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.

Conference: Flourishing Through Meaning and Purpose

A summer conference entitled The Positive Psychology of Flourishing Through Meaning and Purpose will be held July 26-29, 2012, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

This is being hosted by the International Network on Personal Meaning.

Who should attend?
Students, scholars, mental health professionals and anyone who values Viktor Frankl, positive psychology, resilience, and eudaimonia is invited to submit a brief summary of their work for possible presentation at the conference. Or, delegates may attend as an interested member of the listening audience.

A selected sample of keynote speakers include Richard Ryan, Chris Peterson, Jordan Peterson, Laura King, Todd Kashdan, Alan Waterman, and many other leading scholars such as humanistic psychologist Stanley Krippner as well as logotherapy practitioners such as Emmy Van Deurzen from the UK. and Paul Wong from Toronto. Viktor Frankl’s grandson, a filmmaker, will fly in from Vienna to talk and show his feature documentary film entitled, Viktor and I.

The deadline for the call for papers is June 15 for non students and June 1st for students. For full conference information, visit http://www.meaning.ca/conference

Traumatic Memories

Traumatic memories in the brain are like an overstuffed closet. You slam the door and try to keep them all locked tightly inside but every time anything jars the door open a crack they start to spill out. In therapy, you are opening those doors a bit at a time. Then you deal with what falls out first but there’s still the rest of the pile behind those ones. So you open the door a bit more and more spills out, and so on.

It is difficult work but the more you keep pushing forward the closer you get to being able to open the door all the way to an uncluttered closet.

Curse of Tourette’s becomes a blessing in disguise

Horseheads, N.Y.  Teen Finds New Purpose Through Illness
‘Curse’ of Tourette’s becomes a blessing in disguise
August 7, 2011

HORSEHEADS, New York — Seventeen-year-old Cory Sweet wanted to die five years ago.

His  school report card, once full of the high 90s that made him proud, was in the tank. And his body would not stop shaking. It started in his head and neck, then moved to his arms and hands, where it remains today.

Three years passed before the cause — Tourette’s syndrome — was found. Three years of painful involuntary arm and hand movements. Experts said the cause was Cory — he wanted attention. He was picked on by classmates who couldn’t understand such behavior from a normally quiet and intelligent teen. His mom and dad, Debbie and Arnie Brown, took him to medical centers as far away as Rochester and Buffalo in futile searches for a diagnosis.

Cory sank into a depression that ruined his grades and triggered thoughts of suicide.

There is a happy ending, thanks to Cory’s grit, his loving family, a letter of apology from his classmates and an act of God. He graduated from Horseheads High School with high honors in June. Soon he’s off to college and a career fueled by lessons learned from his ordeal.

Tourette’s is described as “recurrent involuntary tics involving body movement.” To Cory it was a curse.

He reached his lowest point in an eighth-grade report card. He had failed English — unheard of before the shaking began. Convinced his only choice was suicide, he made a plan before his parents arrived to take him home. “I knew he was struggling, but I didn’t realize how bad it was,” his dad said. Cory fell apart on the way home. “I broke down and told them everything,” he said.

He voluntarily spent five days in a mental health program at Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca. Finally, a diagnosis was made by Dr. Daniel E. Britton, a Corning neurologist. Debbie calls Britton her son’s “lifesaver medically.” Said Cory: “The best thing he did was believe in me. He was the first doctor who told me I was not doing it for attention.”

Cory’s mental recovery began in ninth grade during family visits to His Tabernacle Family Church in Horseheads, where he said God got his attention. The depression left him. “I accepted Jesus as my savior, and I felt joy,” he said. Said his father, “It was overwhelming to see the changes in him.”

Cory found relief from Tourette’s in the church sign-language ministry. “They signed the praise and worship songs,” he said. “I imitated them and found it helped with my tics. I have control over my arms and hands.”

Today he is leader of the sign-language ministry. His report card returned to the 90s and he was inducted into the National Honor Society, the National Technical Honor Society and Phi Beta Kappa. Final high school average: 95.

Cory joined the Health Occupation Students of America and competed in its New York state medical math and prepared speaking contests this year.

Read more…

The story doesn’t end there, though. Recently, on tyhe Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada’s Forum Community, Cory’s mother joined to update us:

Thank you for sharing my son’s story with everyone. He said if it even helps one individual then it was well worth telling his story. Cory is doing great in college and enjoys it very much. He is not limiting himself. The nice thing about college is everyone tries to be different. He is trying many new things like football, rock climbing and other activities. I know he has struggles and I’m sure when he gets stressed or homesick, his tics become much worse, but he is at home at this college learning interpreting, because it is a way of life for him. He is human and does have his days, but then realizes how bad it was at one time. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything or limit you! Find your calling and embrace it! Never give up! God Bless!

And she added the following:

Below is a… video of an example of a prepared speaking presentation that he took 2nd Place in at the HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) this past Spring.

Cory was also denied the extra time from the College Board for his college testing, but he adjusted. He knew he had overcome much worse & this was just another obstacle he would have to overcome and not let it overcome him.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MV7eMNUx84Y[/youtube]

The discussion continues here

 

DBT Self-Help App for the iPhone or iPod

DBT Self-Help App for the iPhone or iPod

DBT Self-help is a tool that helps you manage overwhelming emotions, break destructive impulsive behaviors, navigate relationships and cultivate mindfulness. It contains skill descriptions complete with rationale and practice tips that will enable you to develop and practice the needed skills.

The skills are based upon the principles and skills taught in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skill classes.

The app can be used in conjunction with psychotherapy or as a standalone self-help intervention as the skills can be implemented into many situations and settings.

Are you experiencing difficulties with feelings and emotion-driven impulsive behaviors? Are you having difficulties maintaining positive relations, ending destructive relationships or safeguarding your self-respect while reaching your interpersonal goals?

Intrusive distressing thoughts and overwhelming emotions are at the heart of many problems. The skills of the DBT Self-help app can help you to manage and to find more effective ways to deal with your issues.

If you are in DBT therapy the DBT Self-help app can enhance skill acquisition and skill generalization, and you will find the Crisis skill list function extremely useful. The app can help you maintain your efficiency with the skills once therapy is over and you move on to build your life.

If you are a DBT therapist the app will be a useful resource to have easy access to skills for coaching and interventions. The feature of skill lists can be used to keep track of individual clients crisis skills to make telephone coaching more effective.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy belongs to the third wave of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy combining learning and cognitive theory with the wisdom and effectiveness of mindfulness – dialectics to balance change and acceptance. DBT have been shown to be efficient in the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder, Binge eating and Substance Abus Disorder – diagnosises with high amount of overwhelming emotions and impulsive behaviors.

The app will help you to:

  • Gain greater understanding on how thoughts, emotions, physiology and behaviors affect eachother;
  • Build and manage healthy balanced relationsships and develop tools of communication;
  • Cope with overwhelming emotions without acting impulsively;
  • Use effective skills to identify, manage and regulate feelings and emotions;
  • Change behavior to increase the positive emotions in your life;
  • Increase your level of mindfulness and cultivate your awareness and concentration.

Features:

  • Intuitive navigation with history and help function, notes, news & updates;
  • The option to tailor and modify a personalized crisis list of skills for rapid access in difficult and critical situations;
  • Create your own skills lists of personally selected skills;
  • Pregenerated skills lists for managing anger, shame, sadness, and fear;
  • Excercises for practicing and registring skills, with the options to save and send the data by mail;
  • The app supports the following languages:
    • English
    • Swedish

The DBT Self-help app is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Cost = $8.99

Free app for Crohn’s and Colitis patients

Free app for Crohn’s, colitis patients
CBC News
July 25, 2011

Toronto’s SickKids creates myIBD to monitor bowel diseases


The myIBD phone app helps patients track their food, stool and bathroom breaks.

Teens and parents dealing with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis now have a mobile app that will help them manage their disease and seek help sooner if something is wrong courtesy of staff at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

The free app helps patients track their pain, food, stool and frequency of bathroom visits on their mobile devices. It also provides access to educational tools and the latest information on managing their symptoms.

More than 200,000 Canadians suffer from Crohn’s or colitis, known as IBDs or inflammatory bowel diseases, which can be debilitating.

“Some days I’d go to the washroom up to 20 times,” says 18-year-old Calandra Carkner, who has Crohn’s. “I was exhausted, in constant pain and afraid.”

Staff at SickKids say they noticed that patients and families of young children with IBD were missing “red flags” when it came to symptoms and flare-ups. That led Karen Frost and her colleagues, Dr. Johan Van Limbergen and Meaghan Wright of the Department of Gastroenterology at the hospital to create the app.

“MyIBD offers a visual tracking system so patients can monitor their disease activity and seek help when necessary – sooner, rather than later,” said Frost in a statement released Monday.

Calandra says the app helps her understand the triggers such as stress or a particular food and gives her some control and lets her focus on her life.

SickKids has arranged for myIBD to be available in the APP Store for iPhones, iPad and the iPod touch and will be available to Android devices later this year.

Discussion continues at http://forum.psychlinks.ca/computers-technology-and-the-internet/27088-free-app-for-crohns-and-colitis-patients.html