Greetings Everyone, Welcome to the podcast “Close to the Bone.” I’m Carl Vreeland.
This is episode #56, it’s called, “A Cure for Depression.”
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For as far back as I can remember, I was stuck in my head. I lived there, in my head, in my own little world. And I watched the rest of the world from afar. I was like a camera eye, viewing all my school mates, friends, and passerby’s interacting, smiling, and shaking hands. Of course I was close to my family, but nevertheless, somewhat of a distance away. “Carl, are you listening to me? Where are you?” These were common questions my late mother asked me quite often.
Now there are many reasons why we wind-up like this; stuck in our heads. For me, it was childhood trauma. In short, at age four, my father and mother had heart attacks. Neither died. But they were absent for a while. And I imagine, for just about any four year old, such an event would be traumatic. And I was no exception. It broke me. From that point on I lived with tremendous fear and anxiety. But as I said, there are many reasons one can find themselves stuck in their head; physical abuse, witnessing domestic violence, being in a car accident, genetics, and on and on. And although, as an adult, tracking down the cause, say, in therapy, can be helpful, in my view, it won’t cure the problem. Now if I was treated therapeutically as a young boy, perhaps that would have fixed things. But I wasn’t. And I would say most folks aren’t. And so, as it happens, the symptoms of the trauma grow and progress.
For me, it led to anxiety attacks, anger issues, alcoholism, drug addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder (otherwise known as OCD), and depression. But it’s the depression that I want to focus on. And it’s the depression, I believe, that ultimately kept me in my head. Now, that’s not to say that alcohol didn’t play a role. It certainly did. For one, it kept me in my depression and contributed to deepening it. Yes, alcohol is a depressant. But again, for now, let me stick to depression.
Depression distorted my view of the world. It blocked me from living outside my head. It prevented me from enjoying life. To be clear, depression isn’t simply feeling depressed or sad. No, depression is typically a chronic state of being. Now, the severity of it fluctuates, but the cloud of depression, no matter how dark, remains perpetually hovering above us, and usually just distant enough to not notice it. And so, life is always cloudy and dark, and the light and the sunshine that positive people and poems express, is just a myth to the depressive. It’s never seen, just spoken about. And so, it is not believable. Such is the view from a depressive. And this goes for joy, peacefulness, serenity, comfort, and ease. It’s never seen or experienced. Yes, depression is a place of exile. A place of non-belonging. There’s a disconnect. And the problem is, for most of us, at least the folks like myself who have been depressed and angry since a young age, well. . . it’s all we know. And so the world was always gray, and sometimes not worth living in. Yes, suicidal ideation becomes part of the play as it were. In the drama wherein depressives play a part, death is the protagonist. I would go as far as saying death and God actually; they are the main characters. And so we look to God and ask, “Why? Why this life? Why this darkness? Why this suffering?” But God never answers. Or if He does, we can’t hear Him. Perhaps the murky clouds are too thick, or the chatter in our head is too noisy to hear Him.
This leads us to the other component of depression; the focus on the self. Stuck in our heads, in our own little world, we can’t see outside of it. Our view is an egocentric one. We are the center. Everyone and everything else revolves around us. And so “why this suffering?” is really more like “why me?” Yes, poor me, poor me, pour me another drink, as they say in the rooms of recovery. Now, that’s not to say the depressive doesn’t try to help himself. And it doesn’t mean the depressive is a self-centered person by choice. They can’t help themselves. They have no choice. Depression has led them down a dark path. The Devil, as it were, has a stronghold on them. There is no light in their life, and people. . . well, people are like strangers.
Now, it took some time, but by my late twenties I sought help, professional help. I started talk-therapy sessions which led me to seeing a psychiatrist, and they diagnosed me with chronic depression, anxiety disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. I wasn’t surprised. And so I tried to work through my issues, and I explored psyche-meds. The meds didn’t help me, but the talk-therapy did. Still, I remained depressed. Years passed, until one day I got sober. I was thirty-eight. Nothing changed really. Granted, I behaved a bit better. I didn’t drive drunk. And I didn’t have hangovers. At that time, I found Yoga and Buddhism, and that helped me physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Still, I remained dark, depressed, angry, and cynical. I was forty-four years old, an atheist, and suffering greatly. So, I got help, spiritual help this time. Yes, out of pure desperation, I decided to go through the 12 Steps, get on my knees and start praying. I did the work. And I slowly took my first steps on the spiritual path. Over time, and over a lot of resistance, I surrendered to a Higher Power, and my life began to change. The denial broke. A light emerged. I began to experience something outside my little world, and outside of my head. I started to see the world differently. It was a slow process. And a long one. At least it seemed to be. I guess you can say that I woke up.
What changed? Well, I turned less angry, and I became more understanding, compassionate, and forgiving. It took a few years of plugging away at it. Humbling myself, surrendering my will, and deflating my ego. I also started helping others who were struggling with addiction. I delved deep into Buddhism, Yoga, and meditation. I became a Yoga and Buddhist meditation teacher. But then things got more intense. All my fears, traumas, harms, and regrets came to the forefront. And I knew it was time to face them. No more running from them. No more numbing myself with alcohol and drugs. No more escaping my fears by being angry and resentful. No more putting the blame on the wrongs of others. I had to look at myself. Get honest. Look at my part. Where I was at fault? Of course, I made amends to people I harmed, to whomever I could, without causing further harm. And so this is what I did. And then, the world began to open up even more. I started experiencing great joy, happiness, inner-peace. I started feeling. . . alive. And then I started the process of forgiving myself for all my failings. My view of people and the world turned vibrant and exciting. I started giving to others, trusting, and opening up. Everything was slowly changing. I felt present and engaged with life. I stayed on the path. Then one day, I suddenly realized, I was no longer depressed. An a-ha moment I guess you can say. Wow. How long was this so? When and how did it happen?
As I think about it more and more, a few things become clear. One; I’m no longer living in my head. I’m present now. For sure, meditation played a big part. Getting sober, for certain. The 12 Step work, no doubt. The mindful breathing and physical aspect of the Yoga practice healed me. The Buddhist perspective and methodology definitely contributed to my more positive view of life and death. But mostly, wherein none of above mentioned would be effective; surrendering to a God of my understanding, accepting His will, and, well. . . grace has more to do with my depression lifting than anything else in my view.
See, depression deceives us. That is, it’s mind-altering in a way. Even though I knew I was depressed, I still thought my perception was clear. I didn’t know that my vision was blurred, skewed, and slanted. I just thought I was an intelligent guy that could see that the world and life was absurd. That others were simply and unknowingly fooling themselves into thinking that we were living in a wonderful world. Again, I was stuck in my head, and I wasn’t experiencing or living in reality. My view and experience of life, people, and the world was distorted due to the depression, only I didn’t know it. Indeed, I wasn’t in the present moment. I wasn’t dwelling in the world. I was living in my head.
See, when you live in your head, there is so much noise, random thoughts, racing thoughts. And things turn negative and sad. And there’s an endless flow of memories. Yes, good memories, but mostly regret, guilt, shame, and a deep longing for the past. I remember traveling around in my head, from one memory to another, perhaps one leading to another, and they were all. . . well, they all weighed heavy with a wanting and longing. I would get fixed on each memory until the next came. And I would relive each mistake I made over the years, wishing I said this, wishing I did that. Wishing that I could do it all over again, only differently. This is depression; focusing on the past, leaning toward the negative, a wishing for things to have turned out differently, and getting stuck there. So how did I overcome my depression? It was learning to let go. Yes, letting go, and turning things over to a God of my understanding.
I learned to let go in meditation, to let go of thoughts and come back to the breath over and over again. By doing this, we are training the mind to let go. The thoughts turn less sticky. They begin to slide off the banks of the brain. The neural pathways change, heal, and reassign. As I see it, depression is being stuck in our heads with all our thoughts. We can’t be present. We can’t let go of the past and move on because we are literally stuck. Now before I go on though, there is one hitch. Practicing letting go is an all or nothing deal. That is to say, we must practice letting go of the negative thoughts and memories as well as the positive thoughts and memories. We can’t hold on to the good memories and just let go of the bad ones. It doesn’t work that way. We can’t luxuriate in the wonderful childhood memories, the breathtaking romantic memories, and fantasize about what could have been or what could be. No, we must let them all go and come back to the present moment. That’s not to say we can’t dream and create goals. But there’s a distinction between daydreaming and dreaming up ways to take action to achieve goals, and getting lost and marooned somewhere in the past.
Once I left the small world in my head, once I starting living in the present moment, once I joined the human race, life flowered, and joy and peace blossomed. And now everyone and everything else only adds to this wondrous experience called life. As far as the vicissitudes of life, I take them on one day at a time, with a knowing that life is short and precious. And so I make all efforts to enjoy life, to enjoy my friends, my family, and my good health, regardless of the circumstances.
As always, thank you so much for listening.
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