Thank you: Now Everything Changes
You've touched my heart ghanfigirl. We are all such kindred spirits here.
Our lives and our stories here may seem very different, but our hearts and the love we fell especially for our causes and the things that inspire us to do and create even in very different ways are the same.
We've all battled pain, sadness often deep depression, we've all wanted to give up on different days on different ways but we truly never did. If we had we wouldn't have kept trying,searching for more.
Being here is just one of many things we've done or could have done but we've made connections and felt one another's hearts.
You are a gift to me and yo everyone here. And everyone here is to us.
I am so happy when you chime in, so happy you are still here, and so happy when your resonance is felt and heard and makes a difference in all of us.
Before I began to respond in this thread , I took a moment to attempt to quiet my (very active) mind. As I closed my eyes I asked for guidance , a message to help focus and direct my thoughts.
At that moment an image of a red heart popped into my head, soon followed by a larger white heart which then surrounded the red heart. Then there appeared a pink heart inside the red heart. As I was looking at the 3 hearts (pink, inside red, inside white) the white heart transformed into 2 white wings and wrapped its wings around the remaining 2 hearts. I thought it was the wings of a white dove, though it may have been the wings of an angel.
I reflected on the message and closed my eyes again, and this time I saw a "heart" butterfly gently fluttering its pink and red heart wings back and forth.
So what does this "heart" vision mean? I believe it may be saying that an act of love (joy, kindness, compassion, care) can bring about more actions of love. Like a ripple effect ( heart within a heart, within a heart). We all know this already, but I suppose it is a reminder. Or perhaps it is saying we are witnessing love right now, in this beautiful thread begun by @Coyote.
I have a challenge for all of us ( even those of you just lurking). During the next 5 weeks, at every turn there will be hearts out on display in society. Every place we travel through our daily lives we will see hearts. Instead of noticing the commercialized hype of Valentine's Day, let's create something " more".
First notice the hearts. Each time you encounter a heart, recognize it as an opportunity to love.
Next feel. Let that hearty noticed bring you the opportunity to feel love into your own heart. Remember something that fills /filled you with love. Remember how a hug from a cherished loved one feels. The goofy smile from a child being silly. Being greeted with pure joy from your dog when you arrive home or from your children as they run excitedly to the door. . The kindness of a stranger as they open the door to a store for you. . That call from a friend to get together for coffee and chat.
Then, act in love. Smile back at the baby in the stroller smiling at you. Tell the waitstaff something you appreciated about how they made your lunch visit enjoyable. Thank the cashier. Write you own letters of love and appreciation and send them to people you care about. Do random acts of kindness. Catch someone doing good and tell them you noticed.
Mindfully create 5 weeks of love in your own special way. Consider sharing your experiences here in our community to spread even more love around.
❤️ to everyone!
@michele-b-here-in-the-forum, hugs friend. I'm not going to let the lessons I learned the hard way just sit and not be utilized. If I can save someone from having to go thru what I did to learn some of the things I've learned, I'll gladly do so. I was thrust into the situation, I certainly wouldn't have chosen it. I had an angel whispering in my ear, helping me to take each step I took. While I was often alone in human form, I found my faith and spirituality thru it all, and know I wasn't truly alone. It's wonderful that people like @coyote will find a way to continually work at their life's purpose-like many teachers and healers do. Some of us have a much shorter lived purpose. Some of us will have no doubt what that purpose is/was, while others won't be so lucky to have it become so glaringly obvious. Yet no one person or their purpose it vastly more important than the other. The kid in middle school who said something kind to the bullied kid they weren't friends with may have just kept the kid from going off the deep end and ending their own life, or that of others. They may never know they've saved lives or fulfilled their purpose. Yet that didn't stop them from fulfilling that purpose, now did it? The lives they saved were no more or less valuable than those saved by a teacher keeping a kid on track, a doctor healing, or a soldier, cop or fireman saving someone's life.
@ghandigirl, art, music, teaching, they are all powerful ways of helping others and leading a purposeful life. I too am artistic, but don't do it nearly as often as I should. Just like good writing, these things are a way for people to escape, relax, and regenerate. Did you know that creating art reduces stress hormones?
@triciact, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you cry. Yes, I have long looked at butterflies as angelic messengers. There is a national support group for bereaved parents called Compassionate Friends. Their bumper stickers read "I brake for Butterflies." I see rainbows (I have a phone full of pictures I take of them) and butterflies all the time. Those are just a few of the ways Monica lets me know she's around.
Yesterday Monica and my nephew were both around. The sitter was here for my parents and instead of getting to go to a movie, I had to go to the Sprint store because my phone up and died. As in doornail. On my drive the first song on the radio is the one I associate with my nephew saying hello. Two songs later, one of my original Monica songs came on. I was crying the ugly cry. I have to admit I totally forgot about the eclipse-on a wolf full moon no less (I've seen a huge beautiful white wolf in meditation before). I was at the grocery store about the time it was going on. But as I exited the store, I just knew I couldn't go home. Instead I drove to the beach and walked for a little bit, leaving the groceries in the car. I now realize I was on the beach talking to God and Monica during the second half, so while I forgot consciously, I guess subconsciously I did not!
Update: The synchronicities I've been experiencing these past few days have been getting wild.
On Friday evening, as I was leaving work and walking to my car, I thought, completely out of the blue, Maybe I'll see a coyote tonight. The office where I work is at the top of a forested hill in the middle of a nature reserve, with a long, winding driveway connecting to the nearest main road. After I drove around the first curve in the driveway, my headlights illuminated, not 20 feet ahead, a...red fox, sitting on its hind legs in the middle of the driveway, staring straight at me.
Thinking about Coyote and then being face-to-face with one of his canid cousins a minute later is...startling. I exclaimed OH MY GOD! and braked while the fox bounded out of sight into the trees. In total, the exchange lasted 1 second. I got out of the car to take a look around, and immediately felt a pulsing sensation of energy pushing into my chest. The sensation was neither pleasant or unpleasant, but it was nothing I've ever felt before. Later, driving on the highway, I considered whether I'd actually seen a coyote pup, but no. When I got home and looked at photos of foxes online, not only was there immediate visual recognition, but I experienced the same external pulsing energy acting on my chest. My twin brother gave me a Thoth tarot deck for Christmas (I told him to get me one), and so I consulted it and asked what Fox was trying to tell me. I pulled the Ace of Cups. I only have a novice understanding of the Ace of Cup's meaning, so I'd appreciate it if some one could offer their interpretation of what Spirit was trying to communicate. For that matter, does anyone know what symbolic power Fox has in Native American cosmology? @vestralux?
There's more. Early Sunday morning, I was awake in bed, and started experiencing the same pulsing energetic pressure I felt on Friday, but this time I felt it in both my chest and abdomen. Again, the sensation was neither pleasant nor unpleasant, but I had to squeeze a pillow to my chest in order to ground myself against the weirdness of what I was experiencing. After about five minutes of this, my windows lit up from a flash of lighting. In January. In New England. The pulsing sensation went away after the lightning flash. Note: I definitely saw lightning. There was a weather front moving through that was kicking up storms from Maine all the way down to Georgia. I stepped outside after the first flash of lightning (I was barefoot and wearing a short-sleeve t-shirt, it was that warm), there was mostly just wind with a few scattered raindrops. But I saw two more flashes of lightning when I went inside before drifting off to sleep.
And I'm not going to get started on the dreams I've been having lately...
Ace of Cups in the Thoth Tarot means love with wisdom. It is an image of the Holy Grail with white, blue, and rose colored light emanating in waves of divine love. In the Thoth Tarot, the aces represent all of the potential of the element, which in this case is the element of water, the divine feminine, and again, love. They are the element of divine love with unlimited possibility.
Foxes are mythical creatures around the world - pretty much everywhere not tropical, so every culture has lore surrounding them. As you may recall, I had a mama and her 2 kits literally in my backyard a few months back. I haven't seen any of them in a couple of months, I'm hoping they're just "wintering" somewhere else nearby and will return when things warm up. It's been my honor to leave little offerings of fruits and veggies when they were around. Every sighting of them my heart stopped for a second. They are grey, and so I worry that they get mistaken for coyotes and killed as a result of mistaken identity. Anyhoo, my point is that you can apply whatever mythology you like to your sighting - what you choose will be the right one for you, and your interpretation. I see your encounter as a good omen.
Point of procedure: please don't step outside barefoot in lightning! Even flip flops will protect you somewhat, but no bare feet on wet in lightning! It's a good way to get struck.
While out dog walking last week, I noticed a little red fox about a 50
feet behind me. Healthy, bright red coat with black bushy tail. He froze when he saw us. My dog is a little smaller than Mr. Fox, so she did not utter a word. We all looked at each other, me with delight. I turned and continued on my way only to notice another one trotting along fifty feet in front of us. More delight! I think they were siblings out hunting for rodents and foregging for berries. The one in front of me quickly circled back to his buddy, making a wide birth around us. My takeaway was happiness and a sense of grace and the feeling of such connection with these creatures as our cousins. This is my fourth siting in 30 years, two in the last six months.
Ok this one is a funny instance involving a Fox (this happened a week ago)...we live up a 700 foot driveway up a mini mountain in the woods. My kitchen window on the first floor looks out to the side of my home, and the yard is short - only about 15-20 feet then it goes up into the woods gradually climbing up. So there's a gradual incline area where we have a little statue. Right above the statue on the grass was a red tailed Fox just staring into our kitchen window! He proceeded to do a doodoo then he walked off! LOL 😝 🤣
@coyote , I've read your post several times, and I've been thinking about it all weekend. I am so happy for you and the realisations you've made. I'm thankful to God you have had that moment of clarity. I'm thankful to you for sharing this with everyone, with me.
You are my inspiration. iI gave me a good kick in the behind to continue the journey I've taken a few weeks ago. It is a difficult but necessary one for my own personal growth and healing. I can't find the words to express the impact your sharing has had on me. You are so strong and you've harnest that power to do good, concentrate on growing, on doing.
I hope you will continue to share your journey with us. We need you!
Being struck by lightning would be a badass soul awakening experience (if you survive, that is).
Here's an idea for your next syllabus: chapter 2 of Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Reading that book at the age of 17 is what awakened my passion to be a writer, but chapter 2 ("Seeing"), is phenomenal in how Dillard will make you perceive the natural world in a whole new light.
In October, when I began receiving some of the insights I expressed at the beginning of this thread, I knew that my physical healing from NF2 would be contingent on whether I could help others heal. So the way you've internalized my words means a lot to me. And please, don't hesitate to share your thoughts on this forum if your own healing journey starts getting rough. We're all rooting for you.
It's done. I just put finished the narrative of my dark night of the soul. I typed it all out first as a word document. What I expected would be, at most, 10 pages of text unfurled into 20 pages of single-spaced text. I've split it up into 6 "parts" plus a postscript, to be posted as 7 separate installment. If any of you want to read the whole thing, disclaimer: while I don't write about anything gruesome (no getting my stomach pumped or slitting my wrists), I do write candidly about my considerations of suicide during that time. I also write about 3 separate instances in which I came very close to taking my life. These heavier subjects occur a bit in part 1, but especially in parts 2, 3, and 4 (I also had the hardest time writing those sections). So, if these themes may trigger you, you might want to consider skipping over those installments. Parts 5 and 6 are about my healing process and are more uplifting. The postscript is where i bring all of the meta-themes in the narrative together. If you don't want to read the equivalent of 20 pages of text, the postscript is the most substantive installment of the narrative in terms of spiritual "meatiness."
Here's the first installment.
I wrote about this a bit in my post about my NDE. I had been heading towards depression since I went deaf in my left ear in January 2014. My hearing in my right ear had actually been deteriorating since 2007, and by my final years in high school, I was having difficulty following conversations in loud, enclosed settings. So it was a blow when I found out, after my first semester of college, that my left vestibular schwannoma (technical term for the tumors that cause deafness in NF2) had grown drastically and needed to be removed so that my brainstem wouldn’t be compressed (I had been noticing changes in my hearing, including increased tinnitus, during those first months of college, too). It’s nearly impossible to excise vestibular schwannomas of the size I had without damaging the auditory nerve, meaning that the surgery was certain to leave me deaf in my “good” ear.
After the surgery, which took place at Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan, it turned out that I could hear quite well with a hearing aid in my right ear, and my hearing in that ear improved as my neural pathways rewired themselves in those first few months of unilateral deafness. I was also fortunate that the surgery did not cause paralysis on the left side of my face (the hearing nerve is adjacent to the facial motor nerve). But when I returned to college in the New York North Country the following fall, I was still really, really disappointed (and disoriented). I had expected my college experience to be a time when I finally broke free of old patterns and became more outgoing and fun. Instead, I fully reverted to my behaviors from high school and middle school: I closed myself off from meaningful friendships, didn’t try to socialize much, and distracted myself by diving headlong into academic work. Tellingly, I was even half-hearted about academics, and executed lots of all-nighters because I kept putting off assignments until the last minute.
After a year-and-a-half of this, I sensed that major depression was encroaching. So, I took a personal leave of absence from college during the spring of 2016 and travelled around New England and New York to live and work on small organic farms (I used the platform WWOOF-USA to facilitate these live-work exchanges). Prior to the growing season’s start in April, though, I sought out a psychologist in New York City and did talk therapy with her once a week. I continued checking in with her in the spring and summer between my farming stints. Although I sensed, even then, that whatever improvements talk therapy was having on my mental health were only short-term and superficial. In retrospect, I can say I was only going through the motions of what our atomized culture was dictating I should do: “If you’re blue, spend a small fortune just so you can talk to a clinically distant stranger for 45 minutes each week.” I now know that my soul was crying out for something much more meaningful and comprehensive.
When I returned to school in the fall of 2016, I was energized and upbeat for about 2 weeks. All of the sun and fresh air I got from working on farms helped. But I was still adhering to my old patterns and was still under the impression that my future may be one of linear health decline. (Part of my reasoning behind “WWOOFing” was the possibility that soon I would no longer have the physical capacities for agricultural labor.) By the end of September, my mood started slipping as the days shortened and my academic work once again started piling up. I was going to my campus health center and talking with a licensed clinical social worker once a week for 30-60 minutes, and with him, too, I was only scratching at the surface all of my pent-up disappointment, regret, and isolation.
I was living in a single in a section of dorms that had a shared kitchen. One weekday afternoon In the second half of October (I want to say sometime around the 20th) I was brooding in bed when the thought occurred to me “I could walk to the kitchen and slit my wrist with a knife, it’s that easy to end all of this.” And I did actually walk to the kitchen, which was deserted at that time of day, just to look at its stash of cooking knives and check their sharpness. I grabbed one particularly heavy knife and took it back to my room. I put it on my desk and eyed it for a few minutes. I even rested the blade against my wrist for a moment. But I “snapped out of it” and returned the knife to the kitchen. That was the first time in my life I ever considered harming myself.
That night, I had a short but powerful dream. All it consisted of was me hearing the lyrics to the Rob Thomas song “Ever the Same” while I saw several scenes from the song’s music video, but as if I were actually in the video. Now, I had no strong connection to “Ever the Same.” I heard the song and saw its music video a few times when it was released in 2005, but that’s it. So, when I woke up from the dream, I knew I was receiving a message from Spirit (this was at least 2 years before I began consciously identifying with spirit guides and guardian angels). The next morning, I watched the music video on YouTube. The song lyrics metaphorically reference depression and suicide, and I guess hearing them triggered something in me. Because, afterwards, I cried in bed for an hour straight. Unfortunately, that emotional catharsis was not nearly enough to keep me from continuing to slide into the abyss.
I continued to half-heartedly tackle my academic work, and suicide still occasionally cropped up in my mind. But the real game-changer was 11/8. I told myself that if the presidential election turned out the way I (and all of us) wanted it to turn out, I’d re-center myself and find the inspiration to muscle through the winter months. Like many of us here, I was heartbroken after 11/8. I felt like a close family member had just died. Getting out of bed was a Herculean effort, and I was cold all of the time, to the point where I was always wearing my canvas field jacket indoors.
At this point, my perception of colors dimmed, and I could palpably feel darkness closing in and pressing up against my being. Several times I tried walking around in the woods and watching the sunset over the river that runs near my school, hoping those practices would calm me down, but they didn’t. Knowing what I do now, I can say that I was sensitive not just to my depression, but also to the dread and chaos that had just been unleashed in the collective. My alma mater is decidedly liberal, so most everyone around me was shocked and downcast. But I still felt alone. I’d see people smiling or making plans to have fun on a Friday night, and I couldn’t understand how anyone could be smiling or carrying on with normal routines. I worked as a peer writing tutor at the campus writing and communication center, and by mid-November I was barely fulfilling my responsibilities for that job. Once, a student met with me for feedback on an essay she had written for a sociology class (I think) that argued for the implementation of universal basic income. I just remember thinking “That’s not going to happen now. What’s the point of striving for these ideals anymore?” A few times I attended large meetings where students got together and discussed ways the campus could counter the policies the new presidential administration was sure to implement. But those meetings left me feeling even more mournful and disoriented. The world was falling apart.
I stopped trying to tackle major academic assignments. As an excuse I explained to my professors that I was getting brain surgery in December for the removal of a tumor (which was true), and that I was suffering from headaches and thus had trouble focusing (a complete lie). The brain tumor—a meningioma—was asymptomatic, located in a very easy-to-access place, and was only being operated on to avoid future problems. In fact, I was looking forward to the surgery. It would give me an excuse to disengage from the world and focus just on myself. My suicidal thoughts stayed in check because I was hoping that convalescence from surgery, combined with the long winter break from school, would help my mood stabilize.
The surgery, which took place a week before Christmas, went well, and I was out of the hospital after 3 days. I was with my family in Connecticut, and went on a lot of long walks, again hoping that being outdoors would ease my depression. But my spiritual dislocation didn’t budge. Everything around me—colors, physical objects, and especially people—seemed remote, dim, flat, not worth engaging in.
Getting through the cheeriness of Christmas felt like running a marathon. A few days after Christmas, my relatives on my mother’s side gathered at my aunt and uncle’s place in New Brunswick, New Jersey, for an extended family holiday celebration, and it was further torture. I didn’t have the energy to talk to anyone, so I sat in a corner, pulled out my phone, and started reading online about what various religious traditions have to say about suicide. What happens to souls that suicide? That’s all I could think about while the people around me made merry.
The drive back to Connecticut on the same night was torture of a different sort. Once you head north from New Brunswick on the Jersey Turnpike, you hit the Meadowlands soon after. Looking out my window as we drove through that open expanse of marsh, it was just so dark. Darkness like I’ve never seen before. I felt like I was suffocating on a lack of light, like I would implode under that absence of illumination. I was physically uncomfortable and wanted to run away somewhere. But of course, I couldn’t, so I wondered what it would be like if I opened the car door and tumbled to the pavement at 60 miles per hour and let physics have its way with me. I felt like this the entire car ride home.
Once I was finally lying in my own bed that night, I couldn’t fall asleep. I kept thinking about all of the times I had been disappointed and had to alter my life plans because of some external force. Now the process was happening again, but this time it was one disappointment too many: on top of my falling-apart body, the entire world was ending, and I couldn’t see any glimmer of hope at all.
I was tossing and turning, hyperventilating and kicking my mattress as I thought of all of the dreams I had to let go of. Eventually, the thought occurred to me: “I can choose to end this nightmare tonight. I can walk to the railroad tracks and step in front of a train. I can finally go to my spiritual home, to where I really belong.” And this thought was the only thing that finally ended my inner turmoil and brought me peace.
What follows is my first discrete attempt at taking my life, and I have never told anyone about it until now. My family’s house in Connecticut is indeed less than a mile from the Northeast Corridor and a train station which is served by Metro North Railroad. At this point it was around 4:30 in the morning. I checked the Metro North website and saw that the first train would be leaving from the station at 5:30 (it was a Thursday or Friday morning). Just before 5 a.m., I soft footed it out of the house and started walking to the train station. It was an unseasonably mild night, about 40 degrees, so I was only wearing a light jacket. Since I didn’t want to be seen, when I reached the station I went across the street from the platform on the inbound side of the railroad (towards New York City), where there was an embankment that sloped down to the tracks. A low wall (about 3 feet) separates the sidewalk from the tracks/embankment. Because I could see the tops of bushes on the opposite side of the wall, I heaved myself over, assuming the top of the embankment was level with the sidewalk. I was wrong. I fell 6 to 8 feet to the ground. I was so taken by surprise by the sudden drop, I didn’t have time to tense up. Therefore, when I hit the ground (feet first), I didn’t break anything, although my right ankle was sore afterwards.
It also helped that I landed on a bed of mulch. I was in the middle of bushes and eased my way on my rear end down the embankment until I was seated level with and 10 feet away from the train tracks. I could see a few commuters waiting on the platform, which was maybe 200 feet to my right and beyond the bridge formed by the road overhead. But I was in shadow, so I was confident the commuters couldn’t see me. At that point, I also knew that I was not going to step in front of the train. Part of my reasoning was ruthless logic: I was too close to the platform, so once it left the station and reached me, it wouldn’t be going fast enough to guarantee a clean, painless death. But I was also cold and tired. My ankle hurt and my palms were rubbed raw by the gravel beneath me. I just wanted to be back home in bed. When the train did arrive, I moved over so that I was reclining between a bush and large metal utility box; that way I was in further shadow and wouldn’t be seen by any passengers when the train passed me. That was a weird experience, sitting in the dark, in a place where I should under no circumstances be, while a commuter train passed by only 10 feet away. I guess I really internalized then how dark my world had become.
The station was deserted after the train left, so I didn’t waste a second. I strode along the gravel railroad margin, under the overpass, then hefted myself up onto the platform. There was a flight of steps nearby that led to the road above, so I was able to beat a retreat before anyone saw me. By the time I got home half an hour later, the overcast sky was just beginning to turn lighter. Since my parents had taken the week off from work, no one was awake, and I returned to my room without anyone being the wiser. My pants were dirty from scooting around over mulch and gravel, so I made sure to throw them in my laundry basket (hide the evidence). When I got in bed, I was finally able to fall asleep, thus bringing to a close the longest night of my life.
The following month after my “walk to the station” was a blur. I was on break from school until January 18th. Most nights, I slept at least for 10 hours, sometimes up to 12 hours, and I always woke up feeling just as miserable and unrested as I had been when I first went to bed (while also wishing that I died peacefully in my sleep). Usually after waking up, I’d stay in bed to the point where I was in physical pain from lying down for so long. The need to use the restroom was the only thing that could finally rouse me. I also hardly had any energy to prepare food. If I could, I’d warm up leftovers or nuke a packaged meal from the freezer. Sometimes, when neither of these options were available, I’d drive the family Toyota to a nearby Whole Foods and buy something from their deli. Once, when I went there for lunch, I didn’t even have the engagement for warm, nutritious food, so I bought a package of cookies instead and binged on those.
A lifetime of being introverted and emotionally noncommunicative meant that I was really good at putting on a performance so that my family didn’t suspect that I was suffering. I’d summon the energy to be engaged when I had to—family dinners during the weekend, for example. One of those weekends, my mom, twin brother, and I went out for lunch to a local restaurant. It was a sunny, relatively mild day, and I vividly remember being in disoriented awe of all of the lively discussions of the diners around me (including those of my mom and brother): how can anyone be carrying on like this while the world falls apart, while darkness closes in, when there’s no longer a future worth living for anymore? I was in lots of emotional pain too, because I knew that just a few months earlier, I would have been able to enjoy such an outing.
On Tuesday and Friday mornings, I was also going to physical therapy because my December surgery had left me temporarily weaker in my left arm and hand (this side-effect was expected). It’s a miracle I never crashed the car while driving to those sessions, given how distracted with brooding and sorrow I was. The therapy took place at a Chelsea Piers campus in Stamford, in a large gymnasium setting. Since I was usually one of the first clients to have a session in the morning, the gymnasium would be near-empty except for my therapist and me. My therapist had a very calming presence and the solitude of the setting was also very peaceful, and I knew that in different circumstances, I would have really enjoyed all of this convalescing. “If only the election had turned out differently, I would be in perfect bliss. I would have had a full month to do nothing but read books, watch movies, and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of physical therapy.” (I was erroneously thinking of the election as “the” causative factor in my depression, but more about that later.)
I was also thinking about taking my life nearly every waking moment, but not actively making any plans. Instead, I was wringing my hands over the spiritual dimensions of suicide. I have always been spiritually minded to certain degrees, and I knew there was an afterlife. I was reading anything I could get my hands on that discussed the topic of spirituality and suicide. And I was so despairing that I had reached the point where I needed to be considering any of this at all. I faced a lot of difficulties over the previous years, but for the most part, I appreciated my life and the insights I was able to glean because of those difficulties. Now I was considering throwing all of that away, and I was really, really sad about that.
I trawled the online writings of psychics, mediums, and mystics who wrote about suicide and the afterlife, wanting to discover if suicide could deliver me to a better dimension where my life was pretty much the same, but without all of the darkness in the world. I could find no such disclosures. But I still couldn’t stand the prospect of continuing to live with so much darkness. And, in my mind, the darkness was so deep, there was no point in trying to seek out help: “How in the world can anyone make this pain go away?” Therefore, the option of taking my life stayed on the table.
I think what kept me going through the first 17 days of the new year was the possibility that once I returned to school, the demands of academia would distract me from suicidal thoughts until spring returned. Although I knew this was doubtful; the manufactured (and completely unnecessary) stress of institutional schooling has only worsened my mood throughout my life, while using academia as a tool for distraction from brewing personal problems has only backfired on me in one way or another.
I did finally return to campus in the North Country. Lying in bed on that first morning of the semester, I knew I wouldn’t be able to drag myself to any classes. For 2 weeks, while concerned emails from my supervisor at the writing center, professors, and the registrar’s office piled up in my inbox (I really wasn’t going to any of my classes, plus I had two “incomplete” grades from the semester before and was expected to make up the outstanding work over the winter break), I spent my days alternating between sleep, trips to the dining hall, and reading up on taking one’s own life—it’s spiritual dimensions, the mechanics of how to go about the task, and pretty much anything else on the web that I could get my hands on (I was deleting my browser history every day in order to cover my tracks).
What I read online confirmed my thoughts: death by wrist/throat slitting, hanging, or swallowing a bottle of pills were too imperfect and probably wouldn’t be painless, so they weren’t worth considering. I didn’t want to jump through all of the hoops that were required of buying, concealing, and learning how to use a gun. Besides, ending my life with a bullet didn’t appeal to me on an aesthetic level. My imagination toyed with the idea of going out in an “extravagant” manner. Although I didn’t have a car on campus, my university was only an hour and a half away from Montreal, and so it offered taxi services to Trudeau International Airport. I had my passport and just enough money in my checking account: nothing was stopping me from booking a flight to Reykjavik, posing as a backpacking student, renting some tiny house in the Icelandic tundra, and then letting myself freeze to death by walking outside one night with minimal clothing (yes, I actually thought all of this). But I I knew I couldn’t carry out that plan; I hardly had enough energy to drag myself to the dining hall. The one idea I kept coming back to was jumping from a height. Provided I was high enough, it would be fast, painless, and, for a brief few moments, I’d attain a transcendent state of “flying” above the base darkness of the world.
After about a week and a half of this brooding, my hearing in my right ear started to deteriorate. Not by a lot, but just enough so that I had to ask people to repeat themselves more than usual when I was being spoken to. I knew why this was so. The vestibular schwannoma on my right acoustic nerve was growing because I was withdrawing from life. In effect, I was giving my NF2 and nervous system permission to start going haywire. I was telling my body: I don’t need you anymore.
Far from being alarmed by this development in my only hearing ear, I was relieved. I’d have to call home with the news and then head back to the Tri-State area so that I could see my neurologist, get an MRI scan, and figure out “next steps.” But I had no intention of following through with all of that procedure. Once I was back in southwestern Connecticut, I’d have several options of high vertical places from which to jump. I’d finally be able to act.
I called home with the news of my decreasing hearing around February 1st. My parents were able to wrangle an appointment for me with my neurologist in New York City for Monday February 13th. We decided that I’d come home by Amtrak the week before, and I booked a train ticket for the 7th. A couple days before I left campus, I typed out and printed a goodbye note that I’d leave at home somewhere where it could when I decided to go through with my suicidal intentions.
On the 7th, I boarded Amtrak’s daily Adirondack service in Plattsburgh, New York, and rode it south to Croton-Harmon in Westchester County, where my mom picked me up for the final leg of the journey to Connecticut. Amtrak’s Adirondack service is a very scenic train ride. It starts in Montreal and follows Lake Champlain and the Hudson River Valley to New York City. I had ridden it many times to get back and forth from school before. When I rode the train home for Thanksgiving the previous November, I was in tears as I reflected on the breathtaking beauty of the landscape outside my window and how we (the American collective) had just thrown our “ember waves of grain” and “purple mountains majesty” in the dumpster. On the same train ride two months later, though, I didn’t reflect at all on the landscape. I can’t even recall what the weather was like that day. All I could think of was how, soon, I’d be leaving this world. I wasn’t excited or despairing. I was just tired, resigned.
What I’m about to describe is my second discrete attempt at taking my life. I’ve told a few people in my life about this already, so sharing it is not completely new, but I’ve never provided so much detail before. The Wednesday after I returned home—February 8th—I had nothing I needed to be doing. Both of my parents had work, and I told them I’d be taking the Toyota to a large woodland park in the next town over so that I could walk around for a few hours. It was a mild, partly sunny day, and it’s not unusual for me to go on long walks in the woods. So, my parents accepted my explanation at face value.
I had no such plans. I was going to drive 45 minutes to West Rock State Park in New Haven, where there were high cliffs, and try to jump off one of them. Before heading out, I left the letter I typed a few days earlier in an unmarked pocket folder on top of my desk.
West Rock is an 8-mile-long ridge that stretches from New Haven north into the city of Hamden. Its west side is composed almost entirely of cliff faces that are up to 300 feet high. Usually, when people in the New Haven area say, “West Rock,” they are referring to the cliff face at the very southern end of the ridge, which face south and is visible all over the city, including from I-95 and I-91. The Wilbur Cross/Merritt Parkway (Route 15) also tunnels directly through West Rock near the New Haven-Hamden line. I’d gone hiking there in years past, and I wanted to jump off the cliff face at the southern end.
Before setting out, I checked online to make sure there was a parking lot near the southern end of the ridge, which there was (when I’d gone hiking there in the past, I always parked at an entrance in Hamden, which is a few miles north; I didn’t want to walk that far this time). When I arrived, there was only 1 car in the lot. The lot was in a suburban neighborhood, and houses ad driveways were visible through the surrounding woods. When I got out of the car, two younger guys were getting into a car that was parked in one of those driveways, talking loudly but in good humor. I was dumbstruck by them: “How can anyone be so nonchalant when the world is this dark and there’s no future worth living for anymore?” I’m not sure if they saw me, but I wondered at the fact that they had no idea that the stranger they may have just seen was about to die.
There was a paved road that led from the lot right up to West Rock’s scenic overlook, but because it was winter, the road was closed off. I walked up instead, which took about 10 minutes. And then I was at my destination. New Haven and Long Island Sound were spread below, and the sun was out. It was actually quite picturesque. You have to walk downslope along a short trail among scrubby trees to get closer to the actual cliff face (that much I remembered from the past). I thought that at the end of the trail there’d be a sheer drop-off from which I could jump clear to the ground. But I never came to one. The slope got steeper and the trees thinned out, and I got to a point where I was no longer following any marked trail. I was scrambling among boulders and stunted red cedar trees, trying to get to the cliff. But I realized there was no sheer drop-off. The slope turned into rock terraces before the cliff became more vertical. I arrived at the last flat, grassy clearing before the terraces began. I walked around a bit, trying to figure out if there was any easy way down further. There wasn’t.
There was a park with a baseball diamond at the foot of the cliff, and beyond the park, rows of densely packed houses. I was in full view of all of that, and I wondered if anyone below was watching me, pondering what I was doing in such an exposed location. I could have tried scaling the terraces/rock ledges, but I wouldn’t be able to climb back up if I decided to turn around. It was also likely that I would lose my grip or footing while climbing, fall 10 feet to the next rock ledge below and either: a) severely maim myself and die painfully from blood loss and internal wounds, or b) fracture my spine, be immobilized, and die from hypothermia after nightfall. Or, I could have arrived safely at the cliff edge, but rethink my intentions and frantically try to get someone’s attention on the ground. They would then call 911 and the fire department would have to perform a very public rescue to get me to safety. I didn’t want any of that.
I returned to the scenic overlook and walked along the ridge crest trail north for a mile, beyond the Wilbur Cross Parkway tunnel, where I remembered there were more tall cliffs. But when I reached those cliffs, it was the same situation. The vertical portions of the cliffs were preceded by terraces. I couldn’t find a place from which I could jump and achieve the quick, painless death I longed for. So, I trekked back south and then downslope to my car and set off for home, thwarted once again.
While driving home, I decided that the next day I was going to take a train into New York City and jump off the George Washington Bridge. The GWB was a reliably high and accessible place. That night, I did more homework. I went online to make sure that the bridge’s pedestrian walkways were open and during which hours they could be accessed (the one on the north side was closed for maintenance, but the south side was open each day until midnight). I had never walked around before in Washington Heights, so I also checked which subway station was closest to the pedestrian walkway entrance and what roads I would have to follow to get there. I had it all figured out.
A nor’easter moved in overnight, though, and when I woke up in the morning on Thursday, it was snowing. It was so mild the day before; I had no idea it was supposed to snow. To be honest, I felt let down. I was not going to walk around NYC in that type of weather. And because the snow was piling up and the temperatures were supposed to stay cold for the next several days, I was worried that I would be prevented from getting to the bridge before I was supposed to see my neurologist on Monday.
I didn’t wake up on the morning of Friday, February 10th, with any specific resolve to go into New York City. It was partly sunny but cold. My mom was working at home that day, and up until mid-afternoon, I brooded at home in my thoughts. In the afternoon, one of my academic advisors (not my primary advisor, but someone who stays in touch with all students who are registered with disability and accessibility services) called our home phone, I guess to figure out what was going on with me. Although I sent her and some of my professors vague emails about needing to go home for medical troubles, there were still all of those missed classes and incomplete grades I needed to account for, plus I wasn’t responding to any of the emails they were sending me. My mom answered the phone before I did, and my advisor briefly explained to her that I had 2 incompletes from the previous semester that would soon lapse into failure grades.
When my mom confronted me with what my advisor told her (not angry, just questioning), I pretended to be confused and that, according to my understanding, all of my academic work had been accounted for. Goddamn school: that’s what was going through my mind. Here I was, brooding over weighty life or death considerations, and nagging, petty, annoying school was still snapping at my heels. If my parents learned about the extent to which I had been disengaging from school, my house of cards would come tumbling down, and everything I had been hiding about my depression would be exposed.
After talking to my mom about my grades, I basically said eff it all and decided that I was taking a train into Manhattan and then the subway to the GWB that very afternoon. I checked the train schedule online and saw that the next inbound train would be leaving from the nearby Metro North station in half an hour at 2:45.
I made sure to leave my “goodbye letter” in a pocket folder on my desk. I told my mom that I was going to the local library to get some work done and sort out the confusion surrounding my grades. Of course, that was all a lie; I had my backpack with me but not my computer. I drove straight from home to the train station. Because the family Toyota did not have a parking pass for the train station, I parked across the street at a shopping center. I only had to wait five minutes before the train arrived. Because it was a Friday afternoon, there were only a few people waiting on the platform to go into the city. My only impression from the train ride was my thinking about the momentous fact that I’m actually doing this and that in less than 2 hours, my life in this world would be over and I’d be on my way to a better place. I felt a bit of adrenaline surging in my veins. Although I was sad that it had come to this
When I arrived in New York, I took the #7 subway train from Grand Central Station to Times Square. There, I transferred to the #1 uptown train, which I took to 168th Street. There, I transferred to the A Train, which I only had to ride one station further to 175th Street, which was only 3 blocks from the bridge. That was a long subway ride. The train was packed with commuters returning home, and I was standing up the entire time. Now that I was well along on my trip to the bridge, I was in fact looking forward to the final release of jumping into the Hudson River. All of the people pushed up against me embodied the claustrophobic encasement of darkness and messy humanity I was desperately trying to escape. Throughout the train ride, a middle-aged man in business casual wear, standing about eight feet away, kept casting concerned glances at me. Either I was projecting self-consciousness of my suicidal intentions onto his behavior, or he was a psychic who could intuit my thoughts; see my spirit guides/guardian angels hugging my being; or discern my soul hovering a few inches outside of my body in anticipation of dying soon.
It was nearing sunset when I emerged from the 175st Street subway station. Despite doing my research earlier, I had to use Google maps on my phone to navigate to the entrance of the bridge’s south pedestrian walkway. The sidewalks were a bit slushy, but in general the snow/ice conditions weren’t as bad as I had feared (because the muscles in my right leg are atrophied, I have to be extra careful not to slip on snow or ice).
When I turned the corner from 177th Street onto Cabrini Boulevard, the entrance to the pedestrian walkway was less than 50 yards away. There was a small group of uniformed public works employees on the ramp that led to the walkway, huddled around a gate at the walkway entrance. And did it look like they were…locking the gate? I strode as fast as I could to the walkway (which isn’t very fast) and reached the workers just as they were turning to head back down the ramp to the sidewalk. I asked one of the workmen what was going, and he mumbled something about the walkway being closed and something else I couldn’t understand. What? Closed? The pedestrian walkway wasn’t supposed to be closed until midnight. I made sure of that while doing my research. I even checked the Port Authority website on the train ride into the city to see if there were any unexpected closings. There was a guy on his bike who was also on the ramp with me, trying to get onto the walkway. After the workmen left, we looked at each other with “oh shit” expressions, but I imagine we had two very different objectives in mind.
I rattled the gate to the walkway, and it was indeed locked tight. For a few minutes I just stood there on the ramp, thinking about my options. I was so close to my destination—to salvation—I wasn’t ready to turn around and give up. I considered jumping up onto the concrete fencing and trying to edge past the outermost bars of the gate. But I likely would have fallen to the bare, frozen ground 15 feet below; that sort of fall is enough to result in quadriplegia, but not certain death.
I eventually decided I’d head back home. It was getting cold. Sure, there are other high bridges in Manhattan, but I didn’t have the energy to navigate to them or walk around much in dark, slushy conditions. While I was standing at the walkway entrance and then on the walk back to the subway station, my phone was buzzing with texts from my parents asking where I was. I started thinking about possible excuses I could relay to them about why I wouldn’t be getting home until at least 7 o’clock. When I was walking down the steps into the subway, I pulled out my phone, intending to respond to those texts (but not with much confidence about whether I could provide a believable explanation), and discovered that the battery on my phone had died.
That’s when I finally thought to myself “I can’t do this anymore,” and I turned around and headed back up to the street. I needed to find someone, ideally an authority figure, who could call an ambulance so that I would get to an emergency room. I heave-sobbed once on that walk up the stairs as the reality of my predicament set in.
At street level, I started turning corners at random, keeping my eye out for a police officer or cruiser. I was also looking for a convenience store since the person working behind the counter could call an ambulance for me. On 173rd Street I came to the front of an elementary school and decided to try to get help inside. I slipped on a patch of ice right before I mounted the front steps. Although I didn’t hurt myself, that minor insult “turned on the tap,” and I started crying uncontrollably. Inside, I found just what I was looking: in the school’s front lobby there was a woman sitting behind a desk and wearing an NYPD badge (so probably a resource officer). I told her that I had just tried to jump off the George Washington Bridge and that I needed to go to the emergency room. Between my tears; my reduced hearing; and the fact that my face and lips were numb from being outside in the cold for so long, I had trouble getting her to understand what I was saying, but she eventually figured it out. After she called an ambulance I sat and waited in a plastic chair. There must have been an afterschool program going on, because parents were streaming through the lobby and leaving with their kids. I’m sure some of them must have wondered what a 20-something who looked like a wreck was doing sitting in an elementary school on a Friday evening.
The ambulance took me to New York Presbyterian-Columbia Medical Center, which was only five blocks away. Two burly guys arrived with the ambulance; I guess they accompany ambulance crews responding to calls of psychological distress. They searched the contents of my backpack, but they were respectful. Everyone was respectful. One of the EMTs who rode with me in the back tried to talk to me about what was going on, but I couldn’t get anything out; I just started crying again. At the emergency room they had me change into a gown and robe, and a young female doctor did my entry interview. She was kind and reassuring and called home for me. After that, there was nothing left to do except wait for my parents, who were driving to the hospital.
I’m not going to write about what happened when my mom and dad arrived. That’s too personal even for this forum.
I spent the next two nights in the emergency psychiatric unit in a solitary room that had a bed, a chair, a cabinet, and a skylight. I could leave when I needed to use the restroom down the hall, past the common room where most of the patients in the ward were kept; there were quite a few characters in there. Meanwhile, they started me on a low dosage of Zoloft/sertraline as well as an anti-anxiety med for the short term. They were also working on getting me transferred downtown to an inpatient psychiatric unit at NYU-Langone Medical Center because NYU was where I received my neurological care. My mom and my older brother, who lives in Manhattan, visited me and kept me company for a few hours on both days I was in the emergency room. On top of my baseline despair, I was also embarrassed that I ws the source of so much drama.
After the second night, Columbia admitted we into their own inpatient psychiatric ward because no spots were open at NYU. The inpatient unit was a huge improvement over the emergency room. I had a somewhat spacious private bedroom with its own restroom and a much more comfortable bed (a lounge, eating area, and group therapy rooms were down the hall, and I could utilize them whenever I wanted to); I was allowed to wear normal clothing and footwear that my parents brought me from home (but no belts or anything with laces); the other patients in the ward were more subdued, so the ambient energy was less manic; and there were lots of big windows that allowed for sunlight exposure. There were also medical professionals whose job it was to listen and talk with me at length.
When I was first admitted, the ward’s entire team of nurses and one of the resident doctors sat down with me so that I could tell them what issues led me there (I guess this was standard practice for when a new patient is admitted). I used that opportunity to just spill out the entire story of my depression over the previous 4 months (but I omitted my walk to the train station and the drive to New Haven). When I was done, the doctor commented “Thank you. That was a very detailed explanation.”
There were two resident doctors: a woman along with a younger guy who was being trained by her. Each day I sat down with either of them for up to 45 minutes. They, like most psychiatrists in major urban centers, were also trained in psychotherapy. So, in addition to monitoring my response to gradually increasing doses of sertraline, they also talked to me about what was on my mind, and having the chance to share my thoughts had a relieving effect. I talked about my NF2, but especially about my distress at the state of the world. As medical professionals, they would let me unburden myself and then try to steer my narrative back to stresses related to health and social isolation, and I learned to go along with that approach. But I knew that there was a vital spiritual component in my response to current affairs. I was fully waking up to just how bad things were—to the collective pain of the world.
That first week as an inpatient, I was thinking to myself I can just pretend to get better and then try to kill myself again once I’m discharged. It still took a lot of willpower to get out of bed in the morning. As a whole, my mood was still very bleak. That began to change somewhat when I returned to reading novels. On one of his visits, I gave my dad a couple of book titles I wanted him to check out for me at our local library. I needed to read fun, colorful literature, so one of those novels was the magical realist Eva Luna by Isabel Allende (I was introduced to Allende the previous summer when I read The House of the Spirits). I liked Eva Luna. Allende’s prose brought me out of my own head, and I was actually able to enjoy something for the first time in several months. The patient lounge had a few desktop computers with internet access, so once I was done with Eva Luna, I researched magical realist authors (other than Gabriel García Márquez). I knew magical realism was just the type of fiction genre I needed at the moment. My research led me to Haruki Murakami, and I decided to read Kafka on the Shore (also a very fun novel).
There was a decent amount to keep me busy (i.e. engaged) as an inpatient. There were group therapy workshops—with a variety of themes—throughout the day where attendance was voluntary. The other patients came from a range of backgrounds. There were a few college-aged young adults who, like me, were in there for suicide attempts or ideation. I kind of wanted to get to know them more, but because I was having increased trouble hearing and wasn’t in a particularly chatty mood, I didn’t. I did, however, start doing jigsaw puzzles with a patient in his late 20s. Each day, either my mom, my dad, or my brother would visit me. When my mom came, I’d play Scrabble with her (the ward had a deluxe edition of the board). When my dad came, he’d bring a cribbage board from home and we’d play cribbage (my left hand was still weak from my December surgery, so he always had to shuffle the cards). When my brother came, we played gin rummy. Every few days, one of the women who facilitated workshops on mindfulness and creativity would walk me down to the hospital lobby because I’d ask her; I needed to walk around beyond the ward periodically. I felt a bit infantilized that I needed a chaperone, but I understood why that protocol was necessary.
In my last week as an inpatient, that same women led a workshop on art therapy that I attended. The focus was on creating mandalas. The woman brought in black-and-white mandala patterns for coloring in, but I wanted to make my own spontaneous pattern. I used a bucket to trace a circle onto a blank piece of paper and set about coloring. Without intending it, I started drawing an abstract representation of the green flash, which I saw once while watching the sunset over Delaware Bay in the summer of 2012.
Drawing that mandala, combined with the surreal world I was immersed in in the form of Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, seemed to activate something in my third eye. For the rest of that night and the following day, I saw patterns and unfolding processes everywhere with my mind’s eye. What I mean by “unfolding processes” is that I was “seeing” how each of my thoughts flowered into intention which then flowered into action which then rippled out to affect the entire material world, which then planted the seeds for further thoughts and intentions. I also understood, on an inchoate level, that the entire material world is sensate and possesses its own intentionality, regardless of whether any given material has a carbon-based organic structure (its only in the past year that I’ve acquired the vocabulary to describe these things). As I was experiencing these mini-epiphanies, I was gratified: “Wow, this is pretty neat.” It was like I was seeing all of the nuances of how the cogs of the universe were operating in my life. And seeing all that, I was looking forward to getting past my depression and moving forward in life. I was disappointed when these third eye “visions” halted after about 36 hours and the world reassembled into its drab character. In retrospect, I can see how these visions were a precursor to what I would experience in my NDE two months later.
I was also meeting with a chaplain every so often. I requested a visit from a chaplain when I was first admitted into the inpatient unit, and the one that showed up was an ordained Zen Buddhist monk. Talking with him allowed me to address those spiritual dimensions of my depression that I couldn’t discuss with the psychiatrists. He’d stop by to see me once every two or three days, sometimes unannounced, which I appreciated. We had some very deep conversations. In one of his last visits with me, which took place later at night, when the ward had quieted down, I finally broke down and had a good, cathartic cry. I was thinking about how much I treasured these conversations and I how I wished I could speak this openly and with so much substance to everyone in my life. At the time I thought I was only crying because of my individual sense of loneliness and isolation, but now I know I was also channeling the loneliness and atomization of our entire industrial Cartesian culture.
The next day, the psychiatrists sat down with me and my parents and we determined that I could be discharged in the middle of the next week, provided that I saw a psychiatrist regularly and went to outpatient group therapy in Connecticut. I was no longer suicidal, but I was ambivalent about going home. I was still depressed enough that the prospect of sleeping in my own bed and eating a home-cooked meal was shrug worthy.
At that point, I had been moved to a bedroom with a roommate. From the room’s window, I could see, behind a row of apartment buildings, the top of a modest skyscraper with a brick, art-deco façade. From my vantage point, the I couldn’t see many windows. I really didn’t know whether the building was residential or commercial, but I fancied that the portion of the skyscraper I could see was the penthouse of a reclusive individual. Its windows were illuminated at night and in the early morning, and I tried to imagine what the possible resident of the “penthouse” were doing up there: asleep on the couch with the TV on, reading the newspaper over an early breakfast? And I was still in awe that people could manage to go about, let alone enjoy, such mundane things. Was anyone else as filled with dread at the state of the world as I was? This is all to say that the “routine world” was still remote to me, and I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to rejoin that world with the same levels of joy and pleasure I used to experience.
After 19 nights and 18 full days, I was discharged from Columbia on March 1st, the first day of meteorological spring, which seems to be a synchronicity.
There was a light rain falling as my mom drove me from the hospital, but we weren’t heading home quite yet. While I was hospitalized, my neurologist at NYU had been pulling some levers so that I could be enrolled in a clinical research study of the drug Avastin (bevacizumab). Avastin, which is administered by IV, is normally used as a chemotherapy drug for treating several cancers. Since 2009, however, it’s been known to shrink, or at least halt, the growth of vestibular schwannomas in many NF2 patients. So, my mom was driving me downtown to NYU so that I could sign the requisite paperwork for enrolling in the trial (I could have received Avastin off-label, but for several reasons it made sense to enroll in a trial).
Back at home, my further recovery from depression was not the hard slog I feared it might be. I thought I would be progressing at a “two steps forward, one step backward” pace, that I’d have bad days interspersed among better days. But I was making pretty consistent progress. Although I was sleeping very late, that was because my body needed the detoxifying rest of sleep. When I awoke, I didn’t have to struggle to get out of bed. I gradually returned to cooking, reading, going for walks outdoors, and exercising at the gym. I think this consistent progress was partly due to the fact that I was no longer burdened by academic concerns. I decided to be fully transparent with my professors about what was going on with me, and it was liberating to abandon the pretenses of my sanitized classroom self. Being honest can work magic, too. After communicating by email with my professors about everything I had been dealing with, my “incomplete” grades from the fall were revised to A- grades without me needing to make up any work.
I was also going to outpatient group talk therapy at Norwalk Hospital in Connecticut 3 times per week for all of that March (later 2 times per week in April). I got to the point where I enjoyed the therapy, mostly because of the people I met there. It was usually the same people and the same therapists in each session, and they came from a diverse range of ages and backgrounds (the energy of that group is reminiscent of this forum). I was a bit regretful when I completed my prescribed course of outpatient therapy at the end of April.
As far as psychiatric treatment went, it turned out that, thanks to a grant, the neuro-oncology center where I was receiving my Avastin infusions had an arrangement with a top-notch psychiatrist/psychologist whereby any of their patients could see the psych doc up to 12 times a year for free. Through March and April, I saw him once a week, and he was so much better than the therapist I was seeing the previous year. Although he’d ask me about how I was responding to sertraline (just fine, no real side effects), our sessions primarily had a psychotherapeutic focus. He’d just let me talk. Unlike my former therapist from 2016, he did not interject with prescriptive guidance or make me feel like I had to conform to any goal-oriented narrative of problem solving. I don’t know whether he took that approach with all of his patients, or whether he just intuited that I needed to talk without interruption. But it worked. Although I couldn’t speak to him about some of my deeper spiritual thoughts like I did with the Buddhist chaplain, I felt an ease in his office that I didn’t feel with the Columbia doctors or my old therapist. We didn’t meet at all in May, when I was recovering from pneumonia. When we resumed our sessions in the summer, I was seeing him once every other week. I’m pretty sure I saw him more than the allotted 12 free sessions for 2017, but he didn’t make any mention of needing to be paid.
A big boost to my morale came in mid-April, when the hearing in my right ear improved in response to the Avastin infusions I was receiving once every three weeks. My hearing returned to its baseline 2014-2016 levels, so I still had to wear a hearing aid. But having conversations became much easier, and I was able to appreciate music for the first time in several months. (Side note: I still receive Avastin infusions, but off-label rather than in a trial. My hearing has continued to remain stable since its improvement in April 2017, and I don’t suffer any noticeable side effects from the drug. In another synchronicity, my new doctor in Boston was the first neurologist to treat NF2 patients with Avastin.)
Despite all of these improvements, though, I wasn’t experiencing genuine joy. The world still seemed a bit remote and discolored. It wouldn’t be until after my NDE and the 3-week-long purgative process of riding out pneumonia that joy and full color returned to my life.
I continued to take sertraline at a somewhat high dose for the next year-and-a-half until I graduated from college. Back in the manufactured (and completely unnecessary) stress of academia as it’s currently practiced, I knew I was at a heightened risk of falling back into depression. But I was also listening to the wisdom wrapped up in my adversarial relationship with academia. In almost all of my classes, even ones taught by professors I truly liked, I’d simply say “no” to doing busy work that wasn’t actually deepening my knowledge or enriching my soul. My GPA suffered, but that was a price I was willing to pay in order to stand up for my mental health. I still met the threshold, though, for completing a year-long honors project in my interdisciplinary major (English and environmental studies). Working on that project was an outlet for my energy and angst. I wrote about how all of the converging crises of the 21st century may be ameliorated by shifting the cultural narrative of our collective relationship with the other-than-human world (including the ancestors). The highlights of that project included working with a Haudenosaunee traditional ecological knowledge institute and conducting research on an educational CSA farm on Long Island that used to be the largest slaveholding plantation north of the Mason-Dixon Line. I met people through those experiences with whom I still exchange ideas today. In December of 2018 I finally graduated from college (with honors) after five-and-a-half years.
One more synchronicity. In November of 2018 I was heading home from school for Thanksgiving on Amtrak’s Adirondack service. When the train made an extended stop in Albany, us passengers were allowed to walk around outside and stretch our legs on the platform. Outside on the platform, my jaw dropped: there , standing 20 feet away from me, was the male psychiatrist who treated me for depression as an inpatient at Columbia; he was also a passenger on the train. It was definitely him: same height (short), same hairstyle (close-cropped), same facial features (hobbitish, like Elijah Wood). I didn’t go up and greet him. He was clearly sharing an intimate moment with his wife/fiancée/girlfriend (perhaps they were returning from a weekend getaway at Lake Champlain). And besides, what would have been the point? I wasn’t his patient anymore, nor did I ever develop any friendship with him. In the absence of friendship, the doctor-patient relationship should be one where the patient gets better to the point where the two never have to see each other again. I spotted him that evening on the train platform, but he didn’t see me. I decided to keep it that way.
Once I was done with the manufactured (and completely unnecessary) stress of academia, I only saw my therapist (the one associated with the neuro-oncology center) three or four times before I moved away from the NYC area. By the time of our last session in July of 2019, I sensed that I’d be moving to Massachusetts or somewhere else deep in New England, and I told him that I was not intending to seek out a psychiatrist or psychologist wherever I ended up living. At that point I was quite anxious to be done with therapy. I was sick of sitting in a chair and talking to a clinically distant near stranger. I know that many people benefit from long-term psychotherapy, but I felt like I no longer needed it. I was at the point in my healing process where whatever further therapy I required needed to be negotiated amongst friends and soul allies (that’s what I’m doing with all of you!) I told my therapist the same thing I thought of on that train platform in Albany: ideally, in a doctor-patient relationship, the patient should get better to the point that they no longer need the help of the doctor.
Now I’m also getting sick of the pharmaceutical paradigm of medical treatment. I tapered off of sertraline when I finished school. I was fine without it until I moved last fall. As I adjusted to living alone in a new place and working full time, I felt myself succumbing to seasonal affective disorder, so I resumed taking a low dosage of sertraline as a precaution. I still do take that low dosage, but I know I’m at the point where I can stop taking antidepressants for good, especially after writing all of this (actually, I began the taper process last weekend). Over the coming year, I want to proceed to taper off the anti-seizure medication I was prescribed after the grand-mal seizure that led to my NDE. (This Easter, it will be three years since the seizure. Last year, with the go-head of my neurologist, I successfully cut the dosage of my anti-seizure med in half. I’ve further cut it by 25% so far this year). Eventually, I want to stop receiving Avastin infusions as well, but it’s less clear when that could be (I keep getting the year 2023 when I think about discontinuing Avastin). I know we as humans have the capacity to come up something better than pharmaceuticals. This paradigm shift can come about when more of us start saying “no more” to the Cartesian mindset where “healing” is brought about by feeding poison to our bodies. I’m ready to take that step.
My period of depression from late 2016 into 2017 was the culmination of at least 15 years of mindsets and habits that were products my inherent temperament combined with the ways NF2 was affecting my body and self-image. In November of 2013, when I was home from college for Thanksgiving, but before I knew about all of the drama that was ahead of me, I had a flash/vision of falling into a deep depression and attempting suicide. That is the first explicit vision I can remember receiving that ended up coming true. I got the sense that I would be driven to the precipice by a combination of medical stresses, academic stresses, and another dark factor that I couldn’t put my finger on. I know now that that “dark factor” was the worldwide resurgence of proto-fascism and my awakening to the depth of crisis society is embroiled in.
So, it’s time to talk about the president. Even though his election is what finally tipped me into the abyss, I don’t feel personal vindictiveness towards him as an individual. I don’t blame him for my depression. There’s no need to empower him by making him an arch-antagonist in my story (and yes, I would in fact be sending him energetic power if I spent my days cursing his name). He is the inevitable embodiment of everything that is sick in globalized industrial culture. If he did not run for president of the US, somebody or something else would have festered to the point that the global collective was forced to stare back at its own debauchedness. To me, #45 is just another person I don’t need to be focusing on. (But I can and do send light to the people who are being most adversely affected by the policies his position allows him to enact).
Collective sickness is my area of concern. I know that I came into the world at this time in order to work with globalized culture’s wetiko—the sickness of separation. As training for that work, I chose to be born into a body with NF2. NF2 inculcated the mindset of separation within my familial bonds and other personal relationships over the first 21 years of my life. I then chose severe depression and attempted suicide as part of my life contract. I also probably chose a number of potential triggers that would tip me into the abyss. I journeyed as deep into wetiko as I could possibly go while still being able to emerge intact on the other side. In fact, while about 80% of my being was hell-bent on ending my life, I sensed, even in the depths of my despair, there was a small part of my soul that was sitting back and letting events unfold in their own course, because it knew I wouldn’t actually kill myself. Side note: In my spiritual readings on suicide, I came across a medium who wrote in a book that, when someone is suicidal but still has a desire to live and see things through, no matter how miniscule, the universe will intervene and block the person’s suicide attempts. I believe that’s why the entrance to the George Washington Bridge was locked shut just as I was approaching it.
On its current trajectory, human society is heading towards a collective suicide, so what better way to understand that condition than to have my own brush with self-annihilation. Many of you express disbelief that it’s taking extreme crises—like the bushfires in Australia—to wake people up to the climate emergency. But I’m not in disbelief. I didn’t awake to the emergency of my mental health until I tried to jump into the Hudson River. But the road that led to that emergency began with genuine hurt and disappointment as a result of my NF2. Similarly, all of the planetary emergencies we’re witnessing began with a dearth of human love, with us as individuals being wounded by the paradigm of separation in one form or another.
That’s why I can’t summon vitriol towards supporters of the current president (the same goes for supporters of any of the other strongmen in the global Axis of Egos). When I see enraged, red-in-the-face, MAGA hat-wearing individuals, I see a deeply hurting child. I wonder, what betrayal of love in that person’s life led them to seek out the drug of hatred? Because of these ponderings, I deliberately avoided enraged liberals as much as I avoided supporters of the president-elect in the aftermath of the 2016 elections (I have a few extended family members who fell into the former category). I couldn’t handle the us-versus-them mentality of the “woke left.” They were spewing a lot of the same hate-filled speech they professed to be too good for (“brain-dead Fox-watching moron,” that sort of thing). No matter who it was coming from, that energy would bring me close to tears
I’m a bit teary typing this right now. We have got to stop thinking that we’re better or more evolved just because we parade around under the progressive label or were “with her” and voted Clinton. We all (including myself) have our hands dirty in the manifestation of wetiko. I am not talking about how whenever we turn on our lights or start our cars, we are emitting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. No. The mentality of separation is created by our very thoughts and use of language. So, every time you “otherize” a group of people by insisting on how debased they are compared to yourself, guess what? You’re perpetuating the same mentality of separation and war that is leading humanity to extinction. I’m still struggling with changing this inherited cultural mindset myself. I still occasionally regress back to self-righteousness or laughing at/demeaning collective groups. Depending on where you are in your journey, this sort of behavior may be serving an evolutionary purpose. Hatred can help us push away unwanted energy and better-define our true personal paths. But at some point, as individuals, we have to let go of those thought patterns and mature. Similarly, for the human collective, I think hatred (towards people) and separation served evolutionary purposes that we have now outgrown.
While reading your post at 3 a.m. Pacific, I was struck by your wisdom, strength and masterful writing. You are, indeed, a remarkable person in many ways. You are going to make an impact on our world as you have already made an impact our online community and on me. You are going to make a difference with your life and you will be remembered.