Thirty Years

•March 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

“Within us is a secret longing to remember the light, to step out of time in this dancing world. It’s where we began and where we return.” Jack Kornfield

Last night, I shared my story at AA for the first time. I don’t owe my sobriety to AA, however.  I was one of those people who have a hard time with the God thing and the jargon and the ‘my way or the highway’ mentality which sorta defined ‘The Program’ when I took my last drink 30 years ago.

No, rather I  dropped in and out over the years and began to reinvest in the program about three years ago.  The fact that I am an Alcoholic had, in fact, become a side note in my battle with Major Depressive Disorder, the underlying condition  I had medicated with alcohol.  Finally, ten years into sobriety, after all else had failed, I hit bottom,   diagnosed with psychotic depression and borderline personality disorder.  Sixteen years of  treatment consisted of  various psychopharmaceutical cocktails and weekly therapy.

I spent those years researching alternative treatments (and writing about much of what I discovered here at Brainzaps) because , as the years went by, the side effects of the medication were so difficult to deal with: Cognitive problems with memory and complex thinking; inability to make decisions or follow through; uncharacteristic rages and an inability to control impulses. Weight gain. Dental problems. Stinging and watering eyes. Elevated white blood cell count, Elevated Cholesterol. Elevated blood sugar.

And the loss of job after job after job due to personality conflicts. Paranoia. Major anxiety attacks. Obsessive attachments to my view of how something should be written or edited.  An inability to compromise my integrity to mesh with corruption of principles of journalism.

Three years ago, I fired my psychiatrist, and began working with a therapist who practices integrative medicine and psychotherapy.  I participated in a life changing UCSF Clinical trial on Mindful Meditation for treatment resistant MDD.

I discovered in my research that the principles of the twelve steps actually ‘mimic’ the manner by which ancient spiritual teachings instruct an individual on how to lead a healthy, balanced life, how to find a new way of moving in the world through integrating deep inner work into external reality.


As Judith Lasater writes in Beginning the Journey: Living the Yamas of Patanjali:

“Significantly Patanjali gives the reader this set of ethical guidelines as he begins to list the steps of the practice of yoga, not at the end.  While Westerners are often more familiar with another step in the “ladder” of yoga practice, the postures, or asana, the yamas are  the first. It is surprising to some that the classical teaching of yoga actually begins with precepts about how to live in the world. (The next step in the practice of yoga is the “niyamas”, even more personal practices. The succeeding limbs become increasingly more personal.(1) But the practices of yoga are meant to be about the whole fabric of our lives, not just about physical health or a withdrawn spiritual life.”

I was hesitant to share my story last night because it is not about AA. Because there still are many in this program who believe depression is not a disease. That if you follow the 12 steps religiously and turn your life over to god, you will walk again.  IMO? Snake oil if one is truly crippled by a disease like Major Depressive Disorder.

I talked about growing up in a large extended Irish Catholic family, mostly about my mother’s father, my grandfather, an Irish immigrant from Macroom listed on his ship’s manifesto as a teacher.  He was a poet who owned for some time what would become a highly valuable piece of land in Jamaica, New York. He was a farmer who didn’t know much about building a house but built several.  My mother recounted how as a child she would lie awake on the nights when he went out, hopping the subway  to Far Rockaway to walk the beach until dawn.


He had come to New York with dreams of joining his brother in California and studying Law. But then he knocked on the door of a Long Island City boarding house and my grandmother answered the door, and he fell hopelessly in love.

I wanted to succeed in life as a writer because I emulated my grandfather. Because I wanted his approval and love. But then alcohol swallowed my 20s and that was only the beginning of my battle with disease. Mental health and its treatment and the side effects from the medications took away a huge part of life. My will to live.

I was brutally truthful last night.  I discussed my battle with my diagnosis ten years in to my sobriety, how unfortunate it was that I had fought so hard, had been in denial for so long, about facing the extent of my mental illness. How my mental condition would not have become so intense had I addressed it head on when symptoms of depression emerged so intensely during my teens. The theory of   ‘kindling’, the concept that while a major experience usually precipitates the initial incident, the ensuing sensitization enables the triggering of subsequent events which can increase in frequency and intensity.  When Peter Kramer wrote in Against Depression about the holes in the brains of people who had experienced MDD, I knew exactly what he meant. My mind at times feels like a loosely woven well-worn basket.


I read voraciously — the ususals like  Kay Jamison, Peter Kramer, William Styron, and finally discovered information about neuroplasaticity with Norman Doidge’s The Brain that Changes Itself and neuroscientist Vilyanur S Ramachandran’s mirror therapy.

Two years ago, I  picked up a copy of  The Mindful Way Through Depression , the work of Zindel V. Segal, J. Mark G. Williams, and John D. Teasdale, which applies the principles of Jon Kabat-Zinn to the treatment of depression.

Practicing these principles in all my affairs, to the best of my ability, one day at a time is how I live my life.

It wasn’t until recently that I learned how to navigate mud puddles without drowning.

I admitted last night how still today I wake up every morning heavily blanketed in state of deep despair. That I have to create my life new every morning. That I have learned that it is only by not giving in to this powerful lure, only by being mindful that I do have tools to use, that I can create meaning from nothing. That sanity and peace in my mind are within reach if I do what I know I need to do each and every day. And that I STILL DO NOT ALWAYS WIN!  But the relapses are not as long now.

For me, maintaining a delicate balance in my life means accepting as reality there will be times during each and every day when I feel totally lost and alone. On the verge of disaster. Praying for oblivion. Accepting this as  part of the journey.

Life for me today means maintaining a schedule which includes daily meditation, five yoga classes a week, four AA and one AlAnon Meeting, two daily hikes or brisk walks with my dog and not allowing myself to isolate until after 8 o’clock in the evening. My support ‘team’  as I battle through  the end stages to achieve a life with NO need for pharmaceuticals includes a pDoc, a therapist, a nutritionist/pharmacologist and an acupuncturist.

My diet is gluten free, extremely low in carbs of all types. Mega doses of protein, difficult because I am a vegetarian. My daily supplements include Dopatone, 3000 mg Complete Omegas, probiotics, 100 mg 5HTP, Gaba, Magnesium, Adrena Calm and Progesterone Cream. I take l’theanine as needed. I avoid sugar. Dairy products.

Every night when the lights go out I do yoga in bed – Yoga Nidra.


And then I wake up again. To create another day.

Calm in Chaos

•September 2, 2013 • Leave a Comment

taking in the good: easter @ 37.5

•April 7, 2012 • 5 Comments

At first when I open an email from Rick Hanson seeking input for his new book on experiences any of us have had with his suggestion of “taking in the good,” I think I have nothing to offer here. Right now. I’m too bruised.

Hanson writes:

As you probably know, the three basic steps of taking in the good are:

1. Let a good fact become a good experience.

2. Open to and savor this experience for 10-30 seconds in a row.

3. Intend and sense that the experience is sinking into you, becoming a part of you.

You can use this method for the good facts around you each day – most of which are relatively small, such as coffee smells good, you finished a batch of emails, flowers are blooming, someone was warm to you, etc. Most positive experiences are fairly mild, and that’s fine. But mild or intense, they normally flow through the brain like water through a sieve while negative experiences get caught every time (which helped our ancestors survive). That’s why it’s so important, several times a day or more, to turn toward a positive experience and take it into you. And since “neurons that fire together, wire together,” you’ll be weaving positive feelings, sensations, and thoughts into the fabric of your brain and your self.

Then there is the 4th, optional step, in which you’re aware of a strong positive experience connecting with some negative material – such as a longing for love, feelings of anxiety, or some pain from childhood – that is dim and in the background of your mind. You don’t let yourself get sucked into the negative material but keep the positive material relatively intense and in the forefront of awareness. With repetition, the positive material will gradually associate to, infuse, soothe, and even gradually replace the negative material. For more on all four steps, see chapters 2 and 50 in my book, Just One Thing.

An Easter card from my older brother is waiting in the mailbox this afternoon. He recalls a memory of a warm late Easter, how the grass is so green and we have white rabbits. The thrill of Easter mornings when we are very young sifts unbidden through my consciousness … We rise early, rush down to find our baskets — always spectacularly wrapped in softly shaded cellophane — and (after biting an ear off the big Easter bunny and chomping down a handful of jelly beans and chocolate eggs) spread our candy on opposing sides of the dining room table in a checkboard-style faceoff. All this before the hunt, as I recall.

The Easter Basket Battles ceased when our younger brother began walking.

So does it count then, taking in this good, fetching this fond memory and facing it off opposite the pain and negativity which characterise my current relationship with both my brothers?

I don’t know how to mend anything.

the continuing 37.5 ..

•April 6, 2012 • 1 Comment

I am stuck at 37.5. Sucked into Mindful Meditation for hours each night. Listening to tapes, attended Rick Hanson’s Lecture at Spirit Rock on the Neurology of Awakening … how to change your mind through mindful meditation. Ah, so much work…

Reexaming constatntly reexaming pre-set notions of who I am and how I believe others perceive me in the world and if I actually have a chance of pulling this off. There is no consistency in this effort. Even within one day.

Reality shifts from hour to hour.

Now there is talk of introducing a low dose of another medication to help with the final cut back to 0 of the Effexor XR. The Cranial Sacral works so well .. the yoga helps.. the intense aerobic workouts.

That’s about it.

Supplements I am supposed to be taking include: folic acid, samE, lithate, pregnenalone, 5000 mg Omegas, DHEA, Thyroxin, Cognitex, UBQH, L’Tyrosine. mega Vitamin D. And that doesn’t even include the Energy Drink or the Calm Cal-Mag drink. All this combined with the 37.5 and the remainining Klonopin, which we have decided to hold off on until the Effexor is gone.


Yoga for Depression
The physical and psychological effects of meditation (Institute of
Noetic Sciences)

Dr. Dan Siegel on Neuroplasticity and Mindfulness Meditation Training
Self-Directed Neuroplasticity,. Mindfulness, and Meditation.
Mindfulness, Meditation and Neuroplasticity


•March 14, 2012 • Leave a Comment

1. Reduce no more than 37.5 each time and stay at any new level for 2 weeks.
2. Or alternate 112.5 and 75 every other day for a week or two and then go to 75.
3. Then stay at 75 for a week or two.
4. Then reduce to 37.5 for two weeks (again alternating 75 and 37.5 if necessary)
5. Then go to health food store and buy a bag of empty gel caps (they are cheap).
6. Put one half of the 37.5 in one gel cap and one half in the other.
7. Then reduce to 18.75 (approx) for two weeks.
8. Then alternate 18.75 one day and nothing the next day for two weeks.
9. Then either stop or alternate one day on and two days off for awhile.

I am supposing I have 1 more week on 37.5 but I just want to get this over with. The sense of unease in one’s skin is almost impossible to describe, let alone bear alone at 3:30 in the morning, when all the supplements and meditations and brain waves have failed to work, even with the added 2 mg of Magic K … and here are the things i just can’t bear dealing with any more.

1. Stella’s anxiety. WHY can’t she just calm down and chill like a normal dog?
2. Carb cravings that I give into now that my stomache is such a frigging mess which means my weight loss schedule is on hold when I should be losing weight coming off the EXR. When am I going to have a normal appetite and not crave carbohydrates to the point of obsession?
3. Feeling a sense of ‘dis’ease in the world. Knowing that the good times are so fleeing … not knowing if I am going to be able to show up for what I am committing to.
4. I want to walk right up to all the people in the world I feel dis’respect me and ask for a truthful overview of how they view me.

Exhausted, exhausted day. Ended up taking 1.5 xtra k at 5am. having to cancle SKYPE call at 9. SO damn tired of all the work i do with no compensation. The day at work was fine but I drugged the dog so she wouldn’t bother everyone and then the young adults come in and ignore me.

I hate nights alone at home. I hate the fact that it is so damn hard just to take supplements.

Went to the city to the James H meeting @ the Hub last night and was glad I did and so enervated. Met some wonderful people. Hopeful this will be a group I can work with and travel with to Rio,or at least connect with when there.

And I need a new home for my writing. Desperately. Sent a query to YES! Organized the grow outreach. ansered all emails i dreaded.

don’t want a condo. i want that house.


•March 13, 2012 • Leave a Comment

stomache problems continue … being a vegetarian it is really difficult to find anything to eat which does not result in severe stomache upset … flu like symptoms continue w/use of advil helping abate enough to be able to function. sleep problems make me upping the klonopin again and taking GABA, sameE, vitamin D, and lithate …

irritabilility. exhaustion and fatigue. mood swings.

i keep waiting for the brain zaps to begin. They precipitated by entry into SSRI use 16 years ago and when I first started the drugs my head would swing around so much I feared it would break my neck. That was terrrifying. Since Saturday, I have maintained 37.5 although this morning I actually put a 75 in my mouth, thinking i couldn’t make it. But thankfully, removed that …

So I am now completed day 3 with no return to 75! After fallilng to sleep so late, missed Yoga this AM but spent about l hour in the gym later on, doing pilates, yoga and cardio. That REALLY helped and I was able to attend meeting this evening in SF where a doctor friend had some ibuprofren on hand to help with the headaches and flu feelings.

Noticing my spelling getting really bad.


•March 8, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Tomorrow begins week two of cutback … began in January @150… we have added samE, folic acid, lithate, (searching for celery root)… working with osteopath … considering LEM. Yoga 4x a week. cardio a few times a week (not enough!) Meditation. Looking for mindful meditation group and for support group for people who are withdrawing from SNRIs or SSRIs.

worst so far seems to be about 1 week in to the cutback at which point the headaches, body aches, stomache problems, fatigue, sleep disturbances are the worst. someone in a comment on this blog suggested ionic foot baths to help with the detox.

so far, the exciting thing is that i have had no serious side effects in terms of dissociative thought disorders, major anxiety or depression. no psychotic ideations. in fact, a real sense of emerging from a deep sleep and a kind of excitement about discovering the new me. 16 years after being submerged.

right now, i feel very aware of how well this was timed. working with a new therapist for about a year who has really helped me in the CBT neuroplasticity and encouraged me to take risks, to reclaim or claim perhaps for the first time my right to life.

looking at a house. no longer feeling doomed. making new more healthy connections with people.

a keen sense of gratitude.

we tackle the klonopin after the effexor is totally gone. I am trusting that this is the right course of action.


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