TOO EXCELLENT

I posted this piece in the comments section of my latest article for Suicide Girls. In case you’re too lazy the click on the link over there to your left, the article ends with the following paragraph:

“I would never claim to have The Answer to the problem of depression. But I can say what has worked for me, and what continues to work. It’s not as easy or as quick a solution as popping a few pills each day. But in the long run it’s better to learn how to deal with your self by yourself rather than letting drugs do all the work for you. For one thing, you’ll never forget to fill your prescription. Yet the solution that worked for me involves opting out of what most people consider to be a ‘normal’ way of life and ‘normal’ over-indulgences. If you’re ready to make the sacrifice you’ll end up seeing it’s no sacrifice at all.”

A number of people over at SG took exception to my stance about drugs as a means for dealing with depression. Though I thought what I said was pretty clear, and though some of the posters did get it, I decided to add a bit of clarification anyway.

But before you read this, I want to say that I am not interested in debating the merits of the kinds of drugs prescribed by psychiatrists. There is plenty of debate on that subject already. Boring! If you want to debate it, that’s fine. Just don’t expect me to jump in.

I am, however, interested in Nishijima Sensei’s idea that some things can be “too excellent.” And that’s what I wanted to comment about here. So, here’s what I posted (with a couple minor changes):

•••••••••••••••••••

When I wrote that line about Zazen being better for depression than popping pills I was not imagining a person with cripplingly severe depression who turned to medication only after everything else failed. Sometimes the medical solution is the only way to deal with a problem that has become too severe to be dealt with in any other way. If I were in a car crash or diagnosed with cancer I would want to see a doctor, not a Zen Master.

But with the heaps of cash the pharmaceutical companies are pouring into developing new markets for their potions, it often looks to me like an entire generation of Americans has been duped into believing they can’t possibly deal with life without artificially altering their brain chemistry. The ads for those tonics make it sound like every case of existential ennui calls for a dose of Prozac® or Paxil® lest you begin questioning the society those drugs make you capable of fitting in with.

Still, there’s no way for me to know the hearts and minds of the people who’ve been upset by what I said. Maybe they were among those rare cases whose situation was so severe that drugs really were the only reasonable solution. Maybe without them these people would be out there shooting up their high schools or assassinating pop stars and politicians. I do not know. I cannot judge.

I can’t speak about anyone else. But this is what I can say about myself. I’m thankful that I got through my adolescence before anti-depressants were fully developed and that I spent my twenties too poor to afford psychiatric treatment because I have no doubt whatsoever I would have been prescribed medication to relieve my depression. Had I gone that route I might never have been forced to dig out the deeper cause of my pain.

I do not doubt the effectiveness of these medications. But, to say they are effective means that they produce the desired effect. I wonder if the effect we desire is always what we really need. I used to suffer from severe headaches on an almost weekly basis. Large doses of Ibuprofen were an effective treatment. I took the pills and the pain stopped. Yet my reliance on the magic solution provided by the Advil corporation kept me from having to deal with the actual causes of my headaches. It also turned my poop hard as a rock, the repercussions of which I still deal with today. Those nice little ads on TV never seem to mention this, do they?

It was only when I stopped taking so much medicine and began trying to get at the real problem that I was able to make my way towards solving what really needed to be solved. There are times when pain, even emotional pain, is a signal that something important needs to be dealt with directly. My experience was that drugs could be a very effective way to avoid confronting what’s really wrong.

Once when my Zen teacher, Nishijima Sensei, had injured his back, one of his students brought over a thing that looked like a heating pad that was supposed to zap some kind of healing electrical energy into your muscles. After the student badgered him for a long time, Nishijima finally gave it a try. His verdict was that the machine was “too excellent” and he preferred to let his injury heal naturally. Likewise, I think most of our medications are “too excellent.” They’re good when you need a quick fix for a very severe problem. But whenever it’s possible to use a more natural approach, the natural approach is always better. Even if it takes longer and seems less “effective” — meaning the solution is not quite what we imagined or wanted.

46 Responses

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  1. rchinn72
    rchinn72 February 21, 2007 at 5:52 pm | |

    Well said, as usual Brad.
    Keep on keepin’ on!

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 21, 2007 at 6:03 pm | |

    you are correct. drugs should be the last ditch

  3. muddy elephant
    muddy elephant February 21, 2007 at 8:51 pm | |

    Hey Brad, as someone who has struggled a lot(currently and in the past) with the themes (demons,perhaps) of depression and ennui I really appreciate your thoughts. Here are a couple of interesting points:

    –I had a dream a few nights ago where you made your first-ever cameo in my subconcious movie theatre: You were giving me some advice on how to live and told me I needed ‘balance’–there was an impression that I needed all four wheels solidly on the ground(in my dreams driving a car is a repeated metaphor for my life).

    I woke up realizing I needed to have balance(perhaps daily, boring, mundane routine) but I am very loathe to do this…

    Balance is also zazen(sitting with balance)

    –I was “meditating” tonight(not necessarily zazen) and I became aware of “something” that wanted to help me but it could not help me because I was really stubborn and just could not let go of my “self” even though I was trying to–I just couldn’t do it.

    Right after I had this experience I read your post here and on SG:

    If you’re truly interested in breaking this cycle — and most people are not — it is necessary to drop the idea of “self.” This is very, very hard to do because we have been taught that it is vital to define and sustain this “self.” We fear that if we don’t constantly define ourselves we might vanish altogether.

    I used to take Paxil and it really did help me find motivation but it certainly doesn’t provide self discipline–that we have to do for ourselves like it or not. Usually not.

    Thanks as always for your insight, even if it seems a bitter pill (pun intended) to swallow.

  4. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf February 21, 2007 at 9:12 pm | |

    I was checked into a psychiatric hosptial for depression and anxiety problems. I wouldn’t go to school. I couldn’t even step out of the house without telling my mother to turn the car around. My parents dealt with my difficulties up to the last draw, when one morning I had went into my parents room and pulled out one of my father’s guns and loaded it. I even knew then that I wouldn’t shoot myself, but it was a call for help. Relucntantly, my mother put me in the psychiatric hospital which I stayed in till my insurance ran out lol.

    Anyways, they had me pumped full of Xanex and Anti-Depressants and other colors of pills. These pills had the strangest side effects. I remember having to sleep half way inside my room and half way outside in the hall way at once point. Now, I can’t fatham why. But I was numb as a jaw shot with novocaine over 5 times. I was a freaking Zombie. I’m not even sure if the my hospitalization helped at all. I suppose I had some insights here and there.

    After I was released, I didn’t really didn’t get any better. I still couldn’t cope with school.
    This councler would come and see me regularly and one day he sort of just yelled at me and told me I need to get my shit togther. For some reason, that did the trick. Not sure why? Maybe because he treated me on a different level and not like a insane person that day.

    I slowly took myself off pills and read alot of books on postive thinking and “The Power of the Subconcious Mind.” and started to implement some of these things in my life. Then I discovered marijuana which numbed me to my difficuties similar to the pills I had been taking. Weed got my through high school, but it caused a lot of other problems too.

    I really didn’t start to turn around until I began studying Kung Fu. My teacher taught me Zazen for the first time. He just told us to sit and breath natrually. It was a wonderful experience, but not trippy. Anxeity would come up during sparring and I would have to quit do to panic attacks. My teacher kept pushing me gently to face it. One day at a breaking point, I turned around to stop sparring and he pushed me back in. Me and my problems came face to face and I realized that my anxiety wasn’t the big bad monster that I thought it was. I created the big bad monster so I didn’t have to face certain things. But after that, I contiued to face things that were difficult. And using what I learned in facing my anxiety through sparring, I began using in my everyday life.

    I started sitting more and got interested in Buddhism. Sitting really helped me realize my thoughts were not me or real. I didn’t have to react to them. Because much of what anxiety is, is reacting to negative thoughts that pop up in are head. People with anxiety have great imaginations. I made myself sick from my imagination.

    I will always have anxiety. It’s part of all of us and for good reason. But I will never allow myself to be controlled by this emotion of fear again. I have made friends with my anxiety. Depression still comes around at times too. One time my Kung Fu teacher said to me, “You should be happy, even when your sad.” For some reason, I got what he said on a more intuitive level. It really helped. I didn’t have to fight these emotions that I thought were so terrible.

    But it wasn’t until my insurance ran out and I stopped taking the drugs, that I really began working to better my situation. And I continue to better my situation from now till forever. Zazen is a big help with this.

    I feel that chemical imbalances can be balanced through natrual methods, such as Zazen. Maybe it’s similar to the balance of the automic nervous system. How about the balance of left brain(logic) and right brain (creativity)?

  5. Wingedgopher
    Wingedgopher February 21, 2007 at 10:59 pm | |

    Well, you could always do what back when I was “clinically depressed,” by which I mean just trust the idiot doctor when he prescribes you a million different drugs to help you cope with all your “problems.” Of course, I did try to kill myself once I was nice and doped up with Zoloft but whatever.

  6. Element
    Element February 22, 2007 at 12:05 am | |

    Brad,
    I agree with you.
    Thanks again.

    Markus

  7. Stuart
    Stuart February 22, 2007 at 5:18 am | |

    I have suffered from depression from a child. Life was mostly miserable despite my best efforts to get well, until I really hit rock-bottom in my 30′s, and tried anti-depressants. I had an immediate turnaround from feeling suicidal most of the time, to becoming content and happy. All of a sudden, life was worth living, and I could see that my unhappiness was due to negative thoughts/emotions/anxiety.

    I have come off them a few times in the belief I can combat the problem myself with Zazen and positive thinking, but bit-by-bit I slide back into my old ways. My mind fights me all the way. On the meds however I can meditate without too much trouble, and feel like I am in control again.

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 22, 2007 at 7:06 am | |

    This is a very, very complicated situation.

    There are two people in our social circle who recently made lethal suicide attempts. Both had been diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder, which is far more severe than what most of us call depression. They’d been unable to stay on their medications.

    In my case, I have had life long anxiety/low level depression. I tried medication, and in retrospect feel fortunate that it did not seem to have much of an effect–except that it killed my sexdrive.

    Because I had anxieties about both sex and ordinary intimacy, I actually felt quite peaceful when the drug killed my libido. But, after one year, I decided that this just was not right. I was not yet a Zen student, but I sensed that I needed to experience the full human condition, not avoid it, and that meant having sexual feelings, even if they were awkward as hell. So I stopped taking the medicine.

    This was a very good decision, because some time later, I had an experience that demonstrated what triggered my own episodes of depression. I will describe it, just in case this is informative for anyone else.

    I had stopped taking the antidepressant a couple of years before, so my libido was back.

    I was walking down the street, and a splendid looking man passed by, riding a motorcycle.

    He looked great and he was perfectly balanced on his vehicle.

    I stopped, my thoughts stopped, I just took this all in, feeling appreciative. He smiled in a nice and natural way, then went on.

    A minute or so later, I felt gloomy about politics, then crashed into a hideous funk. I loathed myself as a powerless weakling.

    This miserable state of mind went on and on for 40 minutes or more. I got on a streetcar, feeling like hell, then nodded off for 5 minutes.

    When I woke up, after just those 5 minutes, my depression was totally gone. I was amazed, then got curious. I’d been feeling like total hell. But just 5 minutes of light sleep dissipated it. So this was probably not a drastic biochemical process—the really severe forms of depression are not cured by just a 5 minute cat nap.

    Just interrupting my thoughts and emotions for 5 minutes had been enough.

    So I told my therapist. I was convinced my funk was triggered by my despair about politics.

    My shrink didnt buy this. He kept bugging me to look further back in what happened that day. I fought him on this.

    Finally I began to mention the man on the motorcycle–and suddenly understood.

    What had happened was, unconsciously, I was getting turned out, feeling happy, horny desire—-and at another level I did NOT want to feel that way, because then I’d be forced to question my whole pattern of social isolation.

    So, because I saw that man, responded with appreciative lust, and didnt want to feel that way, something below my surface awareness throttled my sexual energy and choked it off.

    I strangled an important sector of my inner energy and the consequence was sudden, severe gloom–what the culture calls ‘depression.’

    But this was done through the portion of my thinking mind that can only stay active when awake and that goes in active when I fall asleep.

    So…there may be cases where for some of us, depression is a signal that somewhere we are engaged in a form of self censorship that throttles an important part of our energy.

    This is totally the opposite of beginners mind.

    Later, when I did more zazen I found out that just doing zazen often countered depressive funks, and that I’ve never felt gloomy when doing sesshins. Stress, sadness, aching ass and back–I get that during sesshin.

    But out and out depression, no.

    This is just me. Everyone’s different. But I thought I’d mention that episode in case its useful for someone else.

    Finally, there are other potential problems when anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications are prescribed too readily. They can take the edge off of useful emotions that signal that the sufferer is in a bad situation that really does need to be questioned and changed.

  9. Esmerelda
    Esmerelda February 22, 2007 at 7:23 am | |

    Brad: I read your post on Suicide Girls, understood what you intended and absolutely agree. Your current post is even clearer. I didn’t want to post a comment because I have never been depressed. However, I used to work for Social Security disability and also have known clinically insane people as friends. The anti depressants and anti psychotic drugs were viewed a ‘cure’ when they first came out because they got people calmed down and out of hospitals. It was a much cheaper alternative treatment. Oliver Sack’s has descriptions in his books of what the hospitals were like. Most of the clinically insane were or became poor so it was a public policy issue. The hospitals were closed, but there was no follow up care. Since the 1980s the former mental patients can be seen living on the street in any big city. When I worked in Milwaukee Social Security, the hospital social workers used to give the patients bus fare and our address. We would take the information to get their medical record right off the wrist bands and sign them up.

    Lonewolf what happened to you is pretty typical. I am so glad you are trying to deal with things is a better way. Last year I checked a friend into the psych ward at the request of her doctor. There was no one else to do it and she was suicidal. She has been on drugs and in treatment since her early 20’s. For a long time she was able to work and keep things together. But there is no balance or resilience. Sad things happen and she cannot adjust, she falls apart and they re-medicate. They got her calmed down and out this time and back on her slow downward path from high paid computer jobs to temp secretary.

    Our culture believes in quick fixes to everything, but that doesn’t make them real cures. I think a lot of it is marketing.

  10. Wildman
    Wildman February 22, 2007 at 9:55 am | |

    Hey Brad,

    Could you do a post about Zen and Marriage please?

    To be more specific, I guess part of what I’m getting at is how Zen seems to be about not clinging to anything, when marriage seems to be exactly that. Maybe I’m wrong on both counts?

    For the record I’m not married but am in a 3 year relationship.

    Just a general discussion on marriage would be great thanks :) not too much to ask :)

    Thank you

  11. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 22, 2007 at 10:04 am | |

    Whats hard about my depression is that I belive I have no perspective, I’m a loser and I can’t change anything. I’m alone but unable to get in contact with other people. I hate everything, I’m not interested in anything and my life sucks….

    Yet it would be better to improve the situation, but I have no energy to do so. In fact I have to do something but I don’t know what.I do little things, but I’m afraid this isn’t enough. Zazen helps, ok, but a while later there are this problems back again.
    I can’t decide which way to go, they all seem like shit, but I know I have to go one of them.
    But I can’t do it now. Maybe next week….

    Right know I have no job, and I don’t know if anybody will give me a job, because I can’t conform with most people anymore. I’m an outsider and most people see that and keep distance. Maybe some of the depression is caused from my parents and childhood, my problems in school and work. I never had real friends, I have had panic attacks and all that shit.

    I know I sound like a little child , and also I know that this thoughts are just thoughts. But I don’t know how to life without thoughts in this complex world. The rules of the universe text is all right, I agree with it. But it’s very hard to carry this out.
    This text is maybe the best example. Have to get free from thoughts.

    Sorry

  12. Jules
    Jules February 22, 2007 at 10:56 am | |

    Brad,
    I agree with you to this extent: I think it’s wrong to look at antidepressants as a cure, or as a real solution to the problem of depression.

    Recent research shows that raising the amount of physical exercise you get has a more positive effect on depression than antidepressant drugs. I think regular exercise is part of a real solution to depression. Another part, of course, can be found through zazen. I suspect that yet another part is avoiding stimulant drugs like caffeine and nicotine, but I haven’t yet tested this theory to my satisfaction (I love my coffee).

    But I think antidepressants can be a very useful tool for breaking out of a self-reinforcing downward spiral. Sometimes you’re depressed just because you’re depressed. In other words, thoughts like “I’m such a loser” are reinforced by not having enough energy to exercise, develop new interests, and do good things with your life.

    After I discovered my wife had been sleeping with someone who had been a good friend of mine (or so I thought) for almost twenty years, I was so depressed I sometimes didn’t get out of bed all day.

    I started taking an antidepressant, and it helped fend off the crippling bleak darkness. I was able to start exercising, resumed daily zazen, and now I no longer need the antidepressants.

    It’s a tool. Tools aren’t good or bad, but they can be used in both good and bad ways.

  13. Eilene
    Eilene February 22, 2007 at 11:15 am | |

    I sit zazen. I’m a residential student at the Zen Community of Oak Park. I have also been on Wellbutrin for six months. It takes the edge of off my mood…and actually helps me keep focused on my koan instead of my emotional pain.

    It’s purely a quality of life issue. Yeah…sometimes Rx anti-depressants are dispensed like paper towels…but there is no reason someone’s quality of life should have to suffer if drugs can help. Sure…life is suffering…but some of it IS OPTIONAL.

    It was actually views like yours…”tough it out”…”natural is better”…”maybe THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE IT”…that kept me away from anti-depressants for so many years. I toughed out YEARS of chronic depression when I didn’t have to struggle THAT HARD.

    So…you’re a teacher…and in a position that some would consider to be “of authority.” Hopefully there isn’t some other young eager Zen student out there having problems with depression thinking…”Yeah! I can get through this…all I need is MORE BUDDHA!”

    I think there’s a saying…when you’re walking through hell…keep going. And for some…drugs really CAN help…and there’s no reason to have to hit bottom first.

  14. DeniLyn
    DeniLyn February 22, 2007 at 11:27 am | |

    I’ve done years of therapy and medications, and what works best for me is regular exercise and sitting/meditation. I have not needed meds for a couple of years now. I have read in various publications that meditation can change brain chemistry (just one example can be found here:
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/meditation/ )

    It seems that culturally we are always on the lookout for the ‘magic bullet’, the easy and fast way to ‘fix’ things, whether it be weight loss, depression, what have you.

    One thing I have gained from my practice is the knowledge that I am responsible for myself and I have the power to make changes. If I get depressed, I can get up off my ass and go for a walk and I know that will shift me over enough to take a bigger step if that is needed.

    Thanks for this post!

  15. Jules
    Jules February 22, 2007 at 12:26 pm | |

    Oh yeah, chalk me up as another guy who criticized antidepressants in ignorance until I actually needed them and gave them a try.

    They’re not “happy pills.” You don’t feel high or even “up.” They just help relieve that whale-shit-at-the-bottom-of-the-ocean feeling and remind you what ‘normal’ used to feel like.

  16. Katie
    Katie February 22, 2007 at 12:27 pm | |

    my best friend was diagnosed with depression… and chronic fatigue and fibromialgia and who knows what else, she’s been mad sick for mad long and nobody seems to be able to figure out why… but the one thing that every dr she’s been to had in common was an instant prescription for happy pills. Not only are the side effects of the meds driving her (even more) crazy, but she doesn’t want to be on them in the first place! Why won’t dr.s take the same approach and prescribe antidepressants only when all else fails? Why won’t they be on her side and let her try to heal? If she wants to get better, since depression is only one of many problems she has, she obviously needs to follow dr’s orders, but to what extent? Where do you draw the line between modern medicine and intuition?

  17. yudo
    yudo February 22, 2007 at 1:36 pm | |

    My life isn’t easy, and I’m mostly responsible for that. Often, like today, I get bouts of depression. When I was younger, they just drove me mad, because it seemed that brooding over my depressed feeling just seemed to deepen it. Nowadays, when I feel depressed, I tend to tell myself “I’m depressed, so what?” and knowing that tomorrow will be another day, I just stop thinking about it.
    I suppose some actually need medication. But I’d feel that most people just don’t.

  18. Jules
    Jules February 22, 2007 at 2:07 pm | |

    I think recognizing that you’re depressed and acknowledging that you need to do something about that problem is more important than exactly what you do about it. Doesn’t matter whether it’s exercise, zazen, getting a prescription, or all of the above. The fact that you’re making an effort to dig your way out of the blackness is more important than whether you use a prescription to get you started.

  19. MikeDoe
    MikeDoe February 22, 2007 at 2:56 pm | |

    Brad there is a lot of truth in what you write.

    From my own experience, choosing not to medicate or seek help but just to be depressed allowed me over many years on and off to just accept that the only thing really making me depressed was the thoughts that I chose to think.

    When I changed those thoughts the depression would lift. Until that point the depression was a mechanism by which I seemed to come to terms with stuff about my life that was different to how I wanted it to be and either accept it or change it – whichever was most approriate.

    It was working through these fundamentals that showed me that Buddhism had at its heart some simple truths.

    loneWolf:
    “I will always have anxiety. It’s part of all of us and for good reason. But I will never allow myself to be controlled by this emotion of fear again. I have made friends with my anxiety”

    It’s good to see you blogging.
    If you keep exposing yourself to the source of the anxiety in a controlled way then over time you can address it. It is hard work and unpleasant work but by god will it build inner strength.

    This is something I have worked on over the years.

    Now, I have I think eliminated all of it.

    I am at a Judo club which is very physical and the other players are either brown or black belts compared with my white belt. There is no easy option at this club so you just have to deal with whatever fears you might have and then go in all guns blazing. I was somewhat anxious on my first week of sparring but I’ve since got with the program. You either deal with it or don’t turn up. There is no third option. It is very fast training ;-)

  20. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf February 22, 2007 at 3:01 pm | |

    I had a freind who was told by a doctor that he was manic depressive. The more he learned about manic depression the more he acted the part. He bought into the label, and it took another doctor to say “Your not manic depressive. Your mind might be a little over active, but your not manic depressive.” After that, he started acting more balanced, went back to school, and got a nice girlfriend. Today he is a successful computer programer and is married to the nice girlfriend.

    When my friend was buying into the label that was told to him by the “Godhead” doctor, I went to a meeting with him. I was very anti-meds at the time, because I had been there and done it. I, personally, still don’t take much medication these days, even when it comes to headaches (I do take herbs every now and then). I told my story at the meaning of taking myself off meds and working with my difficult situation until it slowly got better. Boy was the head of the group pissed at me.

    Maybe I was being a little bit extreme. But I bet you a fling pooing monkey (not sure why you would want a monkey that flings poo) that many of the people in that room could have worked with there situation minus the meds. Now I feel there is a point when someone may truly need meds and they should take them. But they may want to work with there doctors and slowly go off them as they find more natural ways to cope with their difficult situation.

    I think Brad’s article about creating some order in one’s life is great advice. I could see where that would be helpful in my current life and have started implementing it.

    Now it’s time to sit.

  21. muddy elephant
    muddy elephant February 22, 2007 at 5:08 pm | |

    –Suicide :(

    Most of us have probably thought about it at one point or another. I have for sure but here’s my lame-ass solution :)

    All-in-all life is damn short anyways. If you decide to cut it short you aren’t really cutting it short because it’s so short to begin with.

    So just suffer through it–don’t worry, you’ll die soon. How’s that for dark? (I really don’t want anyone to suffer so badly throughout their lives)

    If we lived 750 years of course this argument is totally stupider than it already is.

    –Drugs:

    First off I should say that western medicine is highly valuable there is no doubt about it when it comes to most physical ailments. Yet when it comes to the pharmaceutical industry…

    In my opinion I’d rather have some sort of shaman feeding me magic mushrooms to “cure” my depression than the Pfizer corporation and the manifest gravy train of psychopharmaceutical western corporate MD’s.

    All cynicism aside though it seems pretty apparent that drugs are here to stay. I think open minded scientific research into all types of drugs should be legitimate and legal. And yes, we should probably emphasize the honest awareness of the “too excellent” factor.

  22. Jinzang
    Jinzang February 22, 2007 at 5:19 pm | |

    I could write about this for hours, but I’ll try to keep it short. First, a couple of useful distictions from homeopathic philosophy. The first is the difference between appernet disease and real disease. Apparent disease is due to external conditions. When the conditions are removed, the disease disappears. Real disease, on the other hand, is internal and persists even of the conditions which originally caused it are removed.

    Applying this to depression, you may be unhappy due to external circumstances. Change these circumstances to see if you are really depressed. If changing circumstances doesn’t remove the unhappiness after a decent interval of time, then the depression is a symptom of a genuine illness. While depression is over-diagnosed, there are many people who are genuinely ill.

    The second distinction is between suppression and cure. Anti-depressants do not cure depression. Instead they supress the symptoms. While suppression can be helpful in some circumstances, it is not a viable long term strategy, especially considering the side effects of medication.

    Meditation, exercise, and proper sleep and diet can make a big difference. But I would recommend alternative medical therapies as well, especially homeopathy. Finding a qualified homeopath in the United States can be difficult, especially away from the coasts. You can get help locating a homeopath through the National Center for Homeopathy.

  23. Matt
    Matt February 22, 2007 at 10:14 pm | |

    I’ve really enjoyed reading the responses to Brad’s articles over at SG. It sounds like the responses to the latest article were a little more pronounced that the responses from the recreational drug post.

    I really liked the idea that depression is a sign that something is wrong and you need to change it. Not that this is a revolutionary idea. Unfortunately as a culture, there seems to be a lot of misinformation out there as to what we should change…..the right job, the right girlfriend, the right toothpaste, the right combo of medication (prescribed or otherwise).

    A couple of people have commented on exercise. We REALLY underestimate the value of exercise, Americans especially. I was reading an article the other day that was talking about a study in the mid 90′s that was the first to prove that physical exercise was scientifically proven to improve cardiac health……I did a double take on that, and haven’t followed up on double checking it but I was blown away…..I mean I have absolute faith in the scientific process, cause and effect and all that, but the way that we administer “science” in this instance, or “health care” is more than a little fucked up. Unfortunately good “health care” is often synonymous with “good business” and I’m not sure those words should go into the same sentence. If we could patent exercise and get pharmaceutical reps to push it maybe things would be a little different……though I can only imagine going to prison for doing push ups without a prescription. Exercising is really hard to do when you are depressed….or when you are out of shape….and maybe anti-depressants will enable someone to start those changes. But like someone else said they should really only be used as tools, (except in extreme circumstances) and I would hope that a competent Dr would make that clear.

    On a separate note, martial artists out there, I’ve always learned the most from being the “white belt”. If you are open to the experience there is so much value in getting your ass handed to you. Don’t be afraid or worried about losing, there are so many variables involved, you can only do your best and sometimes that worry just gets in the way of learning and doing that. Thank someone for schooling you, figuratively and for real, it’s only gonna make you better.

  24. UncaDan
    UncaDan February 23, 2007 at 6:45 am | |

    Great post, great thread.

    I agree with the idea that drugs can be beneficial but should be a last ditch effort. I believe in moderation and balance in all things. I have always preferred to tough out a headache or cold unless it refused to go away. I like to feel “normal” as much as possible. I’ve dealt with depression but not like some of of the posts above. I’ve done my share of recreational drugs over the years but with the exception of a few isolated LSD trips I have avoided any processed chemicals. I have the belief that any experience while on any kind of drug is wasted time and any insights should be taken with a grain of salt. With that said, I still smoke weed, but it is an end of the day weekend thing after all the days responsibilities are taken care of and the kid has gone to bed. I don’t try to get as high as possible, just a few hits and put on the headphones or work in the studio. An hour or two later the buzz is gone and it’s off to bed.

    I don’t do Zazen (but I’m looking into it which is why I’m here) but I try to exercise regularly and I meditate/contemplate throughout the day (walking to work, doing the dishes, cooking, reading, etc). All in all, the more I focus on the now and what is real and question why I do the things I do, the more strength I have to face the things that at on time terrified me.

  25. elisa
    elisa February 23, 2007 at 7:01 am | |

    hello!
    I just finished reading Hardcore Zen a few days ago (been wanting to read it since it was published here) and I was wondering… I’d like to start doing zazen regularly, but sitting in the right position doesn’t feel comfortable at all. I have scoliosis and my spine is curved sideways because of this “disease”. (There’s no cure to it because an operation might paralyze me or at least I wouldn’t be able to do any sports after one.) Sitting balanced with my legs crossed and feeling relaxed isn’t possible! I can’t let my mind go empty because the position is too painful.
    Would it be possible to find enlightenment without crossing my legs? If not, then it’s a pity and I will never be able to balance my mind.
    (I feel so embarrassed trying to explain this in English, but try to understand please!)

  26. Jinzang
    Jinzang February 23, 2007 at 9:33 am | |

    Would it be possible to find enlightenment without crossing my legs?

    In order to have a comfortable seat on the floor you need to have your rear end higher than your knees. Otherwise you will feel like you are about to fall over. This will keep you from concentrating and cause various aches and pains. Most people find using a taller cushion or even two cushions helps.

    If you find you can’t get a comfortable seat on the floor, you can sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. It should be a simple chair without wheels. Your back should not rest on the back of the chair. Sit several inches from the back of the chair.

  27. Esmerelda
    Esmerelda February 23, 2007 at 9:58 am | |

    Elisa – anyone having physical problems with sitting in meditation should seriously consider doing yoga. It’s it trendy now and has lots of health club variations but it was originally designed to prepare the body for meditation.

  28. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 23, 2007 at 10:40 am | |

    Elisa – I had to sit on a chair for a long time before I regained some flexibility in my knees and hip joints. Sitting in a chair is definitely better than not sitting at all. You can read what Brad has to say on the matter here.

    Proper Posture Required

  29. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 23, 2007 at 2:26 pm | |

    My crap gets hard too after taking ibuprofein, but that has nothing to do with it, I just have hangover and that equals dehydration. Dry crap is hard.
    You can only feel and measure extremes
    of dehydration.

    Most “heavy” anti-depressants make your body lust for food, and you’ll gain weight. This is needed, your brains need
    food, and they’re mostly made out of … fat. Depression, just like most virus
    or bacteria based deceases, attack your food (energy) intake first. Where are your defences?

    –liiwi

  30. Jinzang
    Jinzang February 23, 2007 at 5:13 pm | |

    Hey Brad, Could you do a post about Zen and Marriage please?

    Here’s some remarks by Khenpo Tsultrim on the difference between love and attachment. I hope this helps until Brad finds time to post on the subject.

    The cause of suffering, I think, it is attachment. But if someone loves you, don’t you have to care for them? Attachment and love are totally opposite. Attachment is selfish and love is unselfish. If you marry from attachment, it will easily end in divorce, because attachment is temporary. If you marry because of love, the marriage will last, because love is kind and you will care for each other. If you have love, you will do good things. If you are attached, you will act for this moment only. If you are attached to food, you will eat whatever you are greedy for. If you are not you will take care to eat what is healthy. If you eat only out of attachment the consequence will be different diseases, but if you eat out of love for yourself you will eat healthy.

  31. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf February 23, 2007 at 9:34 pm | |

    Speaking of dried crap, my brain felt like a dried up turd today.

    First, I prepaid for some gas and left the gas station without pumping gas into my car. I got half way across town and realized “shit, I forgot to pump my gas.” I drove back and another car was at the pump. I went inside and explained what my dumb ass did, and the nice guy fessed up and told the cashier and I that he wondered why the pump stopped on $20.

    Then at work tonight, I didn’t read the directions correctly on these parts I was packing and packed them wrong. Shortly after that, I forgot to put washers on 60 other parts I packed.

    Maybe all that aluminum my mom used to cover up leftovers with is causing my brain to Alzheim.

    One thing I noticed during this scattered brained dumb ass day of mine is a subtle thought. The thought of comparing my dumbness (and other days amazing wisdom) with Zazen. Today I thought “What the hell? I’ve been doing my Zazen everyday. Shouldn’t I be more aware and less scattered brain than this. What the hell is this Zazen shit good for anyways.” I can hear Kodo Sawaki answering me, “Zazen is good for nothing.” And these thoughts, my friends, are the exact thoughts that show me that my practice has gone astray (including the type of thoughts that will give you a lame excuse to quit sitting for awhile). Whenever you have a goal of being smarter or less scattered brain that is doing Zazen for some kind of gain. And Zazen should be done for Zazen itself. Plus, it’s stupid to think that you should be mistake and scatter brain free just because you practice Zazen. Were all human and do stuipd things no matter how long we’ve been sitting on the cushion with are legs in a pretzel and starring at a wall for half hour to an hour each day.

    Boy was I fucking dumb today. But since I learned something from it, I’m a little less dumber.

  32. Francisca
    Francisca February 24, 2007 at 2:04 am | |

    Great post…Brad you sound like the osteopath I went to last week. My back and shoulders and neck have not been feeling well for a long time. During zazen it just keeps on hurting and bc of zazen I figured I should finally do something about it. Do not know where this wil take me, but will see.

    Must say some great comments too, this weblog is very dynamic!

    Take Care, Francisca.

  33. V for Vendetta
    V for Vendetta February 24, 2007 at 7:29 am | |

    There are all kinds of wonderfull ways to “beat” a normal depression, but i think many posters here have not really been depressed. At some point you do need help. Meds will only go so far but the real problem is the sense of self. Who is depressed?
    But if your laying in bed only wanting to go into a deep sleep and never come back, when blackness is the only color you see and you feel as if NOW you are really seeing things clearly and it spells out nothingness. Yes Zazen or even better Zazen AND Deeksha is very helpful but until you begain to see the falicy of self, good luck without the drugs…

  34. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 24, 2007 at 4:46 pm | |

    The article was too long and boring, what did he say?

  35. mangadezi-jr
    mangadezi-jr February 25, 2007 at 4:47 am | |

    Skate some pools and/or bowls!! Skateboarding is the answer!! That and 42.

  36. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf February 25, 2007 at 9:39 am | |

    I think it would be very unlikely that Christianity could ever be turned from an idealistic religon into a religon of action. I think Jesus died because of are “sins” not for are “sins.” An it’s hard to believe the amount of people who still believe the Bible is the “absolute word of God” after all the evidence to the contrary. Yet the book does has some useful intellectal lessons in it.

    I still don’t know why some Christians can be pro-life and be so for the death penality and over zealous about going to war. Then there is the degredation of woman and Jewish people.

    I bought a Holy Bible(King James) not to long ago from the Dollar Store for only a $1. I figured I would like to read it myself some day instead of listening to all these Christians trying to convert me all the time. If a Christian finds out your Buddhist, they get all enthusiastic to win you over to their side. “Do you know the blood of Christ?”, “Do you know if you do not except Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then you will roast in hell for eternity”, and my favorite (not) “Why don’t you stick with YOUR OWN religon?.” ehh.
    The Bible might make for a good fiction.

    I’ll stick with “Dogma” and “The Last Temtations of Christ” for my favorite movies on Jesus. Oh yeah, I dig that movie “Saved” too.

  37. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 25, 2007 at 12:03 pm | |

    As Ted Turner once said,
    “Christianity is for losers.”

    And besides, Satan has a much better
    sense of humor.

    ;)

  38. Matt
    Matt February 25, 2007 at 2:43 pm | |

    I agree, Dogma was a much better film.

    “Christ told me the meaning of life
    once when we were at a wedding in Canna, but I got drunk and forgot it.” Rufus, the 13th apostle

    I just watched a documentary called Jesus Camp….a fairly unbiased account of what is going on the evangelical movement. The evangelical leader that just stepped down for the gay prostitute drug scandal was in it briefly. I gotta hand it to the evangelicals for booting his ass. If a leader from an “eastern” background was caught banging hookers with a crack pipe in his mouth we’d have some self proclaimed authority like Ken Wilber making up some stupid term like “crazy dharma” and dismiss their actions as a means to enlightenment…..and people would listen.

  39. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 25, 2007 at 4:26 pm | |

    Concerning Zen scandals, essays by
    Stuart Lachs are worth checking out;
    for example,

    “Coming Down from the Zen Clouds”

    and

    “Richard Baker and the Myth of the Zen Roshi”

  40. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 25, 2007 at 4:56 pm | |

    In addition to the works mentioned by Stuart Lachs, the book “Aferzen” by Janwillem vandewetering is chock full of zen scandal.
    “Shoes Outside the Door” is also an excellent book along these lines.

  41. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf February 25, 2007 at 9:35 pm | |

    Matt, I watched Jesus Camp also. It was very strange, especially when they had all the kids praying to the cardboard George W. Bush and smashing the coffe cups with Goverment written on it as a symbol of smashing the goverment who does not believe in church in state. Or the head lady preacher screaming “This is war over and over.” But you got to dig those kids in camoflauge dancing to this hip new christain songs. (kidding)

  42. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf February 25, 2007 at 9:36 pm | |

    Opps. I meant “This is war,” over and over.

  43. oxeye
    oxeye February 26, 2007 at 8:17 am | |

    richard baker is an amazing guy. some of the things he accomplished, it was almost superhuman in effort.. but he was just like the rest of us, capable of being incredibly stupid at times. he is a good example of why it is said that there are no enlightened people, only enlightened actions.

  44. door knob
    door knob February 26, 2007 at 10:19 am | |

    How did Jesus enter into this conversation? Did I miss something?

    I also saw “Jesus Camp.” I thought it was an okay movie, but I wasn’t all that shocked by it. My brother and his family are Evangelicals, so I’m somewhat used to their “wacky” behaviour. They are not as charismatic as the people in the film (not even close), but it’s not much of a stretch for me to imagine them behaving that way.

    Lone Wolf, I’m not sure what you meant by Christians (presumably you are talking about certain Evangelicals) degrading women and Jews.

    I can guarantee you that my sister-in-law and my two nieces don’t feel degraded at all. My sister-in-law likes to pay lip service to the Biblical notion that the man is the head of the family, which makes me laugh because it’s obvious who really wears the pants in that family.

    Evangelicals are probably more Zionist than some Jews are. It all has to do with Biblical prophesy–the existence of the Jewish state is supposed to be one of the harbingers of the End Times. It’s somewhat odd, however, that the Evangelical support for Israel ultimately depends on Israel’s imminent destruction.

    BTW, here is one of my favourite Christian jokes. Conan O’Brien said this in one of his monologues:

    The other day a movie called “The Son of Man” opened and it’s described as the first movie with a black Jesus. Some Southern groups are offended by the black Jesus, saying, “It’s bad enough he was Jewish!”

  45. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 26, 2007 at 3:53 pm | |

    > How did Jesus enter into this
    > conversation? Did I miss something?

    Brad posted something about the
    Mel Gibson S&M; torture-fest movie
    over on suicidegirls.

    To leave a comment over there costs
    $50 per year, while over here it’s
    still free (and anonymous ;)

  46. Marty
    Marty March 20, 2007 at 8:03 am | |

    I want to thank Jules and a few other posters for pointing out that antidepressants are only tools– no better, but certainly no worse.
    Many patients want a magic pill that’ll turn around their lives. No surprise. But what does surprise me is how many doctors also believe that what they’re prescribing are magic pills.
    Look, I used to be a card-carrying member of the “antidepressants are for crazy people, not for the rest of us” club. I hung on to that while my fight with clinical depression nearly left me dead in a cheap hotel room. (Yes, I know, very rock n’ roll. Trust me, it’s not cool. It’s a million times as awful as you think.)
    I hated the whole idea of antidepressants every day that I took ‘em. Which was exactly seventy-three days. They don’t make you feel wonderful, and they sure as hell don’t make your problems go away. But they take away some of the crushing weight of depression, and that’s what I needed to start the incredibly difficult process of making my life better.
    I have such empathy for Lone Solf, Wingedgopher, and everyone else who has fought depression. I’m so glad that you are winning the fight, and I’m genuinely sorry to hear that your experiences with the medical community were so bad.
    But preaching that drugs are wrong in every case doesn’t make you any responsible, or correct, than the misguided doctors who believe that drugs are right in every case.
    Handing out a prescription without helping the patient find a therapist, learn about exercise programs, etc., is irresponsible and potentially dangerous. But so is yelling at Matt Lauer about evil psychiatrists.
    Anonymous, I won’t claim to understand how you feel. But I understand how crappy life is sometimes. I know what it’s like to lose perspective and feel like a loser. Right now you’re doing the one of the hardest– and bravest– things you’ll ever have to do: admitting the hugeness of the problem, trying to deal with it head-on, and actively looking for things that help (like zazen).
    If zazen helps, great, keep it up; if it doesn’t help, then it’s OK to do something else. If antidepressants help, great, let ‘em help; if they don’t, that’s OK too.
    You’re already doing the hardest part. Seriously. I know it’s really hard to see this now, but you’ve got some serious balls, dude, and you’re doing the hard work to get better that a lot of people won’t face until they have no choice. (Like, for example, me.) I don’t even know you, but I know you have what it takes to make life better and I know you’re not a loser. Don’t give up.
    And dude, if it turns out you try antidepressants, don’t worry about it. They’re just a tool. Nothing better, but nothing worse.

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