The Secret History of My Depression
I remember the day that changed my life. I remember the exact moment when the seed of despair that had been planting itself in my heart bloomed for the first time. It was June of 2003. I was 19 years old. I had just finished my first year of college and was back at my mom’s house for the summer. It was my last summer at home. I had broken up with my high school girlfriend towards the end of the school year but now that we were both back home and able to see each other regularly, we had become good friends.
My freshman year of college was the beginning of wild times for me. I arrived to school in Muncie, Indiana, after my second summer of working in a corporate office environment and already I had doubt and scorn for the professional working world. I’ve already written a bit on that office phase of my life here. My high school rock band went through some personnel changes and become my college band. The college band was truly a wild thing. We thought of ourselves as revolutionaries, anarchists, using our music to try and change our little part of the world. We played at peace rallies and other political events that were happening in our small Indiana town. Keep in mind this is two years after 9/11, a few months after George W Bush invaded Iraq, and about a year before George W overtook Al Gore in Florida. We we’re coming of age and we were angry. We were also young and idealistic. By the time summer came, nearly the whole band had dropped out of school to focus exclusively on the band. We had only been together for 6 months and already played a ton of shows and recorded an album. We had a tour booked for the end of summer but we were all back at our respective parent’s houses for the summer.
My good buddy and bandmate Doog had given me a book to read over the summer. Doog seemed to be the spiritual leader of the revolutionary aspect of the band. He was the most well read, the angriest, and the one most likely to get put in jail for a stupid stunt of rebellious action. We loved him for it. Anyway, Doog gave me a book. It was called Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. I can’t remember what he must have said to prepare me for it, but knowing Doog it was probably something like “You really need to read this book. It contains the Truth.”
I took it home with me after I packed my dorm room up. I started to read it and the seed started to grow. I only worked for half the summer and had lots of time to read so it couldn’t have taken me more than a week. It was a tense week. And the seed grew. For those of you that haven’t read Ishmael, it’s a special kind of book. It’s hard to explain and worth reading. Essentially, a gorilla who has above human intelligence and the ability to communicate telepathically takes on a human student to teach him about where society went wrong in it’s quest for independence from Nature. It goes back to the story of Genesis and takes it all the way from hunter gatherer to city builder and modern man. The intention of the gorilla is to save the world but by the end of the book, nothing happens. The world is not saved, the reader is only presented with a lot of logical arguments to draw conclusions from and no answers about where to go next.
I remember finishing the book with a huge weight on my chest and a small fire in my heart. I was choking on feelings and thoughts and I didn’t now what to do. I turned to the closest friend I had then which was my ex-girlfriend. I went over to her house and as soon as I walked in, she knew something was wrong. She asked me about it but I couldn’t really speak. I was about to explode but the living room wasn’t the right place. I motioned for us to go upstairs to her room and we sat on her bed and I started to weep. She took my head against her chest and I must have sobbed for an hour.I couldn’t even express to her what I was feeling. Everything seemed so big at that moment. The world felt ominous and scary and dark. The whole weight of human history felt like it was on me and I wept for the world. I wept for the lies. I wept for the truth. It was a rude awakening. I’m sure everyone has had it in their own way. The moment when you shed your childhood idea that the world is a simple thing, as simple as living in your parents house and going to school, and realize how infinitely complex everything is. Every aspect of everything you do is steeped in hundreds if not thousands of years of human history and action. This realization is what was hitting me at that moment. I wept at the complexity of life and society. It cracked my heart in half and left me with an emotional scar that has never healed.
I responded to my bandmates with outrage. “How could you have not told me,” I asked. “How can you know these things and still be living here.” I was angry at the world and I was projecting it on anyone I could. I was prepared to leave the country and society but I didn’t know where to go. I was young and romantic enough to believe that there was still some pure part of the world that hadn’t been tainted by the West, tainted by cities and agriculture and the need to divorce oneself from the land that birthed us. They calmed me down, but a fire had been started inside me that would never go out.
The last thing that happened that summer before I reunited with the band for our tour was a family reunion. I was a jaded outcast teenager surrounded by a family of normal thinking people. In Texas. By coincidence or fate, I spent one evening alone in the hotel room, flipping through channels. I came across a movie called Fight Club, which I had heard of but never seen. That pushed me over the edge. Fight Club is essentially the same story as Ishmael veiled in a drama about fighting and political rebellion. The crack got bigger, the fire got hotter.
By the time the tour came, I was primed. I felt like a bomb that was about to go off and I was in the perfect place. The motto of our band was “creation through destruction.” There was a collective feeling that had been building between the five band members. We had become brothers in destruction. Our music was our message and we left Indiana to set the world on fire, one show at a time. Of course, that was naive romantic rock and roll idealism.Nothing like that happened. In actuality, our destruction trip became aimed inward and drove the band apart. We didn’t last another six months. A filmmaker friend of ours moved into our house in Muncie at a key moment and was able to completely document the last few months of the band as we fell apart. He eventually released the documentary which was called Ashes of Rhetoric.
My burning rage became a silent sorrow and continued on. I’ve always been one to hold my emotions in, a trait I think I must have learned from my parents. At this time in my life, my girlfriend told me “If emotions were crayons, you got the 8 pack where as everyone else got the 32 pack.” Emotional mood swings just weren’t my thing.I was a happy go lucky kind of guy since birth. I did’t get sad or mad. Over the next few months and the demise of the band, my whole world changed. The band was everything to me and I was devastated when it was over. I felt disillusioned with the world around me and especially my inner circle, who I felt had abandoned me in my time of need. I was the small fire and they were my kindling but now it was all over. As I said though, the fire never went out. It became the colored lens that all my actions were seen through from then on out.
The next bit of time went by fairly smoothly. I continued to express the broken hearted helplessness that I felt towards the world in a solo music project. Though still close with all my old bandmates and still living with some of them, I couldn’t help but feel like they had abandoned our mission. By the time a year had passed by since the breakup of the band, I was starting to get sick of the town. It was feeling stale and uninspiring and I didn’t know what to do.
Luckily nature provided me with the inspiration to change my life. A heavy storm descended over Muncie in December of 2004. The storm took the power out for a week and took my emotional state down to an all-time low. I was feeling depressed, laying on my bedroom couch in a cold, dark house alone.I needed to do something and the realization hit me. Through a series of events over the next few months, I was able to join some other friends from the local music scene and move to Connecticut. I wrote extensively about that series of events and what happened afterwards here.
I spent the year of 2005 soul searching and traveling. The perfect combination. I spent three months in Connecticut with no job. I laid in snowy fields for hours on end pondering and reflecting on life and society. My Connecticut roommates seemed to be in the same sort of ponderous soul searching mood and we had many great and heartfelt conversations. We had all just broken out of our college town and suddenly we had been transformed in adults by necessity. There was nothing to occupy our time except for what we made for ourselves. The thing was though that since none of us had jobs for the whole time I lived there, we had to find alternate ways to give our lives meaning.
I quickly decided that travel would be my temporary meaning. I meant to backpack around Europe for a few months but ended up backpacking around the States instead. I arrived in Connecticut in February 2005 and by April I was in Mexico. By May, I was living in New York City. By June, I had hitchhiked to the West Coast and had rid myself of all possessions except for survival gear. I was exploring society and the world for the first time. I consider 2005 to be the year that I saw God.It was the year that I went all over the country and lived in all kinds of ways and tried all kinds of things. One of the things I tried was submitting myself to the Will of the World. I was trying to live “in the flow.” I did a pretty good job of it, too. I took almost no money with me when I started hitchhiking and I never ran out of food or things to do. I was homeless and I loved it. The guilt that had built up inside of me about being a part of such a corrupted society was dissipating. The emotional wound that I had sustained in my heart was starting to heal. I felt free. A little free at least. By the time Autumn came around, I was ready to become a normal part of society again. I found myself back in Indiana, a little wiser. I wrote a long form of that summer’s story here.
I spent the next 18 months living a pretty normal life in Bloomington, Indiana. I continued to make music and I continued to ponder the mystery of all things. My spiritual side was growing and I don’t doubt that it was in direct relation to my emotional wound. The spiritual perspective might have been my coping mechanism, my healing device, or it might have been a means for my Destiny to get me where I needed to go. For that year and a half, I was pretty stable. Still that happy go lucky guy that I had always been.The wounds and the fire were getting further from the surface of my every day reality. It was also during this time period that I met a dream girl and got married.
My wife, Lindsay, and I were ambitious and adventurous. We wanted to do things. I remember the month that I met her was the same month that the film V for Vendetta came out. V for Vendetta is another film you can put next to Fight Club and Ishmael. A freedom fighter dons a mask and wages war on the British government for the take of Truth and Freedom. I loved the filmed and it spurred me along my journey to either escape society or come to terms with it.I took Lindsay to see the movie and it acted as a sort of test. She loved the movie and it’s message and I knew that we could be compatible. Over the next bit of time in Indiana, she and I were attempting to mild meld and become a synonymous mental entity. We wanted to mentally become one. I shared with her all the things that had broken and reformed me: Ishmael, Fight Club, and the ritualistic use of mushrooms to try to see the face of God in Nature. The final bit of life reshaping was travel and we shared that, too.
in 2007, we left the US for the first time. We spent six weeks exploring Europe. This was a great way to see what America was by seeing what it wasn’t. Somehow, my whole pain trip so far had been deeply tied with these types of questions: “What is society?” “What is progress?” “What is America?” “What is Truth?” Pretty heavy questions, but getting to Europe was a good way to try and get some answers. I loved the whole thing. I loved the adventure. There was also that first sad realization of knowing that America and the American Way was only one part of the bigger West.The West had birthed America and passed on its inherent structural problems and then America had birthed me as one of it’s witnesses. Maybe I was starting to come to terms with the futility of fighting. How can you fight the West?
The spiritual path kept pulling at me and by April of 2008, Lindsay and I found ourselves living at a spiritual retreat center in Upstate New York. This was to be the setting for my next big emotional transformation. Ever since I finished Ishmael, that dark seed had been growing inside me. It was my sad core of sorrow and it influenced how I saw the world. It influenced how I drew my conclusions based on the things that I had seen in my travels. It influenced how I wrote my songs and poetry and journals.
It’s hard to explain the retreat center that was The Omega Institute. I could tell you everything that I did there and every conversation that happened and every workshop I took part in and I still couldn’t pinpoint what cracked me open. There were several things I can point to that transformed me. The first thing happened right away. A fiery Sufi lecturer inspired me to humble myself before God. In May of 2008, I climbed to the top of the hill behind my cabin and got on my knees and prayed for the first time. I prayed to God, if there was a God or something like a God, maybe just a receptive Universe or a malleable Reality, to give me a sign. To let me know that there was something bigger, some kind of guiding order to the universe, just to know that something else was out there. It took a few days but I actually did get a response. I wrote about that here. The “call” as I named it happened for the remainder of the year.
The other thing I can point a finger to was energy healing. I embarked on an extensive training program while I lived at Omega. Over the years that followed, I became a teacher of two different energy healing modalities and was trained as a psychic medium that can communicate with spirits of the dead and with a living persons own “higher self.” I was also trained as a shamanic practitioner that could go into other realms of reality to do healing work and consult with spirit guides and maybe even deities. All of these things, I learned, are real. They are tactile and provide me with information that I could get in no other way. What they all amounted to was Hope. Hope was the thing I needed to continue on in a world that was seeming more and more bleak. Doing healing work gave me the hope that I did actually have the power to save the world, just as Ishmael had proclaimed to me all those years ago, even if it was only one person at a time.
When I left Omega in November of 2008, I had cracked open the hard shell that had grown around my heart. The seed had grown it’s own protective shell that further prevented me from really Feeling. During my time at Omega, I knew that something had happened. After I left, I knew I was changed. My heart was leaking and I could feel it for the first time in a long time. The final thing I can point a finger to was a spiritual healing that I had performed on me by my mentor James Philip during my Omega season. This healing was one of the most powerful and tangible spiritual things that’s ever happened to me. James was able to find and remove something dark and heavy from my heart. I could feel it and I helped him move it. When he pulled it out, I was physically shaking. I was sweating. I wasn’t quite sure what had just happened but it felt significant. Maybe that was the shell getting pulled off or maybe that was the rot from the fire that had been smoldering and brooding for the last five years. I will probably never know but that was the final big thing that left the change in me.
My return to the normal world in 2009 was also a return to the rock and roll band life. I spent about a year touring the US with my bandmates including my soul brother Doog, who had given Ishmael to me years before and also accompanied Lindsay and I to the Omega Institute to change his life, too. I wrote extensively about this year of my life here. We were both embracing Hope and trying to dispel the demons of pessimism and apathy that threatened to devour us. We meditated everyday. We ate healthy food and did yoga all the time. We did everything they taught us to do and we stayed true to the path. The influence the two of us had on the five person band helped to transform the band from a traveling party to a spiritual brotherhood with a mission to save the world with the healing power of Rock and Roll with the help of spiritual energy healing that we were using on the audience and each other every night. Hope eventually failed us when Doog had a mental breakdown and spent the following year in and out of the hospital and on anti-psychotics. I left the band and returned to Chicago to be with my wife.
The year of 2010 marked the 8 year anniversary of reading Ishmael and took me to some of my lowest points of depression. Lindsay and I were living in a normal apartment on the south side of Chicago and both working in normal food service jobs. This was my first normal lifestyle in two and a half years. It was good for some things and bad for others.The regularity of it acted as a highlighter for my internal world.I could really look inside and evaluate what had changed inside of me. As my heart continued to leak out, I could see it with ease.I was also in a shamanic training program at the time, so self evaluation and heart felt communication was a regular part of my life. Within nine months of moving to Chicago, city living and the continuous weight of society as I felt it, had destabilized me. I knew that something was wrong. I felt the depression rise. I kept telling Lindsay that something was wrong but we didn’t know what to do. I kept telling her we needed to move out of the city. We needed to go back to Omega. We needed to travel. We needed to do anything but keep that lifestyle going. She wouldn’t give in though.We had life plans and goals that we were working towards and she wasn’t ready to give them up. I don’t blame her for not wanting to abandon all that over some feelings I was having. Eventually though, it did end our marriage and it did get us to move.
Ten months after we moved into our first private home together in Chicago, we sold or gave away all of our beautiful possessions and headed back to New York and the safety of The Omega Institute. As soon as we decided that we were going to leave the city, the weight of depression that had been on me for months and clouding my every moment instantly lifted. It was amazing. It left me and stayed off. I was overjoyed and I was happy to be returning to Omega which I loved so much. We left the city but our marriage didn’t come with us. By the time we got back to Omega, we were broken up but remained friends. I didn’t stay long. By that point I had recognized the ability of my depression to highlight certain decisions I needed to make.It took it as another sign from God, the Universe to show me the way and keep me on my Path. The depression in Chicago help Lindsay and I to leave the city and the depression the briefly reemerged in my first few weeks of Omega pt 2 helped me to know I wasn’t supposed to be there.
Returning to Omega for that time period was good because it changed Lindsay’s life forever. She met a partner a few weeks later that she is still with to this day.Omega wasn’t in the cards for me though and my returned depression was making me hate every moment of being in that sacred and special place. Once again, as soon as I made the decision to leave, the weight of the depression lifted from my chest. I was free.I was back in Chicago a few days later, to start a completely new life in a new apartment with a new job and without a wife.
I continued for another year and a half in Chicago and it was very similar to my time in Bloomington a few years earlier. I loved my life at that time. I was close to my family in Chicago and I had a great apartment with close friends. I had lots of friend interactions and social outings and I learned how to date again after four years of marriage. For over a year, there was no sign of the inner darkness. Until it came back. Just like in the snowstorm in Muncie, just like in the apartment with Lindsay, and just like my second visit to Omega. Something needed to change. The city was getting to me.Society was getting to me. I needed out. I remember it pretty clearly because I was finishing up an album at that time and I recorded a couple of hip hop songs where I spoke directly about the dark feelings I was having. I never formally released the tracks but I posted them online for histories sake:
On January 1st, 2012, my album came out and once again I had reduced all my possessions to survival gear and left to seek Truth in the wildness of the world. I was to live “in the flow” once again. As usual, my natural instinct for combatting my inner darkness was to pursue the light of spirituality. I spent the next three months pursuing the light all over Europe, Africa, and the Middle east.My journey inadvertently became rooted in Sufism. For those that don’t know, Sufism is the tradition that exists inside of Islam that is the direct path to knowing God. It is comparable to Zen inside of Buddhism, to Hasidism inside of Judaism, to Gnosticism inside of Christianity, and to Taoism in the East. It is a Mystical path. I had been reading Sufi texts since my first trip to Europe in 2007. I felt called to it though I had never pursued it in any way. Now was the time. Through an accidentally conversation with a friend of a friend in Chicago, I got connected with a Sufi Sheik and Rumi scholar in California. I went out to see him before I left the States. He introduced me to Sufis in London who I visited later in my journey.
In Spain, I stumbled upon a Sufi retreat type place and stayed for a few days while conversing with the Sheik that lived there. He gave me contacts for a living saint that lived in Morocco. I went and visited the saint, Lala Alu, and her family in Morocco for a few days. She entered my dreams and took me to a shining blue glass pilgrimage point. In real life, she made me write Arabic prayers with my right hand before leaving the village. She blessed me. Once again I humbled myself before God, this time to the Islamic aspect of the Truth. I went to Istanbul and spent an entire day in the old city going from graveyard to graveyard praying over the graves of saints and their families. I reached an ecstatic state after the day of prayer and knew that I could take the hermit’s path and be the monk that I had also yearned to be. I chose not to and continued on with my adventure. I stayed up all night in a Tekeh for a Sufi zikr prayer session.It was one of the most intense things I’ve ever done and afterwards I talked to the Sheikh about my spiritual intentions. I felt like I was in a dream. I went to Jerusalem and prayed at the Wailing Wall with a yarmulke on my head next to Hasidic Jews. I met a street mystic there but didn’t learn anything from him. Finally, I went to London and met the Sufis I had heard about from the Sheikh in California. I attended a zikr prayer session with them but it was tame compared to what I had experienced in Turkey.
After all that I ended my adventure back in California. I decided to stay there because Chicago and its cold winters didn’t seem appealing anymore. I started a new life in San Francisco. It hadn’t been an easy Spring but it was exciting. Of course, there was a lot of soul searching done during my travels. I always like to compare and contrast the differences between the US and everything else and going to Africa and the Middle East for a bit gave me my first glimpse of life outside the West. It was refreshing but not as different as I’d hoped. The Western way has possibility infiltrated all parts of the globe, tainting every culture with the dream of material wealth and the glorious City.
I turned 30 while living in San Francisco. Through all of this seeking and introspection and adventures and girlfriends, I was still trying to come to terms with that first shock of awakening that Ishmael gave me. I simply couldn’t figure out what to do. Do I submit to the status quo and forget the ideals I forged in my youth and get a career job? Do I escape into nature and become a wandering hermit who lives close to the land and stays in the flow with God’s Love and Nature’s Will? Do I return to my radical college days and become an activist and freedom fighter, burning down new construction and blowing up skyscrapers ala Fight Club and the Earth Liberation Front? Nothing was making sense but I was holding all of that at arms length aka inside the shell of my leaking heart. I still needed to eat and make money and pay rent.And now I was living in the most expensive city in America so I needed to work to the extreme.
The reality of adulthood was upon me more than ever. I could no longer cling to anything like youth as an excuse for continuing my vagabond soul searching lifestyle. I was completely aware of the social pressure of my impending future. I had to do something! I was becoming painfully aware that my body would not last forever and that the ten years I had under my belt as a bike messenger didn’t really add up to much in the way of long term plans. My lack of college degree was weighing down my dreams and the spiritual healing career path didn’t seem to be in the cards for me. I had long since abandoned music as anything but a once in a while expressive hobby. My friends and family were living thousands of miles away from my estranged life in California. I was a new human, unattached to my past, but what was my purpose? Luckily it seemed like I had time to think about this clearly. The depression didn’t seize me in San Francisco and I continued to work as a bike messenger to sustain myself. I took joy in the simple physical exertion of riding my bike. It had been keeping me grounded and healthy for all these years.I also too refuge in books.I was always an avid reader but I became nearly excessive in my San Francisco life. I was clocking in 50+ hours of audiobook time a week while I worked.I couldn’t exist without being in a book. It was my escape and I was painfully aware of that, too.Was I running from something?
Eventually books led me to a new dream and a new fixation. Merlin. In the stories of Merlin as the wild man in the woods, I clearly saw myself as that wondering 20-something, trying to live in the flow while backpacking around the US.I saw myself as the prophet and magician in the Merlin stories when I thought about my depression taking over me and nearly forcing me to leave Muncie during the ice storm, Chicago during my marriage, and Omega on my second visit. Merlin couldn’t take society for very long once he’d cracked and neither could I, it seemed. Two to three years was all I could take if I looked at my own time line. I lasted two years in Muncie before the ice storm, two years in Bloomington before leaving for the UK, three years passed before I needed to leave Chicago and three years after moving to California, I left again. Was this really my path? Was I living a parallel live to Merlin, this legendary character who was also connected to the main spiritual healing modality that I was trained in and taught. I needed to find out.
Once again, I left the US to go on a soul searching spiritual journey. This was the most focused one so far and I was able to tie it into a physical goal that might provide me with structure and support from society in the future: I was going to write my own book. I was on the Merlin train for over three months, visiting sacred sites and sleeping on them, walking and bussing a lot, meditating and doing energy work to try and help me connect to the ancient magical energy of the land and the spirits that resided there. My previous journey had taken me around the world and enabled me to glimpse the living mystical tradition of Sufism. This time, I was following a dead tradition through shadows and half forgotten memories and old place names. I got sun sickness and slept for a day on an ancient burial mound. I slept in the largest stone circle in the UK on a full moon. I fasted on apples and holy spring water on a sacred hill for three days before embarking on a psychedelic vision quest to find the Truth of God in the path of Merlin. I climbed Wales’ largest mountain, nearly died, and then plunged into it’s coldest lake in an effort to capture the elusive spirit of this trickster figure. In the end,I wasn’t quite sure what I had discovered though I felt somewhat successful in my quest. I wrote my book.
In the Merlin story, I found the narrative of a universal archetype that I could truly relate to. I felt like my path wasn’t unique because countless others had been called to it, drawn to it. I was constantly asking everyone I met if they were feeling what I was feeling. My whole adult life, I have suspected that these Truths I have been called to examine and this perspective that I have held towards the West, towards money and materialism, towards the corruption that is the idea of City and Government, towards the arrogant divorce that we have created with Nature, are universal. I thought that secretly everyone felt this way but were just too scared to admit it or too invested in the fruits of the status quo to acknowledge it. I still hope this is true, but the more people I ask, the more of an outcast I feel.
I know for myself that the world will not solve my problems. I know that no Obama or Clinton or Trump is really going to change how I feel about myself or about the world. I can understand the anti-Western sentiment that seems to be growing in the Middle East because I have felt the same feelings myself and maybe in my college days of “creation through destruction,” I would have taken it to the same extreme. I know through the wisdom of my travels and experiences that no one can create your reality but you, whether you do it passively or actively, intentionally or reactively. I know, for myself, I am going to keep of focusing on making my individual dreams come true because anything bigger than that seems overwhelming and unachievable. I am going to try to keep finding resonances between myself and others because that creates community and brother/sisterhood. I am going to keep talking about these Truths that seem to be clawing at me. I am going to keep being honest and vulnerable and I am going to encourage my heart to keep leaking and keep opening so I can keep evaluating it and observing it and learning from it. I am going to keep striving towards Light to try to heal the Darkness that wants to grow inside of me as apathy, shame, and hate. I am going to keep living because I haven’t discovered anything better to do. Yet.