Holding on to breath

It’s a strange place, inside my soul right now.

Every recently day I’ve had moments – hours – where I’ve been so blue I’m black. Mostly, I try to sleep. Sometimes, I do things that are a clear danger sign. But I’ve people visiting from today until next week, so I’m safe now.

There’s nothing new in that. I’ve made attempts before, landed in hospital before. This time there’s a brutal grinding quality to it – I think born from exhaustion, the way this wears to you down after so many years. I’m just tired of it now. So this is far from new; it’s old, and worn; begging to be broken.

But there’s something else, this time.

I broke through it before. I know I broke through it. I remember how it’s shaped, I remember the words I used to describe it and while I knew they were imperfect they were also the best words I had to contain it.

I spoke with one of the ordained Buddhists at the centre a few weeks ago. I told her that in all my depression and grief I was so scared because I was falling apart and my life was falling apart and then… then I realised it was always, forever falling apart; there’s nothing to hold on to; all the suffering comes from trying to put together the pieces of a perfect life, in ignorance thinking that life is something you could ever grasp. That we could ever hold on to breath.

I told her I realised I was standing firm on ever-changing chaos. Everyone is. And there was joy in the peace of it, the realisation of it.

And now in this black and crushing space I still have all those words but they’re broken containers, most of the meaning spilled out and sunk to the earth.

It’s a strange place inside my soul right now. Like being kicked out of the garden.


Although it is bright, there are no objects of illumination

The Discourse Record of Chan Master Hongzhi

It came after the psychedelics. Buddhism prepared the soil and nurtured it afterwards, but the revelation came from psychedelics.

Psychedelics provide something of an afterglow effect for 4-6 weeks after the dose, but this breakthrough rolled on long after that, and if anything it grew deeper, more textured, richer. I guess I just have deep wounds, still prone to opening up and swallowing me.

I can’t afford any more shrooms right now. Anyway, I can’t take any while I’m this deep black, and I’d prefer to have someone with me when I do… all these things mean it’s a tricky solution for me and not something I can reach for immediately.

So I’m caught in this strange dark space, remembering only vaguely the shape of something so much greater, so open, something as invisible and bright as light in a void. Often – when I’m at my deepest – it all seems like a lie I’m telling myself to comfort my blistering sense of failure and shame, regret and loss. Why would I want to return to a lie? My life is, materially, a fucking mess; and it’s getting worse. Have you any idea how strong that siren song is that draws me to jagged rocks? I could finally leave behind all this failure and shame, regret and loss. My life is, materially, a fucking mess; and it’s getting worse.

I don’t want to swim forever – I don’t want to fight the tide

I don’t want to swim the ocean – when it’s cold I’d like to die

Moby

Friends tell me that it won’t always be this way, that things will get better. They don’t get it; this isn’t a fight between pessimism and optimism, but a fight between reality and fantasy. The only winning move is acceptance.

Acceptance is a hard move. But ultimately it’s the only one open to us, other than quitting the game. And I know this. I have the shape of it in my mind but it’s far away, and murky, and unbelievable. From here it looks not just hard but impossible, and the rocks are so much nearer, so solid, so simple. The sirens are singing, and all I have to fight against them is love, and the shape of something forgotten.


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Weighing feathers

CN: A whole load of suicide

I’ve sadly shifted from ‘mentally well, with occasional falls’ to ‘acutely unwell’, which is disheartening. And I’ve fallen swift, and far. I’m holding on to hope that it’s driven entirely by unemployment and money worries (missed a credit card payment last week, which fucks me over in so so many ways) – so when a job and income finally appears, I’ll regain my balance.

Anyway.

I just had a ‘sobbing at the laptop’ episode, followed by me scribbling down the pros and cons of suicide; which I’m sharing with all you strangers on the Internet, because I can’t afford therapy.

It ends well. Buddha came to the rescue, I think.


Reasons to kill myself

– No future, probably poverty, homelessness, joblessness
– All my ambitions have been pulverised
– All the promise I ever held has been utterly wasted by my own incompetence and stupidity
– No reason to suppose this will get any better
– My life is a wreak and isn’t going to get any better
– IT HURTS. MY SOUL HURTS

Reasons to stay alive

– The kids
– Killing myself would probably kill mum and dad from heartbreak
– Would forever stain many people’s lives
– While you alive you can do good. You can be kind. You can live with compassion and work to improve the world, to enrich the lives of other people and other beings. If you’re removed from the world you can’t do ANY of these things, and killing yourself would cause profound pain.
– Look at it. All your reasons for killing yourself are centred on yourself; your reasons for staying alive centred on other people. Life holds no meaning only so long as we seek only to find meaning in our own small selves. Meaning and purpose arise from connection with others, with the world. We become fully human and fully alive only when we let go of ourselves.
– You have been through SHIT. It has been FUCKING HORRIBLE. And it might only keep on getting worse. GROW FROM THIS. Have you any idea how strong you have to be to weather these storms? YOU ARE STILL LIVING. It’s EASY to be content when life is fine, there’s no wisdom or skill in it. The challenge – YOUR challenge – is to be content after your aspirations have been pulverised, your hopes dashed, your life turned upside down and everything you ever worked for, lost. FIND PEACE AS YOUR WORLD FALLS. If you can do that – learn to do that, work towards doing that – you will grow wiser and stronger than you can possibly now imagine, and in doing so will be able to live and kind life so full of compassion that you help innumerable people, and relieve so much suffering in this world.

On recovery

Just because you sometimes fall, doesn’t mean you can’t run.

And I can still run, if I want. And walk and saunter and stand, and sit and talk and watch the wild world go by. But there’s a break in my soul which imperfectly healed. It’s this spot – this spot right here – and if it gets knocked or pulled, or sometimes I guess just when the weather is wrong, the break opens up to a gash, to a wound, to a mouth twisted and contorted and I fall in and fall and am swallowed.

It’s just a break, imperfectly healed. I can still run, if I want.


Despite the meltdown the other week, or the few days I’ve had recently where my world has turned thick black, I still don’t think I’m ill, or getting ill again.

Recovery for me has meant an expansion of the world – inner and outer. While I’m episodic the world is extremes; pointless, despairing and hateful. My life is ruined, I am broken, a failure, useless. Eventually there is only this one cruel nameless, formless thing, incalculably huge and incoherent, and inside it I thrash and howl and claw – or exhausted simply lie, and stare, and breathe ghostly shallow breaths.

But the world isn’t this one thing; the world is countless fleeting forms, blossoming and burning and falling to ash. In its entirety it beats and breathes and pulses and sleeps, and roars, and weeps. Now, the regrets I hold are held gently in my heart; along with compassion, gratitude, sorrow and hope and grief and love and all the other colours of the soul. This is recovery for me – this being able to feel the bruises inside me without being brought down by the pain, being able to reach out and touch the world and hold its countless imperfections and understand that this is enough.

The scar is still there – the monster, the devil of depression, the endless empty space inside into which I still can fall. And though it’s only a sliver of space inside my soul, when I’m in there it’s once again this huge wordless thing, impossible and furious, and I’m lost for moments, for days, for my own forever.

But it is only a sliver of space inside my soul, an imperfectly healed break. Around it there’s a vastness matched only by the wide wild world outside. Some days, I fall; but I can now run, out into that vastness. This for me is recovery. This for me is health.


 

How?

 

What happened?

I think there’s three potential reasons, and they probably all interlock a little.

The first is that I’d been more or less ill a long time, and had got very ill through a series of stumbling steps into the dark. While I knew I was ill, I didn’t know quite how seriously ill I was (a lot of psychiatric patients have the same problem). It’s one thing to know you’re lost, it’s a very different thing to know exactly how lost you are. However, I had been blundering around in the psychic dark for a long time and there’s a chance I was making some kind of stumbling progress on my own, back toward the entrance of the cave; the crack in my world where the light still came in.

The second, obviously, is the psychedelics. Although I started ‘seriously toying’ with them in late 2015 and have taken three large doses, it was only in the latest dose that I had ironed out all the environmental quirks which distracted me from becoming truly absorbed in the state. That was the dose I took in November 2017.

Psychedelics literally break open the brain’s habitual activation patternspatterns which in depression have become so powerful and consuming they prevent the exploration of new possibilities. This creative chaos floods the mind and restructures the internal landscape so that hitherto unseen emotional, behavioural and cognitive vistas open up.

The third is Buddhism – which I started working with a lot more after the November 2017 trip. When people talk about Buddhism in a therapeutic context it’s often with a nod to mindfulness, and while mindfulness is a very important foundation (for reasons I might go into in a later post), the most surprisingly important aspect – for me – has been the emphasis on wise speech. This includes a warning against cruel speech, an emphasis on compassionate speech and – crucially – a commitment to accuracy.

That latter might sound irrelevant but it’s not; in working toward it I’ve noticed it actually gels with parts of CBT (the therapy kind, not the Vauxhall kind [NSFW link]). I caught myself saying I hate living in Sheffield. I have to move in two years or I’ll go completely fucking mad. Which is just… not true. Living here isn’t ideal, and wouldn’t be my first choice. But there’s some real benefits to it as well as the real pains. The world isn’t ideal, but it also isn’t ghastly. Catching my catastrophic framing of it and working it into a more nuanced perspective has been important in stretching my horizons, opening up calmer spaces inside.


Witold Pruszkowski - Falling Star

Witold Pruszkowski – Falling Star

I’ll fall again, probably. I’m currently unemployed and skint, and scared for my future; it’s a tough course, right now. When I fall it will feel – to me – that I’ve never been able to run, that I’ve always been in the dark; it will be dangerous, and I will need to be kept safe from harm.

But I genuinely don’t think I’m ‘ill’ right now. I think falling is just what happens sometimes to people like me, us with imperfectly healed breaks. Just like sometimes you stop and gasp, caught on the memory of someone loved and long gone, and sob, and sob. Life hurts sometimes. That doesn’t means it’s not also still beautiful.


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Surviving until the moment we don’t

I’d thought I was past the deep depression.

I didn’t think I was better, in the way people usually mean better – back to normal, back to before. After all that’s passed I’m not sure people get better from severe psychiatric episodes; I think they change. Maybe more things are like that than we tend to think; our whole lives are movements from one body to another, each moment to the next, and the belief that we can return to some ideal state is the impossible desire of medicine and lie of cosmetics. We never were fixed in plaster, our ideal body and mind something we can return to after a fall or a break or a cut. Time stitches us back together, but in even the smallest wounds you can see the join if you look close enough. We live through life, ever more scarred, surviving it until the moment we don’t.

So I didn’t think I was better. But I did think I was past the deep depression, at least for now. Sure, I’ve not been feeling great for a few weeks – but I’ve been unemployed for over a month, I am critically indebted thanks to the gambling, my future options are substantially hobbled and it remains – it will always remain – that the life I’d been building and dreams I’d been working toward for most of my adult life are now pulverised. I think I’m allowed the occasional blue day, or week. Depression is part of living any human life. And sure, some get more sorrow than others; but that’s life, kiddo, and these are your cards.

Even when I collapsed sobbing a couple of weeks ago I wasn’t too worried. At mum and dad’s, talking about bills, I felt myself slipping down, down, down. Took myself quietly to the spare room and lay on the bed, mood collapsing until my body clenched itself into a ball and I clawed my face, sobbing, sobbing, sobbing over all my mistakes and regrets, failures and fuckups over my stupid nowhere life that once promised so much, all the broken promises I’d made to myself, all the empty empty space where I used to hold hope. Even then, after the tears had flooded out and I’d ugly-cried myself dry, I came up gasping for air, back in the world the springtime and birdsong, and gulped, and gulped, and was OK. Sad still, but OK. I think sometimes you just need to lose your shit with grief. I do, anyway.

I think that’s healthy, sometimes.

I wasn’t expecting the gut punch. More than a gut punch. An iron bar to the face, knocking me flat, bleeding and broken.

Full bodied depression really is full bodied. Limbs like lead and head full of thick smoke, voice vanished. I could barely walk. Three days out of the past ten I’ve been so severely floored I could barely sustain consciousness, just slept and slept and knew with brutal certainty that I needed to end myself. Knew with cool reason that one day the day would come. Yesterday, thinking it sad I’d never see another spring, trying to fine tune my plan so that my loved ones wouldn’t be the ones to find the body.

Friends telling me ‘you know you don’t always feel this way’. And the truth of it strange, something I’m aware of in an alien abstract plane at the edge of space, far from the solid stone at the heart of me, dragging me dragging me down. ‘You don’t always feel this way’, as if you were told that sometimes you have wings and fly, and on Tuesdays we go see the velociraptors in the zoo, and you have to agree it’s true because far out on the edge of your soul you remember it once being true, remember even saying the same to other people, even though now it’s patently absurd. ‘You don’t always feel this way’, yes yes, I know, and usually there are mountains in the sky, and our drinks are served by parakeets. But not today, today there have only ever been storm clouds, and old coffee staining ash-flecked sheets.

The reality of deep depression is iron.

And then today! A night full of dreams ends with a morning bright and cool, and I sit up, and I’m fine. Just fine. I’ll head to the gym, do some laundry, fill in some job applications. Mum and dad left behind tortillas, I can make quesadillas for lunch, veggie fajitas for tea. I’m in crippling debt, my aspirations all rotten and mud, I have no job and no income and I’m far, far from my friends. But I can go to the gym, and make fajitas for tea. In the woods today, there are bluebells.

The reality of the world is iron, and snow, cold rain and laughter and sorrow, and bluebells and bruises and the vast open sky, stars, piss on concrete and blood on the sheets, and wounds and life, and surviving until the moment we don’t.


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Porcelain

This world of things and junk and words and the empty air we leave in the spaces we used to be.

All this junk. All this complete fucking junk, plastic glass and aluminium, silicon and porcelain. This collapsing empire of junk, useless fucking junk. And the howling space we leave behind us when we go.

I don’t know what life is any more, I don’t know what life means, or the why and reason to all the sorrow and grief and regret, and all the effort for nothing, for nothing but the howling empty space we leave when we go. And well meaning friends and kind strangers with no fear for the future and a million distractions in junk say the real treasures are the friends we make along the way without a fucking clue how it looks from the bottom of the pile, of all this junk and broken porcelain and glass.

I want to walk, you know? Walk out of this shouting boorish world of money and praise and all the tat we owe each other, all the ladders we’re told to climb the ways we’re told to get ahead and you can tell me it’s not really important but if so then stop playing the fucking game and go walk, go walk from your job from your home from all the planet destroying junk you use to distract yourself from the howling empty space that’s left at the end of the world. You won’t. You won’t because you cling to this trash like flotsam at sea, kidding yourself that it can save you from the cold black forever below.

I want to walk. Walk away from my burning past and sinking future, just walk, out, and forget you all forget this all, this garish world I never asked for, this wreckage and wasteland, set fire at last to the whole junk pile and walk away, and become nothing more than the howling empty space at the end of the world, the silence in the cold black forever below.

This hurts, you know? Down in my soul where I used to keep my hopes and future self. I don’t think you appreciate just how much this just. fucking. hurts.

Counting blessings

grievingI’m back at work.

Well, I’m back working. A few months. Blessed income, blessed progress, blessed not sitting at home bored or – worse – sinking into myself. And it’s a job I’ve done before, in a place I’ve worked before, and it’s a nice place and nice people and it’s no stress, no stress at all. Collect papers, sit. Punch numbers into database. File papers. Repeat.

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‘lexa

This last episode was horrible.

I mean they all are, obviously. I wonder if they’re getting worse or I just forget, each time, how brutal and cold they are.

Anyway.

I thought I’d share a memory from it.

It’s not a happy memory, which you could probably have assumed given I was suicidally depressed at the time. But it’s a memory which plays on me still, and it’s typical experience that anyone who has been through severe depression will probably relate to.

I thought I’d share it. As catharsis, maybe? For education? Because misery loves company?

I dunno.

It haunts me, this memory. This memory is grey, and cruel. It makes me feel cold, shameful, angry.

Just like depression.

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