Q: “This medication is making me feel really weird, Doctor, a bit vague, plus I have an insatiable hunger. How long will I need to stay on them?”
A: “You’ll have to stay on them for the rest of your life.”
This was my psychiatrist’s categorical response back in early 2010. I’ll never forget the intensity of the sinking feeling I had when he said it. Luckily for me, it is just the shadow of a memory now, one that causes me to shudder nonetheless as I think of how my life, my precious life, would have looked had I listened only to my psychiatrist.
Several weeks before, at the age of 32, I’d been voluntarily admitted to hospital and diagnosed with an “acute psychotic episode.” I had spent the weeks prior to that acting out of a newfound and totally unfamiliar feeling of love, which became so intense that by the time I was hospitalised, I concluded that I must have died and gone to heaven.
A few months earlier, in September 2009, I had graduated from college on a high—ironically, with a first-class degree in psychology. This accomplishment brought about feelings of self-worth, self-esteem, hope, and happiness. My naive self, true to a deep-rooted personality trait, had pinned all hopes of being and finally staying happy to completing this degree. As I came to realise, this externally-induced euphoria was no different than any of the others before, and by November, I’d fallen back into the depths of an equally familiar grey and hopeless depressive mood.
By Christmas Eve, however, I had gone from that grey state to an increasingly potent state of wonder, awe, and magic. A qualitatively different kind of high, one akin to the emotions felt by my young-child self, unable to sleep in the magical anticipation of a visit from Santa Claus. For the first time ever, these feelings had come from within. On the outside, nothing and no one had changed, but on the inside, everything was different. Everything.
Totally captivated and inspired by the messages and principles within a powerful book I had flippantly picked up in mid-November, I’d begun to feel like I was being born anew. The book was The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and, in every sense of the word, I devoured it. It felt like cognitive behavioral therapy for the soul.
I had studied CBT at college and learned coping tools to manage my “stinking thinking,” a.k.a. cognitive distortions. But Tolle’s teachings introduced me to the “pain body” –the unresolved emotional pain we carry around with us—and invited me to stretch my understanding of this concept to incorporate a universal and intergenerational perspective that took me beyond my wee self toward something more expansive.
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