I’ve started writing this entry a good half-dozen times, but kept starting over because I felt I wasn’t explaining well enough the profound changes that have manifested - and sharing a look at those, along with my past, whilst celebrating the sheer awesomeness (I over-use that word, but feel it’s entirely appropriate!) of the people who helped me get here is my aim, so that others might be inspired that the journey is worth traveling because there are wonderful destinations along the way!. That, and keeping it shorter than a small novel - yes it’s long anyway, but I’ve tended not to share so much of myself to the ‘net at large in the past. I’m cashing in credit for that.
I don’t expect there’s anything I can write that’ll make anyone see precisely how to achieve this for themselves in a step by step fashion; I believe it needs to be personally realised and experienced directly, built from our own individual experiences without coercion or duress. I do hope reading of my experience can generate just a little faith, though, that even for the most depressed and worn-out among us simple, complete and deep happiness exists without the ever-present push against a wall of mercurial moods. I hope to play a part in guiding minds to the doorway out of there. I hope to sow a seed.
I think it’s a fine balancing line I have to take, and I respect that for folk deep in mid-depression this may sound like nothing but feel-good platitudes - I may be too far removed from that state to directly relate any more. Still, there are those I know who’re starting to see, and taking their first steps out of the mire. If that sounds familiar, then this is probably more for you :)
What I write below will only make any sense if you’ve already read this little piece I wrote in May 2010 about an event I’ve come to call my first enlightenment, a night where I stopped the quotidian trudging, step by slow step, and launched further forwards than I knew was possible. I was thrown to a place where discovery of how everything works came in waves that I’ve still not entirely caught up with. It was a trip!
(If the term ‘Enlightenment’ bothers you, perhaps a Singularity may sit better; a point where advancement is based on countless preconditions all coming together, and nothing afterwards is anything like before. Indeed, it may describe it all quite a bit better, as it didn’t appear from nowhere, but was the result of years of slow change, accelerating in the months beforehand.)
So to it.
Like most folk, over my lifetime I had accumulated so much crud that I believed was my identity - habits, memories, fears, roles, desires and so on. I thought these defined me and couldn’t really be changed. I thought I could only add to this built-up collection that was me through learning and experience. And for some horrors within, all I could do was cover up and bury them. If I wanted to truly change anything back then, I expected I could only make waves in the external world, because I saw my Self as fixed. Humanity, I’d been taught, could adapt the world to suit ourselves - that was supposed to be our great legacy over all other life.
But instead, by practicing my existence as no more than consciousness and letting go of all else, my attachment to those things I’d once considered Self eased off. So many things that weren’t really Me fell away - great masses of want, desire, clinging and ego. Since almost everything I’d once thought was Me was now equivalent to Not Me, my whole concept of what that Me could be widened further than I could have imagined.
With false identity dissolving, choices far beyond just making changes ‘externally’ revealed themselves. What I am, what I fear, what I desire and what I believe all became choices - because after seeing ‘myself’ as merely consciousness, I became aware that all of those other parts to my identity are external to ‘Me’. Being human wasn’t limited to adapting the world outside myself - I could adapt myself, and all of myself, on a whim!. The world changes constantly, sometimes in tune with but often regardless of my will, what sense is there in not being able to let go and change fully with it?
Especially as in the end it’s all the same thing - or at least, the line I used to see demarcating me and everything else is now very very fuzzy. A kind of beautiful Self-bokeh.
I suppose I could better label my old false identity as my random collection of stuff that happened to me identity. Now though, my new identity is a non-identity, no-self, where this consciousness that looks out through my body gets to pick and choose how to be from day to day, in order to best satisfy some core beneficial tenets. Compassion, kindness, openness, respect, love…
I saw firmly on that night 365 days ago how extraordinarily powerful pure consciousness can be, and how everything that manifested in my life began with thought derived from it. It’s become more and more obvious since then that thought is a thousand-tonne karma train on a high speed track; every single one has consequences, and everything that happens to me is a consequence that began who knows how far back.
Thoughts don’t just include my plans for the day, what I’d like for breakfast, or the occasional large scale decision like moving house or marrying, but every self-doubt, lie, or validation about my worth, every awareness or non-aware presumption, every creative notion or destructive want. They all manifest consequences. I manifest them, by thinking them.
Becoming aware of how this works allowed me to see clearly some chains of consequence and responsibility I’d been ignorant of, and those consequences I’d once thought were simply how-things-were, were the end result of decisions I’d made - and that could change. Of course, it’s easy to rationalise that the smallest actions in our lives can have huge effects; I only need look back to some beautiful changes in my life occurring because of a chance meeting in 2006 with someone who became a very close friend - but not everything is so black and white. I can also be aware that every thought or action I perform has a direct chain to consequences I may not know at the time (a buddhist concept of karma), and that’s a strong and constant guide to doing aware and thoughtful good by myself and others.
So, with this new-found awareness and without a substantial ego in place, I saw my depression was a choice I made based on what I told myself, and all those lies I believed about myself. I may have had prompting events happen to me, but I chose all my reactions to those. I discovered my anxiety was precisely the same, and I could simply let go of the thoughts that brought it on. Depression and anxiety were both irretrievably lost like smoke in fog. I’m not sure I even remember what anxiety feels like, and the angst-infused tears of depression are becoming difficult to recall…
I cringe now when I read the writing of friends and acquaintainces who’re still deep in depression, with statements like I wouldn’t be me without this or I’ve always been too smart to trick myself into being happy and you can’t just BE happy, or the worst: This is just who I am. They’re words spoken as if the depression is the person, as if the negativity we create for ourselves is something solid and comforting but the happiness we can equally will up from the same place is an ethereal thing with no substance, or even some creepy insidious evil.
I know those lies, I know how shallow and deceptive but appealing they are, because they feel true by cloaking themselves as validation - and I know thinking like that does work to ease the ache, just a little. Ultimately though, it still feeds back into the beast inside and strengthens it. I lived it almost constantly, often suicidally so, since I was 16. Now I’m within spitting distance of forty, I’ve survived all the tricks of long-term depression, and its not Me. It never was. Depression, like happiness itself, is what I do not what I am.
I realised being overweight was also a choice, and it caused the majority of my health issues. It was a choice reached by the thoughts I entertained about food and movement, and the lies I told myself about them that resulted in a body so out of condition it hurt - I used to tell myself that my weight had little to do with my health, until I saw myself with awareness; as I treated myself better my weight fell away and my health improved simultaneously and dramatically - I'd been overweight for so long I'd forgotten what real physical well-being felt like!.
Dozens of little pains, difficult movement, over-sweating, difficult breathing, fat rashes, postural hypotension, migraines, sleep apnoea, easy bruising and endless other little cumulative physical ills caused by my weight - I now know they were choices. They may have been several steps removed from conscious thought in that chain of consequences, but they were no less a direct result of my own thought. I took responsibility for them and decided no more.
I’d like to reiterate that I didn’t consciously choose my ills, of course, by refusing to make choices that’d improve my life - it’s that I didn’t know how to make those choices, or in many cases simply didn’t believe I could. I’d taken on the beliefs of others and made them my own.
I realised that my triggers (for the most part revolving around religiosity, sexual abuse, abandonment and responsibility) weren’t events that forced an uncontrollable firestorm of anxiety within me, although it felt like that. They were simply events that reminded me of past horrors, and my head did the rest. It was real terror, but what destroyed me inside was a reaction that I owned. Once again that was based on that false identity I no longer carried. Those memories used to bring on such strong reactions that they could undo a whole week’s good mood work - now most of them have no effect, and the ones that still do are… mild. I could never have seen that for what it is, and I would have argued against the description I’ve just given as fairytale wishful thinking bullshit, if I didn’t have the awareness I now carry.
The smell of chai at sunrise in summer with the plaintive call of Koels outside was once enough to sour any good mood. Together they remind me of lost love as they took me back to a time lost too. Now that I know the awful feeling that came upon me with those memories was a choice based on what I carried, and because I choose now to carry love and memories of love, I only remember that was real love, and it was beautiful!
I realised getting up off my arse and doing just about anything was worth more than uncountable signatures on a petition, retweets, ‘likes’ on facebook (or whatever simplified expression of ‘support’ that isn’t really much of one at all is doing the rounds today) and that in the scheme of things it’s not that much more difficult. I realised I could fly planes, rescue and ease the suffering of Australia’s beautiful wildlife, be a morning person, be a much better photographer, be a better friend, write, love and trust freely without needing love or trust given first, improve and inspire human lives, and be that person who renews others’ faith in humanity - so I do that and more. It’s not effort, it’s fun!
I realised that the dichotomy of Conscious and Unconscious mind is a bit of a lie in itself. It’s all Mind, and there’s no hard line where the unconscious does its thing without me knowing and then the conscious reacts. They fade into and feed off one another constantly without clear demarcation, and they can be observed with an awareness that’s above either; an awareness that holds no words, judgments, or anything but What Is. Unconscious may lie in dappled shadows, but it can still be fed quality food. I choose to feed it love, and it no longer springs horrific surprises on me that leave me feeling small, alone and unfixable at 2am.
If I had to summarise the last twenty something paragraphs succinctly and more colloquially, it’s that when I realised everything I lived was all in my head, from my worst terror to my most sublime blissful joys, I was freed from it. ‘I’ was no longer trapped by having to be ‘Me’. Sounds self explanatory, no?
Because I began this journey by being opened to a wisdom I couldn’t be sure existed and appeared to make little practical sense (but subsequently changed me entirely overnight) I discovered not only the power of choosing thoughts, but in belief - in faith. I combine those to create my own beliefs so strong they become knowledge that I can’t so much explain other than with an analogy.
Imagine being given a placebo, a sugar pill that you’ve been convinced is the best painkiller for relieving your headache - as placebo demonstrations go, it’s a standard one that works effectively, and you’ll more than likely get a measurable dose of pain relief. I can now both know it’s a placebo and believe it’ll work, and still find relief. That’s powerful. Choosing to believe is my superpower.
And there’s a whole lot of super in my life right now.
So anyway, I couldn’t have reached where I was this time last year without some very special people who gave and still give of themselves. I’m sure anyone reading my tumblr has seen the number of entries attributed to l.c.h.e.; they’re the initials of the four individuals I credit most with lifting me to a point I could haul myself up and not fall back. They’re in no order other than letters that sounded good together - I can’t rank friends, or indeed most human capabilities, we’re just too complex for that.
I attribute my posts to these four individuals because it was through their combined aid that I could recognise the sense and usefulness in each (and many more I noticed but wasn’t near a computer to place online). Those realisations, my friends, are yours as much as mine.
(I must add that I have many other friends I love and adore, who I know care for me deeply and who’re very important to me in all manner of ways. They’re no less worthy of my time & love, but when it comes to this particular chapter of my life, not all had the opportunity to play. That’s ok!. We have more time, and there’s a lot more life to live!)
So to my blessed saviours.
Leticia - @sweet_libertine. Thank you Tish, for so pleasantly surprising me. Thank you for being my rescuer when I was at my worst, both to myself and to others. Thank you for being my protector, my white lady. Thank you for picking me up and carrying me, a burden I know was heavy through very important times to you. Thank you for trusting me to know what I needed, and thank you for applying tough love when I showed I didn’t. I know my mind is a surreal landscape of strange fruit to you, but that only makes my appreciation for your acceptance stronger. You are my Sergeant major, my commanding officer, my kick in the arse; you know precisely how hard a kick I need, and precisely when.
Char - @cmoliver. Thank you Char, for being my sounding board for Every Goddamned Insecurity I Ever Had. Thank you for propping me up when I couldn’t stand, thank you for growing with me, thank you for listening, for sharing of yourself equally, and thank you for keeping in touch with me through all the changes in both our lives for good and bad. You are my Doctor, the psych at the end of my couch, the one I ramble at who agrees wholeheartedly with me whether or not I make sense, and who slips in the tiniest little confronting wisdom, sometimes just a single word, that makes me reconsider so much.
Helen - @Invisiblepixels. Thank you Hamsterkins, for being my bestie for so many years. Thank you for being so very blunt with me, but also for validating my sharing, from the stupidest little obsessions to the most profound changes in my flakey, flitty, oh-so-variable life. Thank you for your entirely practical questioning and criticism, and for sharing that brilliant intelligence of yours. Thank you for sharing and giving so much of yourself, and thank you for so unconditionally accepting everything I was and am. Thank you for sticking around, for laughter, for your patience, thank you for just about bloody everything while you write the story of my life with me. You are my Companion, my reflection, my sparring partner and you are in my pocket when I’m not in yours.
Efisia - @01000101. Thank you Fiz, for finding and feeding the heart I carried. Thank you for recognising its stupid tightly-knotted self-protection and knowing how to reach in past all that invented crap to touch the other end so I could begin unraveling it from the inside. You held me up when I faced my fears, and one by one while you stood with me I saw they weren’t scary at all. Thank you for liberating me, thank you for showing me connection, thank you for showing me I didn’t need knowledge, analysis or even rationality to figure this life out, or to see what was or wasn’t me; I simply needed to feel, to love freely. You were my Sister, nine muses in one, my inspiration, and you didn’t so much teach me how to be, rather you picked me up and showed me what I was through your eyes, and I couldn’t help but come to believe. Thank you for giving the world what I chose to be.
With such praise, it wouldn’t be unfair to think that I’m placing dependence of my well-being on my friends in an unnecessarily unhealthy way, and you may have been right in the past. Post-enlightenment though, I’ve become aware that my appreciation and gratitude is no longer for my wonderful people as a need; I don’t and can’t cling to that, because I know what I genuinely need is welling up inside, that inside is everywhere, and there’s an endless supply to share for everyone.
To survive, I might not need you all - but by Gods I’m glad you’re here.
Or as Amanda Palmer sings in her cover of ‘I Want You But I Don’t Need You’:
I like you, and I’d like you to like me to like you
But I don’t need you, don’t need you to need me to like you
Because if you didn’t like me, I would still like you, you see.
La la laaa - It’s all good.
Of course, my friends are more than just the narrow descriptions above, and we all share each of those roles among one another to some level, but again that’s beyond the scope of this piece.
So here I am after a year recovered - more than recovered! Twelve months in a state so unlike my old depressed self, where I felt I was constantly looking up and wondering how the hell other folk found happiness. I felt scared, and clueless about how I could get to that point, wondering if it was even possible for broken ol’ me to be fixed. Twelve months in a state where now I’ve arrived at that high, gone way past the other side, and found a few other folk there. Now I’m longing to reach out to my fellow humans and drag everyone forward while screaming “Come in! the water’s AWESOME!”.
Twelve months with three or four bad days, instead of every previous year containing no more than that number of merely OK ones, and no sign of this bliss abating. Twelve months since I finished pecking at my shell from the inside, cracked it open, and took my first real deep breath of free air with the ability to begin growing. It was rebirth.
That makes today, December 8th, my new birthday - because this is the day the closest thing to Me was born, and not just an arbitrary cutoff remembering when biology laid eyes on even more gooey screaming biology.
I gush, for very good reason, because now I get to share all this with everyone else!
2010; Gods, what a year. I hope for everyone to have a year like this, a year that overflowed with such pure existential bliss that events which would have once unraveled me entirely simply came, passed, and I got to watch and learn. Even now, mortal and painful events are unfolding within my closest family, and will certainly involve some major changes directly to my life - but that’s OK, it’s not the entirety of anything. Onwards and upwards!
There can’t help but be another year as good, and another, and so on… simply because I get to make them so.
Happy birthday, me!
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