Monday, March 20, 2017

Finally seeing light after over a decade of clinical endarkenment

One of the main purposes of practicing Nichiren Buddhism is to expand our life-condition. A lovely description of the inner feeling of enlightenment is that “it is like lying on your back in a wide open space looking up at the sky with arms and legs outstretched. All that you wish for suddenly appears. No matter how much you may give away, there is always more. It is never exhausted.” Josei Toda said this to his disciple Daisaku Ikeda, and then encouraged him to “Try and see if you can attain this state of life” (as cited in Living Buddhism, February 2017, pg. 13)

What this means is that, regardless of our life challenges, the sheer quantity of our responsibilities, and tasks we must accomplish, we have the limitless energy of the Universe on our side, and chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo and practicing Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings are how we develop our ability to tap into that energy to live the lives we want and help others do the same.

This is the purpose of religion, both Toda and Ikeda—and before them Soka Gakkai founder Tsunesaburo Makiguchi—insist, and this is why my Buddhist practice has helped me close the gaps in what I learned before Buddhism about personal growth and breaking free of early conditioning I’d been held back by—conditioning reinforced and perpetuated by mental health diagnostic labels and the idea that I required prescription medication to minimize the severity of my lows.

Finding out in 2010 that this simply wasn’t true was more liberating and empowering than anything any therapist ever said to me. In 2010 I stopped taking medication for depression because I could no longer afford it as a broke college student; while I was still worried about how quitting an antidepressant cold-turkey would affect me, I had a conversation with my friend Christa S. which finally shed some light for me after over a decade of clinical endarkenment.

Christa, who is trained in psychology and chaplaincy work, commented on the overuse of certain diagnoses that, instead of helping people improve their quality of life, actually lock them into the idea that they must adapt to their conditions rather than overcome them.

(It’s important to note that we were talking about people like me; people whose conditions involve psychosis or are severe enough to require crisis intervention were beyond the scope of our conversation.)

What if, Christa said, instead of labeling as life-long depression, we see it instead as something more like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which has lasted many years because the person hasn’t finished healing or hasn’t learned what they need to know to overcome it.

Christa’s idea made a lot more sense than the clinical rhetoric about depression ever did. One reason why is that PTSD acknowledges the condition is a response to something, and that I have the power to change how I respond, instead of the implication being that something is wrong with the chemicals in my brain that may never be completely right.

Events in my life triggered me to get stuck in that life-condition at an early age; I wasn’t naturally like that. I’ve always had a more moody personality and a low social-saturation point, but those are personality traits, not clinical problems. They do make it require more effort for me than for more naturally-outgoing and cheerful people to maintain a high life-condition—Again, though, not a clinical problem; and this challenge has actually made me able to understand and help certain types of individuals that people who’ve never plunged to those depths don’t know how to relate to or help. (If you’re familiar with archetypes, think wounded healer.)

Christa’s idea helped prepare me for working with Cindy Dillon, whom I met in 2012, when I started applying her holistic-health approach to developing a higher life-condition as my norm without pharmaceutical products or diagnostic labels. I wrote extensively about what I’ve learned from Cindy last summer.

I’m still a work in progress, of course, and still have lows. These lows are fewer, shorter-duration, and milder than before, and I’m not afraid or discouraged by them anymore, nor do I worry there’s something “wrong” with me or that I’ve failed by having them at all after everything I’ve learned to counteract them. This takes a lot of effort and courage, so it’s all the more apropos that Nichiren Buddhism emphasizes and helps us develop courage for handling our life-challenges.

Image: “RainbowWind Dancer” by Karla Joy Huber, 2005; Microsoft Paint and Microsoft Photo Editor

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