Crabs in the Bucket, a message for the naysayers

I remember talking to a friend of mine who encouraged me to write a book about my journey from fear, anger, and depression, to happiness after I had a fairly rough start to my life.

He said, “That’s a great idea. But who will read it? Nobody knows you,”

He was right, of course, and there was Youtube!

I opened an account, primarily to discuss problems in Social Work, Group Homes, Mental Hospitals, Public Education, and psychiatry in general. As well as to talk about meditation, alternative healing, tai chi chuan (taiji), child abuse advocacy, and other topics.

I built up a subscriber base, until I had one thousand subscribers. Then I started to write my book.

During the process of writing my book, and making videos discussing using meditation to deal with symptoms of all kinds of mental disorders such as, ADHD, Bipolar, PTSD, and schizophrenia. I received feedback.

More than a few people who commented were not very happy to hear me rail in anger and disgust about how horrible and anti-healing lithium and antipsychotics were for me, and how happy I was “maintaining” (to use pdoc-speak) using tai chi chuan.

Few could even grasp, that I wasn’t “maintaining” anything. I was changed. I did spiritual alchemy, and I became a person who was immune to depression, because I had a little light explode softly inside me, that illuminated my being from within.

A light of love. Acceptance. Surrender.

When I would tell people, over and over, on bipolar forums or amazon discussions, or youtube conversations, how many years I had been free of depression and mania, I would consistently get someone who, sooner or later, made comments like this,

“Well. You may feel fine now. But. Once bipolar, always bipolar. So, sooner or later, you are going to have a relapse. And it isn’t going to be pretty, because you refused to take your meds.”

This is called, The Bitter and Clueless Crabs in the Bucket mentality.

A fisherman places a bucket of caught crabs on the boat wharf. One or two crabs start to stand on the others and reach up and out of the bucket. Grasping the edge, they start to haul themselves out. Then, the crab underneath them, reaches up a claw, and grabs the escaping grab by one leg.

That is what so-called “bipolar people” think when they hear my story. Some of them anyway.

They think that way, because they have internalized biological psychiatry. Which is most unfortunate. For them.

I cured myself of depression by the time I was twenty-five. But I had been feeling better and better, and totally depression-free, within the first year of practicing either meditation, yoga, or tai chi chuan, daily. I didn’t self-diagnose myself “cured” until I had had three years of stability.

That was back between 1997-2000.

It is now 2015.

I have never relapsed. I remain depression free. I don’t get “mania”, and even if I somehow magically got either depression, or mania, I could,

A: Fake sanity. Fake not being depressed or manic, using mind-over-body training.

B: Heal myself, for real. All. Over. Again. Using the exact same methodology that worked the first time. Solitude. Relaxation. Zero stress. Followed by meditation, yoga, and tai chi chuan.

Within a few weeks, or months, I would stabilize. Again. And within a year, I would be largely okay.

The only reason that “bipolars” reached out to me, to tell me, I was doomed for a bipolar crash sooner or later for not taking my meds or for believing in the diagnosis of manic depression, is that they are utterly incapable of doing what I did, and they are bitter, jealous, and a little afraid. Afraid they are as doomed as my psychiatrist said I was, the summer of 1989.

It turned out, she was wrong. And so were all those bipolar crabs on the forums in the comments.

I can’t feel bad about that, at all.

Posted in advocacy, meditation, mental health, mental illness, mind and body, psychiatry, psychology, science, tai chi chuan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Test yourself

Lock yourself into your bedroom or a bathroom and turn off all the lights. Turn off your cell phone. Look at your self in the mirror. Try not to think of anything. If you think anything at all. Ask, why? Why did I have that? Something underneath my normal state of mind offered up a thought, and I thought it.

Imagine never having a single distressing thought in your mind. Day after day after day. That is what can happen, if you get to a place where, when you sit in the dark all by yourself with nothing to do or to read or listen to, you can be peaceful inside your mind and body. Be completely comfortable doing or thinking and even feeling on an emotional level, nothing at all.

Now you live in a state where your physical body is un-stressing. Your mind is un-stressing. Your emotions are settling. All emotions. What is left is a kind of intermix of listening-feeling-attention, and sensations. Kind of like being a blind octopus in the abyssal depths. Occasionally a small light will flash in your mind. Like a tiny bioluminescent life form. Other than that, there is nothing going on inside you at all. Save for maybe a sense of interest. Or hunger.

How do you navigate a black world you can feel, hear, kind-of, but definitely not, see?

You reach out into the dark with your feeling-attention-sensory tentacles. You feel outward and all around you by delicately stretching out and feeling, touching, or tapping everything, like a blind woman and a walking stick. You grow a feeling-sensory-perception far beyond your body after awhile. A sense that all of you have, but is a complete mystery to just about everyone. If you take even one psychiatric medication, you are adding to the difficulty level of gaining this inner listening ability, actually.

Posted in meditation | Tagged ,

A Caveat About Training in Meditation

In my second-to-last post, I announced the opening of a private school of meditation based on a new tradition that I created out of thin air. I call it simply, “The Wind Method”.

Be that as it may, there are some basic requirements in order to train in person in the Wind Method.

You may not be on any form of psychiatric medicine. Period.

You must not identify yourself as “being bipolar”, “being schizophrenic”, or “being ADHD”.

If you think to yourself, “I am bipolar”,  you are suffering from misidentification of the self, and there is little to no chance meditation is going to “cure” you. The reason this is so, is the story you accepted when you started to think of yourself as “a bipolar person”.

To internalize that identity, that label, you ate the whole story, hook, line, and sinker. The story about how your genes, your mother’s artistic temperament and her crazy mood swings, or your father’s genius, combined with his womanizing and angry depression means you are genetically and chemically “bipolar”.

If you tell yourself that story, and accept that label, there is little hope for you and teaching you anything about meditation would be a complete waste of both our times.

If you come to me for meditation instruction, you must absolutely be prepared to take full responsibility for every thought, feeling, energy state, or mood swing.

You must absolutely not be taking any form of psychiatric drugs, no exceptions.

The drugs prevent you from becoming enlightened on any level, by scrambling your nervous system and your brain neurons.

Accepting the label means you are have identified yourself as a “mentally ill person” out of the DSM, and it is time for you to become a peer support specialist, and get into a good group therapy, join a bunch of online bipolar support groups to talk about all the meds you are on, as well as to continue to pathologize your internal states as “chemical imbalances”.

Also, don’t forget to take your meds.

Posted in meditation, mental health, psychology | Tagged , , , , ,

New Blog

Just a fun project on the side, I have created a blog called, “Black Cat Photography”. Really, it’s just a place to dump my cellphone images I’ve collected from all over San Francisco and the Bay Area in the past nine months.

Feel free to check in from time to time and see what I’ve posted. For a humble cellphone, mine takes surprisingly detailed images. I just don’t have the time or a studio to pursue my black and white sketches, and if I could actually paint in colors, I might paint landscapes like Ocean Beach, the Golden Gate Park, Coit Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge, etc.

The camera takes almost all skill out of imaging landscapes. Except these are real. You can still dream or imagine up fantasy ones that only exist in your mind until you give life to it by creating using your preferred medium.

To be fair, learning to use the camera and taking nice shots with it, is another skill entirely different from painting or drawing.

The Nature of My Meditation Instruction

I will teach meditation to anyone that desire instruction.

However, I promise you that this training will not be easy.

If you are looking for an easy ride and to feel a little better or more relaxed, find another teacher.

What I teach is for serious players only. You come to me because you are absolutely dead serious about learning to do what I talked about in my book, which is hard work, to put it plainly.

Take a good look at your favorite meditation teachers. There is a good chance their eyes do not look like mine. And for good reason. Take a good look at scowl lines or frown lines in the eyes and foreheads of your favorite teachers and ask yourself, why, if they are masters of meditation, are they so serious or stern looking.

The answer is, they stopped practicing before they got to the point where all tension drops out of the muscles in your face.

I made my meditation system up, quite frankly, out of thin air.

We would start with water. You would learn to dissolve.

Then we move to fire. You would learn to excite.

Then we move to air. You will learn to turn your entire chi-field into a living Ba Gua spiral that spins and twists from your core channels, out into the air and space around you.

Sound like fun?

It is mentally exhausting is what it is, and my guess is, most people just don’t have the time.

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New School of Meditation, opening

I have founded a new form of meditation, out of very old trainings and teachings.

It is called simply, “The Wind Method”, or, “The Wind Technique”.

The best of water, fire, and aethir, made up entirely by me.

Prospective students may expect mind-exhausting sessions of meditation.

Previous background not necessary, if you truly want to get it. But I may charge you, for my time.

That is all.

Posted in astronomy, Golden Gate Park, meditation, mental health, mind and body, Ocean Beach, science, spirituality, Taoism | Tagged , , , , ,

Posting at my newest blog, “Big Bang Taiji”

Why I do not believe that ADHD exists.


Relaxing Into Your Being, a review

Relaxing Into Your Being is an introduction to the Water Method of Taoist taught by lineage holder and Taoist master Bruce Frantzis. Subjects covered by this instructive book include:

A comparison of Fire and Water schools of Taoism.
Breathing techniques, from the beginner to advanced
The Eight Bodies of Being and their relationship to one’s self and spirituality
The Sixteen-Part nei gung system
The primary and secondary energy channels of the body
The inner dissolving practice
Encountering and working with the mindstream
How to sit comfortably and correct your own posture internally

It teaches the all-important who, what, how, where and why in terms of how meditation works, how to identify internal blocks, where you apply your intent, how to determine whether or not what you are doing is actually working, what to do with problems you may encounter, how to make the most of your practice time, and much much more.

Life changing inner work

This book, along with it’s companion “The Great Stillness: The Water Method of Taoist Meditation Series, Vol. 2″ were invaluable to me during my twenties in dealing with my mental health problems. Prior to starting Taoist Water Method meditation in 1996 I suffered from recurring suicidal depression, bipolar mania, severe anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder resulting from growing up and being repeatedly traumatized and abused both at home and at school, and later in institutions. By the time I was an adult, I was pretty messed up and not very happy.

Therapy and counseling had little effect on me and psychiatric drugs made my life even worse and didn’t help me in any meaningful way. I did not come from a privileged family, so I did not have any kind of support network, or health insurance. As someone with severe and treatment resistant mental illness, the outcome of my life did not look good. In the midst of all this suffering, I found Bruce Frantzis’ Inner and Outer dissolving practice.

I had considerable meditation training before I encountered Bruce’s Taoist dissolving practices. But most of the techniques I had learned had little to do with healing the heart and stilling the mind and were instead more like training for the psychic Olympics, a path which Bruce describes in this book as a trap. Indeed, I was one of those spiritual power junkies who trained meditation to increase my psychic abilities because of my weaknesses and fear and unresolved PTSD and a deep insecure desire to have a scary and unseen advantage over other people.

When I learned Vipassana and Zen, I learned how to listen to my inner world, as well as how to concentrate, but neither Zen or Vipassana came with the tools to literally rid myself of the stuff that was coming up in practice. This is the major difference between Taoist Water Tradition versus other traditions. The dissolving techniques described herein are a way of using intent and awareness to liberate your consciousness of the turmoil that manifests when doing deep breathing or other energy work that brings the unprocessed and destabilizing content of your inner world to your everyday waking awareness.

I made practicing Taoist meditation my personal religion and discipline. I practiced morning and night, every day, for years. Slowly but surely the chaos and noise of my inner world and all my pain began to abate, a little bit at a time, month after month, year after year.

Within the first two years of dedicated practice I found my depression had been cured. Within five years, I had, using the dissolving process and the nei gung system described in “Relaxing”, completely healed myself of the neurological conditioning of PTSD. Gone were the nightmares, flashbacks and triggers that had haunted my life previously. Also gone were manic episodes and racing thoughts and anxiety attacks and I gained an inner confidence and self-esteem that I had previously never known.

This work made me stronger, mentally, physically and energetically. I can say that without dissolving the first four Bodies of Being, I’d probably still be suffering to this day. But thanks to the practice of Taoist Water Method meditation, I have not been depressed in fifteen years. While I’m hardly Enlightened, I am very happy with myself and my life, which is something that was missing when I started this. I cannot praise ‘Relaxing Into Your Being’ enough. The practice of the material within its pages totally changed my life around and gave me a reason to live.

Posted in meditation, mental health | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals

Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals by Christopher Payne, is not a book of words as much as it is a book of images. A photo-essay, others have called it. And the pictures definitely tell a story.

Asylum contains haunting and classical views of 19th century Kirkbride-plan mental hospitals. The old asylums were closed-off worlds complete with greenhouses, sewing rooms, craft shops, small theaters, even bowling alleys, to occupy and entertain the patient-residents. The hospitals were completely staffed and stocked for nearly every medical contingency. They had the all the facilities and devices of 20th century psychiatric care including straitjackets, ice showers, immersion tanks, ECT units, and one would imagine, lobotomies, for the ‘treatment resistant’.

Entire communities and cultures existed inside those red brick buildings, with their white painted trim around doors and windows, and everything inside painted institutional green. In the old days, thousands of patients lived out their adult lives in these State asylums, with diagnoses like: ‘undifferentiated depression’ and ‘dementia praecox’, and were even buried on the premises after they had expired.

A wistful trip down memory lane.

This book really brought back some old memories. I once lived as a teenager in a residential treatment facility on the grounds of Concord Hospital (originally called: “New Hampshire State Asylum for the Insane”) which is depicted a few times in the book (p45, 47, 143). Looking at the photos of the different institutions in this book, I saw my old room, my old bed, the basement tunnels, the bathrooms we showered in, the chairs we sat in during group, the windows I used to look out of…

On page 201 is a photo taken of a melancholic but poignant poem written by an unknown and unattributed patient on a basement wall of Augusta State Hospital in Augusta, Maine, a portion of which reads:

“I wish that some of these people, who write the books and make the rules, could spend just a few years walking in our shoes.”

Low on written content but high on visual and emotional impact, Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals by Christopher Payne is a dreary, lovely and reverent look inside the dimly-lit underworld of State Mental Hospitals.

The Kirkbride Plan was based on ‘moral treatment’

When I was living in residential lockdown, I was not so lucky to live in a Kirkbride Plan building. Because NHH is almost two hundred years old, individual buildings on the grounds show structural differences stemming from differing ideas of how to institutionalize people over the years. At least one of the buildings there, the Bancroft Building, was Kirkbride Plan inspired. For more information on Kirkbride Plan asylums which were designed during the ‘moral treatment’ era in psychiatry, check out these sites.

Kirkbride Buildings *

Kirkbride Plan at wiki *

Bankcroft Building at New Hampshire Hospital *

New Hampshire Hospital Historical Society *

Posted in psychiatry | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

An Unquiet Mind, a review.

***Spoiler Warning in case there is anyone left in the bipolar community that has not yet read Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison***

It’s hard to review a memoir. It’s not the same as reviewing a how-to or history book. I try to remember (and don’t always succeed) that you should attack a person’s ideas, not the person themselves. Why would I want to attack this author (or her ideas)? Bear with me, and I’ll tell you.

An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison is perhaps one of the most widely promoted memoirs of bipolar disorder in existence. I am not drawing that from any statistic, but it is my experience when I am haunting reviews of mental illness lit on Amazon plus my time spent lurking on bipolar support forums. Time and time again I see someone say, “Well X book is okay and all, but the best book is AUM.” And someone will reply to that with “Totally agree. This is THE book on bipolar everyone must read.” So, to figure out why that was, I bought and read, ‘An Unquiet Mind’ by Kay Redfield Jamison.

I have to tell you, I do not at all agree that this is THE must-read book or the best book that I’ve read about a person dealing with mental illness. An Unquiet Mind is one of the few books (along with Prozac Nation) that I have thrown across a room due to sheer outrage while I was reading it.

Everyone says the book is really well-written. I’ll grant that it is. With her education and the people she had help edit her book, I would hope so. But is a well-written book my only criteria for enjoying or evaluating an author’s work? Certainly not.

This woman enjoys a level of privilege I find hard to fully grasp. How many people do you personally know who could afford to buy and care for a horse while they are in graduate school? I can’t help but think of the thrift and poverty I was living in around the same time she was gallivanting about Scotland. I don’t recognize or empathize with her world and the stratosphere she lives in due to the protective qualities of being from a moneyed family. But that is not something a person has control over when they are born. I am not blaming her for it, but I am noting it, because privilege makes a huge difference in quality of life whether you have mental illness or not in terms of the care you can afford, as well the distractions you can buy.

She talks about her purchase of a horse as a ‘bipolar shopping spree’ induced by mania. You can look at something like that and say, ‘Wow, bipolar made you buy a horse! Yikes. How horrible! Break out the meds right away and control that episode!” But now try saying that your bipolar mania induced you to buy a double-shot latte, and most folks would have trouble declaring that a sign of unmanaged mental illness. But apparently buying a horse was not just an impulse to soothe her inner child’s desire, but actually the result of a chemical imbalance in her brain. Sorry Kay, I just don’t buy it.

In the beginning of the book, Jamison is a career-driven woman, determined to be a tenured professor. She flows seemingly from highschool to college without any time-off period to find herself, presumably, because the allure of doctorhood is her overriding passion at the time. But it is during this time, when her world is all about education and learning and teaching and practicing, that she has her first major bipolar disorder breakdown.

From then on her story is one of a person trying to reconcile taking lithium, when it clearly makes her feel like crap, even as she sings the praises of how it ‘gentles’ her. The path of accepting her diagnosis involves learning to pathologize and medicalize all her past behaviors by looking at them through her nifty-new bipolar goggles.

On page 97 she recites her “Rules for the Gracious Acceptance of Lithium Into Your Life” and I think it was there that I flicked the book like a Frisbee across the living room in total disgust. Or it may have been on page 102 when Kay wrote: “I had, and have, no tolerance for those individuals, especially psychiatrists and psychologists—who oppose medications for mental illness…I also believe that, with rare exceptions, it is malpractice to treat it without medication.”

Well, I have something to say to you Kay Redfield Jamison author of Unquiet Mind and steadfast promeds advocate. I consider the unasked-for treatment of my bipolar symptoms with psychiatric medication to be medical malpractice. The treatments you espouse so enthusiastically did nothing but poison me. When I first read your opinion in your book I wondered for a few seconds if it wasn’t possible to sue you somehow for influencing my psychiatrist and caregivers to ‘treat’ me with your horrible lithium.

I also find that you wimped out of the full scope of bipolar treatment. You took the lithium but you never took the brain damaging antipsychotics even though you admit you were ‘floridly manic’. You are missing out on the full ‘bipolar treatment experience’, doc. You don’t know what it’s like to be that patient whom you told,  “You’ve been given a shot of Haldol. Everything is going to be alright.” It didn’t turn out to be all right did it?

Further in, she has the gall to blame the man’s mania on his lack of lithium. I am not joking. Page 107 “Neither the resident nor I needed to see the results of the lithium blood level that had been drawn during his admission to the emergency room. There would be no lithium in his blood. The result had been mania.”

I mean give me a break, ‘doctor’. How you can be so unscientific as to posit this man’s psychotic episode as the result of a lack of lithium,  (and not some other kind of trigger, like, I don’t know, maybe… stress?)  This is kind of like how a headache is the result of not having aspirin in your blood, right? Sure. Makes perfect, logical, scientific sense Kay. No. Not really.

I don’t consider you an authority on bipolar or mental illness or it’s treatments. You are certainly not an expert on my suffering nor the treatments I used to cure it. You’ve spent your whole post graduate life informing others of what mental illness is and how it’s supposed to be treated. Blissfully unaware that your preferred treatment drove me to within an inch of taking my own life. Yes, you read that correctly. Lithium made me want to kill myself—because of how awful it was.

You’ve made claims that are (still) not substantiated by current science (Page 190 “The fact that manic-depressive illness is a genetic disease…”) For all that time spent in academia, spouting about mental illness, you have done nothing, absolutely nothing to advance the real understanding of its causes or possible cures. A whole career spent in an ivory tower fixated with this unshakable belief in manic depression as a genetic disorder and nothing at all to show for it. As a former bipolar sufferer, you do not speak for me and you never shall. If I ever get the chance to tell you this to your face, I will.

Another thing that offends me comes from the back of her book, on the cover, where she is described as having the dual perspective of the “healer and the healed”. In her own book, in her own words, she states that to this day she suffers, even though she is on the ‘proper’ drugs for the condition. And nowhere in her book does she claim to have healed anyone else, much less herself.

At every turn in her illness and career there is a family member or someone with a Dr. before his name to attend to her. How she praises psychotherapy and her support network. Must be nice Doc.

When Kay feels like hurting herself, she gets babysat in her home by a ‘colleague’ instead of doing time at the local psych ward. It’s like she floats over the heads of people who really (I mean really) suffer from bipolar disorder. When she finally does try to off herself, she’s already in a safety contract with friends and relatives and she ODs and leaves the phone right in the next room.

Of course you can probably guess at what happens then. Someone calls, and she is all slurred-voiced and nodding out, and naturally 911 is called promptly and she is saved from herself. For most of us getting admitted to an ER for an OD it’s a guaranteed stay at the psych ward for assessment. But she gets to recover from her attempt in the comfort of home, surrounded by concerned experts, as opposed to acute patients.  She didn’t have to socialize with the sick proles as befits everyone else that goes inpatient for a suicide attempt. She got special treatment—because she is Dr. Jamison.

In her Acknowledgments section, she gives thanks to no less than twenty-eight M.D.s or PhDs. Unfortunately, the medical and psychiatric profession does not know how to heal from mental illness and despite being surrounded by all those highly educated people, Dr. Jamison clearly does not know what I know about how the mind works and how it can be truly healed. It’s almost as if she is too close to the tree to gaze upon the forest that I see when it comes to mental illness and the nature of the mind.

If my tone sounds a little annoyed, it’s because of how many people keep saying how truly wonderful and amazing her book is. While I do not begrudge the woman her remarkable academic achievements (which are many), and I do agree that she can turn a phrase, I can’t see why this book is so highly acclaimed. Maybe someone will explain to me the appeal.

In the final analysis, I find myself in that small bracket of people who do not think that Unquiet Mind is an omg amazing five star must-read book on bipolar. It’s an okay book. Definitely worth a read. But other than at one time experiencing the symptoms of the disorder, I find that I have very little common ground with the author.

Posted in mental health, mental illness, psychiatry, psychology | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments