HEALING FROM TRAUMA WITH PSYCHEDELICS

Psychiatrist Will Siu, MD, is an advocate for healing from trauma from psychedelics. Currently a therapist on clinical trials using MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to treat PTSD, he shares his insights into a very human way to heal …

When we think about trauma, we often go straight to war, physical, or sexual abuse. But as important, are the traumas of neglect, of feeling un-safe, of feeling un-loved. People think: “I don’t deserve to say, ‘I’ve suffered trauma’. But that’s BS. All of us have suffered numerous traumas in our lives.

When this trauma is unhealed and unresolved, this manifests as suffering—in our bodies and in our beings. And so we find strategies to cope. Depending on our genetic make-up, our family history, and our place in society, this might look like a cluster of symptoms that we call OCD, PTSD, or addiction. I don’t think about these as disorders. They are simply what our body and mind are doing to try to protect us. There’s nothing wrong with us—these symptoms just show us that there is a trauma to be healed.

We’ve been throwing medication at this for years, and it doesn’t work. When it comes to mental health, Western medicine has seen most success with SSRIs like Prozac for treating depression, for example. But they only work slightly better than a placebo. It’s silly when physicians say this is the answer.

In contrast, the data from trials on MDMA for PTSD, psilocybin for alcoholism, psilocybin for end of life anxiety, and MDMA for social anxiety, is better than anything else we’ve seen for mental health. But there’s still a lot of resistance to integrating these therapies, which I believe stems from a fear of these being dangerous or addictive drugs.

I also want to emphasize that the studies being done are using these substances to facilitate the psychotherapy process. It’s not the molecules themselves that are doing the healing. Rather, they are assisting the interpersonal healing process that we call “psychotherapy.”

When it comes to healing trauma, I think of the concept of “catharsis”—and old psychology term for the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions. And three things need to happen for our bodies and our minds to release us from our traumas. There is a need for the intellectual memory of the trauma to be coupled with the emotional memory of it, and for this to happen in an empathic setting. Empathy is different from sympathy, when we might hear: “oh, that must have been hard for you.” It’s about really feeling that the person in front of you understands your experience. In many cases with empathy, there isn’t even a need for words.

What you’ll notice in my recipe for catharsis is that psychedelics are not in the equation. That a therapist is not in the equation. That a shaman in white linen a warehouse in Brooklyn is not in the equation. This is because we’re capable of doing this work by nature of us being human. Not that these things can’t be helpful, but thinking that one or more of these modalities themselves is going to heal you, is a mistake.

I believe that because of the way that Western culture has developed—with the breakdown of community, the breakdown of family—we’ve created the need for mental health professionals. It is possible to do this work on our own. When people are trained, there is a higher chance of healing the deepest wounds, but I don’t think it’s necessary. There are people who’ve been doing underground therapy for a long time—not that everybody does it well, including people who are trained to do psychedelic therapy. The key is to trust yourself and the way you feel when you are working with someone.

A psychiatrist named Stan Grof, who was friends with Albert Hoffman, who discovered LSD, has said: “The full experience of a negative emotion is the funeral pyre of that emotion.” This is an important way to think about healing from trauma. With psychedelic therapy, we’re talking about enhancing “negative” emotions and memories, whereas the Western approach has focused on suppressive therapies. Look at the categories of medications we use: anti-depressants. Anti-anxiety meds. We’re really doing the opposite of trying to feel every emotion through to its “funeral pyre.”

Western medicine and psychiatry are not to blame for this. It’s also an approach that represents our culture and where we are as a society. The emotions that we tend to suppress are sadness and fear. Interpersonally, and in self-help memes on social media, they’re thought of as signs of weakness. Something to be ashamed of, as if there’s something wrong with us for feeling or expressing them. I think the way we treat them medically is a result of this cultural treatment of them. Emotions like joy and anger, meanwhile, are very, very acceptable. We need to shift this if we’re going to do any real healing.

Using psychedelics as part of the Western medicine approach in doing this work is also going to take a change in society. These are evocative therapies. They’re the opposite of suppressive therapies. They evoke emotions, they evoke memories, they evoke physical symptoms. Hopefully in an environment that is conducive to healing. The term “set and setting,” coined by Timothy Leary in 1961, speaks to where you’re at personally, who are you with, and what is the physical space like. All of these elements have an impact on your overall experience.

Of course, some of these consciousness altering molecules can also be used to escape from our problems, including ketamine, marijuana, alcohol, MDMA, and nicotine. Again, it comes back to set and setting as to whether these things can be helpful or harmful. I’m also not saying these substances can’t be used for recreation, for fun, for creativity. We just need to not be fooling ourselves when we’re trying to do healing work with them.

The final piece I want to mention is integration. People aren’t focusing enough on this part of psychedelic healing, which I think of as the work that is done in the days, weeks, and months after the experience itself. In my opinion, the majority of the long-term benefits of psychedelic therapy is in the sober work that follows.

Real bravery doesn’t come from taking a third of fourth cup of ayahuasca, or five or six tabs of acid. It’s really about going back to work the following week and seeking to make peace with the coworker that irritates you. It could be calling a sibling you haven’t spoken to in nine months because you felt they aren’t as “enlightened” as you, and choosing to love them anyway. These healing interactions are truly where we find the long-term benefits of this work.

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Will Siu, MD , DPhil, studied medicine at UCLA, the National Institute of Health in Washington DC, and Oxford University. In addition ton addition to his private practice in NYC, he is a therapist on clinical trials using MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to treat PTSD. Learn more about Will and his work HERE and follow him on Instagram.

SPIRITUAL SHROOMING: MY UNLIKELY AWAKENING

Strung out on repressed feelings, a health crisis and mental break became an unexpected awakening for Meg Hartley, care of some spiritual shrooming…

“During my four-day break with the mundane, I connected to a bigger part of myself, which also happened to feel like an infinitely more stable part of myself”—Meg Hartley 

When I was 19, I wasn’t in a good place. I had lost my mother to suicide four years prior, and my once-successful “smashing down” of feelings had relentlessly resurfaced into every part of my consciousness.

I usually avoided the pain by staying busy all day, then intoxicated into the evening via copious amounts of marijuana or whatever else was floating around the dorms: ‘shrooms, ecstasy, and lots and lots of cheap alcohol.

But late at night, when I’d try my hardest to sleep and fail miserably, I couldn’t hide from the pain. I had taken to scratching at my skin until it bled because it hurt less than the storm that wailed inside. It was like there was so much unprocessed pain my mind didn’t know where to start. Agonizing thoughts just whipped around in my head, out of control and going nowhere.

I’d soon learn about meditation and mindfulness, which gave me a life raft to embrace during these times. But before then, I’d go home to Alaska for summer break and have a four-day experience a psychologist called a “mental break” and a philosophy teacher called “a preview to awakening.”

But to me, it simply felt like a very long dream that showed me true happiness was a real possibility … even for me, which seemed impossible at the time. This set the scene for my subsequent spiritual exploration and gave me a reason to commit to my emotional healing.

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The year was 2002. My first year of philosophy classes in college had finally given form and texture to vague spiritual ideas I’d always had intuitive knowings about. The ideas that this life is an illusion, that humanity is currently experiencing a shift in consciousness, and that we’re each here to learn specific things, were presented by different religions and philosophers from all over the world.

This deja vu sense of remembering (that my teacher said was normal, but which sure felt like magic to me!) combined with all the partying left me ungrounded, spacey, and generally disinterested in “mundane” everyday life. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but I also had a B12 deficiency that was hitting mental health symptom levels. In addition to this, there was a cyst growing on my pineal gland, which is known to augment spiritual experiences.

And so, not yet privy to the drawbacks of being ungrounded, and unaware of this explosive combination brewing in my brain, I celebrated my return home by eating yet more ‘shrooms with a dear friend.

The experience of taking psilocybin is different for everyone, but in my experimental days it was something that I regarded with reverence––like a really fun church. During every trip, the idea of “God” or a benevolent bigger something, seemed obvious and present to me. There was silliness and hilarity, but also times where I would leave my friends to go sit with my favorite tree for hours, my head filled with streaming thoughts that were ontological in nature- the answers to all of life’s big questions, more ideas I’d later study in ancient texts.

And this time, for four days after the mushroom trip ought to have ended, my thoughts remained consistently in the ontological realm––a far cry from my daily headscape at the time, which was mostly centered around losing my v-card and being “too fat.” 

In stark contrast, everything I encountered had meaning on top of meaning, and life felt so beautiful that I cried happy tears. From the inside, the experience felt like a blissful and meditative state where therapeutic dreams met real life. Colors became more vibrant as I released dark twisted pains from deep within like a long and satisfying belch.

Meg with a handmade lithograph about her experience

Of course, it’s not “normal” to weep from joy at the sight of a mountain that’s there every damn day, or to stare at everyday items babbling about “the language of the Universe” and “signs.”

Everyone in my world thought I had lost my marbles. When I finally noticed this reaction in others, I very suddenly snapped out of it, shocked at their concern and upset about making an ass of myself. That clouded my vision of the experience, as social acceptance was the form of surrender I was most familiar with at the time. But I now look back on it as being as helpful as it was hugely bizarre: the juice was totally worth the squeeze (it can be freeing sometimes to have people think you’re a little nuts, anyhoo!) 

I was immediately changed, and the depression didn’t return for many years (not until my B12 levels hit a fantastic new low and a whole new set of challenges revealed themselves). It was like I had been dusted from the inside out, I felt clear and centered in a way that I had never experienced. I carried on with the drug experimentation for a couple more years and nothing like that happened again- something that brought both great relief and a fleeting sense of disappointment.

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During my four-day break with the mundane, I connected to a bigger part of myself, which also happened to feel like an infinitely more stable part of myself.

And that connection––and many times just the memory of that connection—brought a cherished light into the darkest nights of my soul. It also provided the motivation for my subsequent spiritual and emotional journeys: remembering that mental landscape, and knowing that if I stayed on the spiritual path then that sense of peace and connectedness would eventually feel like home.

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Meg Hartley is an Alaskan artist and writer happily replanted in wonderfully weird Portland, Oregon. She loves really great trees, cashew ice “cream”, mysticism, and is totally obsessed with mindfulness. Her new book is called How I Lost All My Fucksa one-month experience that will have you losing all yours! Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  

HOW I FOUND A WAY TO BE OF SERVICE

Looking for a way to be of service? Look to your natural —and keep it simple, says Kerri Aab

In spiritual communities, it’s often believed that at your lowest point, to be of service to someone else can turn your entire situation around. That looking past our own suffering for ways to alleviate the suffering of someone else is a key to happiness and fulfillment.

No time like the present to test the theory, right?

And if the phrases “alleviate suffering” and “being of service” bring to mind images of volunteering for the Peace Corps or doing mission work in Africa, it’s worth keeping in mind that an act of service can include anything from smiling at a stranger, to complimenting a struggling mama at the grocery store, to baking some cookies for your neighbor.

Being of service doesn’t have to mean some grand act of self-sacrifice. It simply means reaching out. And sometimes the actions that have most impact are the simplest.

Case in point: late last year I was deeply depressed. Not un-common for me during the time of year we’re supposed to be making merry. I’m used to the holiday blues.

But last year was different. There was an ache and an emptiness that none of my go-to spiritual or healing practices seemed to be able to reach. I looked for guidance and sought all kinds of remedies to take the pain away—but the more I grasped, the worse things seemed.

I felt hopeless, helpless, and adrift.

Then, one morning during my daily self Reiki practice, I felt compelled to turn my Reiki hands not towards myself, but rather, to send the Reiki out. I did so and there I sat for the next hour with a vague intention of sending Reiki to “anyone in need.”

No, there were no unicorns swooping over the horizon, and no rainbows suddenly appeared— but I noticed how my sense of despair had lifted. Enough for me to send distance Reiki out again the next day. And the next.

Within a week, I’d decided to make a daily practice of sending out Reiki to others. Shortly after which, brief little messages of hope or inspiration would come through during my morning Reiki time, which I texted to a few friends. These messages began as subtle little thoughts that I attributed to my mind regurgitating information from years spent dedicated to learning about spirituality and energy medicine.

I quickly came to believe however, that these messages, which were growing in length and intensity, were the work of a much larger energy that I was somehow tapping into. God? The Universe (what I call “The Big U”)? Who knows. I’ve come to refer to the bearers of these messages as my “etheric pals” though, as I now palpably feel their energy in the room with me and they feel like friends.

Within a month I had a consistent daily practice that I was being guided to share further. So I sent out an email to friends and family, offering free distance daily Reiki, plus an optional inspirational email, to anyone who requested it.

To my surprise and delight, almost every single person replied with a resounding “COUNT ME IN!” and the list has continued to grow ever since. People come, people go. But, no matter what, I sit down every morning, send Reiki, and write an email about the message I heard during the session.

Has my depression lifted, and I been living in Reiki bliss since then? Here’s where I disappoint you. This isn’t one of those “and then my whole life changed and everything is love and light” type stories.

But here’s what did happen. 

This simple act of using a gift I have been given, to help others, has confirmed for me the importance of being of service in the world.

My daily act of service has given me an anchor to hold onto on days when depression hits so hard that I don’t want to open my eyes. It does this by providing the focus and energy I need to get through to the other side.

My act of service has given my life a foundation of consistency. Rain or shine, I know that people are counting on me and looking to me for the support I pledged to give them. This is the best motivator for sticking to any practice.

My act of service has gifted me with humility and perspective. That people trust me with their stories and with a small aspect of their personal growth is humbling and something I take very seriously. These stories continually remind me of how freakin’ blessed I am when there’s so much suffering in the world.

And, during this very trying post-election week, showing up for the Reiki crew has, at times, felt like the only thing giving me a flicker of hope. When I have felt useless and truly despairing, sitting down to energetically uplift others has reminded me of why I’m on this planet. Which is to anchor the human experience in goodness. To help others find their inner power.

I am also so grateful for the replies I receive each day from people all over the world, about how a particular message changed them or inspired them to go out and spread some joy of their own. The benefits of service are contagious!

So, are you in?

We’ve all been given different gifts—and they are not ours to hoard or hide away. But to give away, inspiring others to do the same.

If you’re feeling plunged into darkness at this time, my advice is to simply give of yourself in whatever way you can. There are endless ways to be of service in the world, so find your gift and share it. Take action. If you want to make the world a better place, then go out and do it. When in doubt, look out.

Do you sing? Bring your voice to the elderly.
Make a mean lasagna? Cook for the hungry.
Love spending time with children? Babysit for a mama who needs a break.
Have a green thumb? Help start a community garden.

And if you think you can’t do this, I would like to gently remind you that you can. After all, a man was just elected to the highest office in the land with zero experience. And if he can believe in himself and his abilities, so can you.

So can you.

I was reminded the other day of a great quote from Jonathan Larson’s musical Rent: “The opposite of war isn’t peace. It’s creation.” 

It’s time to create the world in which we wish to live. It’s time for us to use our gifts to create beauty, peace, unity, love, acceptance and hope for all. One simple act of service at a time.

Kerri Aab, BFRP is a Bach Foundation Registered Practitioner, a Reiki practitioner, quantum biofeedback practitioner, Kundalini yogi, dancer, singer and group fitness instructor. Click here to register for FREE DAILY DISTANCE REIKI with Kerri, and discover more about her healing work at Seedtoblossom.com.

IS MEDITATION DANGEROUS FOR MANIC DEPRESSIVES?

Following an experience that took her to the edge, Lisa Luxx asks is meditation dangerous for the more sensitive minds among us?

Some of us are so highly connected to the rhythms of the Moon, that much like the tide we are dragged by some greater force into depth and darkness. One would have thought the way back toward the surface would be through meditation; the New Age answer to everything. I certainly thought so—surely it will balance me back out and return me to my moorings. Until one prolonged Samantha mediation class led me to the lip of suicide.

Silence is best taken in tiny sips when the mind has a tendency for self-destruction. I know this after I glugged on a big cup of the stuff and wound up choking. What happened was, the class leader was taking us through a guided meditation; only at a certain point, I was instructed to stop following their guidance and continue with my own practice for the remainder of the class.

So now there’s me, free-falling. Surrounded by all these people in woven clothes, with clear eyes and a softness about their jaw. And me, whimpering in pain, crying abundantly, unable to make eye contact or speak, playing out my own death forwards and backwards in my head until I now how to execute it perfectly.

I survived thanks to a very sensitive friend who was in the class too and saw it all happen. Once I’d come ’round I spoke to another friend, also bestowed the gift of ‘manic depression’—and she told me that her teacher at the East London Buddhist Centre advised she only take half hour classes because of the uncertainty that lay in opening up. My quasi-spiritual therapist wasn’t surprised either; “you have to be so careful with meditation,” she told me, explaining how dangerous it can be to create space for unwelcome thoughts to take hold.

My experience was overwhelming. Depression has been sucking on me ever since I remember, but I’ve never felt such a sudden rush of pain as I did that day. It was a tidal wave. A brute force. The most certain and determined I’ve ever felt about wanting to pass through to the other side of living. During the time it took for the episode to play out, I existed within the visions of death, rather than the visions of death existing within me.

Ever since the experience I’ve been wary about meditating again. I’ve got myself in a really good, balanced place now but I daren’t allow space for that darkness to re-enter and consume me again. My pal won’t always be on hand to pull me back in from the ledge. I see now that this resistance is my psyche trying to protect me. But when I speak to Sumaya Fenton, my friend who is a practitioner of Rinzai Zen, she tells me: “The psyche trying to protect you is based on fear and ego. Any emotion you had was only temporary.”

She goes on to explain that sometimes these knock backs happen before a great break through. But I haven’t felt safe blindly continuing with the same practices I felt had almost killed me. However, each person walks their own path to enlightenment (in as many life times as it takes), and perhaps my pathway is going to start to look a little different.

A walking meditation. Photo by Olivia Sykes

“Wherever you’re at you’re still on a path. In Zen they talk about the ten stages of insight—the road map to enlightenment—and around stage four people have this experience of a big fear, or something that really knocks them back, but you carry on and focus less on the significance and meaning of that experience and more on the physicality of meditation,” says Sumaya.

For me, meditation right now cannot be about sitting in silence—but it can be about movement, like walking meditation, or other physical manifestations. Paying attention to each part of my foot in turn as it makes contact with the earth. Focusing on my breath and other practices that put the awareness in my body: “[in these practices] your mind is still opening up and expanding but you’re not watching your mind so consciously and fearfully.”

I also sit across from the Yorkshire moors, where my house is nestled, and interpret the patterns of the Sun/Moon-light across the hills mirroring my emotions. Finding synchronicity between my internal process and the greater external process. Which also works to remind me that my ups and downs are simply localized versions of the master rhythms of this universe.

Yoga helps. And I’ve also taken up life-drawing. You learn something about yourself from the way you depict another body. These have become my ways of getting mindful and finding peace within the almighty Oneness. Though I still often feel like I’m free-falling.

Sumaya says that the pressure in the West to do everything ourselves is what’s making for unsafe meditation practices. “Having a teacher is paramount. Pretty much as important as daily practice. The problem is systemic, Western capitalism only provides this culture of sticking plasters rather than giving the proper context of how and why to tread this path—which often comes from a long-term relationship with a teacher.”

It feels to me like in our society, this ‘one size fits all’ take on meditation is proving to sit a little baggy or tight on many of us. For the more sensitive minds among us, giving time to developing a relationship with a trusted teacher would also mean rooting ourselves in connectivity, by allowing our journey to be directed by the wisdom of another.

East London Buddhist Centre run Breathing Space, a course developed for people with depression, anxiety or other imbalances (‘gifts,’ as I like to call them). The course involves more personal attention from the teacher, more support. But even within their standard classes they aim to relate to people on a personal basis.

“Faith in humankind is what we need the most” says Sumaya. And if our practice begins with trusting another human being then we starting off in the arms of safety, which is ultimately what saved me. And why I’m ready to continue on my path.

If you’re concerned about whether meditation is right for you, then please consult with a medical professional.

SHADOW EMOTION: HOW TO WORK WITH ANGER

Mars retrograde stirring up any suppressed…rage (um, Lemonaid)? You can use your anger as a powerful tool for transformation, says Erin Telford

Anger is my favorite shadow emotion. It’s powerful, it gets things done and it is excellent at creating boundaries and change.

But anger is also one of the most misunderstood and underutilized emotions. As women, we are socialized in both overt and covert ways to be nice, not make a fuss and not rock the boat. When we are taught by our loved-ones and by our culture to bite our tongue in service of keeping the peace, we can get very disconnected from trusting our feelings and from feeling safe to work with this emotion when it flares up.

The thing is, most of us have never seen a healthy expression of anger. We associate it with road rage, throwing things at people, screaming, crying, cursing, fear, abuse, physical threats, danger, and out of control people. These are all examples of unhealthy anger. It’s not an emotion we appreciate so we try our very best to suppress it out of existence.

But it’s actually unexpressed or suppressed anger can get ugly. And beyond the stigma, all anger is, is a catalyst for change and an opportunity for some honest communication. Anger can actually work for you if you work with it.

Anger in its purest form simply says: “I don’t like this. Something needs to be different about this situation.” It’s a call to action! You don’t like it? Okay, change it!

One of the best examples of healthy anger is peaceful protest. This is anger put to work—a group of people turning their collective anger into action to create change. We are seeing this right now in politics, the environment, and human rights. It is impossible for anyone with a beating heart to turn a blind eye to what is going on in our world. We are riled up, expressing our opinions and getting involved!

We can all do this in our personal lives as well. Anger is a very powerful force and if wielded with grace and finesse, it can move mountains. Where we get into trouble with anger is when we push it down, causing it to build.

Anger is connected with the season of spring. This is because it speaks to the catalytic energy surge required to turn a seed into a plant, to push it’s little head above the soil and reach for the sun! Spring, our liver, and by association the energy of anger, are connected with upward and outward growth.

So what happens if your growth is inhibited? What happens when someone tells you “no”? A ridiculous new policy is created at work? What if you are simply just trying to walk down the street and everyone is in your way? You didn’t get the apartment or the job or the acceptance letter, a flight is delayed, a class isn’t offered, you didn’t get the promotion?

These are ways that an obstacle interrupts the smooth flow of our life. We don’t like obstacles. We don’t like no. We don’t like interruptions to our plans.

And so our natural reaction can be anger. Which is totally fine. We are upset.

But to deny this is to block our access our personal power. When we feel guilty about what we feel or label ourselves as being “negative” when we feel angry, we miss out on an opportunity to out-create our circumstances.

Rather, if we can sit with our anger, can look at where it’s coming from and why we feel it, we can polish it into a nugget of transformational gold. If we have been hurt or upset by another person, rather than lashing out, we can advocate for ourselves and clearly state our needs to that person. If someone continually disrespects or hurts us, you may need to use that anger to create a change in the terms of that relationship!

You may have heard that anger turned inward results in depression—an oversimplified expression, since depression has many roots and takes many forms—but there is some weight to it.

When we repress our anger toward a partner, friend, loved one or co-worker by not sharing our truth, we are betraying ourselves. We are inadvertently communicating to ourselves that our feelings don’t matter and we are not worth standing up for. Self-betrayal is the most painful betrayal of all and can decrease self-esteem and confidence—leading to depression.

So we stay snippy and unexpressed and we self-medicate even more or our tense up even more, or our digestion suffers. It doesn’t have to be this way. Use your anger as a call to action to change your circumstances.

Breathe it out. Dance it out. Run it out. Write it out. Scream it out (not at someone else!) Sing it out. Create it out. Talk it out. Paint it out. Boot camp it out. Express it out.

You have to feel it to heal it. You have to let it out to transform it. Just don’t be afraid of anger.

The more you know your triggers and can feel when it’s rising in you, the more gently and safely you can manage this emotion. Anger is so powerful and properly harnessed it can do so much for you. Think of anger as your inner Mama Bear, your inner Kali, and your inner badass.

And let it be fuel to create powerful change and transform your life.

SIT WITH IT: A NEW WAY TO WORK WITH DEPRESSION

Depression can be a signal of deep discontent from your soul. As tough as it is, try diving into those feelings through meditation and self-reflection to clear your psyche, says Erin Telford

 

“Winter is a great time for depression,” I joked at a Breathwork group last month. I was met with some very nervous giggles. As with most things, it’s only funny because it’s uncomfortably true.

All humor aside, I got really depressed last winter.

It wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling. The first time I remember feeling depressed was when I was about 14 years old. It felt like being trapped in a glass, banging on the walls with no one listening, fatigue and a vague sense of loss and hazy unmet needs.

When I started to sink down and enter that deep gray landscape, I just felt tired and defeated. You again? After all this work?

I was involved in a group-coaching program at the time. I was honest with everyone about the despair I was feeling. They came full force with the positivity. You got this! You just need a spa day! Self-care! Find your gratitude!

“Seriously?” I thought. I was surprised by how fiercely irritated I was with their advice. And it hit me. I did not want to be cheerled out of this. I wanted to go down into the dungeon of my psyche and find some f*cking answers.

My response to feeling depressed in the past was to wait until it was over. Back pedal out of the icky feelings. Utilize the usual anesthetics. Self-medication. Self-isolation. Online shopping. Staying busy. Hitting the crack pipe rabbit hole of social media.

This time needed to be different. I’m not a confused teenage girl anymore. I’ve been waking up for a long time and I have an arsenal of tools in my bag, perfect for this emotional renovation. So I made a commitment to going down and in – and not coming back out until I found what I was looking for.

So what did that look like in real life? I turned my phone off. I sat in my favorite spot in my apartment, this little nook with a bunch of plants, great light, and a big window, and I checked in. I sat with myself. I did some writing. I asked many times and in as many ways as I could, “what is underneath all of this pain?”

I was really gentle with myself. This line of inquiry did not involve self-criticism, curse words, belittling myself or my process or any feeling of needing to hurry up and get back to “normal” life. I did not take time off but I did give myself all of the time that I had and needed.

What I found was a deep well of sweetness for myself.

The supposed truth that had taken me down to these depths was uncovered as just another clever way that I had fooled myself into believing that I was separate, that I was unloved, that I was unsupported. I discovered that I had the power inside to be able to break a life long pattern by looking at my wounds with tender curiosity rather than frustration or disdain.

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Depression is often framed as something that just happens to us like getting a cold or a bummer draw of a genetic card. While environment, brain chemistry, and family lineage can be part of long-standing major depression; many of us experience it simply as a response to what’s going on in our lives.

We sell ourselves short by saying, “I’m just depressed.” As if it has nothing to do with the emotional pain that we’ve endured, the unattended wounds, the countless hours spent confused and alone or in groups of people who fail to see or help our hurt. The real life existential crisis that is: “I was told this would make me happy and I’m not. That must mean something is wrong with me. “

Very few of us have been taught any kind of practical way to channel and work with emotional pain. Most likely the instruction we covertly receive is to tuck away the unlovable, messy parts of ourselves. Shove them way, way, way into the back of the closet so we never have to look at the shame or hurt or confusion we feel. Or, let anyone else see it!

There is a single seed of discontent within you that is begging to be acknowledged.

It could be linked to:

Wrong job
Wrong friends
Wrong city
Wrong relationship
Wrong environment
Wrong…paradigm

Only you know, and facing it down is what I call Constructive Depression. It will require your participation. It will require fierce internal responsibility. And it is your job and your job alone, since no-one else can connect to your deepest parts but you.

The longer you’ve been feeling this way, the more wildly uncomfortable you may be with the truth that is banging on the door of your heart, begging for bread and water. How honest are you willing to be with yourself when your wellbeing is on the line?

So how to you do this?

You can think of Constructive Depression as a soul expedition. So what do you need for an internal journey? Nutritious snacks, great music, paints, journals, talismans, crystals, instruments, quiet, something to burn away the energy. Gather all of your supportive resources.

This is not an intellectual exercise. This is a reckoning. You with you.

This is a slow immersive dip into your soul. A psychic cleansing. Mental decongestion. Moving toward rather than away. Your resistance to this idea is equal to your commitment that all of this is due to the outside rather than inside forces. You ARE up to the task.

We experience the full range of human emotions for a reason. We feel sad because something is breaking our heart. We feel angry because something isn’t right and it needs to change. We feel fear because we are threatened or being asked to expand.

Depression is an opportunity for internal exploration. You are not depressed because you are a bad person or you skipped too many days of yoga or gratitude journaling.

You are depressed because something is not working for you. There is a yearning. An emotional chasm. Something that is crying out to be witnessed and seen like it’s never been seen before. Our wounds are rarely greeted with the exact kind of care and response that we are craving. When we accumulate a lifetime of hurts that have gone unnoticed or unattended to by others, the responsibility falls back to us to determine what we need.

So meet yourself with all of the tenderness, all of the sweetness, the hugs, the love, and the acceptance that you hold within you. Go inside, find your golden nugget of truth, and only come back out when you are ready – holding your treasure high.

*Mental health can be very tenuous. If you feel like this is something you can safely undertake, please do. If it feels like too much, please seek professional support for this internal exploration.

WELLBEING 101: A LOOK AT NUMEROLOGY FOR HEALTH

We all have our Achilles heel, that recurring something that seems to undermine our overall wellbeing. After a magic potion to fix it? Practical numerologist Felicia Bender has some insight into the underlying health issues that have got your number.

Beyond the ever-present headlines about the obesity epidemic in America and belly-blasting foods you shouldn’t eat, do you ever wish you could cut to the chase and focus on your own core health issues from a slightly different angle?

Looking into Numerology for health begins with the core emotional issues you may find yourself grappling with, which can in turn manifest in ongoing or recurring physical concerns.

There are many numbers that make up your Numerological chart, and yet if you only learn one, your Life Path number is the one to know. This number indicates your life’s purpose, while also providing you with some great information about the constructive and destructive qualities that you might work with along the way.

Here’s how to work our yours:

Write down your birth date.

We’ll use September 4, 1988 as an example.

So that’s 9/4/1988

Now simply add all the numbers together like a long addition problem:

9 + 4 + 1 + 9 + 8 + 8 = 39

The key to numerology is that you always digit down to a one-digit number.  So here we must keep adding until we get to a one-digit number.

3 + 9 =  12

1 + 2 = 3

This person has a Life Path number 3

*A note:  If you get a 10, 20, 30, you still digit down.  So 10 is 1 + 0 = 1 and so on.  You also must make sure and use the whole year, not just the last two digits of the year.  It’s not like writing a check!  You must use the entire 4-digit year for your results to be correct.

NOW.  Let’s look at a very brief description of how you might think about your health according to your Life Path number.

ONE LIFE PATH

  • Who you are:  You’re all about being #1. You’re independent and a born leader. Your Mantra: “I march to the beat of my own drum.”
  • The core emotional issue:  Struggling with self-confidence. Stress. You can become cynical and overbearing. You can be a workaholic.
  • Where you feel it:  Shoulders, knees, insomnia, addictions, blood pressure, heart, liver.
  • What you can do about it:  Be aware of addictive tendencies that allow you to build a wall around your ego self – like a fortress for one. The 1 Life Path is a thinker, so it’s hard to turn your brain off. Therefore alcohol or other addictive sedatives can feel especially soothing to you. You’d benefit from added cardio exercise, while relaxation is also key – anything to get you out of your head and help you release some of that pent-up energy of yours. So get into a regular routine with yoga/meditation and regular massage as well as something that makes your heart race and your body sweat.

TWO LIFE PATH

  • Who you are:  You’re all about balance and harmony. You’re emotionally sensitive. You live to give and receive love. Your Mantra: “I want you to want me!”
  • The core emotional issue:  Feeling everything deeply. You take things to heart. On the flip side, you can become overly aggressive and self-centered in your communication.
  • Where you feel it:  Depression (sadness), hypertension, joint pains, headaches, stomach issues, heart problems, overwhelming insecurity.
  • What you can do about it:  You benefit from Group Therapy (get it out!) or engaging in friendships where you can deeply express your feelings. You thrive with group activities (hiking, classes, and so on) because you’re all about service to group dynamics, so a choreographed dance workout where you become part of one big sweaty group expression, will greatly appeal to your energy. Also be aware that you can get caught up in emotional eating, and practise being really present about what your body actually needs to nourish you in the present moment.

THREE LIFE PATH

  • Who you are:  You’re all about emotional self-expression, communication, and creativity. Your Mantra can be borrowed from The Who“See me,  feel me, touch me, heal me.” 
  • The core emotional issue:  Under or over-expressing your overflowing emotions. You need to be heard!  You can become emotionally damaged.
  • Where you feel it:  Weight control, throat issues, intestinal tract issues.
  • What you can do about it:  You need consistent exercise to aid metabolism and stress reduction. Be aware of your intestinal tract, as this is the place you most often process your emotions you can suffer from gastrointestinal distress. You might consider using a probiotic for good intestinal health. Cultivate healthy outlets for your emotions.  Keep a journal! Learn to express yourself in healthy ways. Cultivate healthy emotional detachment. Anything that keys into verbal or written expression is perfect for you.

FOUR LIFE PATH

  • Who you are:  You’re all about stability and security. Your Mantra:  “Slow and steady wins the race.”
  • The core emotional issue:  Rigidity. You can become stubborn and rigid, both physically and emotionally.
  • Where you feel it:  Joint pain, lower back problems, weight issues, intestinal distress, migraines, depression.
  • What you can do about it:  You need consistent cardiovascular exercise for metabolism, stress reduction, and joint mobility. You benefit from a lighter diet because you often have more of a solid, Kapha-like constitution. You thrive in nature, so any time spent with your “feet in the dirt” is relaxing for you. You’re in heaven when you can cultivate your own little organic garden, eat your bounty, and bird-watch while you’re weeding. You would also benefit from counselling surrounding childhood issues because as a Four Life Path, you’ll be challenged with working through childhood issues as a major part of your life’s journey.

FIVE LIFE PATH

  • Who you are:  You’re all about freedom, fearlessness, and adventure. Your Mantra: “Don’t fence me in!”
  • The core emotional issue:  You can become overly emotional and scattered. Or on the flip side, you can become the fearful “anti-adventurer.” You need your space.
  • Where you feel it:  Adrenal burnout, joint pain (especially knees and TMJ), addictions, emotional issues.
  • What you can do about it: Focus on regular exercise, meals and hydration (drink plenty of water – you can get dehydrated easily). Be aware of a propensity toward addictions, and find ways to express your emotions in a healthy way without being a Drama Queen or King! You’re meant to find a way to master the constructive use of freedom in your life, so you walk the delicate balance between fun and fearless or wild and out of control. If you’re running in high gear all of the time, you have a tendency toward adrenal burn-out. Over or under eating is also a temptation.

SIX LIFE PATH

  • Who you are: You’re all about responsibility and nurturing. You’re a visionary; you see the bigger picture. Your Mantra:  “The world is perfect in its imperfection.”
  • The core emotional issue:  Self-righteousness and perfectionism. You can become a control-freak.
  • Where you feel it: Can experience weight issues – you often feel you carry the “weight of the world” and so that can become your physical reality; or alternately, you can over-focus on creating the “perfect” body. Also breast and/or reproductive health issues, accidents, migraines.
  • What you can do about it: You’re super-responsible, unless you’re working with the opposite end of your life’s purpose which  can lead to over-nurturing and meddling – so practice healthy emotional detachment in any way you can. Tapping, EFT, Byron Katie’s “The Work” are all good resources for separating yourself from your sometimes unrealistic expectation of yourself and of others. Because you’re The Nurturing One, you can have a tendency to take on the “weight of the world.” Limit sweets and dairy, as those are your comfort foods in times of stress.

SEVEN LIFE PATH

  • Who you are:  You’re all about seeking the truth about the meaning of life. Your Mantra: “If we’re spiritual beings going through a human experience – prove it!”
  • The core emotional issue: Fear of being vulnerable. You’re here to develop trust and openness, so this will be a consistent issue for you. You need space and time alone.
  • Where you feel it:  Depression, addictions, insomnia, headaches.
  • What you can do about it:  You’re highly analytical and also highly intuitive, so meditation is imperative for you. Time in nature or interacting with water soothes your overly-active mind. Your Life Path is about learning how to acknowledge and connect with both aspects of yourself – the left brain data analysis part of you and the right brain intuitive side to you, so you need to take time alone to process and contemplate. Although all of us do best with “clean” un-processed food, you’re particularly sensitive to food and thrive when you consume a simpler diet.

EIGHT LIFE PATH

  • Who you are: You’re all about financial abundance, power, and authority. Your Mantra: “Money equals freedom.”
  • The core emotional issue:  Aggression. You can become controlling and opinionated. You tend to be a workaholic.
  • Where you feel it:  Blood pressure, heart issues, stress-related illness.
  • What you can do about it: Laugh more! Dancing, comedy movies, a funny book. Anything that gets you out of your head and into the moment with some lightness and humor is great for you since you often are so hard-driving you don’t take the down-time. If you’re open to therapy, this could be a good way to achieve a more balanced view of yourself. If you struggle with the very real pressures of your Eight Life Path, you can default into drugs, sex or alcohol to escape the work and commitment it takes to forge your way to power and achievement. You would better benefit from some kinds of competitive group or individual sports activities that can help you move that energy up and out!

NINE LIFE PATH

  • Who you are: You’re all about giving to humanity. You experience a lot of loss in your life. Your Mantra:  “It’s better to give than to receive.” 
  • The core emotional issue: You can become overly responsible and enabling to those around you. You experience a lot of deep family issues.
  • Where you feel it: Shoulders and neck, heart issues, autoimmune issues.
  • What you can do about it: You need yoga for strength and flexibility. You will benefit from consistent massage and/or energy work for stress reduction. You literally feel as though the world rests on your shoulders, so the shoulders and neck need TLC. You would benefit by learning to ask for help and support when you need it. You rarely (if ever!) seek assistance. A consistent cardio routine is greatly beneficial to strengthen the heart. You will also get a great health benefit by supporting your most well-loved causes or organizations – either as a volunteer or financial benefactor.

Felicia Bender, Ph.D. is not a medical doctor. The information presented is provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, examination, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your qualified healthcare provider with any question you may have regarding a medical condition. Reliance on any such information is solely at your own risk.

www.feliciabender.com
@FeliciaBender1