Depression

Cobwebs

ou would think, after so long a silence, that I would have something more profound to say. I fear I must disappoint you. There are many reasons I have not been blogging, some of them trivial, some of them more compelling, but I don’t think any of them have produced in me any new wisdom or wit.

My job has me writing a lot each week: weekly newsletters, press releases, editorials, forwards and introductions to books—that sort of thing. I’ve also been participating in a weekly short fiction writing group (500 words max, on an assigned topic, in a very short time limit); a couple of the pieces have been recorded and aired on a public radio station in Kentucky, though I feel shy about posting any of them here. I’m not entirely sure why.

However, all this writing, coupled with an over-eager participation on Facebook, means my urge to simply write found other outlets; and as I was not moved by any great need to expound at length on any subject, the blog languished. Since May of 2010, I have written only five blog posts.

The big event last year was of course the illness and death of my friend Lee, my dear friend Adam’s wife. I am not sure what to say about it just now—a few sentences couldn’t begin to express how it affected me; I doubt that a few hundred pages could do much better. What shocked me, though, was the depth of the grief I experienced. Even though I could understand and rationally explain what her death was touching in me, on an emotional and spiritual level I found myself quite unable to cope with the intensity of the pain and loss I was experiencing. And it set off a recurrence of the terrible depression that nearly took my life a decade ago; the only difference is that now it is more dangerous, since I am far less willing, or perhaps able, to tolerate it: It must stop, I told myself, and stop soon, one way or another. There is no longer any thought of living with it chronically.

In the 1920s, Carl Jung coined the word synchronicity, which he described as “meaningful coincidences” and as the “acausal connecting principle.” In rapid succession I had my spiritual worldview rocked, ran painfully into walls where I had previously experienced open vistas, discovered some remarkable Chinese herbs that work far better than any antidepressant I have ever encountered, began questioning my purpose in life, and found myself in the office of an astonishingly gifted psychotherapist pouring as much of my life’s story as I could into a fifty-minute session. Meaningful coincidences indeed! In the space of two months it feels as if much has changed in me forever.

I am eager to see what this next phase of my life brings. And I thought it might be useful to start blogging again, not only to keep you all in the loop, as it were, but also to help me clarify my ideas. As E.M. Forster put it so succinctly, “How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?”

You may have noticed that the blog has a new design. From the first I’ve called it “Notes from the Dreamtime,” but I’ve never really talked about where the name came from.

The term “Dreamtime” is a translation of Altjeringa or Altcheringa (it may also be translated “the Dreaming”). Altjeringa is a word in the Arrente language spoken by aboriginal Australian tribes living in the Northern Territory, around Alice Springs. The traditions and lore of Australia’s indigenous peoples belong to what may be the oldest continuous culture on Earth—around 50,000 years.

The Altjeringa is both a sacred “once upon a time,” a time out of time when ancestral totemic spirit beings formed all of creation, and the spiritual realm itself. Anthropologist and historian W.E. H. Stanner rather saliently called it “the Everywhen,” since it is experienced as a confluence of past, present, and future. Indigenous Australians consider the Everywhen of the Dreaming to be objective, while linear time was considered a subjective construction of waking consciousness of one’s own lifetime—the precise opposite of our usual way of looking at things. The Dreaming is the sacred, timeless, creative ground of being—and the continual source of all things that are manifest in our world.

So that’s what I hope to write about. There are great cobwebs in my brain, and heart, and I hope to use these pages to help sweep them away and create room for new things to come forth. My great error has been in thinking that I needed to have Something Important to Say; the truth is, all I need is to tap into the Dreamtime, and talk about what I find there.

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Categories: Depression, Dreams, Earth-based Religions, First Nations, Shamanism, Writing | 3 Comments

Wrestling with Christmas

The older I get, the more Christmas fills me with a terrible ambivalence. But please note: “ambivalent” doesn’t imply a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. It means I’m of two opposite and conflicting minds.

As a child I was torn between childish greed, a certain delight even then in the decor, music, and “specialness” of the festivities, and a very Christian desire to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

I was a devout little thing. I was on our local Romper Room show with Miss Connie for a whole week, and I created something of a ruckus on Wednesday (which was always snack day on Romper Room) after the prayer over the milk and cookies. Miss Connie led us all in saying, “God is great, God is good,/ And we thank Him for our food.” In my household, the prayer didn’t stop there. It continued: “By His hands we all are fed,/ Give us, Lord, our daily bread.” So I continued. Loudly. After everyone else had stopped. And then, as the cameras rolled, I told her in the most disapproving tones that God didn’t hear her prayer because she didn’t end the prayer with “In Jesus’ Name, Amen.” I remember saying it at least three times — that God doesn’t hear any prayer that isn’t prayed in Jesus’ name — each time more stridently because I thought she was ignoring me. What she was doing was gesturing wildly to the cameraman to cut to commercial. Ah, the days of live television!

When we moved to the Virgin Islands, I experienced my first Christmas there in 90 degree heat. We put our white flocked tree with its pretty blue balls (this was the 1970s, after all) on the balcony where it would be visible both when we were in the living room and when we were on the patio below, but on Christmas morning the trade winds carried the tree over the balcony and into the swimming pool, its pretty blue balls bobbing around happily in the water. Those days, when I was in high school, Christmas became just “what we did” each year. Festive and fun, but without any deeper meaning.

When I got my first apartment after college with my friend Jim, Christmas changed again. I really did Christmas up right. An eight-foot-tall fresh white pine, painstakingly decorated. My father was ill at the time, and while I didn’t realize it at the time, this would be his last Christmas with us. I gave him stocking stuffers filled with wind-up walking toys. I still remember the tears of joy and laughter in his eyes.

In the years that followed, I shared a home in Maryland with my mother, and we took similar pains to decorate well and tastefully. Jim would always come over on Christmas eve and watch TV with us, then I would go to my church for our festive 10 p.m. Christmas Eve celebration; Jim was always asleep on the couch by the time I got home. In the morning my brother Dale would join us in opening the stockings and gifts, then I would make a nice breakfast (usually eggs Benedict).

These were happy times, at least until I started suffering from depression — the chronic, crushing kind, a despair that is independent of circumstance. Because these bouts lasted for months at a time, I never knew if I’d be over it before the holidays or not. On several Christmases I remember going through the motions, putting on my characteristic happy face, when I would actually have preferred to be curled in a fetal position in the dark, weeping.

When I moved back to Florida from Vermont, and lived once again with Mom, we started recreating our Maryland Christmases, after a fashion. Jim would make a trip down once a year, and we would do the whole gift exchange thing and have a great time. But as Mom became ill, she could no longer shop, and couldn’t wrap gifts. Christmas became a burden. She wanted the house decorated, and even though it taxed her greatly, she always added some special touches. In the end, she just felt guilty over the whole thing. She didn’t want us to give her any gifts, and she just gave us money in return, hoping we’d get ourselves something we’d love.

The first Christmas after her death, I drove up to visit Jim in Virginia. Last year he came down here. This will be the first year in nearly a decade that we haven’t spent Christmas together. The only nod to Christmas in my house is my Charlie Brown tree. And it’s all right. Because I am decidedly ambivalent over Christmas.

Adam hates Christmas. I don’t think that’s stating his feelings too strongly. He has a decided antipathy not so much toward the holiday itself — people can celebrate whatever they damn well please, and more power to them — but toward the exhaustive and relentless way our society (not to mention the media) pushes it in our faces. This year I saw Christmas decorations on the shelves next to the Halloween decorations, and our local Walgreens was playing Christmas music well before Thanksgiving. For Jews (not to mention Muslims, Hindus, pagans, atheists, and other non-Christians), having grocery store clerks wishing you a Merry Christmas at every turn, or having Christmas music blasted from every loudspeaker in every restaurant and store, or having televisions broadcast nothing but Christmas dreck and artificially sappy shows with at least a tangential Christmas theme for nearly a month, is offensive in the extreme. I resent government and municipal bodies, which should be steadfastly secular and nonpartisan, celebrating the most Christian of holidays as if everyone in the world believed the same things. We don’t.

Every year I find myself wanting to pick fights with the Salvation Army bell-ringers: “Don’t you realize,” I want to shout, “that this organization you’re volunteering for actively discriminates against gays and lesbians? In 2004, the Salvation Army threatened to close all their soup kitchens and homeless shelters in New York City instead of following an ordinance requiring city contractors to provide equal benefits to domestic partners. Discriminating against gays was more important to them than helping the poor. On top of that, they refuse to give needy children any Harry Potter toys that have been donated because they’re ‘satanic.’ Is that the kind of ‘good’ you want to do in the world?” But I don’t shout. I drop in a Kettle Voucher, nod and give a tight little smile to the bell-ringer, and go about my shopping feeling rather Grinchlike.

One of the biggest reasons I am ambivalent is because Christmas is a fake. Jesus was not born on December 25, or anywhere near it. Assuming we’re using the gospels as our source material on the birth of Jesus, Luke clearly says the birth took place when shepherds were “living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night.” This means Jesus’ birth took place in early spring, since it was only at lambing time that shepherds stood guard over their flocks in the field.

December 25, in the older Julian calendar, was the date on which the winter solstice usually fell. Romans celebrated it as Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, “the birthday of the unconquered sun.” Many scholars believe the 4th century church selected the winter solstice as the celebration of Jesus’ birth to appropriate and co-opt a pagan holiday that already had a long history and huge fan base. Others, like S.E. Hijmans in his book Sol: The Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome, disagree: “It is cosmic symbolism [that] inspired the Church leadership in Rome to elect the winter solstice, December 25, as the birthday of Christ, and the summer solstice as that of John the Baptist, supplemented by the equinoxes as their respective dates of conception. While they were aware that pagans called this day the ‘birthday’ of Sol Invictus, this did not concern them and it did not play any role in their choice of date for Christmas.”

Nevertheless, the fact remains that Jesus is not the reason for the season. The reason for the season is the tilt of the earth’s axis relative to the ecliptic.

And the decidedly pagan winter solstice celebrations are the source for most of our hallowed Christmas traditions:

■   Gift-giving was common in the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, which took place from December 17th through the 23rd — in fact, Christmas gift-giving was banned by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages due to its suspected pagan origins. Christians point to the gifts the magi gave to the infant Jesus, but forget that the magoi were Zoroastrian astrologers. Seleucus II Callinicusis, king of Syria, offered gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Apollo in his temple at Miletus in 243 BCE; this was likely the precedent for the mention of these particular gifts in Matthew’s gospel.

■   The Christmas tree was first seen in northern Germany in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, but winter solstice celebrations, especially in Europe, have always included the use of evergreen boughs as a symbol of life in the season of death, and as an adaptation of pagan tree worship.

■   Santa Claus. He may have been loosely based on St. Nicholas — Nikolaos of Myra, 4th century bishop of Myra, part of modern-day Turkey — but his feast day is December 6, and he really wasn’t much like our modern Santa or even like the more ancient Father Christmas, who typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas but was neither a gift-bringer nor particularly associated with children. He has been identified with the old belief in Woden or Odin. And as we noted a few years ago, Santa was a shaman.

■   And then there’s the feasting. One reason the winter solstice was so important the world over was because communities were not certain of living through the winter — starvation was common in winter between January and April, also known as the famine months. In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time.

Wikipedia has a fascinating compilation of different winter solstice observances, from nearly every culture imaginable.

When someone asks me about my religious beliefs, I never have a great answer. At times I am a Christian, though certainly a theologically liberal one. But by the same token I often feel Jewish, or Buddhist, or Hindu, even though my adherence to any of those religious traditions is tangential at best. I am a postmodern shaman and most decidedly a syncretist. I am, depending on what day you ask me, an animist, a pantheist, a panentheist, and occasionally even a monotheist. And I am generally a pagan, caught somewhere between Paganism and Neopaganism, though I don’t seem to find much in common with the neopagan community at large.

As at least a nominal Christian, I must wrestle with what Christmas means. I certainly believe in the mythos behind the story of Jesus’ birth. Countless gods and salvific figures had miraculous births, and many of them were born of a virgin (though of course the word ‘alma in the Hebrew prophecy upon which the story of Mary’s virgin birth is based described not a technical virgin all but simply a young woman). All the infancy stories of Jesus are mythic: the angelic annunciation, the slaughter of the innocents, shepherds as witnesses, magi traveling to do homage. I like feeling that I’m somehow part of one of the Great Myths of humankind.

My annoyance about the date of Jesus’ birth won’t change the fact that it’s been celebrated this way for sixteen centuries. And while I don’t hide my irritation at the way our society celebrates Christmas (last night someone on television said, “Christmas is about giving! It’s about friendship!!” as if that were the perfect summation of the symbolism of the holiday), this doesn’t seem to affect my need to sing Christmas carols for a few weeks every year — the ancient, modal ones that most people don’t sing or have never heard, the ones that evoke cold winters, or the eternal struggle of light against a pervasive darkness, or joyful dancing and revelry.

I no longer have a long list of people to shop for. I won’t be alone on Christmas day, but otherwise I won’t be celebrating much. I’ll listen to my lovely, relatively unknown carols, but I’ll turn off the TV when the Christmas specials come on. And in a couple of days, on the 21st, I’ll light a candle at 6:38 p.m., the moment the winter solstice occurs where I live. Ambivalence may not be a comfortable place to live, but it’s the best I can do for the time being.

Categories: Christianity, Depression, Earth-based Religions, Family, Holidays, Judaism, Spirituality | 7 Comments

Failure

I was watching an epsiode of The Dog Whisperer this morning. A fellow in a wheelchair was having trouble with his dog who, though normally extremely sweet and compliant, had attacked and killed another dog in the household, his sister’s rather yappy miniature poodle who had admittedly harassed the larger dog a great deal. It seems there were a few very small signs the owner had missed: the curl of a tail, a certain over-attentiveness in the dog whenever exciting stimuli was present. He acknowledged that he had made some mistakes, and set about trying to change them.

Something hit me as I watched that. And by “hit me,” I mean the sensation you might experience if your car was struck by a semi.

All my life I have lived with either a fear of failure or an obsession over my past or current failings. When in the throes of depression, I have often said that I am a mistake, a waste of breath, that my whole being is a failure. Owing perhaps to my father’s extremely high standards for me, or to my Evangelical upbringing, where a sin, any sin, cut you off utterly from the glory of God (hence the necessity of salvation), failure was always tantamount to a death knell for me. It meant I was fundamentally Unacceptable, that the relationship was irretrievably broken.

I have worked a great deal on that notion over the years, and I have made some progress, though not enough. I have told myself repeatedly that there is no such thing as failure. There is only the trial-and-error of life. You have discovered one more thing that doesn’t work the way you had hoped, so you now have an opportunity to try a different path, a different methodology. Try something radically different, or tweak the old approach just a bit and try again. It’s like a recipe that wasn’t successful; what ingredients need to be changed, what techniques need to be refined, to create a more pleasing result? It’s life as America’s Test Kitchen.

On today’s show, the fellow is in a wheelchair due to some crippling disease, yet he is able to train and control pitbulls. He saw that something he had done inadvertently, something in the way he had trained (or failed to train) his dog had cost his sister’s dog its life, and even though everyone acknowledged it was really the other dog’s fault for instigating it, he wanted to learn how to keep anything like it from ever happening again. He had made a mistake, and he owned it, but despite the great sadness it had brought to the family, he neither got defensive nor became consumed with guilt. “The path I took ended badly,” he said. “Now I need to learn what I need to do differently.”

It was precisely the right balance.

My life is not a failure. I have made choices that have brought me here. I couldn’t have gotten here any other way, through any other choices. Here is a good place, mostly, but now I want to go there. I see where my previous beliefs and actions have taken me; now I need to make new beliefs, take different actions, in order to get me to someplace else.

See? Television isn’t a total waste!

Categories: Body and Mind, Depression, Food and Diet | 4 Comments

(Im)Possible

I’m not sure who said it. Probably my acupuncture physician, but my memory is a bit vague; for all I know, my friends have been saying the same thing for months or years, and I’ve only now capable of hearing them. But this is what I heard: “I don’t think you’ve believed that things can actually change.”

Substitute “things can actually change” for “you can lose weight” or “you can regain your health” or “you can create a different sort of life for yourself” or “you can become unstuck,” and you’ll have a picture of the loop I’ve been in for a very long time. Actually, though, I have believed things can change: they can always change for the worse. And I’ve believed that things can change for the better, but not because I had anything to do with it—I am that which fouls up plans, or ruins a good thing, or starts off hopefully and resolutely only to fail once again.

I’ve written about my struggles with depression. I was a moody kid, certainly, but the deep, dark, despairing kind of depression didn’t hit until college. I think that’s the time most people who have schizophrenia start becoming ill; I’m guessing it has something to do with changing brain chemistry. Mine started in my freshman year, and seemed to cycle almost with the moon. Since then I’ve learned that many people suffer greater depression around the new moon, just as many people experience insomnia around the full moon.

In my junior year I had some kind of depressive break. I spent my days curled in a fetal position on my bed, chewing on the chenille balls of the bedspread, weeping uncontrollably. I would venture out only after dark, and walk the mile or so into town to find something to eat, because I certainly wasn’t going to go to the dining hall to reveal my condition to my friends.

This lasted two or three months. Reading T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets and a couple of Gerard Manley Hopkins poems, notably “Carrion Comfort,” over and over, aloud, almost chanting them, making them into a mantra or a magic spell, were the tools that helped me regain a modicum of sanity. When I finally approached my best friend in college and summoned the courage to tell her what I had been through, she chastised me sternly for being self-indulgent, and told me she never wanted to see me in that sorry state ever again.

About ten years later I learned that she had just come through a year of depression, and that her husband was bipolar. I desperately wanted to be compassionate, to think that perhaps her extreme reaction was because the idea of my depression triggered a profound fear in her, but all I could think was: Ah. Now you know what it feels like. Now you understand.

The depression came and went over the years; after that major college episode, it was no longer on a tidy calendrical schedule. When it came, it was bleaker and more profound, and when it went, I was at least able to cope with daily life, though it was never true happiness. I never quite got up to that level again.

Toward the end of my two years in Vermont I slipped into a depression. When I realized I was actually planning my suicide, trying to decide who should take care of my dog and how to minimize the horror and clean-up when my body was found, I decided I needed to seek professional help. My doctor prescribed Wellbutrin. After four weeks it finally kicked in, and I woke one morning feeling balanced and happy and at peace. Three hours later I broke out in hives all over my body: I was allergic to the medication. Then we tried Prozac. It gave me seizures of the jaw that made me bite my tongue badly during my sleep. My doctor decided that SSRIs didn’t work with my brain chemistry, and hoped that herbs and diet would solve the problem. They helped, and moving back to Florida a couple of months later to take care of my mother (not to mention all that good sunlight) helped even more.

Then I started receiving acupuncture—not expressly for the depression, though that was certainly one of the concerns. Within a month I felt much, much better; within three months I could no longer  access that level of despair even when I tried. And no more depressive episodes of the kind that had so bedeviled me for three decades. It’s been a remarkable transformation.

But this year, after Mom’s death, I’ve come to see that I still have the behavior patterns of a depressed person, if not the feelings. And now I realize that I also have a depressive belief system: the bedrock certainty that no matter what I do or how hard I try, nothing will ever truly change for me. That I am Sisyphus.

I’m reporting all this because I think that old belief system may be changing. Slowly, by increments perhaps. But I’m starting to believe that change is possible, that bodies and mindsets and circumstances are maleable, that I have more power over my life than I think I do. It is not, alas, a straight-line improvement. There are days when I think everything is possible and others when I still think nothing is. But the overall direction, I believe, is one of opening up, of seeing light, of thinking Yes, maybe. Maybe there’s hope.

Categories: Brain, Depression, Healing | 10 Comments

The Water Wheel

The past week has been extremely hard. Mom died two months ago yesterday, though it feels far more recent. After the funeral came the a monumental work backload, the holidays, and a bronchial infection. Now that those are over and done with, there’s the silence of the house, an overwhelming amount of clean-up and clean-out work to do, and worst of all, no will to do it and no energy (physical, emotional, or mental) to do it with.

I’ve written before about the crippling depression that had periodically taken hold of me since my college years, and how I’ve had a respite from it in recent years, which I attribute in great part to acupuncture. This past week, though, I’ve noticed that I’ve been acting depressed, even though most of the time the emotional component wasn’t there. Sad, yes, but not that black despair. All that changed sometime last Thursday. I’m not sure what the trigger was, and I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s just say it was a very bleak weekend. This grieving business is a real bitch. Continue reading

Categories: Body and Mind, Depression | 11 Comments

Blatherings

Since I can’t sleep, I might as well write. Not that I have anything momentous to say (except that my hit counter just hit 45,000). In fact, I’m not sure I have anything to say at all. Maybe I’ll just blather instead.

I need to back up both my laptop and my desktop, wipe the hard drives and reformat them, then re-install some software from scratch. I don’t hate Vista as much as everyone else seems to, but once it gets buggy, no amount of tweaking seems to make it better. Now all I need is to find a couple of unobstructed days to do it.

As I mentioned on Facebook, the huge pot of stock I made over several days turned out wonderfully. I’m making chicken soup tomorrow (with extra garlic and ginger, so maybe it’s Asian chicken soup), and then cabbage soup over the weekend. The rest of the stock gets frozen for sauces and future soups.

Indigo Bunting, who just wrote a nifty piece about Facebook being an addictive timesuck, asked me to tell the story about the Middletown Springs town dump that I posted on Lali’s blog, so here it is. Lali was writing about living frugally and finding wonderful things in the trash and at rummage sales, so I posted this comment: Continue reading

Categories: Body and Mind, Depression | 9 Comments

Notes from . . . well, not necessarily the Dreamtime

I’ve been waking up lately with my head crammed with a bunch of disjointed thoughts. That in itself is not unusual; my head is a confusing place to navigate through. But they don’t fit neatly into a single blog post, and there’s not enough in any one of to make a post on its own, so I hope you’ll pardon the disjointedness.

*   *   *   *   *   *    *

I lost fourteen pounds last week.

I’m not, it turns out, a big proponent of weighing oneself religiously as a gauge to determine dietary success or loss. I’ve seen myself gain weight even when being scrupulously faithful to my plan, and lose weight when I’ve cheated. And gaining weight, or losing little or nothing, when I’ve struggled so hard, does nasty things to my emotional state. So I weigh once a week at most. When the weight loss slows down (it’s always fastest at the beginning of a diet, and always fastest with very heavy people), I may drop back to once a fortnight or once a month.

And I’m not even crowing about these fourteen pounds: it’s mostly water, which my body accumulated in response to the inflammation caused by the reaction to bread, and in response to the high levels of salt and sugar I consumed during the funeral trip. Continue reading

Categories: Body and Mind, Death, Depression, Dreams, Food and Diet, Healing | 4 Comments

Poetry’s Power

I mentioned on Facebook that poetry saved my life. Adam and I were discussing Gerard Manley Hopkins (Adam had written a few lines of poetry that I thought played with language, particularly in describing Nature, the way Hopkins did, particularly in his famous “Pied Beauty“).

I was a somewhat moody child, but it wasn’t until college that I had my first major depressive episode. It’s the time schizophrenia starts manifesting in some people; I guess the brain goes through changes in chemistry at that point in life. At any rate, I had never experienced the sort of smothering bleakness which William Styron would later write about so articulately in his powerful memoir Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, and in the winter of my junior year, I had a full mental and emotional breakdown. Most days found me hiding from friends in my dorm room, crying in a fetal position on my bed, sneaking out only after dark to get some food. Continue reading

Categories: Brain, Depression, Great Quotes, Nature, Spirituality | 4 Comments

Dogs in the Basement, Revisited

Just when I thought my nightmares were under control, I find this: a woman in Glen Burnie, Maryland, named Kelly Schreck (her last name, appropriately, is the German word for “terror,” akin to the Yiddish word שרעק, meaning “fear”), who last Thursday was sentenced in one of the most horrific cases of animal abuse I’ve ever read about.

I have no doubt whatsoever that she was clinically depressed, as she claimed. She suffered two miscarriages, and while she was in jail (I don’t know how she ended up there), her husband served her divorce papers. So she probably flipped out a bit. I know a thing or two about depression, and how devastating it can be, how you can shut down emotionally.

But when you read the details of the case, I think you’ll agree that the punishment—three years in prison plus three years of probation—is more than reasonable. The authorities had intervened with Schreck several times previously for animal regulation infractions, but the scene that greeted an officer last June 13, responding to an anonymous tip, was beyond gut-wrenching. Continue reading

Categories: Animals, Depression | 6 Comments

Don’t Know Whether to Laugh or Cry

Categories: Depression, Humor, Shamanism | Leave a comment

The Big Trip: The Return of Henry VIII

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Ah, the flatlands! Driving east from Rockford, I’m finding the prairie very refreshing—all these wide vistas, this great expanse of sky. How I hated the plainness of it all (pun intended) when I went to college up here. Something in me is hungry for boundlessness. Today I’m heading back to my alma mater, Lake Forest College, for a visit with some old friends.farm.jpg

As I drove through McHenry County, farms were absolutely everywhere; the one other place I saw that wasn’t a farm was a tiny house that sold hay and straw.

But then things started changing. First I passed an ancient-looking stone silo right next to the road that was being used as a gatehouse for a large and rather grand home; a beautiful and intricately carved wooden door replaced whatever had been there originally. So strange to see this in the middle of farmland.

There were other oddities as well. A gigantic sign in front of an otherwise normal-looking farm proclaimed, “Mink Barn, Furs by Talledis, Fur Barn, 1/2 Mile.” (The sign depicted a woman wearing a fur coat. Not your normal farmer’s togs.) Then there was the sign for Illusion Farm, though the farm itself certainly seemed real enough. Continue reading

Categories: Depression, Great Quotes, Spirituality, The Big Trip, Travel | 3 Comments

Ganesha Talk

Here’s a journal entry from 2001, written in the thick of my worst depression (one that came perilously close to suicide), when I had to pack up my life in Vermont and move back to Florida. In many ways this was something of a turning point for me.

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Last night, in the shower, I communed with Ganesha, ganesh.jpgthe beloved elephant-headed Hindu god. I have for many years felt a kinship with him; I have a nice statue of him reclining, and a little incense burner or candleholder kind of altar.

But recently I’d been reading more about him, and learned that while he is the god who removes obstructions, he’s also the god who placed obstructions in the way of his mother’s hotheaded consort; he was her protector. And in many ways, he is mine.

I have been, for most of my life, a monotheist, a Christian. If I have had anything to do with different gods, it’s been to contemplate their symbolic power, their meaning—not to cultivate a relationship with them.

But last night I said a prayer of thanksgiving. Continue reading

Categories: Depression, Hinduism, Psychology | 10 Comments

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