Mikes Story: How I overcame depression, bipolar, OCD, anxiety and other issues without drugs
How I overcame depression, bipolar, OCD,
anxiety and other issues without drugs
Written by Michael Carlos Simon
Co-authored by Roland Trujillo
With 2 special chapters by Roland Trujillo
Copyright 2012 by Michael Carlos Simon and Roland Trujillo
This book is dedicated to Dr. Phillip Breggin, who has been educating people about psychiatric drugs for many years. He also has worked hard for the humane treatment of psychiatric patients. He has a lot of love and dared to speak out when he was a voice crying in the wilderness
Most psychiatric drugs can cause withdrawal reactions, sometimes including life-threatening emotional and physical withdrawal problems. In short, it is not only dangerous to start taking psychiatric drugs, it can also be dangerous to stop them. Withdrawal from psychiatric drugs should be done carefully under experienced clinical supervision. Warning posted by Dr. Peter Breggin
If you are experiencing an emergency, if you or someone in your household is in danger, or if you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or others, please call your local or national mental health crisis hotline, your medical doctor or 911 to receive immediate attention. You may call 1-800- 273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255 to be connected to the nearest crisis hotline. If you are not in the United States look here for help www.befrienders.org. You are not alone. People are standing by to help you.
DISCLAIMER The authors are not doctors. The co-author is a pastor and spiritual care giver. The information provided here is for educational and informational purposes only. In no way should it be considered as offering medical advice. Doing anything suggested or recommended in this book must be done at your own risk. Please check with a physician if you suspect you are ill. The information contained is not intended for medical advice. You should always discuss any medical treatment with your Health Care Provider or mental health practitioner.
My name is Roland Trujillo. I am a pastor and spiritual care giver. I have a radio program and some blogs where I provide education and information about letting go of baggage from the past, finding confidence, learning to be more forgiving with people, and optimizing life experience.
My dear friend Mike and I are co-authoring a recovery self help book. It is Mike's personal testimony, but I am helping put it in book form. In a nutshell, Mike overcame several issues without therapy or meds.
He is symptom free and leads a full productive life.
Mike wrote me a letter about his recovery. I was so impressed that I asked him if I could post it on one of my blogs. I knew that it would inspire and help others.
He agreed. Soon one letter became two. Each letter became a new installment. And now that we are up to installment 14, it’s time to make it into a book.
The full title of Chapter one is:
How to Find Confidence. A Letter from Michael, Who Overcame Anxiety, Bipolar, OCD, Depression and Shyness.
It is written by someone who gets it. He overcame depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder and more without therapy or meds.
He is not claiming that his walk will work for everyone. He is just sharing his story.
Mike is opinionated, but nowadays the bookstores are full of books where people tell about their lives. So Mike has as much right to tell his story and voice his opinions as anyone else.
Besides, he's been there; done that.
We cheer when the singer wins the talent show or the quarterback throws a touchdown pass.
So let’s celebrate a regular guy who triumphed over mental health issues and left them all behind.
Mike is an inspiration. Bravo. All we can say is "Thanks, Mike."
A word to the reader from Roland Trujillo.
Mike is writing his inspirational story of his personal recovery. He is not claiming that it will work for everyone. He's just telling his story.
Over the past 100 years there have been tens of thousands of autobiographies, personal memoirs, journals, and life stories written. Recently personal confession has also become popular, both in print and on the television.
Personal recovery is the jewel of this type of writing. Personal recovery is a genre like autobiography, life story anecdotes, and confession; but it takes them to a whole new level. This genre had an auspicious beginning. It began with Saint Paul and then Saint Augustine. But true classics in this genre have been few and far between.
Personal recovery combines memoir with self help. It is a very good literary form, because it is a first person story with practical and credible avenues for exploration and clues for the recovery reader from the author, based not on some theory or hear say—but on his or her own personal experience. Thus, it is very powerful. Personal recovery raises the bar.
This immediacy, good will for the reader, and the power of personal recovery testimony are evident in Mike’s Story. It is my pleasure and honor to be involved in helping bring it to the general public. .
I remember when I was a young guy, there was a book that was ubiquitous at used bookstores. It was called Advice from a Failure by Jo Coudert. It is a classic in personal recovery literature.
Recently, I looked for it online and I saw that it is back in reprint. It is a thoughtful book. My sense is that it will remain a classic in the self help/memoir/confession genre for generations to come. My hope is that Mike’s Story will too.
The title Advice from a Failure resonates with people. We’ve all been there, done that. Failure takes many forms, big and small. Being rich or famous, seen as success in the eyes of the world, does not preclude personal failure. J. Paul Getty, who was at one time the richest man in the world, once said “I would give all my money in exchange for a happy marriage.” Whether it is failure in one’s relationships, financial failure, or struggle with drugs or personal demons, we all have issues. We don’t want finger wagging or lectures. We want someone to talk to us, not at us.
We all understand what failure is. We all know how painful it is, and we are interested in how another successfully dealt with it. And when a book such as Mike’s Story comes along —it is worth picking up and reading.
Mike is like a friend or colleague who has your best interests at heart, and who just tells you his story without trying to impress you or pressure you.
Mike’s Story: How I Overcame Depression, Bipolar, OCD, Anxiety and Other Issues Without Drugs is, in my opinion, in the same literary class as Advice from a Failure.
It is the story of someone who had a list of issues, like so many of us do nowadays, who overcame them—and who tells us how he did it.
Mike’s Story is like a combination of St. Paul’s personal story recorded in the Epistles, the Confessions of St. Augustine, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Jo Coudert’s Advice From a Failure brought up to date for the 21st century.
It takes into account new phenomena, unknown in the past, such as mental health diagnoses, the DSM, being in treatment, psychiatric meds, and the growing incidence of permanent disability based on mental health issues.
Into this Brave New World, Mike brings a refreshing testimony, insights, and an engaging personal journal.
Mike is opinionated and refreshingly honest. His story will make a contribution to the body of self help and personal recovery literature.
Because many of us will at some point in our lives turn to those who talk or write about failure and success, I would like to say a few words about the types of writers and speakers who step forward to talk about failure, success and recovery.
In my opinion, there are basically 3 categories of people who speak or write about personal failure.
First, there are those who made a mess of their life, crash and burn; and then forever tell everyone their sad story, mixing in lots of negative thinking, excuses, rationale, and blame. Into this group fall vast millions of parents, relatives, and friends. They have plenty of rationale and excuses for each error, mis-step, fall, and bad break that happened to them along the way.
Fortunately, though they may inflict their excuses and hard luck stories on their kids or colleagues, they rarely write books or go on the speaking circuit.
The second category of failures is those who admit their failures--but then keep telling others beyond their immediate circle all about their wayward past.
There is something I find disturbing about someone who keeps talking about his drugging or drinking days, for example.
They recount their exploits, close calls, and brag about how bad they were--spreading their knowledge of drugs and promiscuity and, frankly, tempting others, especially young people, to try it too.
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen someone talking to young people and sharing how bad they were in their own youth, but now claiming to have given up their former way of living.
They typically mix in plenty of drug terms or gang jargon, apparently to prove their knowledge and credibility.
They generally attempt to dress and act cool or successful now—again to somehow impress their audience or seduce their audience into identifying with them. But I sense temptation afoot.
Too much familiarity with corruption leaves its unmistakable mark. Listening to someone talk about his past wrongdoings, even if allegedly in light of having recovered, is not what I would want people I care about to be exposed to.
Even their alleged recovery is more of a vehicle for self promotion, used by them to toot their own horn, proselytize others, or become a perennial speaker at support groups, church gatherings, or on the rubber chicken luncheon circuit. “Look how bad I was, and see how nice, humble, successful, recovered, or saved I am now.”
Something rings false about it.
For all their openness and honesty—airing all their dirty laundry in public--it smacks of being self serving, and there is pride and self promotion involved.
Moreover, there is something wrong with someone who can never leave the past behind---who has to keep telling people about how they got saved, got sober, or came clean over and over again.
The third category of failures are those very special people who although they made a mess of things (like most of us do), they eventually find a way to start living properly. But they refrain from using their past or their recovery for egotistical or manipulative purposes.
These people clean up their act, straighten up and fly right--becoming good wives, husbands, fathers, moms, and citizens, quietly living out their lives in all Godliness and honesty.
These noble souls do not want to burden others with their story, and they do not want to spread knowledge about drugs or other forbidden experiences.
Nor do they want to keep making everyone into a captive audience as they recount how they were "saved," so they can pressure and manipulate others.
They leave their past in the past, and move on.
Frankly these blessed types are rare.
A few of these rare noble souls do talk about lessons they learned. But they do it in a special way.
Because they are coming from a good place, they do not tempt.
Instead, they warn people and remind people to live according to principle. But they do not force themselves on others or use manipulative techniques.
These people are thoughtful and self effacing. With their marvelous humility, they hardly think of themselves as worthy to try to tell anyone how to live their life.
Now the point of all this: I could be wrong, of course, but I am quite sure that Mike is one of these humble people—truly worthy to help others and yet not the type who tempts or pressure others.
I hope that you, the reader, may become one of these blessed souls too. In the times I've been around him over the past 20 year, I've never heard him talk about any wild oats he may have sowed. He doesn't try to lord it over anyone with his knowledge of drugs, psychology, alcohol, or even religion for that matter. He is modest and lives in the present.
He helps others not by recounting his story ad naseum, but rather by setting a good example. No one would know that he had had anxiety, obsessive compulsive issues, depression, a smoking habit or anything else. It’s not that he is covering up; it’s just that he has fully recovered, changed, left the past behind and moved on.
Therefore I was delighted when, after writing his first letter to me (chapter one in this book), he let me post it on my blog.
Frankly I have been amazed at his honesty and impressed by just how much he has overcome. He gives all the credit to God. I think he is being real because he does not wear his religion on his shirtsleeve. He is quiet and unassuming. He gives the credit to God in a quiet way, without fanfare.
I became so convinced that Mike’s story will be an inspiration to those who take the time to read it that I encouraged him to gather all his letters together in a book.
He agreed, but only if I would agree to help with the editing and publishing. I am honored to do so. Here it is.
Hello, my name is Michael. I love this verse from the Psalms.
"He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord." Psalm 112:7 (English Standard Version).
It sounds good, doesn't it? But the question is: how do you get to where you have such a “firm heart and settled spirit?”
It took me a long time to get to where I could understand and say something about having a firm heart and settled spirit. I used to be Mr. Jellyfish.
But here’s the good news: if I can do it, anyone can do it. It took me 40 years, but that was because it took 40 years for me to get to the point where I was ready.
Once you’re ready, recovery can begin in a heartbeat. And it doesn’t have to take 40 years to be ready. (I was stubborn).
You can be ready in this instant regardless of your age, if your heart is pure and you are sincere.
Here's my story. Let's begin with a few thoughts about anxiety and some observations about life and how I started to recover.
When you are in a tight golf match and it's the 18th hole and you have to make a knee knocking three foot putt, what do you do? You suck it up, get a bucket full of guts, and even though your knees are knocking, you attempt the putt.
. Maybe the putt goes in and maybe it doesn't. The point is--you overlook your fear and trembling and attempt the putt.
What do you do when you're in a tough basketball game in the last minute of the game and you come to the free throw line? You throw up the free throws. You don't cut and run or take a pill. .
Let's say you're a doctor on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean, and a passenger has a major acute emergency that has to be dealt with now. Do you become upset and angry or run away because you can't cope? No, you deal with the situation, even though your heart may be pounding and your knees knocking.
I love what John Wayne had to say about this. John Wayne was answering questions from the audience. The microphones and cameras were all there. Someone raised his hand and asked: "Mr. Wayne, what do you do when you have to face some great danger?”.
Do you know what John Wayne replied?
Without a moment's hesitation he gripped the podium, leaned forward a little, flashed his famous smile and said: "You're scared to death, but you get on your horse and you ride anyway."
Thanks, John. You're my kind of guy.
The ideal, of course, is to be like John Wayne said. It helps to have a bucket full of guts. And it's even better to have faith. And with it, love. In one of his letters, Paul said: "Perfect love casts out fear."
Most heroes (the types who arrive at the scene of an accident and save someone's life) later say they don't feel like a hero.
They almost always say "I just saw something that had to be done and I did it.” The hero had no thought of self.
Instead of second guessing, worrying about the consequences, and dwelling on self preservation, he or she just did what had to be done. This selfless spontaneity is in fact a form of faith and love in action.
Few of us have this type of faith or love. We find it on rare occasions, like the heroes I mentioned. But we lose it in our daily lives when pressures, set backs and temptations assail us.
We grow resentful, get angry, or shrink from what conflicts with our self interest. In short, we are selfish and fail in the moment to live nobly and selflessly.
Afterwards, we make excuses or we are forced to compulsively do out of guilt or obligation what we should have done out of the goodness of our hearts in the first place.
We don't even know what faith or love is, because faith and love are not emotions or feeling based. Faith and love are what we act out of without needing emotion.
Faith and love should be our motivations—where we just do what is right without giving it a thought—not anger, fear, or guilt.
We may not know what faith and love are, but we are aware of what faith and love are not-- when others fail us and we resent them.
We sensed, for example, that our parents’ excessive worry over us was a lack of faith and we resented it. We sense that when people talk at us instead of to us that they lack love. And we resent them.
Trouble is—we don’t realize that we don’t have love either—when we resent others for their imperfections!
But there is always hope that we might develop faith and love. In fact, the first step is actually just realizing that you lack faith and love.
The Biblical character Abraham, known to be a man of faith, only became so when he was old. When he was younger, he hedged his bets and didn't trust completely in what God told him. But he grew in faith. Perhaps you can grow in faith and in love too.
I have discovered that the secret to life is in overlooking. Here are some examples of what I mean.
For example, let’s say you have anxiety, but you find a way to overlook it. In other words, instead of struggling with, suppressing or trying to get rid of the anxiety, you overlook it.
Someone makes a mistake, but you overlook it (instead of judging or resenting them).
You have doubts, but you overlook them (instead of dwelling on them).
You feel anger (at your child, for example), but you overlook it (and remain calm).
There are many good things I could say about overlooking--how it helps us overcome anxiety, doubts, fears, negative emotion; and how it helps us be more patient with others.
But for now, I will mention it in passing. Later I will talk about the meditation (that Roland offers) and how it helps you learn to overlook. But I don't want to get ahead of myself.
Just remember how important overlooking is, and see if you can start to practice it.
First I want to talk about how we got into the mess we are in, and how I was able to recover fully.
Let me continue with a bit more about how we got to where we are. Most of us are, frankly, rather selfish.
This is not a condemnation or a put down; just the reality. We're born that way. All of us.
Then, unfortunately, many of us did not have wise parents and other authorities. We were not provided character building activities, or even much real work.
We were made to sit in school and basically do nothing for hours a day from age 5 through 18 or beyond.
In plain and simple terms, some of us just haven't had a chance to build up some courage or chutzpa.
We have been robbed of the kind of experiences where we could develop it.
But we can start to build some now, by using the “overlook principle” I alluded to.
We can also be just like John Wayne said—“scared to death but you ride anyway.”
Once you realize that you have been denied character building experiences (through being kept from them or from not being taught how to not over react), you can stop beating yourself up.
Instead you can simply admit you don't have certain virtues built yet, but you can start to do some things anyway. By overlooking the fear or anxiety.
You will also discover that kindness, fortitude, endurance, graciousness, and patience are ready to unfold when you let go of resentment.
We tend to resent the type of circumstances where in the past we looked bad or failed. Now you must learn to approach a new circumstance (which is similar to the one in your past where you failed) but this time without resentment.
If you can do this, although you will still experience the anxiety (but this time without resenting it), you will find that you are now able to meet the moment with some aplomb.
Now having met the moment better, you will be able to meet the next one even more easily and without resentment. Anxiety will diminish.
What you fear is failing like you always did in the past.
But you did not realize that it was your resentment and secret hostility that were making you fail.
You experience triumph when you face adversity without resentment. Stand your ground, even if you do not win the argument, sink the putt, make a great speech, or whatever. If you don’t resent, no matter what your monetary or social loss, you keep the faith and have claim to a modicum of grace.
You will discover that there is joy and a sense of triumph in meeting a moment properly. Even if you don't "win" or handle it perfectly, there is joy in meeting it without resentment and with a certain amount of dignity. .
Realize that in the fallen culture in which we live we are taught to get over on others, and put them down. Despite the lip service paid to sportsmanship, the value is in winning at all costs, success, and the bottom line.
You are not going to get much support or encouragement in the subtle practice and discipline of not being resentful. But you must practice it anyway. Your mental health, well being and even eternity hinge on it.
Another thing. Realize that in a hedonistic, secular, therapeutic culture in which we live, all the signals and messages we get are that the values in life are: having a good time; feeling good; being nice; feeling good about ourselves; and having our needs met.
Most people around us--including our parents, grandparents, educators, church leaders, and most other authorities--seem to have the value of always seeking to feel good and never bad.
At the first sign of the slightest ache or pain, they reach for a pill or some other medication. They seek to feel good using music, alcohol, marijuana, legal or illegal pills, partying, and various forms of entertainment.
Some people even use religious music and events as distraction and to pump themselves up with good feelings.
One person listens to classical music and another to rap music to feel good; one listens to high sounding speeches and another to low brow humor. Either way it's for the purpose of feeling good.
Instead of living and teaching the value of doing what is right and overlooking anxiety or negative emotion, they first seek to get rid of the anxiety or negative emotion. This is putting the cart before the horse.
We triumph as humans when we overcome anxiety or negative emotions through doing what is right and being virtuous.
In other words, people triumph when they give their food to their child even though they themselves are hungry.
A courageous person does the right thing despite fear. He tells the truth, though he is made to feel uncomfortable. She acts calmly for the sake of others, despite anxiety. He says no to temptation despite having feelings of lust or greed. The noble person does not wait until he feels good or feels brave to do his or her duty.
The noble person does his duty or what is right, and in the exercise thereof develops courage. .
Courage, well being, peace of mind and joy are the rewards for doing what is right.
When the partying, drinking, and drugging result in a let down, hang over or discomfort, the misinformed and the selfish look for a pill to take away the symptoms or the awareness of the discomfort so they can feel good.
In other words, it's definitely not your great grandfather's lifestyle or values.
So when life brings a little rain, and young people are not having a good time or do not feel good about themselves, they tell their parent or counselor.
Instead of getting the wisdom of the ages or the kind of understanding an uncle or grandma once had, they are referred to someone who prescribes a pill.
Moreover, as we said, most young people are deprived of useful work that would make them feel valuable to others.
The focus is always on them, and always with an emphasis on performance. They are never allowed to just be. They must set goals, achieve, do well on tests, study more, get higher grades, be more compliant, and so on. Otherwise the focus is on another type of performance: being popular, working well in groups, and being well liked.
With all this constant attention directed at them (not to mention all the advertising, peer group pressure, and pop culture mores which dictate looks, dress, habits and attitudes that are acceptable), it is no wonder that they become overly self conscious.
They've been let down by their parents and other authorities who failed to protect them and guide them properly.
The man or woman of faith and perfect love will one day face challenging situations without any feelings at all. He or she will be fearless in the face of danger; without resentment in the face of torment; and without excitement in the face of temptation.
Instead there will be faith, love, dedication, obedience, patience, joy, and peace of mind. But like I said, this type of spirituality is something we do not yet have, but may grow into.
It could take many years of just being a regular person, growing up, making some mistakes, getting married, raising a family, having some ups and downs until one begins to yearn for something more.
This sincere yearning will stress the compassion of the Spirit. Those who are blessed to one day have this salvation implemented in their life will then gain objectivity (the ability to stand back and remain unmoved in the face of pressure).
Then it might take another 40 years of growth in this new life to become the man or woman of great faith and true love.
Remember--it took 80 years for Moses to be made ready to lead his people out of Egypt. So you might as well be prepared for a long period of just being a regular person.
But you can start to get ready for the touch of God which may come someday by living with some dignity, some honor, some self control, and some discipline where you are right now. And by exercising virtue, it will grow, and you will increase in composure and self control.
No, you won't walk on water--but by exercising virtue, you'll begin to face things with at least a modicum of natural poise, and it will grow.
Therefore do not mind it if you encounter some difficulty. Do not become resentful if you have some ups and downs, some rain on your parade, a boyfriend or girlfriend who quits you, a job you don't get, a day when you don't feel particularly good or some anxiety if you have to give a speech.
While you are at it, expect betrayal, people saying mean things about you for no reason, and so on.
That way you won't be shocked and upset when it happens. And don't expect to meet every little or big adversity well. You won't. At least not at first.
Remember that I said that most of us have been denied character building experiences? If you are like lots of us, you'll have to start at the ground floor facing little things (with trembling and discomfort) a little at a time.
So you'll have to start now where you are at. And it doesn't matter where that is. .
Have you heard the Zen master's question?
. He asked the novice "when is the best time to plant a tree?”
. The novice thought a long time and then admitted that he did not know.
The Zen master said: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.”
. Next the Zen Master asked: "When is the second best time to plant a tree?"
Again the novice pondered for a long time, and finally had to say he did not know.
The Zen Master smiled and said: "The second best time to plant a tree is today."
So start to face some things today. And like I said, don't expect to get it just right from the start. Take it easy. Rome wasn't built in a day.
Don't look for perfection. Look for progress. And here's a word of caution: start with the small stuff.
Remember how I said that we have been made self conscious in many ways? Okay. So don't hate yourself if you meet a moment badly. In my life, I've messed up, made a fool of myself, cut and run, let my team down, copped out, and many other small but shameful failings.
But now I have learned to fail less and stop reacting badly when I have to see that I failed.
In other words, I began to grow up, and I'm still growing up. When I was 10, 15, 20, 30 years old, did I have anxiety? Of course. Did I get depressed? Of course.
When my parents got divorced, it bothered me. When my dad died, it made me sad. When my parakeet died, I felt bad. What was I supposed to do, be happy about these things? I grieved and felt hurt, and then I got over it.
When I was a little kid, did I go through a period of time when I had to do a compulsive ritual of counting numbers or arranging my shoes perfectly at night or else "something really bad would happen?" Of course.
Then I grew out of it.
When I was in college, was I high and hyper when something good happened, staying up till dawn talking excitedly to my friends? Of course. Then when things didn't go well, the girl didn't answer my phone calls, and our team lost the big game, did I get bummed out and depressed and have really negative thoughts?
When I was in my 20's, did I wonder who I was and if there was a future for me? Did I mess up and make lots of mistakes? Sure. And then did voices try to tell me I was "worthless, a loser, and that the world would be better off without me, so I should do away with myself?" Of course.
When I was 30 and sitting in a lonely apartment in the outskirts of Chicago, with the snow coming down and nowhere to go and wishing I were back in California, did I feel depressed? Absolutely. But here I am. I got through. .
My recovery had two parts. First it was just growing out of issues. Secondly, it was a spiritual awakening when I was around 39.
I think that the fact that kids often outgrow issues is not given enough credit. It seems like each stage of our life--little kid, big kid, teenager, college age, 20's, 30's--there are some typical issues to deal with. The old expression "time heals all wounds" definitely applies.
That’s how it was for me. Somehow I just grew out of things.
Like when I was a kid, teen, and in my 20's I was painfully shy. But then when I was in my 30's I was teaching college classes and now I feel comfortable around everyone and talk about anything. Okay, so it took a few years to get over it. But I did get over it.
As we grow, we mature; we leave behind the things of childhood--including issues. We move on. It's a long process and it's called life.
There is a process in psychotherapy called normalizing. It means helping a person see that some issue (such as anxiety or obsessive thoughts, for example) is what a lot of other people experience.
Some people think that if they are anxious, hear voices, have obsessive thoughts, or have compulsions, they are the only person in the whole world with this issue. It's a relief to find out that lots of other people have the same issue. For those of you who have an issue like mine, I just want you to know you are not alone.
But I also want you to know something far more important: I got over my issues and left them behind. I’m not taking meds. I’m not in recovery.
The issues are long gone and in the distant past. I have to say this because nowadays people with an issue get diagnosed and then they find support groups for their diagnosed issue, social media groups for their issue and organizations and websites devoted to their issue.
It’s nice to know where resources are, but wouldn’t it be even nicer if a person left the issue behind and no longer needed support or resources because she no longer has an issue? I’m proof that such a thing is possible.
I'm extending my hand in friendship to talk about some of the things I have been blessed to learn along the way in my spiritual walk.
Now I can truly say (having experienced it): "this too shall pass."
Now I understand what James meant when he said:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2 and 3 (English Standard version). .
Do you see it? Do you see that we must not avoid life or the circumstances where we failed?
Learn to stand back and overlook, and now these situations will become the ground for the development of character and by which you can undo the past.
Let me just say right here that the spiritual meditation to calm down that Roland offers free was a big help to me. I highly recommend it, since it assists in calming down and in finding objectivity--so as to be able to stand back and observe thoughts and emotions without over reacting to what you see.
I'll tell you about it in Chapter 2. .
Thanks, Mike! Your letter is inspirational. I would like to mention something about awareness, one of my favorite subjects. You found the meditation useful because it helped you become objective, so you could look at your issues, feelings and thoughts impassively.
It worked for you because you wanted to be aware. Until a person is ready, he or she will try to avoid awareness (because of the pain it brings when we see our own wrong). You see, once we fail and deal poorly with some situation, we don't want to see that we failed.
So we tend to retreat into the imagination and make excuses.
By doing so, we cut ourselves off from full open eyed awareness (which is what we need to face situations with intuition and understanding). So, at the first sighting of stress we escape from awareness, and then we fail again. That's why we tend to keep doing the same error over and over with the same people or look alike people.
For example, we may have resented our overbearing mom, become rebellious and angry, and as we go through life we keep meeting people like our mom, to whom we react the same old way (resentfully, rebelliously and angrily).
When awareness comes back and we are forced to see that we failed again, we reach for distractions to escape into--like work or study, music, marijuana, alcohol, or pills to take away the one thing that would help us face the next moment well: awareness.
Now here is the beautiful part. The way you respond to an issue can change the very next time you encounter it. All you need is the missing ingredient. That missing ingredient is awareness (coupled with a willingness to see the truth).
The very next time you face the issue (or situation) but this time with awareness, it will be all different. Awareness gives you the power to stand back, see it objectively, and respond intuitively.
One man, who had a 20 year nicotine addiction, began to meditate and he found the objective state of awareness. One day he picked up his cigarette and took a puff with awareness, and he never smoked again.
His cigarettes gave him up because he was no longer compatible with them. Before, he had used the sensations and the stress of the effects of nicotine to lower awareness and help him escape from what he wasn't ready to see.
Now he was ready to face reality, and it just took one smoke with awareness for him to see that he no longer had a need for smoking.
Remember, most of us spend our lives facing everything without awareness because of our habit of escaping awareness. So the obvious question becomes: how do we find and hold onto awareness?
That is where the meditation (coupled with the attitude of wanting to be aware) comes in.
- 2 -
Roland, thank you for putting my letter on your blog. You said it might be an inspiration to others, and maybe you are right. Here is my second letter.
In my previous letter, I recounted how I had all kinds of issues (including others I didn't even mention, such as being morbidly obese when I was 16 years old). I had issues when I was a little kid, an older kid, a tween, a teen, a young adult, and then into my late 30's.
The point I was trying to make is that I somehow overcame them through growing out of them. The obsessions and compulsions I had as a kid diminished and went away by the time I was a teen, for example. For me, each stage of my life had issues that appeared, caused me pain and some torment, but went away as I grew older.
It was amazing and heartening really. Dr. Courtenay Harding, a psychiatrist who has had great success helping people with schizophrenia and other serious mental health issues, has often spoken about how resilient and resourceful people are. I agree.
I believe that pathologizing and basically teaching people that they have a "brain disorder," and that they should get used to living a life as a victim fails to take into account love, grace, and even basic recuperative powers of the body. Because of the white coat syndrome, some people will do their best to make the gloomy prediction into a self fulfilling prophesy
Telling people that they should resign themselves to being on medication for the rest of their life does not foster a hopeful, robust, joyous, or optimistic approach to life.
Have you seen the movie Seabiscuit? It is based on a book by author Laura Hillenbrand. She recently wrote another book titled Unbroken, this time the true story of Louis Zamperini who survived a plane crash in the Pacific, 40 days on a raft and 2 years in a Japanese POW labor camp.
The physical hardships, including starvation and brutal torture, were more than most people could even survive.
When the war was over he came home with extreme post traumatic stress symptoms.
He made a full recovery and became symptom free. This is not a fairy tale or an exaggeration. It is a true story. Read the book or watch video of him being interviewed. He also tells his story in Devil at my Heels.
He was resilient. So was I (though I didn't know it at the time). Somehow (and I think God helped me in this regard) I was steered away from the type of help that would have turned me into a permanent victim.
Have you ever heard the old Zen Buddhist saying "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear?" Something similar occurred in my life.
Each step of the way, someone was there who kept me from going off the deep end, gave me hope, and stabilized me.
When I was a young teem, I fell in with the wrong crowd, grew apathetic and started getting low grades. My mom and step dad (God bless their hearts) decided to send me to parochial school (even though times were tough and they had little money to spare).
I became acquainted with discipline, academic standards and high expectations. Within a few months, I did a 180. I was 14 at the time. When I was 18, I graduated near the top of my class with several academic scholarship offers.
I had teachers there that were role models. And most importantly, they were there for me because they cared. They didn’t feel sorry for me. They practiced tough love. And it worked.
Mom remarried. My step dad stabilized things at home. He was a good role model too.
After he had a big heart attack, he changed his lifestyle and took off 50 lbs. (and kept the weight off). Somehow, the very next summer, I lost 50 lbs. too (when I was 17) and kept it off. I know he set the pace for me. In my mind I said "if he can do it, I can do."
When I was in my 20 and 30's I had a couple of great bosses. They ever so gently but persistently helped me grow up, mainly by simply modeling what a together person is like.
When at one point I was really depressed, lost interest in things, and just stayed in my apartment, I was somehow able to drag myself to one junior college class. It was all I could do to somehow make myself go to one class, one night a week. But the teacher was great, and going to that one class broke the cycle. It was my first baby steps to recovery. It got me started doing things again.
Soon I entered a college degree program. There were a couple of great teachers there too.
After that it was onward and upward.
So I can say that it was certain individual people, their presence or even their personal stories--not drugs, therapy, groups or programs--that helped get me through.
And not many. Just one person here and another one there each step of the way, who appeared just at the right time to give me hope, serve as a role model, and got me through a tough period.
I also found literary support. There were: writers, poets, and essayists along the way whose books and articles kept me going. I never met them personally, but their writings were there for me. I'll just name a few: Eric Hoffer, Alexandre Solzhenitsyn, George Santayana, and Lin Yutang.
When I was a kid, and I was being put down and teased, I turned to books and sports. The Wizard of Oz series (many people don't know that there are several Oz books--all good), dog stories, comic books, and baseball cards.
They gave me hope of someday overcoming issues, they made me feel normal, and they were something I could secretly enjoy just by myself (without someone ruining it or taking it away from me when they found out I liked it).
When I was in my 30's, there were a couple of speakers too (who I watched on video or listened to) like Leo Buscaglia, John Bradshaw and Zig Ziglar.
These names probably don’t mean anything to you. You've got to find your own favorite writers and speakers. In other words, don't overlook the library as a place for solace and inspiration.
I notice another reason why I may have succeeded in getting better. The help I received was from people who were there for a short time and then gone (a writer, a teacher, a boss, or even a guy on the radio). That way I didn’t become dependent on them.
They weren't close or even supportive. Just there long enough to help out, and then I moved on.
The help was a temporary helping hand with no strings attached.
A boyfriend or girlfriend brings baggage and can become possessive. An organized support group, a church, or a counselor are often enmeshing and frequently create dependency. A drug has side effects, and who has not heard of drug dependency?
I'm not saying that we shouldn’t be involved with people or get help.
Nor am I saying that a church, support group, or other helping organization can't be there for you.
I'm just saying that our inner life and well being should not become dependent on some person or group.
Help from others should be like a hospital where we stay just long enough to get well. It's not a place to stay forever.
I have seen a lot of people become dependent on their program, support group, drug, or church--and never achieve independence or wholeness.
Fortunately my helpers were not too close. They weren't even trying to help me. They were just briefly there long enough to help, but not long enough to create dependency issues.
Another thing that was beneficial to me personally was that I had time, lots of time, to ponder, read, go for walks, exercise, listen to the radio, and write. I had the time and space to seek the purpose of life and gently find my way.
I had jobs that either gave me a lot of freedom or else were not too taxing and stressful. It left time and energy for introspection and learning.
So somehow I got through. I remained employed most of the time, had some good jobs, had some friends of both sexes, and made it through without being labeled with something. I didn't even know I had like "ADHD, OCD, major depression, or anxiety disorder."
Now when I read the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, watch people’s mental health sagas on YouTube or read psychiatric literature, I see that once upon a time I had the symptoms without the label. If I had been labeled, I probably wouldn't have made it through.
By the time I was 39 years old, the childhood ADHD, obsessions and compulsions, then the shyness, obesity, depression and bipolar were things of the past. I was now just a regular guy, still smoking nicotine pretty heavily (but no alcohol or marijuana). Though I would soon stop smoking for good.
I still hadn't found the answers to life's burning questions: like “why am I here, does God care, who am I, what is my purpose in life, and so on.” But I was all grown up and just a regular guy.
I was now getting ready for the life transforming change that would begin the second half of life.
The first 40 years of my life were for having some fun, experiencing a few ups and downs, growing up, making some mistakes and muddling through. Now it was time to begin the second half, where I would discover spiritual side of life.
Roland’s comments: Again, thanks Mike. It takes a lot of courage to reveal so much about yourself. But I know it will be of help to others.
Incidentally, I want to mention on Mike's behalf that he hasn't smoked in 20 years. I look forward to Part Three.
- 3 -
At the end of Part Two, I was 39, pretty much symptom free and just a regular person. Each stage of my life, there had been issues to deal with. Somehow I got through.
Before moving on to the big life changing things that happened when I was 39 years old, permit me to dwell just a little longer on the first half of life.
There are a few more comments I would like to make.
As I reflect back, I realize that there were some other things that helped me get through (without intervention, becoming chronic and perhaps developing some permanent side effects).
One thing that worked in my favor was that there were two tiers of issues. There were lots of obvious external issues that everyone was always fussing over. These external issues kept both everyone else and myself busy and (though I didn't realize it at the time) held them off from digging into and mucking in the more intimate ones.
The external stuff--like school bullying and teasing, my parents' divorce, a childhood speech impediment, being obese and poor at sports, getting tonsillitis all the time--these and other things kept me and everyone else preoccupied.
If everything on the outside had been just fine, I might have had everyone focusing on the inside and doing things to me.
Here's a story that might illustrate the point I'm trying to make. When I was in my 20's I got some soreness from exercising that didn't go away. So I went from doctor to doctor to get symptom relief.
Some antibiotics were tried and didn't help. One doctor talked about "exploratory surgery.” Then I encountered a doctor who I shall call Dr. Rough Handling. His examination was crude and left me in pain.
The rough handling doctor diagnosed my condition and said the only solution was surgery.
Remember, it was just a little soreness. But I guess at that time I was just like everyone else--I kept demanding that someone do something--so I guess the rough handling surgery guy was just trying to satisfy the customer.
Anyway, I knew in my heart that he was wrong, and so decided to just live with my sports injury soreness.
Within half a year it just went away and never came back.
A year or two later after it went away, I was listening to a doctor on the radio. One of his callers described symptoms exactly like I had experienced. I jumped from my chair to turn up the volume.
The doctor said it was an inflammation, usually caused by exercise, and would eventually go away.
Right on, doc! Just think what might have happened if Dr. Rough Handling had done surgery on me. I might not even be here today.
In a similar vein, if trial and error ("let's try this") had been used on the mental and emotional issues I grew out of, who knows what might have gone wrong.
I read a really good book (Will Medicine Stop the Pain? Finding God's Healing for Depression, Anxiety, and Other Troubling Emotions).
The author, Dr. Laura Hendrickson, says she has heard tragic stories that began with some lady innocently mentioning at an office visit that she felt a little down.
She's put on an antidepressant. She gets worse or develops psychosis or mania, and then is put on an antipsychotic drug, a benzodiazepine, then maybe an anticonvulsant (used as a "mood stabilizer").
Then she starts hearing voices that tell her she is ugly and everybody hates her. She ends up worse off than before.
So thank goodness, attention was directed to my parent's divorce, my speech impediment (which I overcame), my overweight, and my falling in with the wrong crowd. Time, hard work and eating right, a little speech therapy, and a change in schools--and I was restored to normal weight, articulate speech, and good grades (and a 4 year academic scholarship).
In the meanwhile nothing experimental, heavy handed, misdiagnosed or trial and error was done to me for my moods, anxiety or obsessive thoughts (which went away).
Another thing that helped me get through was autobiographies--especially when I was in my 20's.
There was one in particular author--Alexander King, I think was his name--who wrote a 3 volume autobiography or collection of memoirs with his thoughts on life and love. He was a bit of a rogue—a man of the world—and he pretty much let it all hang out. He looked philosophically on his ups and downs, and he had some advice about romance and relationships.
He was realistic, but had a sense of humor. Most of all, he was honest. I read his books more than once.
Here was a guy who wasn't famous or anywhere near perfect, but he had something to say and had the courage to say it (plus he had some tips for a younger guy about dating and romance).
Laugh if you will, but his books gave me the kind of hope I was denied in real life. Instead of feeling like a loser who could never succeed with the ladies, I felt like he was talking to me personally and saying “Hey, kid. I was once like you. Don’t worry about it. Here are a few pointers. You’ll make it.”
Finally, I want to mention television, radio, music and movies. Yes, they helped me get through, recover, and become fully functional and happy, without drugs, or individual or group therapy.
There were many television series that made me laugh, taught me something, occupied my mind, and gave me something to look forward to.
There is no use trying to list them all. I'll just list a few as examples: Charley's Angels, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Taxi, Three's Company, Columbo, and Star Trek are just a few that come to mind. I identified with the heroes, laughed with them, cried with them, and loved to see them overcome obstacles.
Many people have loved The Simpsons, Seinfeld, American Idol or Oprah Winfrey. You’ll have to make your own list of your favorites.
But perhaps you will agree with me—your favorite programs helped you get by, get through a tough time, or filled the hours when you were ill or lonely.
Movies helped too. Lots of them. I was also a big fan of Bruce Lee. I saw all of his movies and read his book about martial arts. I even took some karate lessons.
Hey, don’t laugh. When there was nobody there for me in real life—television and the movies were there for me.
And music--what can I say. Lots of rock and roll classics, disco and soft rock that were frankly inspiring to a young guy. The songs were about regular guys who had issues but would find success, and if they hadn't already found romance, it was just around the corner.
Another thing--I don't think that people appreciate just how important talk radio is for regular people. It makes you feel like you are a part of what is going on. It's entertaining, stimulating, educating and fun.
And I don't mean just politics: I mean health talk, sports talk, garden talk, shrink talk, relationship talk, and entertainment talk too.
Because it's radio, it activates and involves the imagination in a healthy way. All night talk is great for those of us who wake up during the night and can't sleep, for night owls, people working graveyard, or for truckers.
When I was lonely--yes, lonely--I loved to listen to talk radio. I fondly remember one particular talk show host in San Francisco (where I lived at the time). He was gay and had AIDS, and his life wasn't that great, but he was philosophical and upbeat. I loved listening to him because he was honest and not phony--just a regular guy with some issues like everyone else.
Most importantly, I loved him because he had heart and refused to throw in the towel.
Incidentally, I wonder how many people who are just plain lonely get diagnosed with major depression or dysthymia, given psychotropic meds and begin a downward slide into polypharmacy and permanent disability.
Looks like I'll have to save the life transforming spiritual journey for Part 4.
- 4 -
This is Roland. Here's the fourth installment of Mike's recovery story, written by Mike himself.
There are plenty of recovery stories out there--it's very fashionable now. So why am I posting one more by an unknown guy?
The reason is three fold. First it offers hope to regular people. There is a tendency to become fascinated with the rich and the famous. They have their own set of problems and what we are being told about them may or may not be true. But most of us are just regular people. It's nice to know that a regular person can successfully get through major issues.
Secondly, Mike not only got through, but he is no longer in recovery. He is not a mere survivor. He went on to health, wholeness, happiness, creativity, and left the old stuff behind. This is heartening and refreshing.
Third, he did it without meds or therapy. He did it with the help of music, radio, television shows, autobiographies, role models, getting plenty of sleep and going for walks. . . I'll let Mike tell the story himself.
Here is Part 4 of my recovery story wherein I will finally get to the really good stuff.
First a brief recapitulation. I had obsessive thoughts and compulsive rituals when I was a kid.
When I was a teen I went through extreme mood swings and then in my 20's had another round of mood swings. There were plenty of other issues too, like obesity, shyness, anxiety, and a 20 year nicotine habit.
I recently read a New York Times article about some teen and 20 something people who each feel like they are the only person in the world who is as painfully shy as they are, who have difficulty socializing, and who feel like they will never be able to have a relationship with anyone. They are said to be on the adult Autism spectrum. That’s how I felt! I was so shy I could not even make eye contact with a girl—so that’s another diagnosis I might have gotten.
When I was a kid I fidgeted, didn't pay attention and spoke out of turn, so I guess I had ADHD too.
There are basically 2 ways of looking at my "recovery."
In today's therapeutic, drug oriented society, you could say that since I’m not just managing and coping with my various disorders—I left them behind, I could run a victory lap, fist pumping and holding my hands in the air--with the crowd on its feet cheering like it’s a really big deal.
Another way of looking at my recovery is to say, like in the lyrics of the Frank Sinatra song, "That's life. That's what all the people say--riding high in April, shot down in May."
In other words, I just lived a regular life: some ups and downs, highs and lows, issues when a kid, shy as a teen, didn't always make the team, had some good breaks and some bad breaks, rolled with the punches, landed on my feet, and learned some lessons along the way.
Now I'm older and wiser. That's all.
I had a boss once who, whenever anyone asked him where he went to college, he said: "I went to the school of hard knocks." So did I.
Since I’ve overcome my issues, I have something to say. And I think I need to say it. Robert Whitaker, an investigative journalist, has been looking at the state of mental health in the U.S. and the world for a few years.
He wrote a book called Mad in America (which you can get at most public libraries) and he has a relatively new book Anatomy of an Epidemic: Psychiatric Drugs and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America wherein he finds that the percentage of people with a mental illness diagnoses is on the rise, but even more astonishing: disability due to mental health issues has been rapidly increasing.
It also appears that whereas when people used to get depressed or had psychotic breaks, they would recover with time, nowadays people are increasingly becoming chronic. More and more people have chronic issues from which they never fully recover. Something is wrong.
I'm not going to tell you what is wrong. I'll let you figure it out for yourself. There is one elephant in the living room that is plain to see.
This is one man's opinion. Take it or leave it.
It is possible to have a regular life, go through some issues, make a few mistakes, learn some lessons, and emerge just fine.
You can outgrow childhood, tween, teen, college age, 20 something, and thirties issues. You can become happy most of the time, emotionally stable, gainfully employed, with family and friends--with the issues of the past now in the distant past and no longer important.
You don't have to be a recovering this or a recovering that forever. You can become just a regular person, ready to meet life without baggage from the past. And you don't have to smoke, use marijuana, take pills, or drink alcohol to feel normal or have a good time.
Okay, now let me set the stage for the best which is yet to come. Remember I said that the first 39 years were the first half of life. I got through them and then was ready for the beginning of the spiritual journey.
Perhaps you have noticed that I haven't said anything yet about the spiritual side of life. Well, it's coming. We all know that life has a spiritual side. We are more than just animals. We each have a personal consciousness, and many of us have a hunch that there is something else we need to discover to find true fulfillment. Some of us were interested in the spiritual side of life even when we are young.
I was always concerned about the rightness and wrongness of things. I had a keen sense of justice. I was always questioning my motives and longing to live life properly. I had an interest in philosophy and religion, and even took some religion courses in college.
Although it is good for us to live properly (and be honest, fair, brave, kind, and so on) no matter what our age is, it is my opinion that before we can really begin the spiritual part of life, we first need to experience life.
We need to run, play, and enjoy the fun of childhood. We need to play sports, have friends, enjoy learning, make a few mistakes, work, date, get married, raise a family, and basically live life.
But, and this is a very big but, once we have lived life, grown up and matured, and once we have worked and married and all that stuff--it is time to start having a more thoughtful approach to life.
It becomes time to start developing a little wisdom and setting a good example. In short, the time becomes ripe to ever so gently and inwardly search for the meaning of life. It will be easier, in many ways, if we were lucky enough to grow up in a home where no particular set of religious dogma was pushed on us.
That way we can approach this delicate subject cleanly with fresh eyes, and not burdened by preconceived notions that were subtly or overtly pressured upon us.
Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that we can throw caution to the wind and live foolishly or recklessly without consequences. You want to live morally and with some reserve. You don't want to make the fatal mistake from which there is no return.
It's best if we have a sense of propriety and obey our parents. It's best if we have a sense of justice and fairness and don't take advantage of others.
You don't want to be a thief, an embezzler, a murderer, or a drug dealer.
It's best to obey the law, live decently and be a regular person. That way, with God's blessing and protection, you'll still be around so that you can then start to make the spiritual journey.
Sure, if you have salvation in your future, God will permit you to make a few mistakes. But don't push your luck. There was a long time talk show host in San Francisco who always signed off by saying "Do what you can, but behave yourself." Good advice.
Here is a parable. When I was 25, I had 4 wisdom teeth taken out and I was given a prescription for pain medication with Tylenol and codeine. I was sore for a few days, but I didn't need the medication. A few years ago, I had some teeth extracted. They were ready to put me to sleep, but I just wanted a local anesthetic.
The dentist and the nurse acted like it was unusual that I didn't want to be put to sleep. I guess just about everyone always wanted to be put out. I just had a little Novocain and stayed awake. It was no big deal.
I was given a prescription for some pain medication. I was swollen and sore for a few days, but it wasn't that bad. I didn't use the pain medication.
First of all, since I had smoked and had not eaten properly, I deserved the pain for having to lose my teeth. Served me right. Besides, like I said, it wasn't that bad. Just a little sore.
Here's the moral of the story. I wanted to be awake; most people don't. The difference between someone like me and many others is that I tend toward waking up. I want to be aware. I am beginning to see that it is because of my love of reality. It is based on a love of truth.
Most people like truth when it has to do with someone else's failings or faults. But they shy away from truth when it is about their own faults. But there are a few people who love truth so much that they are willing to bear the pain it brings when they see that they are wrong.
Stay tuned for Part 5: The Spiritual Journey and How Meditation (I said meditation, not medication) helped me. Mike