Even now, six years after leaving home, I return here with my old ‘new’ dogs, Stella and Macaroni. We sit and watch as the tide moves into the Lagoon, and I remember hundreds of walks along the shore with Gussie and Bobo; and Stella as a pup, how she would swim across the channel against the tide to chase after seagulls on the Stinson shore; how my brother, early one morning, drives over the hill to pick up kids’ rods for my daughter and his two girls so they can compete in Bolinas’ First Annual Fishing Derby; how they stand just yards away from where I sit now. On his last visit, before my divorce, he drives down to this bench at sunset and returning, eerily predicts: “I just had the weirdest feeling, as if it has all ended. Like I was saying good-bye. You won’t be living here the next time I come back.” By God, he is right. “I Carry Bolinas in my DNA:” October, 2009.
I am heading to yoga Sunday when some un-itched wound inside me flares up something ferocious, propelling me into a U-turn to navigate that nine-mile stretch ’round Mt.Tamalpais to West Marin. That curvacious circuit of curve-backs I know like the back of my hand.
At first, I think I’ll only venture as far as Stinson Beach, figuring it’d be a good idea to take Stella for what might be her last outing to the ocean. She’s closing in on 13 now; hasn’t been the same since her buddy Macaroni died last August. Just can’t seem to settle back comfy into her skin, she’s on enough arthritis and anxiety meds and supplements to make pulling together her evening meal damn more labor intensive than feeding myself and whoever else might stop by.
Mind you, I knew the risk I’m taking. There’s no avoiding the truth that my heart never successfully mended after the rift. Eight years in, it remains an oozing wound. A ticking ‘mind field’ of raw emotions which needs tending on a regular basis.
Still, I’m on this journey lately. A journey back to the time before all hell broke loose in my psyche, ripping apart the integral bonds which had afforded me an admittedly shaky and vulnerable footing in ‘reality.’
Some 16 years ago, a major break in my neural circuitry, precipitated by a major bout of insomnia, won me membership in the community of mentally and emotionally challenged individuals whose doctors prescribed psychotrophic intervention.
Finally, after years of battling the ever worsening side effects of this treatment, I have launched myself on a road to authentic recovery. Using yoga and exercise and meditation and healing music. Supplements and cognitive therapy and affirmations and seeking new patterns of being in the world. Redefining myself.
I succeeded in January of weaning off one of the drugs in my pharma-cocktail, in halving the dosage of another, and, three weeks ago, began the process of tapering off Effexor XR. Today marks my third day on 75 mg, down from a one time high of 300 mg.
To say I am scared shitless would be an understatement.
But underneath the terror? Underneath the fear of possible kindling, is hope that perhaps one more time before I die, I can experience that ‘pink cloud’ euphoria of seeing the world through un-gauzed eyes.
We’re rounding the last turn into town when Stella gets her first sniff of the ocean, stands up in the back of the car, and begins pawing around on the floor for an old tennis ball. I park at the end of Calle del Sierra; the shortest trek to the waves.
Stinson Beach: 4pm. Stella fetch
Then, it’s on to … Bolinas
About 30 minutes later, I drive by our old house in Bolinas, now a poorly tended and vacant vacation home. Another U-Turn. Park. Stella’s yelping with joy. She spent the first four years of her life here, two of them as a pesty sidekick to grumpy Bobo, our first black lab. Stella turns in at the gate and heads down the steps to the front deck. We walk down into the yard, a verdant overgrowth of bunchgrass and monkey flowers, sagebrush and cow parsnip and coyote brush. I look towards the seasoned old coastal oaks where the ashes of three of our dogs – Willie, Augusta and Bobo — are buried.
And, although the tree trunks are no longer visible or easily accessible, my mouth drops in wonder and disbelief to see Bobo’s old dog house is still here, shielded behind gargantuan bushes of purple flowered echia. His old shingled home, which my husband once lugged off the deck and into the yard as a marker for our canine burial ground, remains, lost and forgotten, in the shadows. A symbol of all I have lost. Of all I grieve. The hopes. The laughter. The memories are still so rich and alive, so painfully throbbing with all that has been lost, they have the power to choke the will to breathe out of me.
Even these words hurt.
Stella pulls away, off her leash, and heads out into the woods, cuts into the thicket heading towards her old buddy’s home. She couldn’t have seen it. What else if not a lingering scent or some sixth sense of something precious left behind …
God knows and only God cares if wires of poison oak or stinging nettles meander through the extravagantly gluttonous-run-amok-wilderweed-circuitry which has overtaken my old backyard. I am fiercely clearing a path to my past, with bare arms, uncovered feet. Branches scratch my cheeks, sting my eyes. At times I am on all fours. In the back of my mind, I’m wondering if it’d take a crane or just a bunch of burly young men to lug that sweet treasure outta here.
Stella arrives at the doghouse first.
You tell me.
I saw the first pelican of the season last night. It appeared as my eyes swept over the Richardson Bay as an oblong black obelisk bobbing on the water. The moon rising was a slash in the sky, rough edged like a corn of beans jimmied just enough open with a knife for a spoon to sneak through. Being a West Marin woman, the sighting of pelicans is akin to recognizing the smell of your youngest tumbled in a sea of kids at the annual fishermen’s derby.
It’s second skin. Instantaneous. The curve of that beak tore through to the core of me, eliciting a sense of timeless wonder and joy reminiscent of returning to Combray, Aunt Leonie and that tea and madeleine.
Aren’t we always, as humans, engaged in the attempt to recover lost time, to travel back to those moments in our personal histories where we felt safest, most enchanted, most alive?
And isn’t it this ability, this capacity to connect again and again and again with the self, and to recognizable its constancy despite all of time’s diffusions, that in the final analysis defines who we are? KosAbility: The Taking of The Cookie & Tea, September 2011.
Some research notes on the Journey.
Zarate sees depression as a bit like a leaky faucet in the brain. There are different ways to stop the leak, he says. “You can go straight to the faucet and you can fix it,” he says. “Or you can go to the water plant and shut down the water plant. The end result will be the same.”
We can take care of a migraine in hours. So why do we have to wait weeks or months with depression?
– Carlos Zarate, brain researcher, National Institute of Mental Health
The current antidepressants act in a way that is like shutting down the water plant, Zarate says. It takes a long time for the water to stop flowing through the miles of pipes that eventually lead to the leaky faucet.
He thinks the reason is that these drugs act primarily on the brain chemicals serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Ketamine acts on a chemical called glutamate, which is much closer to the problem, Zarate says. http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/01/31/146096540/i-wanted-to-live-new-depression-drugs-offer-hope-for-toughest-cases?ps=cprs ‘I Wanted To Live’: New Depression Drugs Offer Hope For Toughest Cases
What I fear most is the Kindling Effect
In another study, published in 2007 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers at Boston University School of Medicine and McLean Hospital used sophisticated magnetic resonance imaging to scan the brains of participants before and after a yoga class. They found that levels of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric, typically low in people with depression or anxiety disorders, increased by 27 percent after participating in a session of yoga. (GABA modulates dopamine, glutamate and is related to serotonin.)
A follow-up study in 2010 at BU compared results with a control group that walked an hour on the treadmill three times a week. Participants who spent the same amount of time doing yoga classes instead had greater increases in positive mood and a greater decrease in anxiety throughout the 12-week period.
Chris Streeter, lead author of both studies and an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, used the same brain scanning technique on two participants of Saper’s chronic low-back pain pilot study and found a similar rise of GABA levels. At the conclusion of the 12 weeks, one patient who had suffered from severe depression said it was mild; another patient who began with moderate depression said it was gone.
Streeter says that yoga helps with balance and can reduce stress. “But you have to be careful not to over-promise. The effectiveness of yoga on mood may depend on the individual. For a person who hates yoga, it may not work.’’ Stretching the Boundaries of Yoga
Anyone interested in participating in a future yoga study at Boston Medical Center is encouraged to email email@example.com, or call the study line 617-414-6211.
Glutamate and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) are the brain’s major “workhorse” neurotransmitters. Over half of all brain synapses release glutamate, and 30-40% of all brain synapses release GABA.
Since GABA is inhibitory and glutamate is excitatory, both neurotransmitters work together to control many processes, including the brain’s overall level of excitation. Many of the drugs of abuse affect either glutamate or GABA or both to exert tranquilizing or stimulating effects on the brain. Beyond the Reward Pathway
And an endnote: I had a bad day yesterday and an even worse night. But I’m hanging in there. Planning on meditating before trying to sleep. Heading out now to catch the last bits of light.
Pray for me.