This blog has been haphazardly written and posted for several years. But it’s an important project for me, and the haphazardness is reflective of my mental illness journey. After 2018, the worst year of my life, I can no longer afford to be haphazard, or careless, or hopeful, about my mental health. I have two choices:
Because those are two of the three choices depression leaves people with. The third, of course, is living with the depression as long as you can drag it out. But some point, you have to either get healthy or you will die.
I don’t want to die.
2019 has been a better year so far. Not that anyone would probably notice, especially since I live my life in isolation most of the time. This is a debilitating symptom, of course, and one I need to change. But I have also learned this sad, valuable lesson about myself:
I’m not ready to play with others. Not in any significant way.
I have to get healthier first. Not “healthy”; no fucking idea what “healthy” would be for me. I do know what it would be like to be less sick – to decide how I’m going to spend my days rather than being my brain’s punching bag – so that’s what I’m focusing on. Taking small steps daily to get healthier. Example: I’ve been swimming 3-4 times a week, which, because of my hand injury, has also meant a 30-40 minute walk each direction. Exercise is very good for me.
I’ve also been meditating more. For a long time, I would try to sit and count breaths for five minutes at a time. I was sporadic in that practice, which should not surprise anyone. (Especially anyone who has tried to “learn” meditation by sitting and counting breaths.) But in my readings, I realized that was not a good way for me to meditate. So now I simply sit, eyes closed, and pay attention to my breath and my body.
I have no trouble sitting like that for ten minutes or so, several times a day. I am learning to listen to my body as I sit; I am learning to meditate on things I’ve read. Mostly, I am learning to sit quietly and do as much nothing as possible. It is, I think, helping me. I feel like I am changing. I have a long ways to go. This seems a good start.
I have decided, therefore, to rejigger this blog. To give it a thematic purpose (as opposed to waiting to be “inspired” to write by the random occurrences in my life). Because I have learned something important: there are a lot of good books and other materials on how “mindfulness” can help improve mental health, but I have yet to find anything that is explicitly Buddhist. “The Mindful Way Through Depression” comes close – I can see the Buddhist philosophy underlying their clinical work – but it’s definitely not a Buddhist project.
And I know that my path to better mental health will include following the Buddha’s basic teachings.
Necessary clarification: This is not religious Buddhism. Secular Buddhism. Yes, it’s a thing. Many people are learning that Buddhist study and practice are not religious studies. My primary teacher in this regard are the writings of Stephen Batchelor, beginning with the first book written in that view, Buddhism Without Beliefs. The Buddha, he teaches, did not start a religion. He taught the reality of the world and how we can live in that world free from the cravings that make us so unhappy.
I’m down with that.
So I am adding a new tagline to this blog: A dharma journey out of depression. Catchy, eh? (T-shirts coming any day now.) Following Batchelor, who trained for ten years as a Tibetan Buddhist monk and spent several years as a Son (Zen) monk in Korea, I will be using “dharma” instead of “Buddhism” to fully separate what I am doing from the religious connotations for that word.
Unlike Batchelor, however, a scholar of the original texts, I won’t refer to “Gotama”; I am happy calling him “the Buddha”. The Awakened One.
I have yet to uncover the extent and full nature of my depression (and related anxieties). I probably never will. I have decided, however, that conventional mental health care can never be sufficient. I don’t want to lose just the symptoms of depression; I want to be healthy. Awake. Free from the reactivity, the dualistic thinking, the clinging. I do not believe health is possible for me without this dharma journey.
At least, that’s the choice I am making.