New Direction

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You may have noticed my posts have been slow in coming lately. The good news is I’ve decided to pursue a new career direction: using acupuncture for mental health issues. Acupuncture has been a mainstay of my recovery. By itself it would not have been enough, but as a regular refuge where I can recharge and rebalance it has been invaluable. Since licensed physicians can train to practice the technique in a relatively short time, it is a great way for me to get back to clinical work without the inconceivable stress and difficulty of finding and completing a residency in a more traditional discipline. I’m tremendously excited. It will be less visible work than writing, but it will provide far more security. And being a doctor again means more to me than I’ve been willing to admit.

The bad news is I will have less time for writing. I will try to keep posting, but the essays will be less frequent. They may also be shorter, but that may turn out to be an improvement. I tend to underrate the value of brevity.

For today, I’m posting a piece I wrote for Hopeworks Community. Larry Drain is a prolific writer and activist in the mental health field, and he invited guest posts for his blog. Here’s mine:

This is my story of recovery from severe depression, and my message is one of hope. On the one hand, I doubt many people have experienced longer lasting or more severe depression than me (though a multitude have it just as bad). On the other, I have found my way to a place of contentment and steadiness that I never dreamt possible.

Although depression has dogged me for most of my adult life, my mood reached new lows after I lost my surgical career to severe arthritis in my neck. My spirits were especially crushed because the loss of occupation brought up lingering self-doubts left over from a highly traumatic childhood.

In recovering, I tried every type of therapy and group program that promised to assist me with my problems. These methods helped me improve my thought patterns, accept the present moment, and find spiritual peace. To my delight and surprise, I am often happy. Although I still get depressed from time to time, my spiritual centering and acceptance work have taught me that grief and sadness are as important and rich as happiness; I would not want to miss the textured sense of connection with tragedy. Whether happy or sad, I am at peace with my mind and my history.

Medications played a big role at first, but they ultimately turned on me. Under the direction of a psychiatrist whose only tools were drugs and endless exploration of my childhood, I spent five years heavily sedated and unable to function productively. After horrible side effects threatened to lower my self esteem even more, I switched to another care system and have spent recent years reducing an oppressive cocktail of medications. Perhaps I needed to escape into a medicated haze for several years, but when the drugs were reduced my grief awaited me, and I still had to deal with feelings about my losses. I learned there is no way to sidestep mourning.

During the past decade I’ve tried many times to build a new career. False starts and rejections added to my burden, until I gave in and accepted permanent retirement from defined employment. Then, after I finally felt at peace with not working, I discovered a career direction that makes sense. The operative concept is acceptance. Once I quit fighting my fear of being seen as unproductive, and once I learned to keep busy and avoid boredom, my mind opened to a new possibility. I had to accept what I feared before moving past it.

I have learned that there is no single answer to depression or other mental health issues. Medications may help, but they do not magically take away the problem. Acceptance is vital, but by itself is insufficient. One needs to learn to think without fostering depression, but that alone won’t end the sadness. Exercise, meditation, group work, writing, good nutrition, and regular sleep all need to be considered. With a comprehensive approach, recovery is possible.

It takes effort and time. If you are suffering from depression, you will need to both work hard and remain patient. You may also need to learn to live with some low feelings. But knowing how much I’ve improved despite years of despair, I suspect that no matter how depressed you may feel, you can find peace.

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7 Responses to New Direction

  1. Wendy Love says:

    Congratulations! This is wonderful news, especially after what you have been through. I have only just discovered your blog, so I will enjoy reading some of your older posts. All the best on your new adventure, and welcome back to the world of regular employment. You give us all hope. I particularly enjoyed this article that you shared. You presented a realistic and balanced approach to recovery. I really appreciate that.

  2. Will says:

    Thank you, Wendy. I just went over to your site and was pleased to see the posts on laughter. I plan to head back soon and read in more detail; My biggest problem is taking everything, and especially myself, too seriously.

    –Will

  3. Sallyo says:

    Congratulations! It sounds like a great thing for you.

  4. Lili says:

    Have you ever checked out ayurveda? Just a thought….

    http://www.ayurveda.com/

  5. lostinamaze says:

    I think it’s great that you have found something that feels right to you and allows you to continue being a doctor. And your experience will bring other dimension into your work. I am excited for you! I look forward to reading about your continuing experiences. My best to you.

  6. Colette says:

    Hi Will,

    I’m so happy to hear of your good news with a new career direction. And yes, I can only agree with your thoughts on medication. My friend told me about an analogy that’s called ‘waiting for Santa’. Take your drugs, ignore the debilitating side effects and ‘wait for Santa’ to come and magically take your problems away from you. There are no easy answers. You have to put in the hard yards for yourself. But no one in the mental health profession ever explained that to me. I had to find out for myself – your writings have contributed alot towards that. You would be an exceptional psychiatrist, you know!!

    Colette

  7. will says:

    Colette–

    I like the ‘Santa Claus’ analogy! I tried once to get a psychiatry residency, but did not get accepted. It may have been because of my honesty about my psychiatric history; or it may simply have been a function of many years out of training and paucity of references. In any event, since I don’t have tremendous confidence in the efficacy of psychiatric medications (to say the least) I’m probably better off looking in a different direction. Best wishes.

    –Will

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