Human beings are marvelously adaptive.
We can survive incredible hardships, injury, stress and despair. Everybody has an identical imperative in life, whether or not we realize it: to maximize happiness while minimizing suffering.
Everything we do is in some way an expression of this rule. We work because we want to avoid the pain of being broke and not affording food and shelter. We play because it gives us pleasure, or sometimes it’s a way of replacing or overcoming a negative feeling.
But sometimes, our circumstances become so unbearable that our methods of balancing our emotions just don’t cut it anymore.
These last two years, I’ve been dragged to the pits of hell and back. Or at least that’s the way I experienced it. All experience is relative to all other experience.
In the summer of 2016 I realized that a feeling of unease that had been nagging me for six months had been pointing me towards a simple truth: I had been poisoning myself since I was a teenager.
Allow me to explain. Most people who either have eczema or psoriasis or any other skin disease, or have someone close to them that does, will have heard of corticosteroids, widely known as hydrocortisone cream.
Well, what most people don’t know is that these medications, if relied upon too heavily, may result in horrific rebound effects lasting for months or years. It seems that only a minority of users ever experience this, but as fate would have it, I found myself a part of this unlucky group.
On June 17th 2016 I quit cortisone creams cold turkey, the beginning of what’s termed TSW or topical steroid withdrawal, and what ensued was the most horrific rollercoaster of pain, misery and despair that I’ve ever experienced in my life.
For about 18 months I couldn’t sleep at night due to bone-deep itching, which I duly scratched until I was bleeding all over the sheets, along with intense heat flashes and nerve pain. During the day I was bright red all over, I was shedding skin in bucket loads, and in constant pain. Eighteen months! It truly pains me to recall the worst of this.
For the first year or so I kind of willed my way through working as a ranger in Ásbyrgi national park in north-east Iceland during the summer, and then through university, where I was studying illustration.
I never really admitted to myself how incredibly sick I had become, and looking back I should have taken time off right from the beginning to allow my broken body to rest.
I never had the energy to do anything other than do my best to finish my assignments, tear myself out of bed in the mornings and in my free time I would basically lie around doing nothing, since staying motionless made my painfully tight skin feel almost bearable. My social life absolutely disappeared and I had started my descent into deep depression.
I finally reached my breaking point in the beginning of October 2017, after 14 months of struggle. I quit school and started to stay home. It was the most difficult decision I had made in a long time.
It was also the best decision I ever made. I finally allowed myself to sleep in (the worst symptoms came around midnight and then settled down by early morning), and take it easy around the house instead of stressing over school.
Depression can be incredibly sneaky. Initially I felt so much better from not having to tear my bleeding body from the sheets early every morning, but it was an ephemeral respite. Before long I was questioning every aspect of myself and my life.
Despite finally giving my body the rest it needed, I became restless, anxious and agitated. I felt like a failure. I felt like I would never get better. I felt like I was destined to be a broke, angry old man that never got a chance to actually live his life.
Thankfully I never had serious thoughts of suicide, but I started to have a troubling fascination with the concepts of death and dying. I read the book Who Dies? By Stephen Levine, which is one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve ever read. I would constantly think about existence after bodily death. My girlfriend started to become worried about leaving me home alone.
I’ve had bouts of depression before, and man, I thought those were bad. But they were minor annoyances compared to this. Before long I had gone from hardly sleeping at night and forcing myself to wake up at seven every morning, to staying in bed until well after midday.
Life had ceased to have meaning. I was smoking weed almost daily, playing way too many video games, and jerking off to porn in between. A sad excuse for a human existence. I had no confidence at all, even around the people who love me the most.
Lest this article become too much of a downer, let me tell you what this experience has given me.
I’m not out of the fire yet, but I’m feeling so much better, physically and mentally. In some ways, a life is like a tree. The deeper the roots of our sorrows, the higher the lightest and happiest branches of our lives can reach.
In my own life, I can see this principle clearer every single day. Whatever happens to me can be reduced to the status of a minor annoyance by the smallest remembrance of the suffering I’ve endured. And the happy moments, well, they’re all the happier. Suffering builds character. I never understood that as well as I do now.
Every day now, I see the value of my life, the infinite possibilities, and the beautiful reality my mind can manifest. My suffering is the base upon which I will build the towering castle of the life I intend to live.
Infinite love to you all.
You may want to know what I’ve learned about the Awesome Power of Psychedelics, or how Single-Pointed Meditation can help your Spiritual Practice.