Hi. I’m Stephanie, and I’m an addict (of depression).

I wasn’t going to write tonight. I woke up with a sinus headache and I felt sick most of the day. I decided instead to do a little shadow boxing to work out some internal problems, call it an early night and go to bed. Then I pulled out my tarot deck and asked it if I should write or go to bed. The deck handed me my ass and told me to get to work. I’ve been procrastinating since January, it’s time to get back to writing in the damned blog!

4 of Cups

I’m looking at you, Four of Cups! (Revelations Deck, by Zach Wong)

It’s in moments like these that I know I’m on the right path and that I need to stick to it. The past several days have been a series of synchronicities. Whatever is on my mind, I come across blogs, videos, articles, books, movies, and incidents when I’m out and about, all screaming at me that I’m on the right path and now I need to take action! It’s the action part that makes me freeze up. My mind shuts down and suddenly I can’t even compose an email to a friend. Actually do something? No. Can’t do it today. So, it gets left to the next day and the next. And nothing happens.

This isn’t a temporary rut, this is depression. I learned something interesting about it today while doing shadow work that I hadn’t considered before; I’m addicted to it. I’ve suffered from Depression most of my life and I never sought help for it. There were many reasons for that, some legitimate, some not so legitimate. Part of me was afraid that the type of drugs used to treat Depression would screw me up further. I still think that is a legitimate fear given the nature of psychiatric drugs and the not-so-scrupulous pharmaceutical companies. But there are other methods to treat depression ranging from the foods I eat to different types of therapy. My greatest move to even try to treat my depression was to take a B-complex vitamin (it does help a little). Depressed Cartoon

All of this changed last year. On my birthday I had a download from the Universe. It told me that it was time to get my shit together. I’ve discussed this a few times in my blog already. The short of it is, I was a hot mess in my head and I had a sudden and painful revelation that much of my depression was the result of trauma and abuse from my childhood. I spent a good portion of last year doing shadow work and getting at the heart of what caused my deep depression, which was constantly working to undermine me in all aspects of my life. My relationships, my work life, my finances, my faith, and my enjoyment of life are all suffering because of this depression.

But since I entered my adolescence, I’ve built an identity around this depression and as I grew older, my choices and actions reinforced that depression. I not only became comfortable with it; I started to crave it and resist any attempts to cope with it in a more constructive way. As with most mental imbalances, I didn’t realize I was doing it. I didn’t wake up one day thinking, I love my misery I’m gonna keep it! It was a gradual thing which consumed me. Eventually it led me to a career I hated, financial instability, poor health, deteriorated friendships, and to nearly destroying my marriage.Monsters

The realization that I was feeding the depression beast of my own volition came to me last night while reading an article (Q&A) on Existential Kink, by Carolyn Elliott, the creator of WITCH magazine. It wasn’t the first time I had this thought, though. It’s come up before on restless nights in the small hours of the morning. And it was easily forgotten after I slept. But reading it last night, after shadow work and meditation, it hit me like a sack of bricks to the face. Yes, I do it on purpose. Yes, I sabotage myself. And I do it all the time.

The misery I’ve wrought upon myself is comfortable. I know what to do with it. I built up an identity around being an impoverished, deeply misunderstood, antisocial creature. Getting out of the mess I made for myself is intensely terrifying! All of the “what ifs” come up. What if I’m really not that smart? What if no one wants to read my blog? What if no one cares about my ideas? What if I can’t figure out how to market myself? What if I’m wrong? What if I have a successful business and I can’t figure out my taxes? (Cart before the horse, much?)

I became inert, out of fear of breaking out of an identity that only served my comfort zone.

This is not to say that one’s depression is their own fault. It’s not. I had two big things going against me; abuse and a chemical imbalance. Neither of these things were in my control. It hit fast and hard once I started puberty. Then the reinforcement cycles swamped me and pulled me under. My physical addiction became sugar, while my mental addiction was the depression itself. And boy do I ever have a sweet tooth! You know those orange circus peanuts that are basically just whipped sugar? My favorite when I was a kid. I pretend I’m better now because I haven’t had them in about 25 years. Don’t let that fool you, I still have a stash of Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs in my freezer.

Circus Peanuts

Don’t let these orange pieces of death happen to you!

When I found out that people with sugar addiction have the same chemical imbalance as alcoholics, I decided to get some help. I checked out a diet that assists people with leveling out the chemical imbalance. I bought books, read testimonials, and even gave it a good shot for a whopping month! And then slid right back into my old patterns. The sugar wasn’t just due to my chemical imbalance, it was also emotional support. I couldn’t give up that emotional boost. Especially when it was typically the only good thing that happened to me all day. Which landed me with a raging case of diabetes. You’d think THAT would have been my wake-up call, but it wasn’t. It shocked me and I got on the wagon for a bit. But then I got a new job and I hated it and the sugar became quite irresistible as I dealt with getting up early in the morning every day to go to a job I detested. It was only towards the end of that nightmare job that I started to wonder what the hell I was doing in this cycle of jobs I hated and eating myself into an early grave.

Jung FateI don’t want this anymore. The good news is, I don’t have to live with it! I’m learning to accept the things about me that I don’t like. I acknowledge them with my awareness, and let them go without judgement or shame. It’s about acknowledging, yes, I did this and I did that and those things weren’t good for me. This is what I learned from those choices. Now I move on.

It’s taken me a years’ worth of shadow work to get to this point and it culminated with the New Moon on April 5th. It’s been an exhausting, painful ride. Most days I feel like I’m trying to climb over electrified chicken wire with quicksand waiting for me on the other side. Still, I’m ready to move on and find a better place.

Accept ShadowWhat do I want? I’m still working on that. But I now know what I no longer want. I don’t want a soul crushing job. I don’t want to eat myself into an early grave. I don’t want to pass up good opportunities because I’m scared how I will be perceived by others. I don’t want to live inauthentically because I can’t figure out a better way to pay my bills.

I want my wife and I to be happy. I want us to not be afraid of when the money runs out. I want us to be free to live authentically. Whatever I end up doing when I grow up, I want to add value to the world. I’m not sure what that looks like yet, but for the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m on the right track. I feel like I’m crawling out of the hole I dug for myself. I feel like we’re going to make it!

Which Witch – Florence + The Machine

Lego My Ego

egoI teach religious studies and philosophy to make my living. Teaching has taught me so much more than I could have hoped to learn as a student myself going through the process. All my students, dedicated and not so dedicated, have given me valuable lessons in both academic and life in general. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned, is that the ego is very sticky. If one is trying to banish it from their lives, it will try to defend itself in whatever way it can. It can act like a beast or a frighten child to keep its hooks firmly in place.

Normally I start to see egos come out around the time we start studying Hinduism. The idea of detachment doesn’t sit well with most students who were mostly brought up with Christian values in American households, even if they no longer identify as Christian. Individual rights are placed higher than that of community for most of them and those values run deep. Hindu ideas of the Divine, the trappings of the ego, and Eastern values of community over individual entitlements, typically do not resonate with them. They have a difficult time wrapping their minds around a seemingly polytheistic tradition that see the Divine intrinsically tied to all things. For these students, God created the universe out of nothing and is entirely separate from Its creation. Placing community above individual interests is communism and destructive in nature. This is not something that is thought out, it is the result of indoctrination. It is also the ego claiming its stake.Christinaity-and-Hinduism-212

As we go through Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Jainism, and so forth, the students tend to conclude that we must agree to disagree. For a few students, they have found their home and they continue to research and learn about these faiths. But most walk away with the notion that they’re glad they were born in the West.

This is not to condemn them for this stance. Most people prefer the ideals and religions of the region they were born into, as is to be expected. Our place of origin is an accident of birth, its not something we can control. And each place has their own form of teaching children their values and beliefs. Typically, through the methods of indoctrination by their parents (who were indoctrinated themselves) and educational institutions. Breaking out of the paradigm one was born into is not an easy task and comes with many negative consequences. Even those who intellectually rise above the indoctrination must weigh if that is more important to them than losing the support of family and community. In counties like America that claim to value individual rights, the irony is not lost.

As I watched them resist the new ideas they were exposed to, I’ve recently concluded that I was pretty self-righteous in my own position. I’d sometimes get irked that they wouldn’t even try to wrapped their minds around them. I never expect students to actually change their ideas on their own values or faith, I just want them to understand that there are other ways of thinking and these different modes of thought are not inherently wrong. In addition to that, their out right refusal to entertain these ideas also leads them to form misconceptions. How can they reject something they didn’t understand?

Ego GotG

Ego the Planet from Guardians of the Galaxy Volume #2

Last night I was meditating on the new fall term and how I would approach it. And in an overwhelming sudden realization I asked myself, how the hell does your ego fit through the door? Was I not a student once too who had a difficult time accepting new ideas that were previously foreign to me? Hell yeah, I had a hard time with some of the new concepts! I may have changed my position on many of them, but it wasn’t over night or even over the course of a single class. I was introduced to concepts that then took a few years to stew. Some new ideas I encountered outright scared the hell out of me!  And, of course, I’ve been down right wrong in many ideas I had and conclusions that I drew. I’m often wrong now and change my opinion as I learn more about something. I am seeing these students in 8 or 15-week intervals during one fraction of a phase of their life. I do not know the path they are on or where they will end up as they go through life.

I once read a review that a student submitted regarding my Ethics course. The student stated that they liked me and I was very helpful, but that the subject matter was boring and not useful. I nearly cried. But that’s ego. It is ego to think that what interests me should interest anyone else as well. The example I give regarding the power of the ego, is to imagine your best friend hates your favorite song. Since that song becomes part of the Ego2ego identity, it can be hurtful if people you know and love hate it. It might mean that they hate the real you too! It doesn’t mean that at all. But when the ego is bruised, it can be difficult to shake that off.

It is pure ego to think that after a few weeks in my class, while they are taking three or four other classes, my course should have any effect on students. My job is to present the information and hopefully drive their curiosity to seek more. In my own experience, I’ve found that it’s sometimes years later that a particular class I took or idea I learned starts to germinate. And so, I think, it is with many of us. Some things we learn speak to us immediately and take up our total focus for a time. Others take their time and only come to full fruition years later. And still yet others are quickly forgotten and discarded, only sometimes rediscovered later, or never.  I have no idea what will stick and what will fall by the way side for some students. It should not be my concern. Each of us is on our own path. My job is to teach my courses to the best of my ability and spread a few seeds of understanding. What happens after that, is none of my business. In my previous perceptions of my class and students, I violated Agreement 2 and 3 of the Four Agreements.

FourAgreements

By Don Miguel Ruiz

So, my lesson this term, is to keep the ego in check and understand that my job is to teach my course material to the best of my ability and encourage curiosity and discovery in my students. It is not to judge them or think myself above them. It is not to create young philosophers in my own image. It is my hope that they take this information and turn it into their personal growth, but what they choose to do with it is theirs. When one offers a gift, it’s not a good idea to check up on it and make sure everyone is using it as intended by the giver. It’s not a gift if there are rules attached; it’s a leash.

Letting Go of Toxicity

Types of ToxicDuring this period of letting go of the past and things that no longer serve me, I came across the most difficult of them; letting go of certain people.  Some were easy, because they never were a major part of my life. They were the people that breezed in and out due to jobs or mutual acquaintances. These types of people are always coming in and out of one’s life. Seeing some of them go is a relief to me. One was so highly toxic that I was a bit fearful of the enormous amount of poison that she emitted. She was my former boss, so it was difficult to completely extricate myself from her initially. Cutting ties from my former line of work means I no longer need to worry about recommendations from her. I wish her the best, wherever she is now, so long as it is far away from me.

Unfortunately, not everyone that needed to go was as easy as my former boss. There is an old friend whom I’ve loved since I was in my teens that continues to occupy my mind. We’ve had a rocky relationship since the beginning. Back then, I was so desperately in love that I twisted myself into various shapes to get his attention. I’ve never been able to keep it long. If I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure I ever had it at all. About a decade ago, we renewed our friendship and began to talk with each other frequently again. By then, we were both in relationships with other people. Neither of us were looking for anything more than friendship. We both had similar interests and views about the world.

After a bit of time, I started to notice that he only came around when he needed emotional support. He’d turned the conversation toward sexual jokes. This did not initially bother me, because we live on opposite sides of the country and we’re both in happy, stable relationships. But when I wouldn’t return the flirtation, he’d lose interest in other types of conversations and drift off. More and more, I’d get irritated with the way the conversation became littered with sexual innuendo and jokes. I noticed his contact would be timed with fights he’d have with his wife.

I let this go on for a long time because of a friendship that existed mainly in the head of a fifteen year old girl. I am starting to realize, that “we” never really existed as anything other than a hope I once had. A few days ago, I was listening to an astrologer (Sky of Esoteric Healing on Youtube) talking about letting go of bad relationships. He stated that sometimes we get stuck in the narrative of a relationship rather than the reality of it. I began to realize that this was true for me. At a young age, I created a narrative of our relationship that I never let go of from that time. Perhaps I was holding on to hope, but as time went on, I forgot why I was holding the torch. I just kept holding it out of inertia.

cycleOur continued friendship is not serving either of us. He keeps me around for emotional support and I keep him around out of a sense of nostalgia. In the end, I think we both irritate the hell out of each other. Over the past few weeks I’ve come to realize that we need to part ways. Neither one of us are currently happy with the friendship. But making that move to say, no more… it’s tougher than I thought it would be. I feel like a gambler that keeps thinking, one more time, “This time it’s going to work out!” Except, we’re in different places. I know we no longer “vibe” with each other. In many ways, I’ve out grown him and he continues to lingers in the past. Most of the time, lately, I think he’s an asshole. I know he feels the same way about me. And still…

Most people have that one asshole in their life that they just can’t walk away from for whatever reason. First loves are hard to shake. Over thirty years later and still it lingers. No longer love, just old memories of something that never really was.

This is a person that I need to let go of if I am going to move forward.

Sanvean – Dead Can Dance, Toward the Within

(When words don’t really cut the emotions going through the mind, there is always Lisa Gerrard)