Tag Archives: depression

Colorizing the Story of Me…

I have been corresponding with a woman in Norway who responded to my post on depression in the face of qigong, or qigong in the face of depression. Hers was a supportive voice and also a kindred voice, and I am deeply grateful that she has been willing to communicate, since she is both a good writer and a person with things to say that have been helpful to me to hear.

We got into an exchange about the possibility of letting go of our stories, the things we tell ourselves about who we are.

A few days after one exchange, there arrived in my inbox, originally from a site called Quartz but now part of an Apple News compilation, an article with the following headline:

“By the Time You’re 77, You’ll Be a Different Person: A new personality study reveals that between 14 and 77, we don’t just age, our entire personality changes.”

The article was based on a study published in “Psychology and Aging” that began with data from a 1950 survey of 1,208 14-year-olds in Scotland.

Teachers had been asked to rate the kids on six personality traits: self-confidence, perseverance, stability of moods, conscientiousness, originality, and desire to learn.

More than 60 years later, researchers tracked down 635 of the now 77-year-old participants, and 174 of them agreed to repeat testing. They rated themselves on the six personality traits and also chose a friend or relative to do the same.

To the researchers’ surprise, they found little correlation between ratings then and now. Studies where the interval was shorter had found correlation, but apparently with enough time, our personalities are transformed.

I shared this report with my friend—but, as I told her, I’m not sure I agree that, at 75, I’m an almost completely different person from myself at 14.

It’s true that change over more than 60 years might be so gradual that even I, sitting front row center, wouldn’t notice.

However, although I have accumulated a lot of memories in 60-plus years, some of them are more than memories “about” someone or something. In these special memories I am inside myself as I was inside myself then, experiencing whatever I was seeing or feeling or thinking. (Hmmm…. I don’t hear things in my memories….)

All of these memories seem to have the same “me” inside them. Perhaps I’ve just linked them and thereby formed the story of who is me—but there is some quality to them that seems akin to a space I sometimes briefly reach in meditation, a space that also feels like me, a space without words or specific content—one might say, a space without story. Continue reading

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Qigong in a Darker Shade of Blue

NOTE: I banged this out on Sunday evening. Writing it felt therapeutic. Monday, the day of the Big(ish) Snow, I decided I wouldn’t post it. Qigong is arguably an interesting subject, at least to a minuscule segment of the population. Depression is just depressing.

Today I decided that I should post it, on grounds that I had promised myself when I began writing this blog that I would try to be honest. I don’t promote the blog anymore, and I don’t follow the statistics as to how many people read it. I do know that hardly any of my friends and none of my family do. But a principle is a principle, so I am going to go through this and add a few things, and then I will post it before I can change my mind.

 

A week and a half ago I decided that the elephant in the room of my life was depression, and that it had no intention of leaving. I had failed at managing my life. I needed help.

I asked my doctor for a mental health referral and was given an appointment with a psychiatrist for Valentine’s Day, almost three weeks out. I did some online research and decided to take 5-htp to try to boost my serotonin levels while I waited to see someone who might have a better idea.

I explored resigning from the board of my residential co-op, because I felt I had become negative and lacking in generosity and was suffering altogether too much anguish over being embroiled in public controversy for being on the board to be good for me. I didn’t care if the whole community thought I was an emotional cripple.

Perhaps not surprisingly, since taking action almost always helps, I am already feeling better.

Yesterday, the day of this winter’s Big(ish) Snow, everything on my schedule was cancelled except for a physical therapy appointment. I decided to take the bus, although once I got down to the street I realized I could easily have driven and it would have taken an hour, instead of four. But no matter. I had a lovely time. I smiled at people and struck up a couple of conversations. I realized that my gaze had turned outward.

However, darkness hovers at the edges of my awareness, and I fear the hopelessness and anguish I felt. Especially I fear the moments when I thought I might be losing my mind into a very dark and terrible place.

A few days ago I read back through the journal I mostly write in the morning, while I drink my first cup of tea. I can see now that around about Thanksgiving, it was as if a switch had been flipped. I was no longer in a good space.

I kept doing all my usual things, and nobody seemed to notice any difference. Indeed, periodically I felt pretty good. But the backdrop of depression was there to emerge when I was alone or tired. Sometimes I’d feel like crying, for no reason whatsoever. Other times I experienced deep self-loathing. I hated myself for being who I was instead of a kinder, more generous, happier person who would give to the world instead of spreading negativity. On New Year’s Day, I wrote a positive post. It was genuine. I felt good that day and resolved to improve my attitude—but the “good” didn’t last.

Doubtless SAD—Seasonal Affective Disorder—was at play. Historically, the winter months have been when I was most likely to be depressed.

Except that I thought my qigong practice had made depression a thing of the past. Anyway, it was supposed to. The idea was that I might still get to feeling low, but I would be able to recognize what was happening and not go as deep and pull out faster. Indeed, this was pretty much true for several years.

I know don’t whether to call this winter’s depression long or short, but I don’t recall ever before feeling that I might be losing my mind, that it might even be disintegrating.

If I look for reasons why this winter I fell so hard, one possibility is that this year, for the first time in perhaps 30 years, I didn’t go to California for seven to 10 days at Christmas. My body didn’t get its accustomed solar reset.

But also qigong, which has been a cornerstone of my life for more than six years, now feels more like a question mark.

Last summer it seemed some interesting things were happening. Then I was told that perhaps those phenomena, and also the “spells” I had had the fall and winter before, were aberrations, either the unveiling of some underlying condition or the result of my trying too hard in my practice, forcing instead of allowing, getting too stressed, and harming my body. I was told—and, indeed, believe it to be true—that I needed to step back, to listen, to let go. I wasn’t told, but nonetheless felt, that wherever it was I had thought qigong might take me, I might simply be too old and physically and temperamentally unsuited to go.

As well, the balance problem that manifests when I am doing taiji has persisted, despite everything I’ve done to deal with it, and I have less and less hope of ever resolving it and being able to do the form the way I would like.

Before and during the time I was depressed, I was seeing a new Chinese medical doctor, getting acupuncture and taking herbs. I really liked him, and hoped that he might become my qigong teacher as well, but then we had a falling out over the herbs he prescribed. I’m not sure if he fired me as a patient because of the way I was asking him questions about the herbs or whether I fired him because of the way he stopped answering.

I stopped taking the last batch of herbs he prescribed because I didn’t see how they could possibly be doing me any good when I had fallen into such despair.

I don’t know whether I will pursue acupuncture or herbs again. It is an expensive pursuit. And now that I have finished reading “The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine,” I doubt I will do herbs again, because I’m not willing to fly on faith and trust in art rather than science. I may go to another acupuncturist. I told a friend that I always felt better after acupuncture but wasn’t sure it produced the lasting change that would justify spending the money. She asked why simply enjoying it wasn’t justification enough. Hmmmm….. Why not, indeed?

So there it is. When I started writing this blog four years ago, I was wildly enthusiastic about qigong and where it might lead me. Now I just don’t know. I continue to practice. I still feel good when I do, and I still have some hope that it will help me understand whatever existence is and live a more satisfying life. But more days go by without my getting to any of my qigong practices, and I intend to keep the appointment with the shrink. If she recommends an anti-depressant, I will probably take it, perhaps forever.

I have found that qigong doesn’t make a person bullet-proof.

Damn.

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Is It Mine, Or…???

When my Yi Ren Qigong teacher Dr. Guan-Cheng Sun read my post about realizing that one of my mental habits can perpetuate, even escalate, depression, he asked me this:

Was I aware of how much of my self-hatred, anguish and despair came from inside me, and how much came from others who were either depressed themselves or had negative feelings towards me?

Dr. Sun had asked me this before, and I’d always maintained that I’m way too good at depression to need outside help in getting there.

However, in his comments on my post he also said: “In general, no primary spirit has self-hatred conscious and intention.”

This somehow struck home.

I don’t have a very strong concept of primary spirit, of something that is the core of who I am, but it does seem that such a spirit would be about life, about light, not about self-hatred and despair.

And if this is so, then by definition self-hatred, anguish and despair come from outside this primary spirit, whether through one’s genes, family history, past experience or present life.

I don’t know whether it matters if I recognize which of these many factors is the cause.

What strikes me is that there is a subtle but powerful difference between identifying with my depression as a facet of who I am and between viewing it as separate from my inner being. It is easier to let go of something that isn’t part of you.

I received Dr. Sun’s comments on my post as I was leaving for a mini-retreat at Mount Rainier, so I printed them out and read them before dinner that evening at Paradise Inn.

That night I was awakened by a dream in which I was being attacked by something akin to one of the Dementors of Azkaban from the Harry Potter books. I was lying on my back—as indeed I was, in the hotel bed—struggling to pull up a very thick, very heavy blanket of qi to protect myself. Then I felt a sharp pain in my left index finger, on what would be the large intestine meridian. When I awoke, I wondered if I’d been bitten by a bedbug, but there were no bedbugs and no marks on my finger.

I’ll take the blanket-of-qi part of the dream to suggest that I do have defenses against outside attacks on my emotional well-being. However, I have no idea what the finger pain signified, except that the large intestine meridian lies on the index finger, and the large intestine is all about releasing things, physically and energetically, so maybe I was releasing something, wherever it may have originally come from.

I hoped there’d be a sequel to my dream when I got home, but there wasn’t, at least not that I remember. I did have a pain along the same meridian, only on the elbow side of my wrist, right before I went to bed several days later. It was gone when I woke up. I guess it’s a mystery, too.

For now, this is all I know. I like the notion that releasing negative energies like self-hatred, anguish and despair may be easier than I thought because they’re not fundamentally mine. But the journey continues….

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Waking from a Depressing Habit

The lifting of clouds from Mount Rainier is like the lifting of the veil of depression.

The lifting of clouds from Mount Rainier is like the lifting of the veil of depression.

I was re-reading the manual for Level I Yi Ren Qigong the other day and found a passage about how practicing qigong can help us change harmful habits and negative patterns of thought:

“It’s easy for the mind to lie and have illusions, but when the body begins to be aware, it can actually correct the mind’s misconceptions. This is one of the key points of Yi Ren Qigong practice. When a person becomes more energized and as the awareness of the body increases, the body will start revealing that person’s mental habits.”

This wasn’t anything new. I’d heard Dr. Sun—Dr. Guan-Cheng Sun, the man who developed Yi Ren Qigong—say similar things at many a qigong seminar.

I’d think, “Sounds great—but I don’t see any of my negative patterns disappearing; I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Voila!

Voila!

Now, however, perhaps I do—or at least I may have an inkling as to how it might work.

I’ve danced with depression my entire adult life—probably my kid life, too, only I didn’t have that word back then. After I started practicing qigong, my periods of depression didn’t seem to last as long, but I still went there—and recently I definitely did.

Depression has always felt like something beyond my control. When I’m in it, I’m in it—although thankfully I never get so far “in it” that I can’t function; I just experience a lot of self-hatred, anguish and despair. When I come out of it, I realize that I have come out of an altered state, but I have no idea how I got into that altered state or why I now feel better.

However, about two weeks ago, during a period when I was in and out of despair, I was able to see how one patch of dark thinking had quite likely caused another—had, indeed, caused me to spiral further downward. I could also see how I might have made things different. Continue reading

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