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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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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Better

So I’m better.

Somehow solid again, more real. Somehow my feet planted firmly on the ground.

I don’t know how I got here. There was and is meditation, and psychedelics, but they all came as I was settling down anyway. Maybe they’ve kept me here, where better is. Maybe I would be fine without them.

I’m better.

I’m better and I look back on 2017, and it’s white noise, or a picture I can’t quite focus. A person I can’t quite remember being, tho I remember the things he thought and the things he did.

I’m better, and for the very first time I feel like I’m not just better, but wiser. More sure footed. I don’t know how I got here. Maybe it’s the meditation, maybe it’s the psychedelics.

I have regrets, you know? All these regrets, for how my life has turned out and the endless list of mistakes I’ve made. Frustration at not being where I’d hoped, the usual self recrimination and grief. Anger a how my mental health has disrupted and distorted my life, left me living far from friends and the city I loved and used to call home.

But so what? That’s life, and life is sad sometimes. That’s OK.

I have so many friends, and a loving family, and I’m healthy enough that I can go walk in the world, and feel the cold air on my skin, and breathe. And in that moment, there’s peace.

None of these things will last, and we have only a few heartbeats to call our own in this world. Life is sad sometimes, because life is loss. That’s OK. In this moment, there’s peace.

I’ve tried to kill myself. 3 times. I must have hurt so much, I must have been so lost and so afraid and felt so alone. Maybe I’ll try again, if I ever again get that lost and afraid and alone. I hope not. No one should ever feel that bad. I can’t imagine. I literally can’t imagine how it must feel.

The rain lashed down all night last night, hammering on my windows and keeping me awake. By morning, the exhausted sky was slate gray, and white water blue, ghostly. Starlings chattered in the park, gulls swept overhead.

The world is astonishing. I can’t imagine ever wanting to leave.

Witold Pruszkowski - Falling Star

We all are Falling Through Silent Liquid Space

Preamble

My 2017 episode has resolved – and for once I think I’ve come out of the storm substantially stronger and wiser, and more able to navigate the seas. It was incredibly close at points – steps were taken with more than one suicide plan, and I probably should have been sectioned again but I managed to hide the depths of my despair well enough from medical staff and therapists. I was held through it by some incredible friends who were literally my lifeline throughout, and after months of depression by turns furious and hot, and empty lonely and cold, I finally found myself back on dry land in September.

Now, it all seems a crazy dream from somebody else’s head. Strange, to think I thought the things I thought, that I did the things I did.

I put this stability down to two things: Buddhism and psychedelics. Buddhism is an every day thing; psychedelics is a once a blue moon thing. One of the reasons for this is that psychedelic experiences are psychically exhausting; while they’re incredibly beneficial in ways I’ll never be able to articulate, they’re also intense in a way I’ll never be able to articulate.

I’m kind-of due another session, which reminded me that after the last one I’d written down this. The trip involved far more than is given in this, and probably far more than I remember, but this was the most intense… episode? Vision? Experience?

Anyway; here it is. It’s a bit muddled, but these things tend to be, and a bit hyperbolic, but, again, these things tend to be. Like I say – psychically intense.


I am falling

I am falling, we all are falling, through silent liquid space.

I am falling, we all are falling, through silent hallowed space.

This is not how it begins.

It begins with grief.


No, no not grief! My body wreaks up, hands claw my chest, mouth agape, no don’t go there, don’t go to death, the cold end of it all; the fear of my parents becoming one day only memories; I see the body, the coffin, the red red earth and roots and the cold cold hammer of loss, no don’t go there don’t go there, not to loss and regret over all the words left unsaid, I love you I love you I wish you knew how much, don’t go, don’t be lost, lost to the cold and the dark and the red red earth.

The horror of life is that in the end we lose everything we love, this horror comes it’s cold, rips through me makes me hollow my mouth agape I fall into black into nothing into silence.

I am falling.

I am falling.

I am falling now forever through silent liquid space.

Falling through water, falling through stars, falling soft and safe through silent sacred space.

Through dark red space.

Through blood red space.

I quake, jolt up again, rock up into a foetal pose, arms curled around my chest, holding a newborn in blood red space, and this love this love it is fierce, it is wild and it howls, it howls, and it will break me apart it is breaking me apart in agony and exultation and the blood red lust of this world for life, for life, for life. I hold a newborn close furiously close I love you I love you I love you, you will never know you will never know how much, this love this love this love,

I sob, body shakes tears burst from clenched eyes I rock I shake I sob, no no no you don’t understand I whisper, you don’t understand this pain this blood red agony, this howl is a howl of love, I quake, the love of life for life, 

I sob

gasp.

Fall back.

We all are falling.

Ice cracks and thaws and cold crystal water begins to flow in channels, babbling and bubbling between still-frozen blocks, and as they thaw, as they thaw, this love trickles into all, into all the frosty walls we build between us, in the end in the end it’s alright, we love each other and that’s enough, we know we love and are loved and that’s enough.

Hands clasped over heart, chest rising with gasping breaths, falls, rises. Heart beating inside chest, pulse beating through body, blood, red red life. Only breath. Only blood. Beating, in silence, in black space.

Through all the pain and loss of this world through all your cruelties and misguided deeds, regrets and misspoken words, there is this,

love

and that’s enough.

It will be enough.

In the end is only grief, wild and terrible grief, it will break you apart and it is love, it is only love, wild and terrible love, it will be alright in the end, just remember this pain is only love, the only pain is love, the grief life has for life


I am still, breathing, pulsing.

Still breathing, pulsing. I am.

Still.

Breathing.

Slow.

I am falling,

up; flying up, into cool crisp air into the big blue, until I no longer am, up into the big blue into the night, streaming white stars flow from endless space into me, I am endless space rippling with streaming white stars, faster now faster, up into ruby red space, out and up and beyond, space and starlight dropping away from… from… I… away from… I…

and I vanish, and you vanish, we vanish, and this and that vanish, and words and the shapes around words vanish, and suspended outside time all that is left is the infinity of the universe


Until, again, I am falling

Falling, swift and gentle back into me, finally, white streaming stars become crisp streams of water flowing back into me, making me me again; breathing, pulsing. Gasping.

On the shore.

Lapped by warm clear waves.


We never stop falling; graceful and slow

through sacred silent space.