Category Archives: depression

The power of hope

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I’ve been thinking about hope a lot lately.  I mean, how can one not?  With the election and inauguration of Obama, hope is in the air.  You saw it in the faces of all those millions of people who trekked to DC to stand for hours cheek to jowl in freezing temperatures.  I saw it in my friends, my colleagues and complete strangers, this hope that things will get better for us, our country and the world.  Hope is truly transformative.

But this post isn’t about Obama or politics or others.  As usual, it’s about me, and my own experience with transformative power of hope.

As anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows,  during my 20’s, I spiraled out of control with drinking born of depression.  I mean, I can’t really blame me.  I was raped when I was 21, my mother died suddenly when I was 22, my father was diagnosed with cancer when I was 23 and died of it when I was 24. And this was while I was also dealing with the minor crises of life of school, housing and personal relationships.  I also had some pretty strong genetic markers for depression as my father had been hospitalized for it when I was a teen, and my mother was agoraphobic due to an untreated anxiety/panic  disorder.  Oh, yeah, and they both drank.  Basically, I was drowning in my own toxic gene pool.

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Drunken squirrel mind

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Lately, what with the combination of the holiday/new year blahs,  general discontent with my relationship, an ailing cat and rather significant birthday on the horizon, I feel as if a drunken squirrel has taken over my brain.  This drunken squirrel mind likes to leap from precarious thought to precarious thought with no rhyme or reason, nary completing one cohesive sentence.  And it never chooses a nice strong branch, a healthy branch on which to alight for a while.  Oh nooooooooooooo.  That would make far too much sense for drunken squirrel mind.

Now, when you think of drunken squirrels, you might assume they are fun drunks, maybe even slutty drunks.  Put a little lampshade on them and watch them go.  But, not my drunken squirrels.  My drunken squirrels  are of the more maudlin variety. This drunken squirrel would be found alone at the end of the bar nursing a big bowl of nuts and asking the bartender to keep pouring the sauce as he chews off the barkeep’s ear about he ‘coulda been a contenda’.  “If only I’d found my Bullwinkle, I coulda been a real Rocky, ya know?”   My drunken squirrel mind is a bit of  a downer.

After a day of watching from drunken squirrel go from introspective to petulant, it finally got sobered up with a bit of perspective with a call from my old friend, former boyfriend, Gary.

To be perfectly blunt about, Gary is a loser.  Well, maybe that was more mean than blunt, but I’m afraid it’s true.  Gary lives off disability and goes to AA meetings. Oh, and watches sports on TV.  That’s it.  There is not a shred or ambition or curiosity left in the man.   He is merely existing and seems to be OK with that.  I’m all for practicing contentment, but I don’t I think that opting to vegetate your life is actual contentment.  It’s like he’s simply opted out of life and it’s hard to maintain a relationship with someone who has done that.

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The Bridge

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I just watched the movie The Bridge tonight about people who choose to commit suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. What a haunting piece of work. In it the filmmakers trained their cameras on the Golden Gate Bridge for a year, and ended up documenting 23 people jumping to their deaths. And while that may sound incredibly morbid, and even irresponsible to some, I thought it was one of the most sympathetic depictions of suicide I’ve ever seen.

Even during my darkest periods of my life when I often thought of suicide, I never attempted it. But, I understand that urge, that need to be free of the pain. That sense that this will never, ever end. That you’re utterly and completely trapped in darkness and there is no hope for escape. That each day is meaningless and that your mere existence is a plague upon your friends and the world. It’s painful to remember.

The film does a good job of documenting the struggles of a few of the people who jumped by talking with their friends and family. These were people who were loved. Yet, that’s either not enough for the depressed person, or they just don’t believe it. Me, I just didn’t believe it. You are so wrapped up in your own pain, that even the fiercest of love cannot penetrate it. So while the jumper may be free from their pain, they have merely passed it on to those who cared about him. A lot of people have little sympathy for suicides for this reason – it feels to them to be a very selfish act, a cruelty towards the people who are left behind, the “easy way out.”

The film came back over and over to this one fellow, Gene, his long black hair flowing in the wind as he seemingly paced back and forth along the bridge, probably desperately weighing his options. While you couldn’t see the expression on his face, by the fact that he just didn’t walk up to the edge and immediately jump as some had done, you could tell he was tormented by his decision. Haunting, just fucking haunting.

I am grateful to all those who have helped me through the years, both professionals and friends, who have helped move away from that kind of darkness, and be able to see that things constantly change, and things are never truly hopeless. I remember when I first heard Buddha’s First Noble Truth – that the nature of samsara was suffering, I was so relieved! I wasn’t crazy. And then the second, third and fourth truths gave me hope that there was a way out of this suffering. And for that I will always be grateful for my teachers and the teachers who came before them and the teachers before them, etc. etc. Thank you, Buddha.

When I was finished watching the movie, I looked up volunteering for a suicide prevention hotline. After a 2 month training period, you have to commit to staffing the hotline 4 nights a week for one year. That’s a big commitment. Two nights a week, sure, no problem. Three? Maybe. But, four starts to become a part-time non-paid job on top of my full-time job. It would be way too much. For now. Maybe someday.

A complete mess

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I woke up at 3:00 am to find Nomie making little mewling sounds as if she were in pain. I took her to bed with me in the hopes we could both find comfort in each other’s presence. It was a fitful night, but at least it seemed she was able to sleep. Me, not so much. It was the first time in months that she has slept with me.

The vet was kind enough to squeeze me in first thing this morning. There are two theories: a) her electrolites are off b/c of the kidney disease which would explain why she can’t walk or b) she’s had a small stroke which would explain the sudden onset, the inability to walk, and her dilated pupils. However, he’s not clear why she is in pain. She’s at the vet hospital today – he’ll give her fluids and see if that doesn’t help things. If not, he’ll do some more test$.

When I come home from my half night and early morning cat vigil, I call my boss to take the day off, which I’ve wanted to do for some time now, but keep getting turned down. And, despite operating on no sleep, quasi-hysterical over my cat and deeply depressed, he still wants my ass at the office.

Then I get a message from my teacher that completely set me off. She’s back now, so she’s got her list of things that need to be done and she wants to meet tonight. No fucking way. I’m not sure how to respond. Instead I just wept on the phone to the boyfriend.

Hey, but at least I can rejoice that I’m purifying, right? Right?

This isn’t starting well

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Little Nomie has taken a turn for the worst. This morning she didn’t come out for breakfast, and when I went to pick her up, she felt warm and weak. When I place her on the floor, she crumpled. Food did not interest her.

Since she had been showing so much improvement I had taken her off her fluids and antibiotics, thinking that she was at about 90% of her previous self before the dramatic episode of last month. Well, back on fluids and antibiotics she goes. Let’s hope she can turn it around again.

My own mind had a similar set back this morning. I thought I was starting to pull myself out of this depression, but again, rumors of my recovery have been greatly overstated. Everything feels heavy. Everything is an effort. I feel like I am moving through molasses.

My teacher is coming home today. I don’t want to talk to her. Part of me want to tell her own hurt I was by her lack of empathic communication for the last month or two. Yet, I know that she is not a warm and fuzzy person, so it’s not realistic to expect that from her.  I need distance from her, but I don’t know how to interact with her without falling into old patterns.  It feels easier just to cut loose the relationship.

Fuck.  I have to go into the office today.  Fuck.

Something is missing

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The only way I can describe my current mood these days is as depressed. Depending on which online screener I take, I am either moderately or majorly depressed. And while I have made an appointment with a Kaiser shrink to discuss medication, I’m not fully convinced that that is the answer. Unlike my previous depressions of my 20s and 30s, which were just scary and meaningless, this one feels like it is telling me something has to change.

The last decade things have been very, very stable. Same employer, same boyfriend, and my free time was filled with my Buddhist studies. It all felt comfortable, and my Buddhist studies made it feel meaningful. I tried to practice contentment. I tried to practice patience. I was able to smooth over some of the rough edges of life through dharma. I justified sublimating my own needs by thinking I was trying to eliminate my self-cherishing. The boyfriend became a practice in patience, and cherishing others. I would do things to make him happy even though I wasn’t particularly into certain activities. But, now, I have forgotten what I actually enjoy doing. What gives ME pleasure. I feel lost.

Being a miserable Buddhist is like not being a Buddhist at all. When people come to the center and see me stressed and miserable, what kind of example is that? It’s not the dharma that is making me unhappy. I love the dharma, and I love Geshe-la. It’s all the crap that gets between me and that that is making me unhappy. I’m not buying the bullshit anymore that the best way to help others is to help the Center. As much as I desire the support of a sangha, and being able to support them myself, to make the Center the center of my universe doesn’t feel right anymore.

I need to find something that fulfills my desire to help others, and to do so in a way that is also enjoyable for me. I need to be able to start saying “no” without guilt. Neither my teacher nor my boyfriend want me to miserable. They are adults and can find ways to make do without me. Selfishness is not point. I can be of no help to anyone if I am depressed. Taking medication will only make the intolerable tolerable. Things have to change.

A life of joyless obligation

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Damn.  I’ve depressed myself further by the mere title alone.

But sometimes it feels like that.  Work is most definitely a joyless obligation.  It’s a paycheck.  A good one at that.  The benefits are also good, along with a ridiculous amount of Paid Time Off.  My boss isn’t an ogre, and lets me work from home one day a week without question.  I’m fortunate on many levels.  Yet, I’m bored.  Very, very bored.

My work at my dharma center has also become a joyless obligation.  This is not expected, nor is it something I have to put up with (unlike work).  Your spiritual path should not be a source of suffering.   The tendency is to blame the teacher for the lack of joy at the center.  She’s a damn fine teacher – knows her shit and her teaching manner is warm and inspiring.  It’s when she is interacting with her students that the problems begin.  Like us, she is a troubled human being with good intentions.   It is not her intention to come across as cold, judgemental and brusque.  But, she does.  And as a teacher, people look to her for warmth and acceptance.  That is not her strength.  So people are disillusioned and hurt and have fled the center, leaving only a small handful of us.  And it has become a drudgery.

Festival is just about over, and our teacher and Admin Director will be coming back, probably full of ideas and enthusiasm.   I am dreading it.  Really and truly dreading it.   For the last few months, my work there has been a joyless obligation.  I made promises though, so I felt obliged to deliver.  I don’t want to make any more promises.  I’m tired of holding that place up.  Something has to give.  There are options.  I just need to think and meditate on this more.

The relationship is pretty good right now, though there are definitely periods when it feels like a joyless obligation.  He’s trying to be understanding that I’ve been going through a hard time.  We’re going to take a weekend roadtrip up to the Gold Country.  The cats will be OK for a night.   It’ll be good to get away and stop stewing in my own juices for a day or two.