Tom Wootton: How I Found Ecstasy In Depression

Editorial comment: This is on one level a moving first-person account of the experience of living a life with bipolar disorder. But on a larger level it is a remarkable testament to the power and determination of the human spirit. Regardless of your clinical or scientific orientation, it is well worth the read. ~ David Baxter

How I Found Ecstasy In Depression
by Tom Wootton, Bipolar Advantage
July 30, 2012

Depression can help us to find beauty in every moment.

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I have been meditating for over 50 years. I started when I was five years old when I became fascinated with watching my breath go in and out. I intuitively knew that this and other meditative practices would bring me to a state of ecstasy. It didn’t take long before pursuing that state became the most important thing in my life.Although I got incredibly close through my efforts in meditation, it wasn’t until I looked for ecstasy in depression that I truly found it. Once I found ecstasy in depression I found it everywhere. My hope is that sharing my experience might help others to find the same insights that I have.

As I watched my breath go in and out I found some dramatic changes in my state of consciousness. I would detach from my body and find myself floating above and looking down at myself sitting there. It was a very pleasurable state, but also very profound in how I viewed the world. I believed that part of me was untouched by the physical world; the part that I now call my soul.

It wasn’t long before my soul separations started encroaching on my waking states. I would often find myself turning the corner and suddenly being in a long tunnel with a light at the end of it. During those experiences time would stand still or at least slow down dramatically. I interpreted these experiences as seeing God.

By the time I was in my teens I knew that there were others who had experienced some of the same things. They called such moments ecstasy, bliss, Nirvana, Samadhi, superconsciousness, equanimity, “oneness with God,” and many other names. Although I recognized that there are many ways to reach such states, I started practicing Yoga since it was the most attractive to me of all of the different approaches to finding them. I was much less interested in the philosophies than how to experience ecstasy directly and Yoga offered a path that was geared toward direct experience.

In my twenties I realized that there were people who were experiencing things far beyond what I had and seemed to have a much deeper understanding of them than I. I met with as many as I could find and spent most of my time studying the lives of saints. This search for meaning dominated my thoughts as my meditation practices deepened.

By the time I was thirty I was living in a monastery and meditating anywhere from 8 to 24 hours a day. I had found a community of people who valued such experiences as much as myself and for the first time I felt completely at home. We meditated for hours together, but when the meditation ended I would keep at it because I thought that my next breath was going to be the one that gave me permanent bliss. By then I was able to travel down the tunnel and bask in the light at the end for what felt like a timeless eternity. I appeared to be so good at generating higher states of consciousness that fellow monks called me “Samadhi Tom.”

Right about the time that I thought I was about to reach the final realization of permanent ecstasy I fell into an incredibly deep depression that lasted several months. I had been depressed many times before, but nothing like this one. I was so debilitated that they had to move me into the building with the kitchen because I was unable to even walk across the courtyard to eat. I laid in bed crying all day and couldn’t even attend the meditations or practice in my room.

This was my first truly debilitating depression and it had extreme consequences. It took away the most important thing in my life. At the time I thought I had lost everything and life was devoid of all meaning. I left the monastery and floundered for several years.

I spent my forties lost in turmoil. I pursued a life of no purpose and allowed myself to become a person that I really hated. I made a lot of money, but said that I had rented my soul to the devil while allowing myself to stray the furthest I ever had from the only thing that really mattered.

The depressions and manias became much more frequent during this time. When they had gotten to the point that I was completely nonfunctional, I finally got diagnosed as Depressed and then more accurately as Bipolar. I saw it as a kind of a death sentence combined with a an explanation for so many of the things that happened throughout my life. I realized that my first full on manic episode happened when I was nine years old, for example, and that depression was at least a yearly occurrence.

Because of the diagnosis and the prevalence of delusional thinking being a part of it, I looked upon all of the experiences of my life as a sign of my mental illness instead of a sign that I was seeing God. I was devastated by the implications of it. My next “tunnel” experience left me crying in despair that I had been so foolish to think that such experiences meant anything other than that I was crazy.

In deep despair of having no meaningful existence whatsoever, I attempted suicide. Fortunately, I failed and subsequently set out to find meaning through my bipolar condition instead of trying to make it go away. At the time, and even today for most people, the idea is blasphemous to the paradigm that says it is impossible and one would be delusional to even try.

My fifties have been a time of great renewal. It is when my whole life started to make sense and everything came together. I wrote The Depression Advantage as an exploration of how others throughout history had gone through some of the same turmoils and achieved the goal I was seeking. I wrote chapters about the lives of saints who had experienced at least parts of my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pains and how they ultimately found that the goal they sought was actually within those experiences.

I was especially taken with the story of St. Teresa of Avila. Although she found her “oneness with God” through her experience of physical pain, I saw in her experience many insights that applied to my own battles with depression. For most of her life she assumed that she would not find her “oneness with God” unless she removed her physical pain, yet eventually found it in the pain itself.

Since I was searching for the same thing as St. Teresa through my depressive experiences, I found great meaning in her life. Once Teresa found her “oneness with God,” she tried to help others to achieve the same goal. She helped many people through her writings, but also found it hard to communicate her truth with those who could not fathom the apparent contradiction in saying pain could be blissful. One of the things she said in trying to explain it was, “The pain is still there. It bothers me so little now that I feel my soul is served by it.”

I was so moved by this statement that I found myself repeating it over and over again throughout the day. I found it so compelling that I continued repeating it no matter what I was outwardly doing. After two months of repeating Teresa’s quote I became very upset with her. I thought, “How can she say it bothered her so little when she was bedridden by the pain?” I now smile and think of her when people get upset with what I say.

Yet, motivated by my desire to figure out how she had found permanent ecstasy and why I had not, I kept repeating the phrase for many more months. In the meantime, I was experiencing the deepest depression I ever had. I was bedridden and in extreme pain: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Although I had the tools to make it go away and was in no danger of another suicide attempt, I allowed it to happen because I knew that the insight I was seeking was in my depression as it was in Teresa’s physical pain.

It finally dawned on me after about 10 months of repeating the quote and enduring the pain. When Teresa said, “It bothers me so little… ” she didn’t mean her body, but that part of her that I had touched in myself so long ago – her soul. In that moment I found the ecstasy that I had been seeking my entire life. This direct experience is completely different than the intellectual understanding that I had. It is real instead of imagined.

My life changed from that moment on. Like Teresa, I had been avoiding the very thing that would give me the ecstasy that I was looking for. Having found ecstasy in my depression, I realized that my failed attempts in my previous efforts were because I didn’t really understand what it truly meant to be in a state of bliss. I was mistaking the pleasurable feelings of highs for real equanimity which is beyond the likes and dislikes, pleasures and pains, or any of the dualities of life.

Now that I found ecstasy, I see it in every moment of my life no matter what the circumstance or state of mind. I prefer to call it equanimity instead of the other terms because that better describes it for me: All states are equally blissful and there is no need to change any of them to be in permanent equanimity. In equanimity I can see that depression is part of the bliss just as much as pleasure, happiness, and all other conditions. Equanimity is the essence of Yoga as described in the Bhagavad-Gita: “Be steadfast in yoga, devotee. Perform your duty without attachment, remaining equal to success or failure. Such equanimity of mind is called Yoga.” (Yogananda, Paramahansa, The Bhavagad Gita, translation, 2003 Self-Realization Fellowship, CA, 2:48)

Although I would never discount the power of meditation as I see what it did to prepare me for such a state, I realize now that many people pursue ecstasy thinking that it can only be found in the right conditions. My experience taught me that unless you can find it in all conditions you are deluding yourself into thinking that highs are the same thing as equanimity.

I would have never learned this critical lesson without the help of my extremely deep depressions. Nor would I have found it without the help of those who had already found equanimity in their own struggles.

The Swiss Cheese Theory of Life

The Swiss Cheese Theory of Life
Judith A. Belmont, MS, and Lora Shor, LSW
Premier Publishing & Media; 1st edition (October 21, 2011)
ISBN-10: 0982039891
ISBN-13: 978-0982039892
$16.75

Don’t get stuck in life’s holes!

The Swiss Cheese Theory of Life is a book about resiliency. Using Swiss Cheese as a metaphor for life itself, you will explore ways to get through the holes rather than get stuck in them. Swiss is not like any other cheese – and neither are you!

This self-help health and wellness book is sure to delight and enlighten – with a thick-sliced sense of humor. While it is whimsical in style, it deals with many serious and universal topics that affect our everyday lives. We distill important concepts from many sources, slicing them up into easily digestible chunks of information.

After all, Swiss is not like any other cheese and neither are you like anyone else! This wellness book is about thriving in the face of life’s adversities, overcoming challenges, developing stress resilience, and making effective and long lasting changes for a happier life. Important training concepts are easily related through a light-hearted holistic approach that will touch your mind, body and spirit. Our expertise as psychotherapists and wellness speakers has reached thousands of people throughout the country – and now we want to reach out to you! Couldn’t everyone benefit from Swiss Cheese Life resiliency training to help them move through life’s holes instead of getting stuck in them?

Take The Swiss Cheese Theory of Life Challenge!

  • Are you trying to make changes in your life, yet you find yourself digging deeper into a hole?
  • Do you know better but can t seem to get out from under your unhealthy patterns or habits?
  • Do you often have why does this happen to me thinking?
  • Are you looking for happiness in all the wrong places?
  • Are you ready to make healthy changes in your life … physically, emotionally, spiritually?

If you answered yes to any of these questions help is here!

Judith A. Belmont, MS, is a national speaker and corporate wellness trainer, with over 30 years of experience as a psychotherapist. From college teaching to working with Fortune 500 companies, Judy uses practical, action-oriented strategies to get people through life s obstacles. She is the author of two professional books, 86 Tips for the Therapeutic Toolbox and 103 Group Activities and TIPS.

Lora Shor, LSW, is a psychotherapist, work/life consultant, and national speaker. She has helped thousands learn and implement resiliency skills and transformation techniques for happier, healthier, balanced lifestyle. Lora is an international consultant to Fortune 500 companies, the federal government, and non-profits, and also maintains a private clinical practice in the Philadelphia area.

Life Over Cancer

Life Over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Treatment
by Keith I. Block, M.D.
Bantam, April 2009, 978-0-553801149

Dr. Keith Block is at the global vanguard of innovative cancer care. As medical director of the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment in Evanston, Illinois, he has treated thousands of patients who have lived long, full lives beyond their original prognoses. Now he has distilled almost thirty years of experience into the first book that gives patients a systematic, research-based plan for developing the physical and emotional vitality they need to meet the demands of treatment and recovery.

Based on a profound understanding of how body and mind can work together to defeat disease, this groundbreaking book offers:

  • Innovative approaches to conventional treatments, such as “chronotherapy”–chemotherapy timed to patients’ unique circadian rhythms for enhanced effectiveness and reduced toxicity
  • Dietary choices that make the biochemical environment hostile to cancer growth and recurrence, and strengthen the immune system’s ability to attack remaining cancer cells
  • Precise supplement protocols to tame treatment side effects, relieve disease-related symptoms, and modify processes like inflammation and glycemia that can fuel cancer if left untreated
  • A new paradigm for exercise and stress reduction that restores your strength, reduces anxiety and depression, and supports the body’s own ability to heal
  • A complete program for remission maintenance–a proactive plan to make sure the cancer never returns

Also included are “quick-start” maps to help you find the information you need right now and many case histories that will support and inspire you. Encouraging, compassionate, and authoritative, Life over Cancer is the guide patients everywhere have been waiting for.

For more information, visit LifeOverCancer.com. You can also become a Facebook Fan of Life Over Cancer at www.facebook.com/pages/Life-Over-Cancer/111871772167954.

Other Resources

Anticancer, A New Way of Life, New Edition  by David Servan-Schreiber MD PhD Hardcover, $17.79

The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen: Nourishing, Big-Flavor Recipes for Cancer Treatment and Recovery  by Rebecca Katz, Hardcover, $18.39

Integrative Oncology (Weil Integrative Medicine Library)  by Donald Abrams, Hardcover, $26.42

Beating Cancer with Nutrition, book with CD by Patrick Quillin, Paperback, $16.47

Discussion also continues at Psychlinks Forum.

The Available Parent

The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens
by Dr. John Duffy
Viva Editions; ISBN 978-1-57344-657-0

The process of transitioning from child to adult is sometimes as difficult for parents as it is for their children. In his new book, Dr. Duffy provides a framework for parents to navigate these tricky years with a minimum of anger and conflict.

“As the parent of a teenager your top priority – before anything else – is to stay in touch with your rapidly changing youngster. Staying in touch is the essence of what Dr. Duffy means by availability.” ~ Dr. Thomas W. Phelan, Forward

This book is written in a clear no-nonsense style using observations and examples from Dr. Duffy’s work with youth and their families. More than anything else, it is obvious that he understands the teenage “mind” and the psychological and social factors involved in changing children into adults.

Dr. Duffy aptly captures the vicious cycle:

Conventional wisdom dictates that teenagers are poor communicators, and that they often stop talking with parents altogether. In my experience, however, I’ve found that a parent’s anxiety about raising a teenager too often gets the better of him, such that he is less available to his teenager. I would argue that, more often than not, the teenager then responds to his parent’s unwillingness to listen to and communicate with him appropriately and effectively… In fact, teen after teen has expressed this sentiment to me over the years. Parents find themselves judging their teenagers, and wanting them to be somebody different than they are… Through the judgment and emotional baggage they themselves bring to the relationship, parents too often limit their ability to communicate with influence and enjoy the relationship with their child.

Teenagers are left feeling unheard and misunderstood, and parents are left feeling bewildered by the changes in their child and their sudden lack of effectiveness as parents. The parent has become unavailable, the teen responds in kind, and a negative and often destructive cycle of communication begins.

But he also describes in clear terms why the changes in your child are required in order for her to mature into a normal, fully functioning adult:

First and foremost, you need to know that developmentally your adolescent is, by nature, highly egocentric. Yes it is all about him! He is not yet expert at taking the perspective of someone else, including you.

There is a very important and simple reason for this. All children are born egocentric. The universe really does revolve around the child, even to the point where objects (including people) in that universe are not yet perceived as having independent existence. They are simply extensions of the infant child, there to serve her needs. As that child grows from infancy through childhood to adolescence and finally adulthood, she gradually acquires, first, the recognition that those other beings and objects have independent existence and that other people have their own needs and thoughts and feelings and reactions to the world around all of us. The ability to do this – to feel empathy, to see things through another person’s eyes, to sympathize, to feel remorse, to be able to predict the logical consequences of one’s own actions, and to inhibit one’s own impulses or delay gratification of those impulses – all of these capacities reside primarily in the frontal lobes of the brain. The frontal lobe is that last part of the brain to develop from an evolutionary perspective and the most underdeveloped part of the brain at birth. It continues to grow throughout childhood and adolescence, and even into the mid-twenties.

[The teenager’s] job is separation and individuation, developing a sense of himself in the context of relationships, and learning to cope with stress and manage his emotions. It vis here, during adolescence, that your teenager learns self-motivation, self-starting, self-control, and frustration tolerance. He will also explore the trial-and-error method of experimenting with new things, and truly creative thinking. He may try different looks, linguistic styles, music, and so on. While traversing this terrain, your teen may seem difficult, irrationally emotional, contradictory, opinionated, and angry. If you pay attention, you will find that he can also be brilliant, insightful, and empathic at the same time.

For parents, this is probably the most difficult part. It may appear as though your teen is rejecting everything you believe in and stand for. It may appear as if your teen is rejecting you. And in a sense, that is true – temporarily.

On some level, teenage minds actively work against taking your perspective into consideration. They have been working from the foundation of your perspective, your values, and your timetables their entire lives. During the course of adolescence, they begin to develop their own values, interests, styles, and perspectives. To do so, they often try on different ways of being. You have probably seen this in your child and perhaps written off these developmental steps as “phases’. The label is less important than the fact that your teen needs to go through them in order to find himself and to hear his own voice… the vast majority of the time, this is a normal and very important development.

This is a book I could have written myself, in that it echoes the advice I have given to many parents of teens over the years in my practice. But as one of my students once told me, “You snooze. You lose.”, and Dr. Duffy has beaten me to the finish line.

I highly recommend this book to parents and practitioners alike.

See also:

Clean, Green, and Lean

Clean, Green, and Lean: Get Rid of the Toxins That Make You Fat
By Walter Crinnion, Foreword by Dr. Peter J. D’Adamo
Published by John Wiley & Sons
March 2010; $25.95US/$30.95CAN; 978-0-470-40923-7

Preamble: I wish books like this one weren’t so over-hyped by the publishers and marketers; it makes them all look like something a door-to-door salesman or carny would be flogging. And sometimes, as in this case, all the hype hides some meat.

Dr. Crinnon is billed as a naturopath, which, to be honest, would normally be another reason for avoiding this book for me, since so much of what is called naturopathy seems to really be mislabeled quackery.

But the undeniable fact is that most people who lose weight will gain in back – and surprisingly quickly. If you are one of those who suffers the yo-yo of weight loss and weight gain, you may well find some helpful information and a few surprises in Clean, Green, and Lean – not to mention some great recipes (it’s okay – the tofu is optional).

From the publishers:

In this clear, easy-to-understand guide to getting slim, healthy, and toxin-free, naturopathic physician Dr. Walter Crinnion shows you how to clean up your diet, clean out your body, and rid your home of the toxins that surround you.

Clean, Green, and Lean shows you why conventional weight-loss programs often don’t deliver or can’t sustain the results you’re looking for and how the toxin-fat connection prevents you from losing weight no matter how little you eat or how much you exercise. You’ll learn how reducing your toxic burden can help you stay lean for life.

Could it be your house that’s making you fat? Dr. Crinnion helps you identify sources of toxic chemicals, allergens, and poisons in your home where you might least expect them. You’ll learn how to remove and dispose of them safely, keep new toxins out, and make your home as clean and green as it can be.

Clean, Green, and Lean contains healthy, delicious, clean, green recipes and two weeks of meal plans for lean breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. These nutritious and satisfying meals will keep your stomach full, your body toxin-free, and your body and mind working at peak efficiency.

An example:
Healthy Italian Wedding Soup 1
By Dr. Walter Crinnion, Clean, Green, and Lean
(Serves 4)

½ package lean ground turkey
4 Jennie-O Italian Turkey Sausage links, sliced
Spike seasoning to taste
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 package gluten-free pasta spirals
8 cups water
32 ounces organic vegetable broth
1 14½-ounce can organic tomatoes
3 cups organic frozen spinach
1 teaspoon onion powder

In a large sauté pan, brown the turkey. Season with the Spike, drain, and set aside. Place the sausage in a sauté pan, season with the Spike, and brown. Add the sea salt to a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Stir in the pasta and cook according to the package directions. Drain the pasta and set aside. In a large soup pot, heat the water and the broth, tomatoes, and spinach. Add the turkey, sausage, and onion powder, and stir until a low boil is attained. Reduce the heat simmer and stir in the pasta. Cover, simmer for about 30 minutes, and serve.

On balance, a book worth having a look at.

1 Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Clean, Green & Lean, by Walter Crinnion. Copyright © 2010 by Walter Crinnion

Stepfamily Sanity During The Holidays

Stepfamily Sanity this Holiday Season
By Wednesday Martin, Ph.D.,
Author of 
Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do

When you think of holidays, you probably think of family.

And that’s what makes holidays so tough for stepfamilies. At this time of year, couples in a remarriage with children might be feeling . . . imperfect. For example, they might be polarized — he misses his kids, while she hopes they won’t treat her like the maid when they show up. She wants to buy her 25-year old’s plane ticket to come for a holiday visit — he thinks she spoils her kids and young adults should pay their own way.

Even if they’re on the same page about their step/kids, both members of the couple likely find themselves facing plenty of misunderstanding from friends and family as visions of sugarplums dance in our collective heads. “His kids won’t be here for the holidays? How come?!” “I can’t believe they’re going to spend only Christmas Eve with you.” “You’re not doing holidays with his ex? How come? Isn’t that the best thing for the kids?”

In the face of all the pressure and misunderstanding, take heart. Here are ten simple tips for stepfamily sanity this holiday season.

1. Give up on “blending.” Stepfamilies come together in their own ways, and in their own time — experts say four to 12 years! Particularly at holiday time, stepkids of any age may feel their loyalty binds more acutely (“Dad’s remarried but mom’s not so I should spend the whole holiday with her”). And sometimes in spite of a stepparent’s best efforts, a stepchild may keep his or her distance, taking a “stand” at holiday time. Don’t expect your stepfamily to resemble an eggnog smoothie during the holidays and you’ll spare yourself and your marriage a lot of aggravation.

2. Let your stepfamily be what it is. One family I interviewed put up two trees every year, because it mattered that much to them all to honor their own traditions. Respecting those differences can help everyone come together in their own way.

3. Know that you and your spouse will probably argue. From deciding how much to spend on gifts for her kids, to reopening old wounds about how the stepkids behaved during holidays past, couples in a remarriage with children are under extraordinary pressure this season. Arguments aren’t signs of failure — they’re opportunities to communicate. Find communication formulas and tips that work for you in Stepmonster and other books for couples with stepchildren.

4. Keep it normal. Whether they’re five or 50, what kids want post divorce and remarriage is a sense of belonging. So skip the red carpet welcome and think “inclusive” and “normal.” Give mom or dad some time alone with his or her kids, and then do the things you do every day and every holiday, inviting the kids to join. Let older and adult stepkids help with holiday meal planning and prep, serving and clean-up. Little ones can make place cards or holiday art for guests. This helps them feel like family, not guests. And when they’re pitching in and happy, stepmom/stepdad won’t feel as depleted or de-centered by their visit.

5. Choose side by side activities. Puzzles, stringing popcorn, baking, and watching a holiday movie all let you spend time together without interacting “head on,” which experts like Patricia Papernow tell us can be more stressful for “steps.”

6. Know your limits. Don’t do or give in a way that will increase your resentment. If your stepkids habitually forget to bring anything for you, or have a history of not writing thank you notes, don’t go overboard with extravagant gifts and efforts. Let them be your guide to avoid martyr syndrome (“I do and I do for them!”) during (and after) the holidays.

7. Strategize ahead of time. Stepfamilies aren’t first families. There may be tensions, and that’s normal. Spouses might have to plan out activities and time alone ahead of time. “I think I’m going to need a break tomorrow. How about a long walk together first thing in the morning?” This is not a failure — just a constructive way of adapting.

8. Remember stepfamily members bond best one-on-one. All-together-now activities can activate stepkids’ anxieties about who’s an insider and who’s an outsider. Give parent and stepparent plenty of one-on-one time with kids and stepkids — and with each other. And don’t forget about yourselves as a couple. You need one-on-one time, too.

9. Get out of the house. For stepmothers especially, there can be extraordinary pressure to create that Norman Rockwell aura over the holidays. Before the pressure gets to be too much, get out to see friends and your own family. Take time to pamper, whether it’s a spa visit or a coffee with pals who understand and don’t judge. Getting out of your own home, away from your stepkids and even your spouse, isn’t a sign of failure. It’s a necessity, rejuvenating you and helping prevent stepparental burnout.

10. Let go of the guilt. Remember that even first families struggle with unrealistic expectations during the holidays. If things don’t go perfectly — if there are squabbles or hurt feelings — have faith that this is normal and won’t damage the kids or your marriage irreparably. Stepfamily members are bound to have differences and even blow-ups. By showing your stepkids that people can argue and then move on, you are modeling the kind of resilience that will serve them well for a lifetime. That might be the ultimate holiday gift.

©2009 Wednesday Martin, Ph.D. Used by permission. Wednesday Martin, Ph.D., is a social researcher and the author of Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do. She is a regular contributor to Psychology Today and blogs for the Huffington Post and on her own web site. She has appeared as a stepparenting expert on NPR, the BBC Newshour, Fox News, and NBC Weekend Today, and was a regular contributor to the New York  Post‘s parenting page. Stepmonster is a finalist in the parenting category of this year’s “Books for a Better Life” award. A stepmother for nearly a decade, Wednesday lives in New York City with her husband and two sons. Her stepdaughters are young adults.