25 of non-Facebook Time = 10 books read, 5 volunteer shifts at the homeless shelter, 7 non-garbage blog posts, 16 1/2 hour meditation sessions, and a dozen home-cooked (i.e. non-microwaved) meals.
  3. Even though I don’t even kill bugs b/c of my personal, Buddhist influenced beliefs, I have gotten quite into playing Mafia Wars on (what else?) Facebook.  I have “iced” 36 mobsters, and “whacked” 6 of them, though I haven’t the foggiest idea what is the difference between icing and whacking.
  4. I have a sneaking hunch I am not as nice a person as I like to believe myself to be.
  5. I’m also not a very good friend.  I do a shit job at keeping in touch with people, and apparently returning emails and phone calls is a bit of a foreign concept.
  6. I stopped shaving my legs years ago since I always wear pants, and the boyfriend doesn’t seem to mind.
  7. Making this list is starting to depress me
  8. I have a natural tendency towards depression.  It’s been pretty well under control for a few years now and I haven’t had to resort to going back on meds, but it still doesn’t take much to make me go to my dark place.
  9. When I was pretty freshly sober and in therapy started really mucking about in the dark recesses of my psyche, I had a job where I subjected myself to a crazy boss’s whims and insane hours (can you say 70 a week?).  Occasionally, when it all got too much, I would hide under my desk.  I was capable of conducting business over the phone or with my staff, but I couldn’t bring myself to sit up in my chair or leave my office.   I think it tells you the general insanity of this workplace that my hiding under my desk hi-jinks didn’t phase anyone.  Though I was once told during a performance review that I might want to come up with other coping mechanisms because it was somewhat startling to the newer staff members.
  10. I am counting down the days until this stupid NaBloPoMo self-challenge is over.  Whew.  Only 4 more days!

Now, it’s my time to get revenge . . . oh wait, I mean it’s now time to pass along the honor of the Honest Scrap Award.  One will go to my North Coast buddy Adam, who not only joined me on this NaBloPoMo challenge, but he also threw in going to the gym every day.  Silly, silly man.  I haven’t heard much from my boys Ombudsman and Julian, so here ya are fellas.  Congratulations!

Storm cloudy

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In addition to being one heck of a writer, my blog buddy Amurin is a keen observer of the human soul (actually, there is probably a cause and effect correlation there that could go either direction, but you get my point).   After reading my last two posts here and a handful of my twitter entries she wrote in a comment that I seemed a bit “storm cloudy.”   Storm cloudy. Yup, she nailed it.  For the last couple, three weeks I have been feeling like I’ve been sitting under a dark cloud.  And while I recognize that like a storm cloud eventually it will pass and it will all be sunshine and rainbows and freakin’ unicorns, for the time being I’ve got this damn cloud following me around.  I feel like Pigpen from the Snoopy comics who was always surrounded by billows of dirt and dust.

There are reasons for my storm cloudiness.  Mostly, I blame it on the oppressive optimism of summer.  I mean, it’s summer, I should be going somewhere, doing something, being outdoors and enjoying myself.   You know, yay! it’s summertime and the living is easy.  What. Ever.  Stupid summer.

But seriously, what as been really heavy on my heart over the last few weeks is the well being of my little feral friends.

I have been taking care of Pretty and Gonzo O’Feral,  my mother and daughter feral family, for well over three years now.   Other ferals have come and gone (and one of them, another of Pretty’s daughters, Tangerine, now lives in my house), but Pretty and Gonzo feel like pets to me, except that they live outside and they don’t let me touch them.  Even though they are feral, I feel the same responsibility  to keep them healthy, safe and happy as I do towards my furry friends who share my home with me.  And while they don’t let me pet them, they do offer me their trust, which is a rare commodity in a feral animal.  And I feel honored.

Lately, however, I feel as if I have let them down.  My girls are too scared these days to come up to their usual feeding area.  And on the rare occasion that they do, they slink cautiously and look about nervously as they inhale their food.  But mostly, when I go down to feed them they refuse to come up and instead just meow plaintively, hidden somewhere in the blackberry brambles below.  I plead with them, promising them safety if only they will come up and have a bite to eat.  Sometimes Pretty will take pity on me and come up and eat while I keep a lookout for whatever it is that is scaring them.  Gonzo, though, just cries a few yards away, out of reach of predators and my good intentions.

My theory is that they are scared of Boots.  Boots is a big beautiful grey and white male cat who used to live down the street, but was abandoned when his meth addict guardian was evicted.  His care has fallen to the benevolent Bonnie Jo who feeds a flock of ferals about a half block away.  Bonnie Jo and I have become pretty good friends as her coven of kitties often make their way over to my yard and eat the food I leave for my girls.  She tries her best to keep her two troublemakers, Raisin and Boots, away from my yard, but it’s a losing battle.  He’s a bit of an imperialist, that Boots.  He keeps expanding his territory and isn’t afraid to fight for it.  I fear he is the culprit who has been terrorizing my girls.

Both Bonnie Jo and I have been trying to dissuade Boots from hanging around my house and yard.   It hasn’t been terribly effective.  In fact, the more we try to convince him to leave, the more he has become a regular fixture and shows up like clockwork whenever he hears me leave the house to go feed my girls in the morning and evening.  So, the other day, I  decided to stop fighting Boots and have chosen instead to welcome him.  I’ve set up his own feeding area beside my house, out of view of my ferals’ feeding area.  Now, when he comes by instead of shooing him away, I feed him and give him lots of affection and attention.  He’s really a sweet boy.  Very affectionate.  And handsome?  Man, he is a handsome handsome boy.

I’m only about two days in the Great Boots Experiment.  I hope that with his own dedicated Boots Only feeding area and lots of petting and scritches, he’ll leave my girls alone.  And it is my deepest wish that with time, my girls will once again feel safe enough to not only eat, but loll about in my driveway and leave their dainty little paw prints all over my car.  To see that again would surely help banish some of these storm clouds over my head.

The O'Ferals

Gonzo, Buffy & Pretty O'Feral

Fill in the blanks

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When I came into my office today, I found a sheet of paper with a very basic drawing of a woman in my in-box. It was just an outline really, but with a short cropped hair-do and big ol’ blunt bangs. I figured this was Miss Patricia’s doing (the previous day I came in to be greeted by half a dozen squeezy bananas that she  stuck in and around my door).  If the first words out of my mouth are “what the fuck?” chances are, Miss Patricia has something to do with it.

Once I opened my email, I found Patricia’s proclamation that our area was going to have a drawing contest in honor of Mother’s Day. We were invited, nay,  required, to do some kind of representation of our mother. It could be realistic or symbolic. It could be drawn, or collage, or made out of macaroni noodles. It didn’t matter. It only mattered that you played along, lest you incur the wrath of Miss Patricia.

Some people immediately took to the task, and the results were uh, interesting.  Either I work in a place where everyone’s mother is a big ol’ glamor girl, (or a drag queen) or people are engaged in wishful thinking.  Miss Patricia pressed me all day about what I was going to do for my drawing.  “I dunno, a big ol’ puddle of tears, or perhaps I’ll put her behind prison bars.”  “Oooooooooooo, I’m tellin’ your mama what you said!”  Miss Patricia chided me.  “What?  You said we could be symbolic.  My mother was a depressive agoraphobic.  She gave a whole new meaning to the term ‘stay at home mom'” Conveniently, Miss Patricia had a client waiting, so the conversation ended there.

I want to play along and do a drawing, but I’m at a loss.  My mother has been dead for 28 years now. I was 22 when she died. I don’t have bad memories of my mother, nor do I have particular good ones.  Truth is I never missed her all that much because we were never particular close.   Is that a horrible thing to say?  But, it’s not like I’m angry at her.  She was mentally ill, and back in those days there was still a lot of stigma around mental illness.  So, she stayed trapped in our shitty little house in a marriage that was completely devoid of affection.  It does make me sad that she had to live like that.  She was a smart lady.  But something happened – I have no idea what – and after I was born, fear and depression overtook her life.

My brother and I turned out OK though so she must have done something right – I just can’t remember what it was.  My best guess is that both my parents knew they could offer me very little, so they gave me a lot of freedom to get my parenting from other families, or from my teachers.  And for that I am grateful.  They also gave me a lot of independence from a young age, and trusted me enough that I wouldn’t get into too much trouble.  They also fostered my love of animals, and I don’t think they ever said “no” when I brought home my newest injured or lost creature.  They were good and decent people, but were far too wrapped up in their drinking and depression to be emotionally available parents.

Even though it is going to be challenging, I’m going to play along and do some kind of representation of my mother.  Who knows?  Maybe something will get dredged loose in my psyche and some nice warm and fuzzy mommy memories will reveal themselves.  Yeah, that would be nice.