Welcome!

Ralphy and WillMy main blog is now: Peace, Love & Childhood Adversity.

WillSpirit serves as a cozier, commercial-free venue for reading essays from the main project and also as an archive of my earlier work. The text below offers a brief description of my past, my blogging, and what led me to focus on the ways we heal and gain wisdom after formative trauma, loss, and neglect.

(First, some navigation advice: The ACE Essays section contains duplicates of pieces written for my main blog at PsychCentral. The WS Essays section displays the original WillSpirit entries.)

WillSpirit began in May 2009 and remained active for almost five years, during which time I posted c. 500 entries. Over time, the site became a journal of my personal efforts to build better mental health and gain insight into our human experience. Although I sometimes tried to offer guidelines to those wanting to take charge of their states of mind, I found myself best able to write about the ups and downs of my own emotional and intellectual journey without too much emphasis on advising others. Even so, the comments I received over the years suggested that my personal narrative helped a few people suffering from problems traceable to childhood adversity and other hardships.

My background includes struggle with mood instability and especially depression. During the years I wrote actively on WillSpirit, my psychiatric health improved. I built up my ability to sit quietly in meditation, which led to greater understanding of my mind and–by extension–the human condition. Some of the essays on this site present passionate descriptions of emotional agonies, while others offer much cooler musings on metaphysics. Readers responded far more often to the former than the latter, which taught me an important lesson about how I can best serve people grappling with problems like mine.

Informed by my training as a physician and college/graduate education in ecology, neuroscience, and biophysics, the original essays on this site explored psychic healing from biological and medical perspectives. Due to my repeated experiences with transcendent states of consciousness, many pieces also presented a more mystical outlook, usually as interpreted through a scientific lens. As years passed, the blog focused increasingly on our ability to determine what happens inside our skulls: we do not need to feel victimized by thoughts and feelings, because we can learn to both influence and tolerate them without reactivity; we can also shift from mystical to mundane world views according to what best serves a given situation.

My psychiatric history can be traced to genetic predisposition and environmental influences. Both mood instability and susceptibility to extreme mental states run in my family. My mother suffered terrible depression and ultimately killed herself when I was six-years-old, and my sister was hospitalized for a psychotic disorder when I was ten. In addition to inheriting tendencies toward mental illness, I endured a highly traumatic upbringing. Besides my mother’s suicidal depression and my sister’s psychosis, major life traumas included prolonged hospitalization at age three, parental divorce at age four, annual relocations, and severe child abuse. My stepmother and father pursued a chaotic lifestyle that included steady alcoholism and drug abuse along with open sexual parties that they hosted in our home.

Although my own depression began in my late teens, it became a much bigger problem after neck disease curtailed my surgical career when I was forty-one. Shortly after leaving clinical practice, I ended up hospitalized on suicide watch. After discharge, I experienced intense mood fluctuations and escalating euphoria that culminated in a series of profound spiritual openings. Psychiatrists labelled these as ‘hallucinations’ and ‘delusions’ despite the fact that they felt like some of the most positive experiences of my life. The doctors diagnosed me with Type I Bipolar Disorder and started me on a mind-numbing medication regimen. In short order I had deteriorated from fully functioning surgeon to over-sedated mental patient.

After about six years of mental suffering despite five simultaneous psychiatric drugs (plus additional pills for chronic pain), I decided to seek another path. I found a psychiatrist willing to help me taper off the medications, and I began meditating in earnest while exploring several different kinds of therapy. Gradually, I learned to manage my thoughts and tolerate difficult mental and bodily sensations. As I improved, it seemed appropriate to write about my journey. WillSpirit thus began as I climbed my way out of the abyss, and it continued until most of my initial difficulties seemed resolved.

Having worked through the problems that inspired me to begin this blog, in March of this year (2014) I decided to discontinue writing actively on the site. After some months of soul-searching, I realized that my key topics have always revolved around childhood adversity and how it can be overcome. Wanting to focus on that central issue while reaching a larger audience, I opened a new blog on PsychCentral.com. I settled on the title, Peace, Love & Childhood Adversity, because my experience illustrates that the latter can lead to the former.

Thank you for visiting! I welcome your comments and suggestions.


Comments

Welcome! — 12 Comments

  1. Dear Will,
    I’m always so glad when a blog post from you arrives in my inbox. Your blog has long been a favorite of mine, on all counts — from your raw and honest personal narratives, as well as your deeper mystical and metaphysical writings. Whatever the subject matter, your writing resonates with me on a deep level, bringing me comfort, hope, and even healing. On top of all that, I always learn from your posts … You have gifted me with many new insights, perspectives and understanding.
    I lost track of WillSpirit for a year or so, after you wrote your last post, announcing that you were ending your blog to focus on writing a book. (I still have that powerful post on my kindle!). Not long afterward I changed my email address, losing contact with you and other bloggers I followed. That was all about a year or so ago …
    A few months ago I visited my old email address for some contact info — and I was so thrilled and surprised to see a post from WillSpirit topping my inbox!! I read through some of the posts I had missed and again, they resonated with me on a deep level and moved me deeply.
    Through all of this I wanted to write to you or comment here, and let you know how much I appreciate the effort, honesty, passion and heart you pour into this blog, as well as your courage and graciousness to share it with us, your lucky readers.
    Last but not least (as I’ve rambled on long enough!), I am very excited about your new blog! It’s right up my alley. I’ve been in therapy on and off for 25 years where I’ve learned about the dysfunction in my family and that I was affected by it; however it’s all been very … ‘vague’ to me. Ten years ago I contracted CMV, which never went dormant and launched me into the surreal realm of chronic “invisible” illness. It took a good 6-7 years of living with this progressively debilitating illness before it dawned on me — this insidious, subtle, covert illness is an exact replica of the invisible, covert abuse I suffered as a child. Since that revelation, the blindfolds began to shed and the fog began to lift. It’s been a 3-year process of “waking up” to my truth, but I feel as if the “spell” on me has finally been broken I see things clearly now … but I still suffer the repercussions — eg, I trust people I shouldn’t trust; I’m not taken seriously by people; I tend to get “dismissed” quite often by doctors, neighbors, even my own family; and I continue repeating unhealthy patterns that started in my childhood. Even more eerie is how these patterns seem to “show up” on their own, without any help from me. Anyway — there’s always more I could say, but most of all, I look forward to reading your new blog!! I’ll go sign up over at Psych Central. My best to you, Maureen
    P.s. Thank you for keeping WillSpirit here so I can revisit your many amazing posts from over the years.

  2. Maureen–

    Nice to hear from you. I feel very touched by your comments about my writing.

    As we get older, it seems, the legacy of early hardship manifests more and more as medical difficulties instead of–or in addition to–psychiatric ones. For instance, I now suffer less from mood issues but more from arthritis, fatigue, and a rare vascular anomaly.

    I do believe the body offers us clues about the oppressions of the past. In my case, a major artery near my stomach and pancreas was being compressed by my diaphragm, as if my chronic folding-inward in self-protection was interfering with my relationship to all that nourishes us in life.

    As you have outlined, medical issues can be mined for metaphors with which we can construct healing narratives that help us move forward. This doesn’t necessarily lead to full restoration of physical health, but it does change attitudes and outlooks in positive ways.

    Like you, I’ve experienced the frustration of being dismissed by doctors even as I suffered from serious symptoms, some of which later required surgical intervention. In my case, a psychiatric diagnosis made it easy for providers to assume me histrionic and unreliable.

    I wish you well and am very glad you looked at your old email account in time to participate in this new writing direction.

    Warmly,

    –Will

  3. Merely catching up Will.

    I’ve had to concentrate on dealing with the pressing issues associated with ‘growing-up’ … an interesting experience at 65!

    For now, I’ll settle for adding my voice to the many who wish are grateful for your presence in the world.

    Graeme

  4. Try a proof-read version of the last sentence:

    “For now, I’ll settle for adding my voice to the many who are grateful for your presence in the world.”

    Graeme

  5. Thanks Graeme. That sort of feedback is so helpful to me. Truly.

    And I suppose it’s never too late to grow up. Or, as they say, better late than never. Sometimes it seems like those of us who start growing later gain by the delay, appreciating more deeply our frailties and accepting more sweetly the oddities of our fates.

    –Will

  6. Hi there my name is Nadine and I have suffered from bi-polar since I have been 15 years old. I just found out about how debilitating it can be. I have tried to meditate but just can’t get my mind to focus on the tape or thing that I am listening to. I suffered from a manic episode that nearly crippled me for 5 months and I have been going through menopause as well. And I’ll tell you what I have had my cranky pants on for a while. I just want to sit in my apt with no one around me. Sound familiar. But with the help of new meds I am on a new track it is helping me to become a lot happier. So I am thankful for doctors who really know what they are doing. It takes a team of people working on our side to be effective. take care and let me know what you think OK? thanks nadine

  7. Nadine–

    I’m glad you’ve found a medication combination that’s working, and that you are being helped by a team of providers you trust. As I know from watching my wife, menopause can be a time of turmoil, so it isn’t surprising that it could kick up some mania. Learning meditation takes time, and it probably isn’t a skill that’s easy to acquire while acutely manic. Better to wait to attempt it again after things have fully settled down. But mindfulness is worth pursuing, since with practice it trains one to understand and influence one’s mental life, and what could be better for bipolar disorder than that?

    Thanks for writing,

    –Will

  8. Dear Will

    Thank you for your most inspiring and practical and sense-making writing about Trauma.
    after 13yrs my son son has been brought back to me by his father…traumatized…i left him with his father at the age of 5 ..he traveled all over ended up in Yemen at the age of 10..to pursue studies in Religious matters…i was out of contact with him until 3yrs ago..my son at the age of 15witnessed a war..senseless killing…and his lifelong yearning to be with his mom….now 2014 he is with me at the age of 19….traumatized………..How do i go about helping my son……….not keen to take him to psychologist…i want to help him….Please how do i do this..(mother)

  9. Natheerah–

    I am very saddened to hear of your son’s hardships. Although I have no doubt he is in pain, there is hope for recovery. My focus on growth after early adversity obviously grows out of personal experience. Although I did not witness a war, I did lose my mother at a young age and was abused while living with my father afterward. In young adulthood I felt quite confused. Now, after much searching, I am at peace.

    Getting past the worst effects of trauma doesn’t need to take as long as it did for me. But it will take effort. Although you don’t feel comfortable taking your son to a psychotherapist, there is much in the counseling literature these days about addressing the effects of trauma. So therapy is a good idea. Your son has already shown an interest in spiritual matters, which will serve him well over the long run, since it shows he is searching for deeper meaning. Therapy, done properly, might aid him in that search. There are specialized trauma therapies, such as Somatic Experiencing, that are well-respected. It is currently believed that trauma requires at least some body work prior to healing, since memories and stress accumulate in the form of habitual postures and tensions. Working with the body helps release these.

    If your son is involved in a spiritual practice, and if there is a respected elder in the tradition to whom he can turn to for support, that might help. Young people are vulnerable to exploitation after trauma, and they can get drawn into unhealthy cults as a result. But most traditions operate from a sincere place, and most leaders truly want to benefit their followers. How educated they are in trauma management is probably variable, so the value of therapy remains. Still, spiritual contemplation and meditation have been key to my own recovery. Prayer, though not something I often turn to, is also believed by many to offer benefits for those with religious beliefs.

    Your role, other than suggesting he accept help, can only go so far. No one can heal another person from the outside; the person needs to do the work within. But you can aid him immensely by offering him your love and understanding, by not criticizing or projecting your anxiety onto him, and by accepting that he is hurting and may at times respond to his pain in ways that seem counterproductive. If you have someone you trust with whom you can share your feelings as you deal with this difficult situation, that would be valuable, since it would make it easier for you to support your son without burdening him with your (spoken or unspoken) fears and regrets. Of course, openly and sincerely accepting responsibility for whatever parts you played in his adverse upbringing might not be a bad idea, though you need to choose your moment carefully. It will be important to speak from a place of trying to heal your son rather than from one of trying to soothe yourself by gaining forgiveness. You should also understand that he may feel anger toward you, even though you love one another.

    I wish you well as you stand by your son during his recovery from this childhood adversity. Please keep in mind that severe trauma during childhood leads to very complex effects and really does benefit from professional support. My role in this domain is to offer my own story and share what has helped me. I am not a professional working in the field. So I am only giving what I consider general advice. More specific assistance is needed, and I encourage you to seek support in your local community as well as online.

    Best Wishes,

    –Will

  10. Max–

    Thanks for the positive feedback. Hearing that my writing strikes someone as valuable really helps make the work feel worthwhile.

    Warmly,

    –Will

  11. Hi…would you please put me on your email (mailing) list? Loved your post today!! Thank you! :)

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