Monday, March 15, 2010

Taoism and Dysthymia

One thing I haven't fully resolved, and probably will never resolve, is how Taoism and my Dysthymia are related, for me anyway. As I've noted, I was diagnosed with lifelong (genetic) Dysthymia in 1991 after the death of my brother (Greg) and 3 years before the death of my father, who didn't talk to me after Greg died.

I began studying Taoism in the mid-1970's after reading Alan Watt's books, and especially "The Watercourse Way", about the Tao. I was fascinated and read about the idea in Taoism. I always called myself a lazy Taoist because I haven't been totally dedicated or motivated to delve into the depths of Taoism, but simply stayed on the surface, using the ideas for my own life.

It was, and still is, in some ways my anti-depressant. That and running, which I started 1978 along with hiking, walking, and photography. The mental side has always been a struggle for me, and while Taoism has helped me work through situations and circumstances in life and work, the Dysthymia has always been the overriding, and often overwhelming, force. I just wasn't lucky in those genes department.

Try as I have and do, I do not have more than a handful of "happy" genes. I was handed more than my fair share of Dysthymia and realism genes to compensate, almost like there this a quota of these depressed to happy thought genes and my brain was filled with Dysthymia genes before I got to the happy gene part of the mind buffet. It's not a buffet of choice but one chosen for you or more so, given you.

You're stuck with what you have. And try as you want, it will always be a struggle to change your thinking. Happy people don't seem to care to change, only depressed people care to change. That's not saying being happy is normal, right or better, just happy people are blind to their own deficiencies. To them, realism isn't what the rest of us see and know, and especially experience.

A decade before my diagnosis I read the research by some medical folks at the Wharton School looking at how people see reality, meaning do happier people see it better than depressed people. In their results, they discovered that happier people, especially extremely happy people, ignore reality. They're simply blind to anything negative. Depressed people, they discovered, tend to see more realistically.

But in their results they found an anomaly. They found a group of people who they identified as chronically mildly depressed, meaning their depression was a part of the being, and a few years later, after additional research, identified this as Dysthymia. The anomaly was that this group were the most realistic in the view of life and the world. Everybody else happier or more depressed were less realistic.

What they surmised from the results was that life and the world, meaning reality, is slightly to moderately depressing, if you look at everything going on all the time. The world is a busy place, and much of it is either ordinary at best or depressing at worst. In short, happy isn't the norm, but mild depressed is, and this is what this group saw, thought and felt.

They found this group saw more of life and the world, and then more realistically, not focusing on the best (happy) or worst (depressed) parts, but focusing on the big picture and more of life and stuff in the middle, more the ordinary stuff of life and the world. After all, they said, it's what makes up the vast majority of our lives, and sadly as it may be, it is slightly depressing.

That was the proverbial light bulb going off. That was me. It took another decades of struggling and then my brother's death to go to a psychiartrist, actually on National Depression Day in 1991 because the meeting and evaluation was free. It was there, the psychiatrist said it was Dysthymia and likely lifelong (genetic). I can't remember not thinking, feeling and being this way.

I can remember my childhood when I started something, I could see the whole of the work to do it and then get it done. But sadly, for a child (me) it was also overwhelming, and I discovered it was far easier to live in my own small life and not venture out into the larger world where everything wasn't happy, not unrealistically being that I was physically a late bloomer and teased a lot for being small for my age.

It was reading Alan Watts' book I connected the dots why I was interested in and read about Taoism, and later how Dysthymia and Taoism are intertwined in the perspective of reality and the world. Taoism focuses on what is there, whether the continuum of the past, the present, or the path into the future, being realistic is part and parcel of The Way. Without it, you're not being honest, let alone real, about yourself trying to understand.

Understanding is part of the world and the Tao, for me anyway, and which is likely far from the teachings of Taoism. Hopefully not, but I borrow from Taoism to live, understand and get through the world everyday. I haven't learned to better or more use Taoism to frame my view of the world and live better. That's the struggle for me, finding where it all fits together.

Together in my life, my body and my mind, and in the world, or from my corner and view of it. Real or not, it's mine, as given, seen, thought and felt.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Thought in passing

Two thoughts in passing and probably from somewhere, long forgetten where.


Clever people speak to impress.

Smart people speak to inform.

Intelligent people speak to teach.

Wise people speak to share.


Wisdom isn't knowledge, but understanding.

Understanding isn't education, but experience.

Wisdom is understanding experience, and sharing it.