Is it Illness or Who I am

My high school bestie, Suki, who is now a psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry, once told me about her young patient, who killed himself while she was away for a conference. She told me that he was doing much better in the last session. “It’s because he had already made up his mind,” I said. “He made peace. Once somebody made up his mind, nobody can stop it and I guess for that person the life was too painful and if so, I can’t find a way to tell the person to live.”

“But it’s his illness that made him kill himself,” Suki said. And I have been thinking about what she said for a long time. I am not suicidal per se, but have been thinking about killing myself since I was 8 years old. The thought has never left me. It’s just how I am. I have been on SSRI for almost 30 years on and off and after the last bout of major depression, I accepted that I needed to be on meds for life just to live normally.

I explained my friend that when I was in major depression, there were no line of demarcation between who I was and the illness, ie. depression. I am not in pain. I become pain. It’s not that I want to kill myself. I just want the pain disappear. I just want to have peace from who I am.

Fortunately, when I am in major depression, I can’t initiate any major action. I just passively exist with minimal action for survival. So I am not suicidal. I am now stable and am quite happy about my life. I can not be sure but It could get better as you age.

Then I got Meniere’s Disease. Meniere’s Disease is an illness. It is a condition I have. It is definitely not who I am. When I have an acute episode, I scream in my mind, “Kill me now!” I am in tremendous pain and suffering and I want to have it stopped. But I don’t wish to die because I know once I recover after 12 to 24 hrs, I will be my usual self.

On the other hand, I’m not sure if I could survive another bout of major depression. After being depressive for half a century, I sometimes feel tired. I wonder if the day would come when I feel too tired to keep on going. But it would not be because of Meniere’s disease. It would be because who I am.

To younger suffers of major depression, I want to tell you it could get better. I didn’t imagine I could have this peaceful life when I was younger and tormented. It could get better.

Kuan Yin

At the time of crisis, we need Hands of Kuan Yin (観音).  Just open your heart and listen.

In the Surangama sutra we hear of Kuan Yin, the bodhisattva who through the power of her practice of listening, and turning the mind around through that accurate, powerful, listening, is able to deeply hear the cries of the world.

She hears these cries with a still and perfect serenity, and she understands that they are all manifestations of the perfect light of enlightenment. Because of this she remains peaceful, and is able to offer exactly the right kind of help to beings, each one a different help, according to the situation.

Excerpt form In Times of Trouble by Zoketsu Norman Fischer


Respect What Hits You in the Gut

Once in a while something hits you in the gut.  It could be anything.

I was in an Anatomy class.  Dissecting cadavers forces students to face the reality of life and death.  It might trigger something you didn’t know it was there.

Each person has their own trigger quietly waiting for them.   It could be the scar tissue left by triple bypass surgery brutally adhered to the ribcage.   It could be the massive adipose tissue in which the person’s life story was stored.   It could be just realizing being alive juxtaposed with the death.

I was aware that something could hit me.  After all, we were looking inside human bodies, our bodies.  Almost 3 weeks had passed and a couple of days were left till the end of the workshop.  So far I managed not to step on my trigger which I had no idea about.  Surprisingly nothing about cadavers really bothered me.  I felt I was in peace.

When I came back to the gross anatomy lab from the lunch break, there was something going on.   On a stainless steel dissection table, something unfamiliar to me were placed.  They were so red.  The sight slightly shocked me.  I couldn’t guess what they were.

They were placenta donated by happy new mothers.   Three of them lined up with umbilical cords attached.  They were massive and looked alive.

I was speechless.  Students started to gather for the presentation by the midwife.   One of the cord was in true knot.  “The baby did it,” the midwife said.  “The baby swam around in the placenta.  The baby was born fine.”  A male student realized his wife had an unusually large-sized afterbirth and wanted to know the reason behind it.  “A large placenta usually is compensating for the baby,” the midwife said.

And it hit me in the gut.

I couldn’t stay there anymore.  I quietly moved out of the crowd.  The male student asked me if I was O.K.  I realized I was crying.  I retreated to my cadaver.

And I have no idea what hit me.  I don’t have any trauma related to placenta or childbirth.

Later the midwife came to acknowledge my reaction.

“I have no idea,” I said with tears flowing from my eyes.  “See? Just talking about it does this to me.”

“It could be yours,” she said.

“Mine?  I’ve never been pregnant.”

“No, I mean the one you were in.”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t have to know.  It’s important just to acknowledge that it’s there.”

“Damn.  I found another (issue to work on) when I thought I was well-done.”

“It sucks, doesn’t it.”

“Yes, it never ends.”

I still don’t know what hit me.  Every time I talk about my encounter with placenta, I still feel the tears running down my cheeks and I don’t have any emotional association with it.

So at this time of my life, I just respect what hit me in the gut, acknowledge it is there, and hold my psyche gently.  There will be the day we see each other again.