Month: December 2018


I’ve felt this gloom and I have gone deep with it. In fact, I’m just coming out of a depression which lasted a year. During that time, I didn’t work out as I usually do. I craved carbs and ate sweets more often too. I was slowed down. Sure, I was recovering from injuries which made things worse but I know my sluggishness was more than just from this.

I slept much more, often nine hours per night after being a seven hour per night guy for thirty plus years. And, the bi-phasic sleep I’m accustomed to from a lifetime of waking in the middle of the night and reading for an hour, was often absent. I slept right through it almost half the time and had trouble getting up and facing the day. I soldiered on because that’s what men do. it’s what people do.

Furthermore, after a few months, I knew I was depressed. I didn’t talk about it to missus, nor did I burden anyone else. Men were my confidants, it was to these few I turned as I searched for answers, as I sought to realign my life in response to my body’s signaling. You see, I knew what was going on, lucky to have that kind of awareness. I think most of us do know the answers;  we just need to let them bubble up and spill out. Then, we need to believe.

After finally taking the necessary steps to course-correct over the past two months, Bingo! the depression lifted. And that’s the thing: In my heart of hearts, I knew a year or two ago I needed to make these changes and resisted because of external pressures. I have a family to look after, a wife who needs certainty, children who depend upon me. I was compromising my existence for others. It’s a typically male trap though not exclusive to men. Sound familiar?

First off, you must realize your depression is a normal thing. People sometimes get hung up on the issue of depression and think it means they are broken, that there is something wrong with them, that there is a “normal” out there and by some accident of fate, they don’t fit the bill.

Of course, this is bullshit. And it’s not only bullshit we tell ourselves, it’s often the same bullshit implied by the medical community. It’s a chicken and egg thing: Did my depression cause my chemical imbalance or did my chemical imbalance cause my depression? More like a dog chasing its tail.

Every year, the Mental Health Awareness Week folks remind us that one in five adults will have a MAJOR depressive episode in their lifetime. That’s a lot of people, a big chunk of us. So, if 20% of the population gets a big depression at some point, you can safely bet the rest of the people feel depressed at some level at some time too. I’d take those odds.

This means it’s a normal thing. Clearly, this psychological mechanism has survived tens of thousands of years of evolution for a reason. Traits generally only stick around because they are needed. We wouldn’t all feel it if it didn’t serve an important function. And, it does.

Then there’s grief. People can become depressed after the loss of a loved one. Grief has that effect on you and me, though 97% of people return to a version of normal within a year. A few take heartbreak and refuse to let it go. We must respect this while recognizing the drivers behind it: We exist in each other.

The idea that you are over there, and I am over here, is an inadequate way to describe us. Losing a loved one means that part of us which exists in them is put into doubt. This shatters our trust in the world, our operating paradigm is forever altered. It’s only resolved to a kind of imperfect homeostatic balance by settling for the part of them which echoes endlessly in us. It’s an honourable process, and a big part of what it is to be human. Our need to belong to each other is universal.

Relatedly, depression is your signal to look at your model of the world and give it a tune-up. Something is not working for you, profoundly, and needs your attention. It may need a complete overhaul and rebuild. Something may need to die or be abandoned, or at least be reborn as something else. That’s what depression is, and there is no need to conflate it beyond this powerful simplicity. How you understand your world and operate within it is what’s broken, not you.

So, what does the body do in this case? It slows down, becomes lethargic at times, sleep and eating is affected, and we turn inwards, a great introspection of doubt and questioning occurs. Our thinking slows as well, often looping, like a skipping record, and usually becoming narrower in scope as we fixate on the things which cause us pain. We are so enamored with our suffering we actively turn away from happiness.

No one fixes another’s depression. Just as it’s true we do depression rather than it does us.

We may think positively, telling ourselves we really ought to lighten up, but for all our cognitive steering, the body doesn’t seem to follow. That’s because the body is where your feelings lie. I suspect it is your methyl groups passed down ancestrally added to your lifetime databank of emotional experiences which comprises your soul. The soul is in the body, linking all of your organs but particularly the heart and the belly, connected to the brain by the vagus.

Perhaps it’s trite to say we are all on a journey, but call it what you wish. Depression is the dark night of the soul in your hero’s journey.

  • You’ll remember these ten steps of ancestral myth:
    1. Hero confronted with challenge
    2. Rejects challenge
    3. Accepts challenge
    4. Road of trials
    5. Gathering allies and gaining powers
    6. Confront evil and defeated
    7. Dark night of the soul
    8. The leap of faith
    9. Confront evil and victorious
  • 10  The student becomes a teacher

Number 7 is a tough step. It causes pain. It’s a black cloud of inability and doubt which befalls us. Hopelessness sets in so that the affected being is rubbed painfully and cruelly into the mire. Hard to see it this way but it is purposeful torment.

It’s like when you dive too deeply in water as a child and are running out of air, you look up and see the light at the surface and it’s a race to kick your way to oxygen before you pass out and drown. You give it all your might, every ounce of your body and will combined.

It’s like when the bully has you pinned down and is slapping your face and suddenly, you find the power you did not know you had to buck him off and escape.

It’s sourced from the same stuff as when a person finds the superhuman power to lift a car off a loved one after an accident. It’s an agonizing call to reach deep and pull out all the stops. It’s a silent scream inside us that’s says “NO.”

How many times have you been pushed into danger, into a situation where you felt like your survival was in question, and found somewhere inside you the resources to overcome and live? Pushed to grow, by some means you carried on. We do until called to grow once again; it’s complacency we should curse.

That’s what depression is. It’s the universe tantalizingly telling you to adapt. It’s demanding change. It’s saying you’re coming up short, that the life it bestowed upon you is under threat and it demands your care. It screams at you for adjustments, and lets you know through the whole chain of your being with pain, confusion, darkness and hopelessness. She’s a hard taskmaster our universe. There’s a billion stars in the Andromeda Galaxy I like to remind people. Best not fuck with that kind of force.

Like a child demanding attention, depression is a temper tantrum of the soul. It’s a test of your balls. It’s a doubter, the take-away closer who says, “Maybe this isn’t for you.” It’s a push at your boundaries of tolerance, demanding a greater integration of your parts. It’s nature calling you, provocatively wondering if you have what it takes to stand up for yourself and declare, “THE PAIN STOPS HERE.”

Like confidence, depression can be lifted from one big change or a series of small things which add up to a retooling of your model of the world. Sometimes changing jobs, moving to a new city, or leaving or gaining a relationship allows the light of change to shine in. But that’s rarely enough.

At other times, these are temporary because the internal operating model is what really needed attention. In my case I realized I was compromising my life and whatever gifts I have to satisfy responsibilities to others. Realizing, I do this as a tendency, having done it most of my life. And of course, I could source this to an abandonment fear as a child, to a deep toxic shame inculcated in my early years as broken and not good enough.

This gift meant my method was to become more, so as to convince myself and others around me I was worthwhile. This nice guy strategy works… until it no longer does. I needed to change jobs and set limits, imposing boundaries to keep my sanity, so I did.

Knowing all this, feeling the pain as a signal for change, what’s one tiny step you could take? Just one thing in what you think or what you do. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Our expectations drive all of our disappointments. Change one thing, then another. Soon you will have a direction. You will know if it’s right for you because your body will tell you. Our eyes see out but somehow you will see the fog within begin to lift.

When the way in which we see ourselves measured up against how we believe others see us is lived consistently, we go confidently into the night. We are ready to meet challenges, putting order to chaos, best expressing the gifts given to us by life. Self-concept is destiny.

So ask yourself: what shall I do with my metamorphosis?

What kind of butterfly will emerge when you are done?

This is your act of creation.

Stay powerful,

Christopher K Wallace
©2018 all rights reserved

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Tough Love

I was drying out in the Civic Hospital. It was back in the early 1980s during the AIDS scare, but long before the discovery of Hepatitis C in 1989. I was in an isolation room as a precaution. So much was unknown then.

My liver markers were all off: leucocytes, reticular counts, liver function tests and bilirubin. I was also quite jaundiced and tired. Things were catching up with me.

Lying alone in my single room in the middle of the day, I was surprised when Ma popped in unannounced. I hadn’t seen her for a while so it was a mystery as to how she knew I was there.

She was her usual kind and accepting self, offering encouraging words and faithful support. But I noticed she was rushed, her answers short, a tension just under the surface of her demeanour that I couldn’t quite grasp and put a reason to.

After a few minutes, she told me to take care and that she was leaving, mentioning my father was outside waiting to see me. Of course, she didn’t give me enough time to ask why he hadn’t come in. She said goodbye and hurried out of the room.

As my gaze followed her out, she swung open the heavy door with its tiny porthole window common to the isolation ward. There I could see my father in rumpled suit jacket and tie, purposefully pacing back and forth in the hallway. Before I could say anything, she was gone and in he came.

I tried to say hello but he cut me off. Coming closer, he spoke with just a hint of some ill-defined emotion, the kind you might see when you can’t tell if the person is hurt or angry. He said something like this to me: “Christopher, if you keep living the way you are, surely, you are going to die…and soon. When you do, we will gather together as a family and mourn your passing. It will be our last goodbye. Afterwards, we will bury you and then… we’ll forget you.”

With that, he turned and walked out.

Admittedly, he’d caught me off guard. I was stunned. I was in a hospital after all. What a jerk, I thought. As the door closed behind him, the pressure in me rose. I railed internally with questions, invectives; the cussing in my mind going off like fireworks.

He had left right away, so it wasn’t like I could argue with him, making it even more frustrating. How absolutely unfair of him, I decried to myself.

Outraged, in my mind’s eye I saw myself in my hospital nightgown, following him down the hallway, demanding, what exactly did he mean by that whole “forget you” bit? And who was HE to be speaking for all of MY brothers and sisters? There are eight of them; had he done a poll? Was this all based on their consensus? I wanted to call them and check for myself.

The scene revolved continuously through my mind as I lay there on my bed, him long gone. I must have stayed steaming for quite a while, fuming to myself over the images. Mumbling at times out loud that it was none of his business, damn it, how I chose to live my life. This was my problem, not anyone else’s.

But in time, I calmed down. I couldn’t stay agitated forever. Eventually, my anger subsided enough to return to a kind of normal. My breathing slowed, my thinking became more introspective. The scene was still fresh in my mind. I kept going over its details: the way he’d left me there by myself; the harshness of his judgment and the finality of its imagery. Suddenly, I felt alone, very alone… and saddened by it all.

I thought about my sisters and brothers. Childhood images flashed by, with them as freckle-faced kids on adventures we’d shared. I was so hurt; I felt a clear and justified self-pity. It was cruel to come into someone’s hospital room—a real medical patient with real medical issues—and say stupid stuff. Anyone would sympathize with how wrong it was.

I felt sad, lonely, and sorry for myself, resigned even. It was all so depressing. As if I didn’t have enough problems.

The more I thought about it, I remembered the way my mother acted during her short visit. She was clearly preoccupied. She had gone through the motions of visiting, but betrayed a hidden agenda. It was then I realized my mother had been in on it from the start. It was a damn set up!

The nerve of her to come in here with her “sweet as a lamb” approach and then help him pull off this kind of bullshit. She was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, that’s what she was!

Now I was mad again.

I could just imagine the two of them concocting their approach for maximum effect before arriving. “He’s in isolation?” he would have asked. She would have replied, “Yes, that’s what the others are telling me. Here’s the room number.”

Dad would have given marching orders: “You go in first; I’ll wait in the hallway. Don’t stay too long. I don’t want you making him feel any better.” She would have assented — like the devoted wife she was.

What a supreme jerk, I thought, envisioning how the whole scene played out in the car on the way over. The gig was up; I was on to them. That’s it, no more Mr. Nice Guy from me. They’re cut off!

After a while, having made that decision, I calmed down. My mind slowed its racing thoughts. My indignity had peaked and ebbed, like a tide of tension leaving shore for sea.

I felt alone again. Now, I was down. I felt it in my body, tired, sorry and sympathetic. It was sad, you see.

I imagined myself at a funeral, my own, watching all of my siblings mourn as they got ready to bury me. I could see my sisters crying in pain like they had when I’d been punished as a child — or like the time my father tossed me out of the house at age 15. I regretted I wouldn’t see them again, that I would have caused them pain. I was hurt, not for myself, but valiantly I thought, only for them.

That’s when I realized it was my father who was causing this anguish to befall my siblings. It was he who was making them turn their backs on me and to literally leave me in the dirt. It was he who was demanding once again the ultimate ostracism of one of his family members. Once more… what a jerk!

Now I was mad again.

The infinity loop

To be honest, I swung from one side of those emotions to the other for a long time after the incident at the hospital. I had no idea why; I guess I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I lacked the resources to give me a deeper understanding of my father’s intentions. Neither could I see the basis of how I was reacting to his attempt at tough love; as an effort to shock me into seeing my life as it was.

If I tell you a good joke, you will hopefully laugh. After a minute or two, you will stop laughing as your brain normalizes whatever incongruence made you see the funny.

If you watch a sad movie, you may be so moved by its story and characters that you weep. Once your tears are discharged as pent up tension, your body will adjust, return to some kind of equilibrium and crying will stop.

This is the familiar homeostasis at work on your emotions, returning them to a balanced state. Laughing at a joke or crying over a sad scene in a movie are times where we suspend our own personal disbelief to get the full emotion—laughter or tears—of a situation. In our personal lives, it’s less easily managed simply because we have more at stake: our sense of self.

So picture an infinity sign with two opposites of emotion on each of its ends: frustration, blaming, anger, etc., on one side; sadness, self-pity, depression, etc., on the other.

Something happens to trigger us emotionally. Start anywhere in the loop; it depends on the person.

Let say at first we become frustrated, angry, blaming or even fall into a rage. You can’t remain that way forever so in time we return along the eight towards our feelings centre—our internal balance.

However, since whatever triggered us wasn’t resolved, the pain remains… and staying in the centre is temporary. Instead, we might continue on to the other side of the loop, moving from frustration, blaming and anger to experiencing sadness, self-pity, depression, etc.  In turn, we can’t remain like that forever either. So at some point we return towards emotional neutral.

But again, since we weren’t able to resolve whatever it was that got us so upset, we think about it until we are angry again. This can go on for days, weeks, years even, where the cycle repeats over and over to exhaustion. Tony Robbins calls it the crazy 8.

It creates a tension inside us that craves relief, often an escape by whatever means necessary. Some go and get drunk; a way many choose to deal with emotionally charged events when lacking resources to respond in a more empowering way.

But it’s a never-ending loop, darn it. That’s why the infinity symbol is so appropriate: it goes on forever. The trick is to escape the infinity loop at the top, as opposed to exiting out the bottom. Taking the high road is the perfect metaphor, and it starts first with our own re-adjustment of the meaning we give things.

None of us is immune to the emotional swings of the Infinity Loop: attachment, fear, our expectations, shame and guilt, all of these conspire to put us under their emotional control. Where we differ is in how fast we can extricate ourselves from its cycle. That takes courage, honesty, acceptance, a fair bit of humility and forgiveness even; and often it takes space.

It’s all in the meaning

It took time, a few more years in fact, but eventually I resolved things in a way that gave me a deeper appreciation for what the old naval officer had been trying to do.

I realized it was my lifestyle that was causing others pain; but more importantly, I had no right to do that to people who loved me. Up to then, I might have thought it didn’t matter because I couldn’t acknowledge anyone cared. I had such a low opinion of myself that in my shame, I felt I had rights to self-pity, anger, and the dysfunctional life I lived. Perhaps I could let my guard down and see things by the light of a different day.

That minor shift allowed me to reconstruct the episode with more insight; in a way that to my mind gave us both back our dignity. I assigned new meaning to the hospital episode with my father based on a more profound perception of his intentions.

He wasn’t there to hurt me; he was there to protect himself and the others from the hurt I was causing by living so closely to destruction and death. It wasn’t malicious at all. In his clumsy way, it was an act of caring for his family. By extension, it was a desperate attempt to care for me too.

In the ensuing years after the hospital visit, I kept thinking of the old man and the way his lip quivered as he struggled to get the words out quickly so as to not lose the power of what he had to say. I’d overlooked the impact of that image in the aftermath of my reaction. But it was there; embedded in my subconscious as tiny flashes of recall, unavoidably part of the scene. All I had to do was focus on it.

He was in my hospital room, a deeply faulted man but still a naval commander and patriarch to a family of nine children—five of them grown sons—trying his best to be tough when it was obvious by the look on his face his heart was breaking. That’s the image’s meaning that has stayed with me.

His love wasn’t so tough; it was just plain love.

Stay Powerful,

Christopher K Wallace
©2015 all rights reserved