Welcome to my Blog

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

All I Want to do is Disappear



Dear Y________
I'm editing my depression book for Kindle and thought I'd email a few things that might be helpful. Here's one story about Dr. Viktor Frankl who said that his experience of being in a Nazi concentration camp, although horrible, was also the very thing that made him understand life in a way that his regular life as a practicing psychiatrist never could have done. He insists that when life seems unbearable, it is that very time that we have our greatest opportunity. That sometimes we can understand that when we can expect nothing from life, that life is expecting something from us.

When we talk about honoring the major commitments of our lives, shouldn't we include the commitment to our incarnation as a human being? It is not our body that is languishing for lack of food; it is our personhood that is languishing because we're not doing the work which is supposed to nourish it.

And, until we do that work, our spirit, self or soul--whichever we call it--  is going to be giving us holy hell. And we're going to hurt. And we can carry this hurt, sadness, depression, and anxious worry around to different doctors and therapists begging them to "do something." And the best that they will be able to do for us is to write long lists of our symptoms which they will keep in a big book on their desks. Then they will try to cure us of the name they have given to the list of our symptoms and we will feel comforted because they know what page our pain is on.

Oh, they can drug us into oblivion too, but they can't really help us, thank goodness! Because in our ignorance, we are asking to be cured of ourselves, rather than doing the life's work we need in order to become ourselves. And it is only our problems and our pain that can accomplish this by forcing us to do that work. Daniel DeFoe (1660-1731)  in Robinson Crusoe echoes this idea: " It is impossible to make mankind wise but at their own expense, and their experience seems to be always of most use to them when it is dearest bought."

Life itself will select our battlefields for us. For Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist captured by the Nazis, it was a concentration camp at Auschwitz. We are not forced to make a stand. Dr. Frankl could have given up, turned his head to the wall and died, as many prisoners did. But he lived to write about his experiences in his bestselling book, Man's Search for Meaning.

Dr. Frankl was thrown naked, bruised, bleeding, and shivering into a small, cold room so crowded with other naked men that there was not even space to sit down. His head was shaved completely bald. The hair on his arms, legs and the rest of his body was brutally scraped off as well. Dr. Frankl relates that the guards left him the only thing that was impossible for them to take away from him-his naked skin and, as he would learn from this experience over the next few years, his moral freedom to make choices about what to think, and what to do next.

Instead of any lingering resentment and blame as a result of his camp experiences, Dr. Frankl insists that it was this very suffering that taught him "to the bone" the most important lesson of his life. Dr. Frankl learned that he, that any human being is more than just a biological and psychological mind and body, more than an accidental accumulation of reactions to his body, and to the events in his life; that he is never without some choice of his own.

Dr. Frankl believed that he survived because he had meaning in his life, he had an overriding desire to write a book. He noticed, also, that others who chose to survive in the camps felt responsible for someone else who therefore gave their own lives meaning. Frankl was influenced in this by his study of  German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) who said that a man can always survive if he can find meaning in life; that if he has a why, he can survive almost any how.

 I don't agree with Nietzche's conclusion, though Dr. Frankl's description of his camp experience corroborates for me the idea that a human being is not just a physical and psychological system of techniques which need a particular structure in order to find meaning.  But I would take that further and say that a human being is meaning itself.

Choice is what gives us meaning and, since we are never without the one, we can never be bereft of the other. What we do is to deny that we have choice and then, of course, meaning disappears immediately. It is rather like killing one's own parents and then bewailing the fact that one is an orphan. I say that since we always have a how, we do not need a why. Again, according to ancient wisdom, "A result cannot have a purpose of its own." The necessity to search for meaning would make us the result of what we found.

Choice means that in the face of fear, courage can keep us from being forced away from our free choice of what to do or what to think next. In the face of temptation, integrity can keep us from being seduced away from our free choice of what to do and what to think next. Failure to make use of courage and integrity one moment does not limit their availability to us in the next moment, anymore than our failure to look at the sky would cause it to disappear. No matter how we have messed up our lives, our inner choice remains, and awaits us absolutely unchanged, undamaged, and imminently accessible to our will to choose it. "Achilles absent is Achilles still."

(In Homer's Iliad Hector slew Petroclus who was wearing Achilles' armor. Achilles had new armor made and slew Hector to avenge his friend Petroclus, saying to Hector that he should have remembered the strength and loyalty that Achilles bore his friend. Achilles told Hector that he should have feared Achilles, seeing the symbol of his protection in the form of his own shield on Petroclus, despite the fact that Achilles was not present, at that particular moment, in battle: "Achilles absent was Achilles still.")

Our choice, unused, is our choice still. This means that no one can predict or need despair what he or someone else may ultimately become. Dr. Frankl learned that one of the most sadistic of his Nazi guards ended up in a Russian prison after the war. There he performed such kindnesses and acts of personal sacrifice that he was universally loved and considered almost a saint by his fellow inmates  (many of them innocent political prisoners captured by the Communists) before he finally died of cancer.

Given the same exact horrific circumstances of a concentration camp, one manwill respond by ingratiating himself with his captors and spying on his fellow prisoners. Another man will decide to share his last crust of bread with a dying stranger. In his book, Dr. Frankl cited many examples from his camp experience of the redeeming and restorative power of inner choice, like the young woman prisoner he spoke to shortly before she died. She was cheerful in spite of knowing that she only had a few days to live and told him that "she was grateful that fate had hit her so hard."

She said she had led a privileged life before being brought to the concentration camp and had not taken spiritual ideas seriously. Dr. Frankl was at first alarmed when the young woman remarked that she often spoke to the tree outside her window, which she described as her only friend in her loneliness, and said that the tree spoke to her.

At first Dr. Frankl was afraid that she might be delusional, and having hallucinations; but when she told him what the tree said, he changed his mind and thought it was, instead, a profound thing, "like a poem." Through the small window next to her bed, the only thing the young woman could see was a single branch of a chestnut tree where there were just two blossoms.And what did the tree say to her? "I am here. I am here. I am life, eternal life."

Dr. Frankl lost his wife and all the rest of his family to the Nazis. Rather than suffer the depression common to people who experience such personal loss, he learned to exercise authority over himself rather than trying to control his environment.

He had a different point of view, a different paradigm from his camp mates.He watched men go crazy trying to decide which was the "right" line to get in when they were told to form two lines.  Everybody knew that one line would go to the work camp, and one line would go to the crematorium.Everybody also knew that there was no way to tell which was which.  Even those who chose on the basis of "clues" or "inside information" often"sealed their fate" instead of saving their lives.

Dr. Frankl learned to refuse to become this kind of neurotic plaything of circumstance. The wrong line, of course, would mean his immediate death.The lesson he learned was that when all else fails, there still remains the dignity of accepting reality. Since there was no rational way to choose theline which would save his life, Dr. Frankl chose to treat the lines within difference rather than fear. He learned to get in a line based on some personal choice of his own--seeing a friend, or wishing to stand in the sun.Although he could not be responsible for the outcome of his action, Dr.Frankl could make sure that his action was in accord with his chosen principles; his action, therefore, coming not from fear but from his essential okayness.

There was little food and little rest in the camps.  It was common to be irritable and depressed.  Dr. Frankl could see that giving in to hisphysical condition (adapting to his emotions) was not as inevitable as one might at first think. He experimented with himself.  He learned that he could despair, or he could make a small joke. He could choose to be angry,or he could choose to help somebody. Dr. Frankl saw that he was never leftwithout some freedom of choice either of action or attitude.  He saw that although he could not be responsible for the circumstances of his imprisonment, or the outcome of his action, he could learn to be responsible  for his behavior and attitude in the face of those circumstances and despite those outcomes.


Dear AB,

Thank you very much for all your comments and citings from many books and stories.  I really do appreciate it.  Frankly I feel a bit overwhelmed and instead of being inspired, I feel my weakness that I cannot be strong and face adversity like Dr Frankl.   I am so depressed and depleted that I do not know what to do. I feel I've lost the will to live and face another day.   I don't think I have an inch in me to push myself through work or to show up at work to take care of things in a responsible manner.  All I want to do is disappear. 

Dear Y_____

Then go and see your doctor. You will be able to do that. A. B.

Dear A. B.

My doctor is really useless - he will just want to medicate me more.

Dear Y______

Yes, but if you are anything like me, you will notice that even if you can't get out of bed or up  from where you are lying in agony on the floor to do anything else, you can usually make it to the doctor. At least he is someone to talk to. Even if he doesn't do you any good, try and remain conscious while you talk to him. Ask him some interesting questions. See who he is as a human being. A. B. Curtiss-----

Dear A. B.

Maybe I'm really sick, but if we are in so much pain and suffering, why can't we have the option to end our lives.  I think of my family and the pain it will cause them, and I know its so selfish, but I keep thinking  that is the only way to stop my pain and suffering.  I cannot be strong  like you and the others...Y___________

Dear Y__________

Of course you can be whatever you want to be. Why do you think you are so different from the rest of your family? Of course you would not put them through the pain of your killing yourself. You are too good a person to do that. A. B.

Dear AB,

Thank you very much your reply.  Today I'm a bit stronger and re-finding the will and strength to work on the depression, and that death is not an option.  The past few days, I was medicating myself with anti-anxieties to  ease and erase the pain, staying in bed, which I realize only furthers the depression and the takes away the will to be proactive.  That's one reason I don't want to see my doctor because that is the only solution he has for me. It's a re-commitment I must do, though I cringe at the thought of work  on Monday and feeling that panic, anxiety and helplessness.  Would you have any advice, as brainswitching is just not working.
 
Best regards,  Y_____________

Dear Y_________

Brainswitching exercises work to get you off the track of depression, to interrupt the steady concentration on depression, but then you must go forward into some productive activity where you think about what you are doing. When panicky, helpless, and anxious thoughts occur, acknowledge them first, and then move away quickly from them to thoughts about what you are doing. Keep concentrating on what you are doing and continue to acknowledge but turn away from downer thoughts whenever they arise. Say to yourself, okay, I am fearful, anxious, however I can move beyond that to do my duty and carry on my work. Nothing can prevent me from thinking a positive thought. No depression or fear is powerful enough to keep me from thinking a positive thought if I wish to think one.

Just keep on in that vein, over and over, rededicating yourself every moment to keeping your brain on the right track and derailing the downer thoughts whenever they appear. You are stronger than your own thoughts because you can think any thought you want and no thought can think itself if you turn away from it and choose to think other thought.  Remember also, that you have great powers of concentration. You just need to switch from concentrating on your depression to concentrating on your work. It is your choice what you want to concentrate on.You just have to get used to making that choice. A. B. Curtiss

5 comments:

Ginger said...

Y, I'm sorry that you're going through so much agony. A.B. as always, is offering a lot of helpful guidance. I can't offer you much of that, but I wonder if I could ask you a few questions?

Do you think you need to "shake things up" a bit...maybe try something new on for size?

Your doc is useless, how about seeing another doc? Surely there are others in your community. If they all seem to be medication oriented, how about trying to talk to a spiritual leader of some sort? You don't necessarily have to be religious to seek out spiritual support.

Jobs are not a dime a dozen, but have you thought about investigating what other work might be out there that you would find rewarding? A change of pace in your career may be just what you need.

Have you thought about the following?:
What do you really want? Who do you really want to be? What do you feel is missing from your life?
What do you perceive to be your major life problem that keeps you down?

Don't feel as if you must answer me or write back at all. I just thought these questions may offer some food for thought.

Finally, one more question.

Who would you be if you weren't depressed?

BLUEYEDANE said...

I went and watched a movie recently and was surprised to get this little tidbit of wisdom. It's literally one of the best things you can learn to do for yourself. To preface this quote you probably need to know that the woman who is being spoken to has just left her busy harried life in New York to go to India to work and meditate at an ashram. She is in a lot of pain. She's trying to find herself and some peace and understanding in her life. The quote is from a man who became her mentor- "You're going to have to learn to select your thoughts the same way you select your clothes every day. Now that's a power that you can cultivate. You want to come here and you want to control your life so bad work on the mind, and I don't think you should be trying to control a thing because if you can't master your thoughts you are in trouble forever."

The best thing is that like Viktor Frankl and A.B. Curtiss say, you have a choice. As small and as interstitial as it may seem that choice is there. That one choice to think a thought like " I'm really doing well because I'm breathing and if I'm breathing there is more right with me then there is wrong with me." or maybe a quote from Depression is a choice like, " Enlightenment is the realization that there really is no problem." Maybe these thoughts are to complex maybe just a green frog will do. either way find those thoughts and utilize them because the truth is despair really doesn't work. Like A.B. Curtiss's friend said "I tried despair and it doesn't work"

BTW I'm a fellow traveler. Depression/anxiety hurts so bad sometimes I want to scream, at those moments I try to realize that I am literally one thought away from living the life I want to live and I try to institute that thought or any thought I can that will turn me that 180 degrees in the opposite direction to build a different neural pathway so that I don't keep walking into the holes I make for myself. Hope I wasn't to preachy.

BLUEYEDANE said...

I went and watched a movie recently and was surprised to get this little tidbit of wisdom. It's literally one of the best things you can learn to do for yourself. To preface this quote you probably need to know that the woman who is being spoken to has just left her busy harried life in New York to go to India to work and meditate at an ashram. She is in a lot of pain. She's trying to find herself and some peace and understanding in her life. The quote is from a man who became her mentor- "You're going to have to learn to select your thoughts the same way you select your clothes every day. Now that's a power that you can cultivate. You want to come here and you want to control your life so bad work on the mind, and I don't think you should be trying to control a thing because if you can't master your thoughts you are in trouble forever."

The best thing is that like Viktor Frankl and A.B. Curtiss say, you have a choice. As small and as interstitial as it may seem that choice is there. That one choice to think a thought like " I'm really doing well because I'm breathing and if I'm breathing there is more right with me then there is wrong with me." or maybe a quote from Depression is a choice like, " Enlightenment is the realization that there really is no problem." Maybe these thoughts are to complex maybe just a green frog will do. either way find those thoughts and utilize them because the truth is despair really doesn't work. Like A.B. Curtiss's friend said "I tried despair and it doesn't work"

BTW I'm a fellow traveler. Depression/anxiety hurts so bad sometimes I want to scream, at those moments I try to realize that I am literally one thought away from living the life I want to live and I try to institute that thought or any thought I can that will turn me that 180 degrees in the opposite direction to build a different neural pathway so that I don't keep walking into the holes I make for myself. Hope I wasn't to preachy.

BLUEYEDANE said...

I went and watched a movie recently and was surprised to get this little tidbit of wisdom. It's literally one of the best things you can learn to do for yourself. To preface this quote you probably need to know that the woman who is being spoken to has just left her busy harried life in New York to go to India to work and meditate at an ashram. She is in a lot of pain. She's trying to find herself and some peace and understanding in her life. The quote is from a man who became her mentor- "You're going to have to learn to select your thoughts the same way you select your clothes every day. Now that's a power that you can cultivate. You want to come here and you want to control your life so bad work on the mind, and I don't think you should be trying to control a thing because if you can't master your thoughts you are in trouble forever."

The best thing is that like Viktor Frankl and A.B. Curtiss say, you have a choice. As small and as interstitial as it may seem that choice is there. That one choice to think a thought like " I'm really doing well because I'm breathing and if I'm breathing there is more right with me then there is wrong with me." or maybe a quote from Depression is a choice like, " Enlightenment is the realization that there really is no problem." Maybe these thoughts are to complex maybe just a green frog will do. either way find those thoughts and utilize them because the truth is despair really doesn't work. Like A.B. Curtiss's friend said "I tried despair and it doesn't work"

Anonymous said...

Dear Ginger and Blueyedane,

Thank you very much for your comments, encouragements and insights. I for sure will ponder upon what you have both mentioned and prevail and to cultivate to master the choice of my thoughts. There is a little time lag with the correspondences AB puts up, I'm doing a little better now using "goody goody". I really appreciate your time to take to comment. Best wishes to both and all of you. Very sincerely, Y.