Sunday, August 16, 2015

Two years later…

I stopped posting to this blog two years ago for a few reasons. I'd like to share them here for posterity.

For starters, I realized that my motivations for making an outward show of practicing Zen meditation stemmed partially from self-righteousness, partially from a desire to be a part of the fad that is yuppie Buddhism/yoga/new age pseudo-enlightened BS, and partially from a desire to make people think that I'm cool and laid-back. I also realized that my inward motivations for practicing Zen meditation stemmed from a belief that ultimate truth is simple enough to grasp with the human mind, provided that the mind in question is sufficiently special and intelligent, and of course I loved to believe that I had that gift. But eventually it dawned on me that things are too subtle and complex to ever truly understand beyond a relatively superficial level, and the journeys we make in our lives are so varied, that there was really nothing meaningful to say to anyone else about my particular thoughts on life, and really the best thing for me to do would be to shut up and put my efforts into applying what I've learned to my own life, so that I can spend more time doing what seemed to be the right thing and less time just talking and thinking about ideals.

The other thing that happened was that I quit doing drugs. I feel uncomfortable sharing this, but it's the truth and I want to be as honest as possible. At various points in the writing of this blog, I smoked a decent amount of marijuana, and this led me to have all sorts of "great realizations" that, in retrospect, didn't really make sense. One of the problems with that drug is that it makes it possible to get very fixated on an idea, and it creates an artificial feeling of absolute certainty about that idea. Embarrassingly, this blog is now full of those ideas, especially in the last several posts, when I was spiraling into depression and smoking more and more. I am tempted to go through the whole site and cut out the really bad posts, but I think I'll leave them so that I will always have a reminder of why to not smoke weed. (I tagged some of the posts that are half-baked so you can be forewarned.)

In addition to making me feel artificially certain (and intellectually arrogant), the marijuana use created a bipolar pattern of highs and lows. In the mania of the highs, I would get very ambitious, optimistic, and self-righteous, and this was often when I would write a blog post. For that, I apologize. During the lows, I would get very depressed, even more depressed than usual, and this depression got worse over time. It persisted even after I quit smoking weed. I initially tried to deal with it via meditation, since I'd been using meditation to deal with depression from the very beginning of my experience with Zen. When it continued to get worse, though, and I felt myself getting closer and closer to suicide, I went to see a therapist, which was somewhat helpful at addressing some of the thoughts that were getting me down. However, after a few months, I was once again beginning to feel overwhelmed with depression, and this time there was no rhyme or reason to it. I was just very, very sad, and there was no cause that could be addressed.

I grew up in a family that was somewhat distrustful of doctors, and so I had never considered using a medication like an SSRI to deal with anxiety or depression, even though I'd been having panic attacks since the fourth grade and had failed to hold a steady job throughout my 20s because my life was frequently disrupted by depression and a lack of motivation in the face of what seem to be a purposeless existence. But finally I reached the point where I decided that taking an "evil pharmaceutical" would be preferable to killing myself, so I went to see a doctor and began taking an SSRI antidepressant. It had a profoundly beneficial effect, relieving the depression without noticeably affecting my life in other ways. In retrospect, it was retarded for me to avoid a carefully thought-out, targeted, pharmacologic therapy and instead self medicate with habit-forming recreational drugs like marijuana and alcohol, taken in much higher doses, with significantly greater toxicities and side effects, including a significant disruption of my daily life and worsening of the depression.

What I learned from this experience is that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for depression. To doctors, I would say that you may need to include techniques like meditation and talk therapy because pills alone won't stop the underlying destructive thought processes. To the medical skeptics, I would say that you may need to include pharmaceuticals because dealing with the thoughts in real time may not be enough to fill in the chemical ruts in the brain that have been created by years of destructive thinking (and substance abuse).

For the future, I plan to continue with the SSRI long enough to break old habits and let my brain permanently adapt to a more productive way of thinking. As for meditation, I still bust out the old cushion on those rare occasions when something really agitates me. Despite all my cynicism about Zen meditation that I expressed above, its ideas and techniques continue to have a profound effect on my life. I find that there is no better way to handle a racing, agitated mind than to sit still and stare at a wall for a while. Fortunately, that doesn't happen too often. I'm generally happy with what I'm doing and looking forward to a career in healthcare. Moving forward, I may use this blog as more of a diary for stuff that I want to write and share but not necessarily shove down people's throats on Facebook. I think that my days of proselytizing are done, at least for now, but I still want to keep posting thoughts here in this obscure but public little corner of the Internet, maybe just to help me practice being more open. I also want to practice being more honest; most of the old posts on this blog were written with the kind of phony, chipper tone that is characteristic of new age BS. I was making an effort to hide how shitty I felt, and I was also trying my hand at writing fluffy new-age drivel. Moving forward, I would really like to express myself as openly and honestly as possible when writing so that I can actually write something of personal value.

1 comment:

  1. Update: After about a year and half, I went off of the SSRI. It's been 3 months now. I feel as good as I did when taking the SSRI. My interpretation of this experience is that I got into a very deep mental rut, full of maladaptive thoughts and attitudes, and smoking weed made it worse and altered my brain chemistry in an even more maladaptive way. Or, maybe smoking weed just contributed to an already overwhelming feeling of shame that I had. The last year or so has given me a chance to change my mental habits for the better, which is probably why I haven't relapsed after stopping the drug. I've also been staying busy and productive, which keeps my mind out of trouble. Whether I feel compelled to start again during the stress of the next school year is TBD.