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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I Just Learned my Relative has Been on Anti-depressants for 15-20 Years

Ms. Curtiss,

I recently became close to my one of my relatives, and found out that she has been on antidepressants for some 15-20 years.  I feel taken aback, and slightly betrayed (is that the right word) like I haven't grown to know the real her, rather the medicated her.

I know you have these two great books and was wondering what is a tactful way of incorporating your thinking into our lives?  I don't want to appear insensitive or judgmental, but there are people who are changing their lives and becoming medication-free because of your books.  Are there implications with coming off of these types of meds after these years?

Thank you.


Dear TT

In a way, there is no necessity to be tactful about suggesting that people use my methods. You can use them whether you are on anti-depressants or not. There is no downside risk to learning how to think on purpose rather than just letting your thinking wander into back and forth into depression or anxiety. My books teach you how your brain works, how depression, anxiety and stress can be alleviated by cognitive techniques such as brainswitching out of the subcortex (the part of the brain where depression and emotional pain is produced) to the neocortex (which is the part of the brain that never contains depression.)  

Cognitive behavior techniques such as thought-jamming are very helpful even if you are on anti-depressants. You will be learning coping mechanisms that make you less vulnerable to depressive episodes and will be relying less on anti-depressants to feel better. But it's not a case of either/or. The more tools you have in your pro-active kit bag, the better.

I don't know the effects of each drug but if you want to come off your medication you should do it under the care of a medial doctor. All these drugs have a chemical effect on the brain which may dump you into anxiety or depression if you quit cold turkey. . Many people do just stop taking them without undue distress. However better to be safe than sorry. A. B. Curtiss

Monday, January 30, 2012

Getting Lost in What we Want, we Forget to Be Who We Are

As Moby Dick’s Ishmael said, “in all cases man must eventually lower, or at least shift, his conceit of attainable felicity; not placing it anywhere in the intellect or the fancy; but in the wife, the heart, the bed, the table, the saddle, the fire-side, the country." Who we are is really what we strive to do and be in our daily life. Who we are does not reside in our title, or our material, social, or public success.
Mostly what we want in life has more to do with roles than goals. Think about it. We want success in business, to get to be a CEO or vice-president of the widget factory we work for. We want to be a married woman. We want to be a mother. We want to be a rich dad, not a poor dad, a college graduate not a drop-out. There’s nothing wrong with wanting these things except to the extent that we are skewed away from who we are in favor of what we want. There is a danger in wanting to be seen as popular by our friends, rather than wanting to be just seen by our friends.
When we identify ourselves with roles instead of goals, we end up labeling ourselves as successes or failures. We see ourselves as commodities that must be protected against loss of value, instead of understanding that we are evolving beings who must continue to risk ourselves and fail in order to learn.
Roles are interchangeable; people are not. We are more solid than our roles, which are only important to the extent that we make use of them. Roles must be constantly nourished by our energy since they have none of their own. The Queen must service the crown with honoring it in the same way that victims must service their perpetrators with wanting something from them.
If we didn’t want anything we couldn’t possibly be a victim. We are all really victims of what we want, which is how most of us become victims of happiness. And we transfer that onto to other people and think we are victims of them. We get to thinking “they owe us” what we need. Now we can be totally frustrated because we have no power to make them give us what we think they owe us.
We have no power to get other people to do what we want. Ultimately we have  only the power to take care of ourselves. We can look at chronic adverse situations as projects instead of insults, and decide in advance what a reasonable response on our part would be: if they do “x”, then I am going to do “y”.
I can remember how difficult it was for me, at first, controlled by my primal mind feelings and frozen in depression the way I was, to withdraw my attention from what my husband was “doing to me” and say to myself: “Okay. In this adverse situation, what can I do to take care of myself?”

I had no idea that the main reason taking care of myself had always been so difficult was that I simply never got around to thinking about it. Complaining about my husband was so easy and natural that I never could tear myself away from it. Committing the above italicized sentence to memory and “tagging” by learned association to the feeling of helplessness as a reminder (so that the sentence would come to mind whenever a feeling of victimhood came over me) is one of my first triumphs of self-understanding and self-responsibility.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hating Your Negative Thoughts is Not Being Positive

The bad news is that our mind is so complex and tricky we have to be on our toes or we outsmart ourselves every time. There is nothing worse than a negative thought. It sends your whole mental and physical self in the wrong direction. But we often don't recognize when we are in a negative mode of thinking. It's not easy but try this.

When you are not feeling great, you are probably going down a negative path. At any point in the day you can decide to be objective rather than subjective. That is, notice the world around you. The texture of bricks on the sidewalk, the clouds in the sky, the weave on a sofa. This gets you out of the self-focus mode. All self-focus ultimately turns negative and the way you avoid self-focus is to be objective rather than subjective. All objective thought ultimately turns positive in some way, simply because it is objective. Objective thinking sparks up the neurons in the neocortex, and wakes up our lazy awareness of the cosmos that we have allowed to sink into self-focus of all that is wrong with us. Re-focus on the world. Contrary to what we think when we don't feel great, the world is a wonderful place. A. B. Curtiss


Monday, January 16, 2012

More on the Fight that Didn't Go Anywhere

Dear A.B.,

Thanks so much for sharing this little story of triumph over the primal mind!  You could have acted from your Primal Mind, but chose to move from  your Higher Mind. 

When coming from the Primal Mind, even a little discord over a spoonful of sugar can lead us to feel our "status" is being threatened, & a threat to our status could lead to being kicked out of the tribe, which could leave our very survival in peril! To our Primal Mind, this whole sugary discussion could feel rather deadly, yes?

Instead, you questioned & challenged your thoughts...thoughts that were bouncing around in your head like so much popcorn in a popper, and refused to latch on to the negative, venegeful, self-preservation-geared ones. You embraced the thoughts that helped you move with peace, love & dignity.

I suppose that as far as being "right" or connecting with truth is concerned, maybe Ultimate truth can only be perceived & experienced directly, immediately, not conceptualized & put in a box? Since you were awake & open to what was happening, you experienced Ultimate truth through really looking at & seeing the deeper meaning of the sugar episode.  What a wonderful example of being present to your life! 

I also see in this story that our attempts at control are futile.  Life is living us, really.  The sugar episode, while perhaps rather unpleasant at first, makes me wonder if we need to trust that life is offering us what we need, moment to moment, even through unpleasant experiences. Living with an insistence that life must bend to our will, we strive to keep "unpleasantness" at bay. Alternatively, we may be view ourselves as being "above" such trivia, & remain aloof from the lessons ordinary experience can teach us.

But if we just watch & listen, see, experience, & take it in, we open to the fluidity of experience  & even when something "dreadful" is happening like an ugly marital dispute,  we can say "this too," & recognize that it's all of a piece, it all belongs.

Thanks again for the illuminating story.

Sincerely, G

Dear G,
I told the story to someone the other day who immediately could match it with one of her own. She had asked her husband to help her put some Christmas glasses away. He agreed but proceeded to put them in the box without, as she was annoyed to observe,  the same care and effort that she thought necessary. When she upbraided him for his inadequacy, he just got mad and even more haphazard in his efforts.

"You asked me to help, and I'm helping!!"

He was insistant on doing it "his way."

I suggested that instead of getting mad and telling him "forget it" or criticizing his efforts, another option would be to realize that she had made him defensive (men are notoriously sensitive to criticism) and  the line of least resistance would be to straighten out the mess he made, after the fact, without saying anything. What was the big crime anyway? Was it worth a big upset?

And the other thing to think about is this. What is it, exactly, that you win when you “win” these dumb little interactions. And what is it that you lose if you simply let them go on by.Do you prove that you are the one who is right, and therefore, the other has to be wrong? Is this really what our sense of marital justice is dependent upon? We always have to make the assessment of who is right? This is a really good example of the old cliché, would you rather be right or be loved.

 A. B.

Dear A. B.

 I don’t need respect from my husband, thank you very much. I already respect myself.

So, the only real refuge & sanctuary is found within. We are responsible for going within to soothe ourselves. Waiting for someone else to calm us, soothe us, or somehow bolster us & make everything okay is an unreasonable demand.

You've noted how we can slip into the nasty habit of looking at our relationships & other people as vehicles for getting our needs met, for getting something or another. You've said that it is more important to love than to be loved.  I see these notions come to life in your story too.
Thank you. Yes. Seems there is much we can "win" or gain from letting them go by.  We can only "lose" or suffer, if we resist. Your unvarnished description of this slice of your life has provided much food for thought.

 Reminds me too of how I get caught up in the trance of "I want this ...I don't want that! This shouldn't be happening! What happened to lasting, unchanging serenity within my hearth & home?"  But life persists in not being fixed & static.  It's always in flux & fluid.  A difficult state of affairs for one who wants everything to be "all nice, all the time."  Guess the key is to accept whatever is, &  even embrace it, since a fixed state of bliss, or maybe better stated, our belief about what we think bliss is, is not in the cards for any of us. In every life, the sugar must hit the fan, & maybe real Nirvana is being able to let it fly rather than contain it. A lesson in surrender!

I was right there with you in your kitchen!  I could imagine how I'd be feeling, the thoughts that would unravel in my head, & they weren't pretty.  Loved  your self-inquiry & insights.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Fight that Didn’t Go Anywhere

I use brown sugar in my hot cereal every morning. About l ½” of brown sugar was left in the sugar container but it was hard and lumpy and I asked my husband (he does all the grocery shopping) to get some more brown sugar.  Looking in the cupboard he answered, “There’s plenty of brown sugar right here. Use this up first. “

“It’s lumpy and hard.” I complained. I don’t want to wrestle with it.

“I’m not buying more brown sugar when there’s plenty here.”

“Don’t give me a hard time, just get me some more brown sugar, for God’s sake “

“No,” he shouted angrily as he stormed out of the kitchen leaving me smoldering with anger.

We’re all adults here, right?

I had a booksigning that morning and I left shortly after my husband did. I thought about the brown sugar later in the day. This was an old, old scene we had played for decades, the particulars changing but the same case of totally illogical emotional outburst without restraint on my husband’s part yelling and refusals coming down upon my usually reasonable and innocent head. Of course, I'm the psychotherapist, right?

I felt around for the anger. I could certainly dredge it up if I wanted. In any court or public opinion he would be judged totally unreasonable and illogical that he should refuse to get me 50 cents worth of sugar for whatever the hell reason I wanted.  We are both extremely frugal but this was an insult, wasn’t it?

What were my options? I could get really mad, no problem. But did I want to get mad ? What was my husband’s crime? He was just emotional and illogical and had no trepidation about pissing me off. Not so terribly criminal, was it? What was I supposed to do, retrain him so he “worked better.”

Or should I just ignore him.  Repressing anger wasn’t good so I kept looking to acknowledge any of that.

Should I feel bad and ruin my day over it? What were my options. I could buy my own damn sugar. I could dump the sugar down the drain. I could throw the damn sugar bowl on the floor and break it. Or throw it at my husband. Not my personality.

Or I could use what was left somehow by fixing the lumps and set the whole anger business aside.  

Or I could be furious with my husband and be surly and nasty when I got home.

I knew my husband would have forgotten all about the sugar  “incident” by then. His anger was always a flash in the pan, quickly started and quickly over. I could just set the whole thing aside, couldn’t I, and use forbearance?  A word out of fashion in today’s world. I didn’t really feel threatened or unable to take care of myself. Just how did I want to take care of myself was the question.

I’ll think I’ll just let it ride, I thought.

When I got home, it occurred to me that I could pour the sugar out on the chopping block and use the rolling pin on it. It took about 30 seconds. I scooped it up with a pancake turner and put it back in the sugar bowl. Problem solved.

When my husband got home I casually informed him how I had fixed the sugar. He gave me a big smile and a hug. I guess some would call me a wimp for not standing my ground and demanding respect from my husband. But, in a way, I don’t need respect from my husband, thank you very much. I already respect myself.  Day saved, argument avoided.

It really is an epiphany to realize that "being right" is not necessarily the answer to anything. Being right is not the way to any kind of essential truth. "The truth," as Joel Goldsmith often admonished us, "cannot be reached through the reasoning process." In a way, I think he is saying that the truth is always a surprise.

We’re all adults? Not really. We’re all children of the universe bumbling and struggling along a little narrow path of togetherness. Sometimes we can make space for one another’s flaws. Forbearance is a great word.