For the last six months, I have been telling myself a story of “waking up”. On June 26th – after a very difficult year and finally just bottoming out and truly giving up hope for my life, something snapped: I saw clearly all the lack of integrity that had slipped into my life and made a 100% commitment to take it back.
Or actually I just saw a lot of the lack of integrity – as I clear up one area on non-integrity, the next one surfaces. It seems maybe never-ending, but each area of my life I put into integrity just makes me happier and stronger – makes my life better.
I have been non-stop happy for six months. Michael Singer (The Untethered Soul) defines “enlightenment” as “unreasonable happiness”. That’s been me for the last six months – happy without any reason for it, or even in the face of some problem (infected foot that put me in the hospital, an overdrawn checking account) that would usually have made me unhappy.
And, for my psychiatrist, that six months of being happy is all the proof she needs that I am “manic”. After all, I have been diagnosed as “bipolar” for 30 years. (I no longer agree with this diagnosis.) And – very gradually and in complete collaboration with her – I have for several months been weaning myself off the potent concoction of three psych drugs I had been taking. And she sure doesn’t get this business of “spiritual transformation” – to her, that is just more proof that I’ve been going off the deep end.
The only four times I have gotten sad or scared in the last six months have happened the day after she – or one home health worker who followed me when I left the hospital with my foot infection still active – have directly attacked my newfound spiritual and personal happiness. They have directly said to me that this all – all the wonderful things that have happened for me over the last six months – is all just “mania”. That I will wake up one day, probably soon, terribly depressed – and that depression will probably be long and very deep. I will probably become a big suicide risk. And that being depressed then will confirm that I have been manic for the last six months – and that therefore none of my good experiences have any validity.
Is it already clear to you just how cruel and utterly wrong this stuff is? And these nasty messages worked! While, in the moment, I clearly and calmly pushed away these destructive ideas, they actually slipped into my unconscious. Thirty years of psychiatric hypnosis, in which I believed the idea that I had a “mental illness” – and that only the doctors’ drugs held any possible respite for me – went to work on me overnight.
By the morning, the undiagnosed “psychogenic” pain that greets every morning – and that for the last six months I have found no longer intimidating and have, with more or less effort, always pushed past – that morning loomed very oppressive and frightening. My whole story had changed and I was believing that I probably had really been “manic” – and that now I was “depressed”, and that basically everything had turned to shit.
In that state, I started to tell myself that these last six months were “just a story I had told myself”. It took me a few days to realize, “What is not a story we are telling ourselves?” Everybody has got a different story about the nature of God or the meaning of life. So much of our life is determined by whether we tell a story that we are a winner or a loser – or whether life is benevolent, on-our-side… or whether the deck is stacked hopelessly against us.
What about the psychiatric hypothesis is not a made-up story? None of them knows what “bipolar disorder” really is. It’s just a name/diagnosis they made up, so they could go ahead and try to treat it. “Mania” and “depression” are just medical names they made up for some behaviors that they still do not understand. The drugs they use to treat this “disorder” are totally trial-and-error – they just try one after another until one seems to help, and it never helps all that much. (One very benevolent psychiatrist, who I trusted a lot, said that usually the drugs never help more than about 5% – but “that’s still 5% less suffering!”)
Yeah, but at what cost? They pretty much all have some pretty potent side-effects. When I told that same, very high-integrity psychiatrist who I saw for three years, that a friend of mine claimed that the reason I don’t cry any more – after many years of having healthy crying available to me as a wonderful release – is because of my meds, he agreed. He said, “Probably that is actually the cause. These ‘mood stabilizing’ drugs tend to mute our emotional highs and lows – and to also somewhat muffle everything in between. You just need to decide whether the trade-offs are worth it to you.” And, lost in pain as I was – pain for which no one had a good explanation or a direction for how I could leave or transcend it – I chose to keep making the terrible trade-off.
I have always greatly preferred the terms “expanded” and “contracted” to the pathology-based terms “manic” and “depressed”. They are purely descriptive – not pertaining to any “illness” – and for me they are very descriptive, they really capture what it is like for me.
I have always had very strong ups and downs. Everybody has them, but mine have always been – and probably will always be – kind of dramatic. In my “up”, expanded cycle, I am happy, creative, productive, emotional (full of powerful genuine human emotions), funny and loving. What’s not to like about that? But even one of my most beloved psychotherapists – a 30 year Buddhist with a very high consciousness and a loving nature, and who genuinely loved me – told me that, because I didn’t seem to need a lot of sleep in this state, it was therefore “disregulated” and no genuine friend to me.
When I am expanded, I don’t just fill the room – I fill the universe! I know that I am one with everything – that, in fact, I belong everywhere I go. I touch the divine. I am completely in touch with core spiritual truths, which meditators spend their whole lives trying to touch.
But then my energy turns down and all this wonderful and genuine spiritual awareness is cruelly snatched from me. Is there any surprise that I might feel bad? Lacking a shaman or other genuine spiritual teacher to explain all this to me – and to help provide me with tools to ride out this rollercoaster – I flounder, I become lost.
Living in a materialistic society, which does not understand or care about spiritual experiences, I don’t have anybody saying to me: “You are genuinely touching God – it is the real thing! Now let me teach you how to integrate that glimpse, to ground it…and to hold on to the truth of it when your energy turns down and all this connectedness is harder to grasp.”
That is my new story about my powerful energy swings – which I will never again refer to by pejorative, made-up names from the destructive psychiatric story. I am on a hero’s quest – not a mentally-ill, crippled, damaged life.
I will find people and resources like my Jubilee Spiritual Community, with its wonderful new minister who totally affirms that I am whole and complete – and whose music (“Amy Steinberg” – five albums on Pandora) helps to ground those ideas in a powerful, emotional, gut experience.
And given that I no longer think of myself and my life as sick, I am free to be very, very grateful. Thank you, God. Thank you, Life. Thank you, Majo.
(Since I first wrote most of this blog post, my energy has actually taken that dreaded “turn-down”. And you know what? Now that I know, in my guts, what it is – just lower energy, not “depression”, not “mental illness” – it is really not such a daunting foe. I have a harder time getting up in the morning – but I do it. I need more sleep overall, but I still manage to have fulfilling days. I am not sad or discouraged – partly because I know in my heart that all the wonderful things I experienced over the last six months were real and good – and awarenesses I can keep building on. “It’s all good.”)