Reality… What a Concept

Reality-What-A-Concept1I just got back from Tassajara last night. Tomorrow I’ll be leading the zazen and giving the talk at the Veteran’s Memorial Building 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. The fun begins at 9:30 AM.

While I was there I heard the news of Robin Williams’ suicide. In spite of the lack of radio, internet and TV, news gets into the valley through guests who come in or staff members who go out for supplies.

When I got out I saw that the news of Williams’ death had produced a rather predictable debate on the Internets about the nature of Clinical Depression. Someone dredged up an old interview by Gene Simmons of KISS who said depressed people ought to just go ahead and kill themselves. Others didn’t understand why a guy with so much success couldn’t just get over it. This, of course, was shouted down by folks who said that Clinical Depression was different from normal depression and that people who didn’t have Clinical Depression couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like.

Robin Williams’ Zen teacher friend Peter Coyote posted his perspective on Facebook. I liked what he had to say.

Oddly enough, the day before I heard about this, one of the guests at Tassajara (I wasn’t a guest, but a worker) told me that my book There Is No God And He Is Always With You had played a large role in preventing her from killing herself. She showed me how she had copied out the section that she said saved her life. Here it is:

Here’s what I believe when it comes to suicide. Your life isn’t really your own to do with as you please. That’s a deceptive ego-based fallacy. You are intimately connected to every person and thing you come into contact with. You do not end at the borders of your body. You are not your own possession to throw away.

Sometimes people imagine they can terminate their suffering by killing themselves. I don’t believe that. The idea that committing suicide will end your suffering comes from the belief that you and the world in which you live are two different things. You believe that you can leave this world and thereby leave suffering behind. But my own sense, after years of zazen practice, is that this is not true. I’ve spent a long time watching the boundary line between what I call “me” and what I call “the rest of the world” blur and fade.

So what I’m saying here goes a little further than just the old the-show-must-go-on—type thing, wherein people say you have a responsibility to your friends and family not to go off and blow your brains out in the greenhouse. I would add that you also have a responsibility to yourself and even to the universe as a whole not to do that. If you kill yourself, the suffering you thought was yours alone spreads out like a wave to those parts of the universe you’ve been taught to think of as separate from you. And they really aren’t. They’re you too.

Most people seem to feel that, if nothing else, suicide at least helps the person who does it to escape the pain of life into complete oblivion. But I don’t think that’s true either.

I don’t base this belief on received wisdom from others or on beliefs handed down to me. I don’t base it on speculating about what is most likely to happen to one who commits suicide. I base my belief on my own real experiences. In my deeper and more connected moments I’ve seen that there really is no oblivion into which I might escape.

I don’t know what life was like for Robin Williams. My teacher, Nishijima Roshi, was deeply interested in studying suicide. He never said why. But it’s a big issue in Japan. Perhaps someone he knew committed suicide, or perhaps he’d considered it himself. Both are very likely. He often referenced a book about suicide that he liked very much called Man Against Himself by Karl Menninger. That and Menninger’s Love Against Hate seemed to be his favorite books aside from Shobogenzo.

Once, when answering a question about suicidal depression, Nishijima said that people who suffer from it were usually “too clever.” I can see that in Robin Williams. The same thing that gave him the ability to do those amazing rapid fire improvisations was probably a big problem when he wasn’t on stage. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be that clever.

I’ve dealt with depression all my life and came pretty close to doing myself in. I’ve never been diagnosed with Clinical Depression because I never had the cash to see a doctor about my stuff when it was at its worst. I’ve often wondered if I would have been diagnosed and prescribed anything for it. I’m pretty sure I would have. It was bad. But I’m not clever enough to have had it as bad as Robin Williams did, I’m sure.

It’s hard to get over depression no matter how much of it you have. You cannot think your way out of it. You can always find a good reason to think everything sucks. If you’re clever enough, you can come up with infinite reasons. Some say it’s “bad chemicals” like Kurt Vonnegut talked about that causes your depression. Perhaps those same chemicals cause you to over-think everything. Some say those chemicals can only be brought back to manageable levels with medication. I don’t have the final answer here. But I do feel that just about anything a drug can do to us, we can also do for ourselves. Still, it can take a whole lot of time and work to get to that point and sometimes there’s a need for more drastic action.

I once saw Robin Williams do a few minutes of improv at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater in Los Angeles in the front row of an audience of around fifty people. He was good. I wish he could have found a way to stick around.

*   *   *

I won’t kill myself if you don’t send a donation. But it would help me out a whole lot if you did.

*   *   *

Here’s my upcoming events schedule:

Aug. 16 9:30 AM — Noon at Dogen Sangha Los Angeles in the Veteran’s Memorial Building 4117 Overland Blvd. Culver City, CA 90230

Sept. 6 Houston Zen Center All Day Zazen

Sept. 9 Austin Zen Center

Oct. 1 Turku Panimoravintola Koulu, Finland– Movie screening

Oct. 2 Helsinki, Finland — Lecture Event

Oct. 3-5 Helsinki, Finland Zen retreat at Helsinki Zen Center

Oct. 6 Movie Screening in Espoo, Finland

Oct. 8 Lecture in Munich, Germany

Oct. 10-11 Retreat in Munich, Germany

Oct. 12-17 Retreat at Benediktushof near Würzburg, Germany

Oct 18-19 Retreat in Bonn, Germany

Oct 20 Hamburg, Germany

Oct 24: Lecture in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 25: Day-long zazen in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 26: Movie screening in Eindhoven, Netherlands at Natlab

Oct 27: Evening zazen in Eindhoven, Netherlands

Oct 28: Evening zazen in Nijmegen, Netherlands

Oct 29: Lecture in Amsterdam, Netherlands  at “De Roos” bookstore from 19.00-21.00  (P Cornelisz Hooftstr 183)

Oct 30: Lecture in Utrecht, Netherlands at “De wijze kater” bookstore from 19.00-21.00 ( Mariaplaats 1,  Utrecht)

Nov 1-2: Retreat in Utrecht, Netherlands

Nov. 2: Movie screening in Utrecht, Netherlands at ACU

Nov 6-8: Retreat in Hebden Bridge, UK

Nov 9: Noon — 5pm  Manchester, UK

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64 Responses

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  1. mb
    mb August 15, 2014 at 12:55 pm |

    Interestingly, the additional news that Robin Williams was showing early signs of Parkinson’s disease was disclosed by his widow yesterday.

    What’s interesting about that is he played the role of Oliver Sacks, the neurologist, in the film Awakenings. That film was about Sacks’ experience with the use of the drug L-Dopa which dramatically (but temporarily) improved the symptoms of terminal Parkinson patients (and those suffering other neurological diseases as well).

    Got to wonder whether Williams had that whole story in mind in as he contemplated his own impending onset of Parkinsons.

  2. shade
    shade August 15, 2014 at 3:41 pm |

    This is sort of a side issue, but that “old” interview with Gene Simmons was done like, last month. Obviously that’s before this business with Robin Williams, but it’s not like it’s some embarrassing incident pulled from a forgotten magazine clipping from the early 80s. Pretty much every famous person puts their foot in it sooner or later, but from what I’ve heard he’s really been on a roll lately, in terms of being the world’s biggest prick.

  3. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer August 15, 2014 at 3:59 pm |

    When I heard about Robin William’s suicide I was strangely unsurprised.

    I am in no way saying I saw it coming, but I always felt he was covering a deep internal sadness with his quick humor and witty asides. It seemed like a defense mechanism.

    I wasn’t able to enjoy his performances because of this impression.

    He was also dealing with a lot of depression triggers. Other than the Parkinson’s (which has a common side effect of depression) his open heart surgery could have contributed. I was surprised to learn a few years back that depression is a common symptom after heart surgery.

    Brad’s statement :

    “But I do feel that just about anything a drug can do to us, we can also do for ourselves. Still, it can take a whole lot of time and work to get to that point and sometimes there’s a need for more drastic action.”

    This pretty much sums up my opinion about zazen and anti-depressents.

    Hopefully, Cheers.

  4. Mumbles
    Mumbles August 15, 2014 at 5:58 pm |

    When the Menninger Clinic closed in Topeka, KS, I knew the librarian there, who was horrified that they were simply going to destroy the books instead of find them good homes. She desperately boxed up and shipped books all over the country to people who were interested in keeping some of the history of the place alive. I personally received about 10-15 boxes, which I sorted through and saved what I wanted, giving some to friends and to the library in my city, and selling some through a small used book outlet I had at the time, Inland Ocean Books. There were some amazing titles on everything from alcoholism & drug abuse to suicide and how and why people create art, etc. Karl Menninger’s book on numbers (I was way into Qabalah at the time I rcvd it) was worth the whole lot.

    I liked the excerpt from your book you quoted above, Brad, and am glad you were influential in preventing a possible suicide by writing it.

    Not sure how you are defining “oblivion” but I’ll give you a pass because the rest is v. good.

  5. kirkmc
    kirkmc August 16, 2014 at 2:51 am |

    Hey Brad,

    You said:

    “I’ve never been diagnosed with Clinical Depression because I never had the cash to see a doctor about my stuff when it was at its worst. I’ve often wondered if I would have been diagnosed and prescribed anything for it. I’m pretty sure I would have.”

    I know the health insurance situation in the US sucks (I’m a lapsed American living in Europe), but I’m pretty sure that you could have gotten help for free somehow. The reason I’m pointing this out is that other people with serious depression shouldn’t not go to a doctor because they don’t have money. There are meds that can help, and that can make a big difference between being in a deep depression for a month and being in one for a year.

    So for others who are facing this issue, check around; there are helplines and charities and the like that can probably get you help. Don’t stay depressed just because you can’t afford to see a doctor.

  6. jason farrow
    jason farrow August 16, 2014 at 4:11 am |

    The darkest humour is the funniest.

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot August 17, 2014 at 4:38 am |

      Growing up with Belarusian parents who suffered greatly in WWII, I early on noted the fondness Belarusians, Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, and the rest of the Slavic lot had for gallows humor. Ah! the delicious ironies around unintended and unexpected death, with a touch of poetic retribution!

      I’ve noticed Native Americans seem to have similar tastes in jokes.

      I guess it’s because, given a choice between crying or laughing, laughing makes the pill of dukkha go down easier. Or maybe it’s a macho kind of competition:

      “Fare thee weel, you dungeons dark and strong,
      Fareweel, fareweel to thee.
      Macpherson’s rant will ne’er be lang,
      On yonder gallers tree.

      Sae wontonly, sae dauntonly,
      O rantinly gaed he,
      He played a tune an’ he danced aroon,
      Below the gallers tree.”

  7. Johnny Tet
    Johnny Tet August 16, 2014 at 4:49 am |

    Seeking medical/ behavioral health assistance for depression is a real option for people, and it does help some people. Medication and talk therapy get a bad rap in some circles as being “unnatural” or “the man’s way of controlling you mind” or… there are hundreds of arguments against getting professional western medical help.
    But, if you happen to be into reality (or are desperately trying to be, via Zazen), one can take a scientific view. Depression and suicidality are a complex neurochemical/psychosocial phenomena that can be dangerous. There is a brain chemistry aspect to the phenomena. We medical folk try to influence the brain chemistry in a helpful way by supplementing with chemicals (medication) or adjusting brain chemicals by changing thinking (talk therapy). This should be done for people in such a way that we are reasonably sure of benefit rather than harm. Few of us realists in the medical field would suggest we fix anything. Depressed and suicidal people get better without medical help often. I think of the intervention by western medicine as a stop-gap measure that helps people stay alive or suffer a little less, until things change.

    The view that getting professional help is failure of ones own agency/faculties or ability to practice is wrong. (Remember it’s not all about YOU, whatever that means) One can easily receive western medical and psychological care and continue practice. I’ve done it and know many others who have also.

    I say this with great care and respect for all of us who suffer.

  8. Fred
    Fred August 16, 2014 at 5:40 am |

    Depression is a chemical disorder. If you think that you can fix it with thought,
    or meditation, you are wrong.

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot August 17, 2014 at 4:47 am |

      Since thinking and other processes of consciousness are, from one viewpoint, changes in the chemical states of the body, how can it be impossible for such processes to be able to self-regulate?

      1. Alan Sailer
        Alan Sailer August 17, 2014 at 7:23 am |

        Exactly. The road does run both ways.


    2. senorchupacabra
      senorchupacabra August 19, 2014 at 10:36 am |

      Hunger is a chemical disorder. If you think eating a sandwich is going to fix it. You are mistaken.

      In all seriousness, though, I think people should do whatever they need to do to feel better about life. I’ve been in and out of depression all my life– even profoundly suicidal between 19-21– so I don’t want anybody to suffer that shit if they don’t have to. However, I’ve never taken drugs for it, and I’ve never seen anything in the science that convinced me that the “bad chemicals” (actually, depression has more to do with a lack of certain “good” chemicals, but that doesn’t detract from Vonnegut’s genius) weren’t occurring in response to external stimuli. In short, I do think people are distressed because of their own delusions about life and because the environments we live in aren’t always conducive to emotional health. Like any other pain, I believe depression is there to draw attention to something in our world that isn’t right. Those chemicals (or lack thereof) occur because they’re trying to tell us to change something about our lives or do something different.

  9. shade
    shade August 16, 2014 at 7:03 am |

    This issue has come up several times but I’ve always refrained from saying anything because there’s simply too much to say and I have trouble with brevity as it is. But there’s already lot being thrown out here I find questionable if not outright disagreeable… well, without going into a lot of tedious personal information, let me just say first off my opinion is not merely academic. I’ve had my share of experiences with the mental health community. Which, of course, is not unique for an American of the late 20th/early 21st century.

    Be clear, the psychiatric business is just that – a business. Which is to say, a way of making a profit. Quite a hefty profit as it turns out. I feel very strongly that this has an enormous influence on the way this particular arm of medicine is practiced, not least of all from a diagnostic standpoint. For a person or company making money from the treatment of various psychological afflictions, it is in their best interest to diagnose as many people as possible as suffering from some from one of these afflictions. Because only sick people (or their insurance companies) can be charged for treatment. This problem plagues the health care industry as a whole but it is especially egregious in psychiatry, where the criteria for identifying a given patient’s illness (or whether or not that person is “ill” at all) are much more ambiguous. It is much easier for mental health professional to interpret perfectly normal emotions as pathological than it is for a physician to misdiagnose pneumonia or cancer.

    So had Brad gone to a doctor when he was feeling depressed, yeah, he almost certainly would have been diagnosed with Clinical Depression and maybe a host of other disorders besides. And he probably would have been prescribed some sort of medication (I’m not even going to get into my issues with that.) If he had admitted to being suicidal he may well have been committed to some sort of state-run facility (I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid that experience, but from what I’ve heard it’s not a great experience for someone who feels so bad they want to off themselves to begin with).

    I’m very tempted at this point to say that “Clinical Depression” is a total myth, designed to bolster the pecuniary interests (and to lesser extent prestige) of the psychiatric profession. But the truth is, that’s an oversimplification. Mental illness may be grossly over diagnosed, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist at all. I do believe there are certain people who’ve been diagnosed with that particular “disease” who are at least suffering from some sort of serious disorder, probably bio-chemical and nature. However, I also believe that one of the reason that so many people are so depressed (or anxious) is simply because the world is a pretty seriously fucked up place. Every day thousands of innocent children die from causes both preventable and unpreventable – I think that alone is enough to make any marginally sensitive person depressed a good deal of the time. In a way, mass misery is a good sign, because it at least indicates that humanity hasn’t become entirely corrupt.

    On the other hand – part of what depresses me so much is that more people aren’t depressed, or that they interpret their depression as abnormal. It is not “normal” (let alone moral) to experience consistent emotional equilibrium in a world as cruel and psychotic as this one.

    1. kirkmc
      kirkmc August 16, 2014 at 10:55 am |

      You’ve clearly never experienced serious depression.

      1. senorchupacabra
        senorchupacabra August 19, 2014 at 10:38 am |

        I have. And I think Shade is on the right track.

  10. Fred
    Fred August 16, 2014 at 8:51 am |

    Shade, you aren’t going to watch the Sapolsky film, are you? Because your mind
    is already made up that being depressed is a normal response to living in a shitty,
    fucked up world.

    Yes, members of ISIS are burying people alive because they don’t like their
    religious or cultural views. That image is resonating around these neurons,
    and it is being felt on an emotional level every day. But it won’t trigger the
    symptoms of depression.

  11. shade
    shade August 16, 2014 at 11:32 am |


    In the sake of fairness, I did watch the video you linked to. None of this is unfamiliar to me, this has pretty much been the standard take on emotional disorders since the late 90s (at least). And I don’t think it’s total bullshit. But I do have two problems.

    First, just because something manifests itself biochemically in the human nervous system does not mean that its cause is biochemical or should be treated biochemically. All emotions, pleasant or unpleasant, manifest themselves as such. Which brings me to the second problem.

    Regarding Major Depression as a disease the same way diabetes is regarded as a disease… well the issue here is that depression (like most psychiatric disorders) is not tested the same way diabetes is tested. There is no “testing” per se involved at all. If someone is suspected of suffering from diabetes, lab work is done to determine the amount of insulin in that person’s blood (right?) and if they are producing far less insulin than average, then the diagnosis is completely straightforward. But people with suspected emotional disorders are not tested for the amount of serotonin or epinephrine or whatever running through their nervous systems. (Unless standard diagnostic procedure in the psychiatric industry has radically changed since I last had dealings with a mental health professional, several years ago. In that case I stand corrected).

    This doesn’t absolutely mean that the biochemical theory of depression and other emotional disorders is completely bunk. After all, there are a whole host of diseases whose cause and somatic mechanism were a complete mystery for centuries. But I do think it’s much more ambiguous situation than a lot of people are letting on, and this ambiguity is very convenient for those making a profit off other people’s misery.

    And just for the record, for anyone questioning my “expertise” on the subject, I’ve been diagnosed with Major Depression/Clinical Depression more times than I can count. (Also sorry about all the typos in my original post. It was early.)

  12. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 16, 2014 at 2:06 pm |

    I take issue with Peter Coyote’s remarks.

    I think the implication is that Robin Williams’ suicide was partly Robin’s fault, because he did not train: “Had the horse been trained, it might have reminded him that there is always something we can do.” The horse in the analogy Peter is making is identified as Robin’s gift, but it’s hard for me to imagine training a gift (kind of goes against the definition), so my guess is that Peter is obliquely referencing Zen “training”- the horse of his analogy is really something like Robin’s ox, as in the ox-herding pictures.

    If the idea is to become something other than what I am to begin with through Zen practice, what kind of Zen is that?

    To say that Zen offers something that would have changed the outcome for Robin Williams, had he partaken of it, is wishful thinking. Moreover, to encourage people to believe it’s about “something we can do” is to deepen their sense of separation from where they actually are.

    “When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point” -Dogen, Genjo Koan

    1. Mumbles
      Mumbles August 17, 2014 at 1:46 pm |

      Bravo, Mark. Hits nail on head.

  13. Fred
    Fred August 16, 2014 at 2:37 pm |

    “And just for the record, for anyone questioning my “expertise” on the subject, I’ve been diagnosed with Major Depression/Clinical Depression more times than I can count.”

    No one is questioning your expertise with what you have experienced.

    I would be interested in whether you took Serotonin, Dopamine or Norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors, and what effect they had.

    You write well and don’t seem to be impaired by the cognitive deficits of major
    clinical depression.

    1. shade
      shade August 16, 2014 at 3:50 pm |

      I haven’t taken psychiatric medication of any kind in many years, but I’ve been prescribed just about any class of antidepressant in existence (well, prior to about 2007; I don’t know what they’ve cooked up since then) with the exception of MAOIs, which are almost never prescribed anymore. But the one I was on the longest was Paxil, which is an SSRI. This was originally prescribed to me back in the days when such drugs were relatively new and touted as having near miraculous properties in terms of treating depression and other mood disorders. In particular, it was claimed they were completely non-addictive and had little or no side effects.

      Nobody makes such claims anymore. The controversy surrounding SSRIs and Paxil in particular is common knowledge now (well, if you don’t know you can look it up, if you’re interested). I don’t want to go into my whole personal drama involving these chemicals, but I will say when I first started taking these medications I bought completely into the “chemical imbalance” theory. I was fourteen, I didn’t know jack about medicine, and these were doctors. I assumed people with medical degrees knew their business. And plus the fact, yes, the little pink pills made me “feel” better. Now, older and wiser (well, I like to think) it occurs to me that “feeling” better is not always a good indication that one IS better. If they had given me cocaine, that probably would have made me feel better too.

      Oh, wait… wasn’t cocaine once promoted as a “miracle drug” as well? This is a pretty common theme in the history of psychiatry. Many, many popular street drugs were first introduced to the public as treatments for various mental and emotional disorders. Some, like ecstasy, were actually developed by the psychiatric industry. Knowing now what I didn’t know then, you can see why my hackles raise whenever someone starts describing depression as a physiological disorder.

      Okay, that’s all. End of rant/history lesson.

  14. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 16, 2014 at 4:12 pm |

    Fred, thanks for the link. For anybody who doesn’t have the time, here’s how I summarized the lecture elsewhere:

    “(you’ll find this info from approx. 46 on): there are two variations of one particular gene. One of the two variations, coupled with the repeated experience of heavy stress (especially early in life), makes a person about 30 times more likely to experience clinical depression. ”

    I feel fortunate to have heard Dr. John Lee in 1995 talk about the connection between the pharmaceutical industry and the medical profession, and why that connection meant that women were being prescribed estrogen to treat the loss of bone mass when in fact what they needed was progesterone. From the Stanford prof’s lecture, sounds like a lot of women who experience depression would have better results from a skin cream they can pick up at Whole Foods than from the medical profession.

    Not that that’s the whole answer, as the professor makes clear.

  15. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer August 16, 2014 at 5:00 pm |

    I also watched the video Fred linked to and found it interesting but it didn’t hold any major revelations for me.

    Given that Dr. Sapolsky is studying the elephant of depression from the point of view of biochemistry it is not surprising that he concentrates on biochemistry as the “cause” of depression. But at the end of his talk, after discussing genetics, chemistry and biology, he also explains that stressful events can cause a susceptible person to fall into a depressive episode.

    Given that last statement, I can easily see how meditation (which can help people deal with stress) could be helpful in avoiding or dealing with depression.

    On a personal level I have experienced one episode of pretty major depression. I was given chemicals to help and they did. So I am not going to say that they can’t work.

    More recently I had a bad experience with anxious depression. The chemical that I took for that was worse than the depression. At some point I decided to try sitting meditation and I credit it for pulling me out of that period in my life.

    So in my case, watching my thoughts has helped a lot. I can more easily notice when I am in a negative mental state. And for some strange reason that I can’t explain, just noticing those “depressive” thoughts makes a difference.


    1. mb
      mb August 16, 2014 at 5:28 pm |

      And for some strange reason that I can’t explain, just noticing those “depressive” thoughts makes a difference.
      I’ll explain it for you: identification. Watching thoughts loosens your identification with them. When you’re in a state of hopeless identification, “you” are being “eaten” by them at every moment. They all seem important, they all seem to demand an immediate and active response. Of course you can never totally loosen your identification with thoughts – that becomes “dissociation” which is a pathological state with its own set of problems.

      Make any sense?

      1. Alan Sailer
        Alan Sailer August 17, 2014 at 7:29 am |


        That certainly makes sense. Thank you for spending the time figuring it out and then explaining it to me.

        For my own part I’m content not looking at such things too critically. One again, thinking got me into this fine mess I’m in so I am avoiding trying to think myself out.


    2. minkfoot
      minkfoot August 17, 2014 at 4:59 am |

      Yes. A helpful pov within the stream of thinking and letting go of thoughts.

      The force of desire or aversion evaporates when it can be recognized.

      “I see you, Mara! I know you!”

  16. RandomStu
    RandomStu August 17, 2014 at 12:00 pm |

    If you think that by moving to Alaska all your problems will be gone, that’s a delusion. But it doesn’t mean that moving to Alaska itself is a delusion. It depends on the intention and motivation behind the action.

  17. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 17, 2014 at 11:32 pm |

    What a great Iggy Pop song…

    Alan, Prof. Sapolsky also mentions that there is one particular gene, that if you have it and you are exposed to repeated emotional trauma, especially early, you are 30 times more likely than a person without that gene to develop clinical depression. So, yes, without the environmental trigger the gene ain’t so bad. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a matter of biology, that a person experiences clinical depression- right?

    “Trying to find… anything…”

    Your experiences say a lot, for sure.

    I notice the dear doctor also says that the dangerous time for depressives is when the motor paralysis part wears off, and they can act on what they feel. Makes me wonder about Robin Williams, as far as where he might have been with the bout and what meds if any they were prescribing; in other words, if he had been battling a depressive episode lately, did the right people know where he was in his recovery?

    I think for the most part doctors depend on their patients to understand and administer their own medicines, unless those patients are in a rehabilitative facility. Outpatients seem to be expected to provide accurate clinical feedback on their condition as well, and to understand their treatment options and medication cautions perhaps better than their doctor (or doctors).

    I think it’s significant that two out of what, ten commentators on this thread, have had experience with treatment that left them distrustful of the medical establishment. Add me to that number, but not from personal experience (yet).

  18. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer August 18, 2014 at 2:12 pm |


    I have experienced some problems with the medical industrial complex that leave me fairly wary. I think that part of the problem comes with the accelerating pressure doctors have to see ever larger numbers of patients.

    Under that kind of time pressure they just can’t afford to take the time to really examine a patient to figure out what is wrong.

    For instance, a year or so back I went to a doctor with a persistent digestive complaint. The doctor ordered all the tests, which came back negative. The problem continued to get worse so several months later I went back. More tests, no results.

    One day I was eating a handful of nuts and a question popped into my head. A quick search on the Internets showed me that I was eating way too many nuts. An obscure chemical called phytic acid is present in a lot of nuts and can cause problems for some people. I stopped my nut consumption and the problem just vanished over the next week.

    The problem from my point of view was that the doctors (I saw two) never asked me about my diet. Nothing. My guess is that ordering tests is just faster and easier.

    For me the only way to deal with this problem is to spend my own time trying to figure out things on my own. Fortunately I’m pretty healthy so that doesn’t take much time.


  19. Fred
    Fred August 18, 2014 at 3:46 pm |

    ” In fact, at least half of all Parkinson’s patients may suffer from clinical depression at some point during the course of their disease, according to some estimates.”

  20. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 18, 2014 at 6:12 pm |

    That’s great, Alan, that you were able to figure it out. Interesting, too.

    For myself, I have no doubt that Dr. John Lee was right about the virtues of progesterone (in physiological doses), and the cancer-causing effect of the prescription of estrogen or estrogen and progestins in the 90’s. I talked to a lot of women about it, and three of them took up the use; one was my wife at the time, the second was a co-worker who I did tunes with (and love dearly), the third was my long-term girlfriend at the time. I don’t think any of the other fine folks I talked to took it up, and I came to understand that people believe in Western medicine the way they believe in religion, because they want to believe it can cure them (and they want to believe they will go to heaven?).

    That leaves the rest of us, on the edge, desperately thumbing old medical journals, studying anatomical diagrams, reading old Pali Canon translations and old Blue Cliff Record translations, and googling into the wee hours.

    Saw that, Mr. Fred. I thought he was just diagnosed, though, so pretty quick if it was that and not an already-established tendency to clinical depression. Never heard anything about Robin Williams battling depression previously.

  21. Fred
    Fred August 19, 2014 at 10:36 am |

    Heavy cocaine use is a co-factor for developing Parkinson’s like effects.

  22. Fred
    Fred August 19, 2014 at 10:42 am |

    So while some might wish to blame the suicide on the medical corrective therapy,
    a person taking responsibility for their physical status, would acknowledge that
    they damaged their N.S. by overloading pleasure inducing recreational drugs.

  23. Fred
    Fred August 19, 2014 at 10:44 am |

    Sorry, that should have been S.N.

  24. Fred
    Fred August 19, 2014 at 10:46 am |

    Perhaps he hung himself when he realized that he destroyed his own brain with
    coke and alcohol.

  25. Fred
    Fred August 19, 2014 at 10:55 am |

    “‘Cocaine is God’s way of telling you that you’re making too much money,’ Williams would joke onstage. But he later admitted there were occasions when he took so much that his chest pounded so hard he feared he would die.

    Every night was a party, fuelled by drugs and tumblers of vodka and lime, starting in clubs and moving on to four or five different houses.

    His excesses were such that his marriage to dancer Valerie Velardi, whom he had wed in 1978, began to fall apart.”

    Daily Mail

  26. Fred
    Fred August 19, 2014 at 11:04 am |
  27. Fred
    Fred August 19, 2014 at 1:46 pm |

    “The persistence of drug craving and risk of relapse so characteristic of addiction are thought to be linked to long-lasting changes in neural gene expression arising through changes in transcription and chromatin regulation. In essence, such mechanisms are believed to constitute a ‘molecular memory’ that contributes to the maintenance of the drug-addicted state”

  28. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer August 19, 2014 at 2:16 pm |


    It may be before your time, but science proved that LSD caused chromosome damage back in the 60’s.

    It was later proved false.

    More recently science also proved that MDMA aka Ecstasy caused severe brain damage in primates. This study was retracted after the researchers found out the the chemical they had given the animals was actually methamphetamine.

    As far as I can tell the question of MDMA and brain damage is still up in the air.

    The LSD chromosome damage is a dead issue.

    I don’t advocate the use of most drugs*, but the amount of biased or wrong information published by the media as facts is just astounding. Relying on one source (or study) for drug knowledge is useless.

    And the whole question of whether the government’s attempts to control illegal drug use have created far more pain and suffering than the drugs themselves is a topic really worth investigating. As is the question of why some insanely harmful drugs like alcohol and tobacco are completely legal.


    * I personally overuse sugar, caffeine and chocolate.

    1. Fred
      Fred August 20, 2014 at 2:34 pm |


      They may have faked the animal study with amphetamine rather than MDMA,
      but there are other examples of damage to the brain from MDMA.

      And I was in my prime in the 60’s.

      1. Alan Sailer
        Alan Sailer August 20, 2014 at 8:05 pm |


        The MDMA study was not faked, they accidentally got a sample of methamphetamine instead of MDMA. The fact that the darn lab animals were dying should have clued them in that something was wrong.

        I am sure that the people who did the study you linked to did it with the best of intentions. I have seen studies that come to different conclusions.

        I will stand by my previous statement the the amount of biased and just plain wrong “scientific” information about drugs is staggering. The old saying about “set and setting” applies to drug researchers as well as drug takers.


        1. Fred
          Fred August 21, 2014 at 1:06 pm |

          “7. Which historical figure do you most admire?

          Aldous Huxley.”

          Cherry picking the scientific outcomes to support a point of view.

          1. Alan Sailer
            Alan Sailer August 21, 2014 at 2:25 pm |


            Unless you can show me otherwise, me saying that I admire Aldous Huxley (which I do) has nothing to do with the truth or falsity of a given study on drugs, does it?

            If you absolutely need to me say you are right in your opinions about drugs just say so. I’ll consider the request.


  29. Michel
    Michel August 20, 2014 at 12:56 am |

    I remember a friend of mine some 20 years ago who seemed to be on the slippery downhill road to destitution. Fortunately, he didn’t go down it, but it was, I believe, a very clear possibility at the time. Mostly drinking, mind you, but that can be nasty by itself.
    Like quite a few of us, he liked to party. Maybe more than I did, but whatever. I realised that he had made some kind of equation in his mind: when I’m partying, I’m happy, thus happiness is partying. Partying is getting spoiled, therefore, he got spoiled in permanence. Then it cost him his girl friend who just had had their child. I think it’s what helped him sober up.

    But I do think that we often make up some bad equations in our minds, just by following some spurious syllogisms. Like, for instance, “I’ll be happy when I get more (money/girls/lays/houses/cars/yachts/beer bottle capsules/plastic dinosaurs/ actual dinosaur bones/you name it)”. But then, when you do get more of what you wanted, the equation is still there: ‘happiness is more’ which means what you have can in no way be enough. Which means that the man who would own the world (a prerequisite if you want to sell it…) couldn’t be happy if he couldn’t acquire the moon. And so on.

  30. The Idiot
    The Idiot August 21, 2014 at 3:05 pm |

    Something meaningful.

  31. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon August 21, 2014 at 3:56 pm |

    Sam Harris. Waking Up: A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion.
    Chapter One.

    1. Fred
      Fred August 21, 2014 at 3:58 pm |
  32. Fred
    Fred August 21, 2014 at 3:56 pm |


    Unless you can show me otherwise, me saying that I admire Aldous Huxley (which I do) has nothing to do with the truth or falsity of a given study on drugs, does it?

    If you absolutely need to me say you are right in your opinions about drugs just say so. I’ll consider the request.


    Sure, the fact that you admire the father of psychedelics, has to do with your
    opinion about the truth or falsity of given studies.

    Is there really a truth or falsity about anything. My opinion is just an opinion,
    neither right nor wrong.

    It does seem reasonable that when you continuously hammer a receptor, that
    over time there can deleterious results. Why not put that to the vote of 1000
    neuroscientists in the world.

    Discussion along these lines is an open invite to CosmicBrainz.

    1. Alan Sailer
      Alan Sailer August 21, 2014 at 4:51 pm |


      I agree with your rather dramatic statement about hammering your brain with any drug. It can and does effect the working of that brain even after the drugs are long gone.

      What I disagree with is your blanket statement that,

      “Depression is a chemical disorder. If you think that you can fix it with thought,
      or meditation, you are wrong.”

      I personally got out of a depression with the help of meditation. Brad has implied in his blogs that meditation has helped him with his depression.

      That same depression was worsened by a federally approved drug. My point is that illegal drugs are not all bad and legal drugs are not all good.

      And at this time I will take The Idiots good advice and drop it.


    2. minkfoot
      minkfoot August 23, 2014 at 10:58 am |

      Huxley was a well-known novelist before he ever took LSD et al. “Father of psychedelics” seems more pertinent to pin on Albert Hoffman or even possibly Tim Leary. I would say Huxley’s level of relevance as “father of psychedelics” is about par with Alan Watts.

      Btw, I loved Huxley’s novels in high school, but wasn’t aware he was involved with psychs until I found out about his death. Which wasn’t for half a year, since he died November 22, 1963.

  33. The Idiot
    The Idiot August 21, 2014 at 4:31 pm |

    Fred, you doth cling to much …

    1. The Idiot
      The Idiot August 22, 2014 at 4:58 pm |

      … as do I.

      A pleasure to crave with y’all.


  34. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 21, 2014 at 9:29 pm |

    I was unaware that R. Williams was so into cocaine, at one time.

    “Cocaine primarily exerts its behavioral effects by enhancing dopaminergic neurotransmission, amplifying dopamine-encoded sensorimotor integration. The presumed mechanism for this effect is inhibition of the dopamine transporter, which blocks dopamine uptake and prolongs the duration of dopamine in the extracellular space. However, there is growing evidence that cocaine can also augment dopamine release.” here

    I’ve been thinking of cocaine as a heart stimulant, like caffeine. Not right. Wonder what the incidence of parkinson’s is in Bolivia.

  35. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 21, 2014 at 9:38 pm |

    Answer would appear to be, the same as other developing countries (here).

  36. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 21, 2014 at 9:39 pm |

    “Dopamine deficiency is found in both chronic cocaine abusers and Parkinson’s disease. The authors sought to determine whether parkinsonian signs occur in chronic cocaine abusers. Fifty male patients with a history of chronic heavy cocaine abuse were examined on the Unified Parkinson Disease Scale (UPDS) and compared with 20 non-cocaine-abusing, age- and sex-matched control subjects. UPDS scores of cocaine abusers ranged from 0 to 1 (mean: 0.08 +/- 0.28) and, in control subjects, from 0 to 3 (mean: 0.15 +/- 0.49; P = 0.5; NS). This study suggests that chronic heavy cocaine abuse does not cause parkinsonism.” (here)

    Sample of 50 people.

  37. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 22, 2014 at 1:14 pm |

    ‘He wrote little about his time in the woods, but what he did reveal was harrowing. Some years, he made it clear, he barely survived the winter. In one letter, he told me that to get through difficult times, he tried meditating. “I didn’t meditate every day, month, season in the woods. Just when death was near. Death in the form of too little food or too much cold for too long.” Meditation worked, he concluded. “I am alive and sane, at least I think I’m sane.”‘

    from “The Strange Tale of the Last True Hermit”, here.

  38. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 22, 2014 at 1:30 pm |

    “Once you get below negative twenty, you purposely don’t think,” he told me. His eyes went wide and fearful from the memory. “That’s when you do have religion. You do pray. You pray for warmth.”



  39. Fred
    Fred August 22, 2014 at 3:55 pm |

    Thanks Mark, that was enjoyable.

    “Chris became surprisingly introspective. “I did examine myself,” he said. “Solitude did increase my perception. But here’s the tricky thing–when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. With no audience, no one to perform for, I was just there. There was no need to define myself; I became irrelevant. The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand. I didn’t even have a name. I never felt lonely. To put it romantically: I was completely free.”

  40. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 22, 2014 at 9:42 pm |

    I thought of you when I read that passage, Fred. Did I mention Woolly Bully was the first song I ever did at karioke night (I’ve done three, now)?

    Looking at Andy McKee’s biography on my Pandora station, I discover that he opened for Prince in Australia in 2012. Found a video where he describes it, getting an email from Prince, going up to a party and jamming with the guy, refusing to wear the 50-foot cape that Prince envisioned for him opening the act… Two of my favorite musicians, but I can’t imagine two styles of music that are less similar. However, it does reminds me of my friend the lead guitarist from the high school rock band playing lead on my renditions of John Fahey tunes, long ago in a galaxy far away.

  41. Unpeaceful Buddhist
    Unpeaceful Buddhist August 24, 2014 at 5:20 pm |


    First of all, thank you for your blog and your books!

    I kind of hoped my first comment on your web site would not be one of disagreements, but, as the Stones have said, “You can’t always get what you want…”

    Anyway, I am a Buddhist and a brand-new blogger, and I hope I won’t be breaking any protocols if I simply provide a link here to my post on the subject of Robin Williams’ death (it’a a lengthy essay, so I don’t think it would work well in the comment field), where I take some issues with a couple of things you and Peter Coyote have said:

    I will be back.. (no Austrian accent applied!)


    (Un)peaceful Buddhist.

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