Note that I am not a doctor. That said, plenty of people I know who only listen to doctors about their mental health are not much better off than they were years ago. The choice, and the risk, are both yours. I am simply providing you with my own experience, which is not what a therapist told me.
About 2 years ago, I wrote How I Recovered from Depression which listed everything had I discovered up to that point which helped me recover from being suicidal. Two long years have passed, and I have discovered way more, and more effective, resources.
Today, a wonderful woman named Anna reached out to me on Instagram with several questions about my recovery, and I realized that this was the Universe poking me to finally do an update.
So here I am, two years after that original article, with my life vastly changed: my relationship with my parents has done a one-eighty, I have found my 'people,' I live in a beautiful house with awesome roommates, I have an amazing bandmate and music project I'm thrilled about (HOLLAH), I have an increasingly thriving community, my financial situation is on the up-and-up, I'm learning bass, and my emotional state is lightyears beyond where it used to be. There are absolutely still challenges, but things have improved by at least a hundredfold.
Now, it's actually kind of crazy to remember what it was like when things really, really sucked. At the time, I struggled to recover from depression without medication, and found therapy to be almost completely ineffective. I scoured the internet and books in search of answers and waded through a LOT of bullshit. Meanwhile, my day-to-day existence was a roller coaster of suicidal thoughts, then breakthroughs; panic attacks, then exorcisms; insomnia, then victories. The journey was about four years: my second college education.
It is immensely gratifying for me to realize how far I have come, especially now that I am increasingly living with a deep sense of alignment and purpose.
So how the fuck did I get to where I am today?
I'm going to describe the three heavy hitters for my mental health: Network Spinal Analysis, therapeutic psychedelics, and hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
Let's dig in.
1. Network Spinal Analysis
Something I have concluded from my personal research and experience is that a vast majority of "mental health problems" all source from one thing: trauma.
"Trauma" is a very loaded word. So to keep things clear, the way I define trauma is as "unexpressed emotion." This can come from very awful and classically 'traumatizing' events such as violence, famine, or sexual assault, and from more subtle things like emotional neglect, silencing, and suppression of feelings.
When deep emotions such as grief, fear, anger, and rage come up, there is a surge of energy in the body. If the energy is not dispelled by the outward expression of that emotion, the energy becomes stuck in the body/subconscious. In the future, this causes you to re-enact and re-create the trauma of your past. So in order to truly recover from 'mental health problems,' you need to express and release these silenced emotions.
However, actually doing this is pretty challenging. Often, these memories are not readily accessible to the conscious mind. Instead, the memory of trauma is stored in the body and in the subconscious below the level of our awareness. These bodily/subconscious memories surface in dreams, tics, and seemingly uncontrollable emotions. So how do we change that? The answer I found was body-based modalities.
Early in 2018, I discovered Network Spinal Analysis and invested very heavily in it. Some $5,000 to $7,000 over the course of five months. The results were incredible. I was able to process all sorts of old blocked emotions, and I began to understand my depression as pent-up anger and grief that was stuck rather than moving. I was able to scream after 10 years of never screaming, and emotions in general began to be able to move through me much more easily.
Because of this work, my life began to organically come back into its own alignment.
If I were to peg my recovery to one thing, this would be it.
When I've brought this up with people, then people have generally been uncomfortable about the financial investment. But let me ask you this: would you rather spend money or spend 5 more years with depression (or anxiety)? Moreover, what are you currently spending on medications, on therapy, or on lost wages and sick days? I'll be honest: I went into credit card debt for this one, but it was worth every dime for how much better I am emotionally now.
Of course, Network Spinal Analysis is not the only body-based modality out there. Some others that my friends and acquaintances have had success with are: Feldenkreis, Rolfing, myofascial release, and EMDR. In my experience, psychedelics also seem to be able to access and release trauma.
(In the video, skip to 1:10 for an explanation of Network Spinal.)
- The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk (discusses how trauma works & affects mental health)
- The Twelve Stages of Healing by Donny Epstein (from the founder of Network Spinal, great overview of a different way of understanding healing)
- Homeopathy: Beyond Flat Earth Medicine by Tim Dooley (super perspective-shifting book about medicine and healthcare)
2. Therapeutic Psychedelics
There is recent research from very reputable universities that show strong promise for the effectiveness of psychedelics for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addictions (smoking, alcohol). The current evidence is limited, but very promising (we're talking 60%-80% success rates). I've linked some fancy-person studies, and I'll let you google it up if you want to find more casual references, but in the meantime, I'll elaborate on my personal experiences.
My first experience of psychedelics was taking LSD some 1200 miles into hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I experienced deep love and interconnectedness with the Universe and was like OMG THIS IS WHAT THE BUDDHA WAS FUCKING TALKING ABOUT. At that point, I had been reading Buddhist texts for years, with this vague and rather desperate hope to achieve enlightenment at some point, when I was very unexpectedly handed it by the Universe.
My second experience of psychedelics was 6 grams of mushrooms alone in a dark room. Commence emotional purging, flying through the universe, and making up to my ex over text (not sure how I was intelligible, but the next day I found my texts had impeccable spelling and grammar). Before the trip, I had lit some incense and wrote down all the problems I was experiencing at the time: panic attacks, depression, rampant insomnia, a breakup from a toxic relationship, debt, and poverty. I asked that the journey help me overcome these things in some way. I woke up the next day and looked over the list, and realized that none of the things I listed seemed relevant. They just weren't who I was, anymore.
Major re-wiring, yo.
Benefits I've experienced from psychedelics include deep emotional releases, rewiring of neural pathways/thinking patterns, connection with all of existence, and fundamental realizations about the true nature of reality.
NOTE: I also had an awful experience on psychedelics that acquainted me with pure and unadulterated terror and served me up a big platter of humility! Which brings me to: Do yo' research! Set yo' intentions! Pay attention to yo' setting! Get thee a trip-sitter and/or shaman! Take responsibility for yo' risks! Psychedelics are still illegal in most of the US (though decriminalized in Oakland, CA and Boulder, CO), and their safe and effective use is still being explored. (Though compared to alcohol...)
For me, any existing risk was worth it because the alternative was wanting to self-terminate.
- How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
- Tim Ferriss' interviews with Michael Pollan, Paul Stamets, Hamilton Morris, and Stan Grof,
- The studies I linked above
- Google Ayahuasca (I've not done Ayahuasca, but I've heard very good things)
3. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail
I could write a book on how my time on this trail changed my life. I'll stick to one of the biggest points though: spending 5 months on the PCT helped me fundamentally know reality.
What do I mean by this? In the civilized world, everything you see or experience is shaped by the experiences and perceptions of other people. Wheels were invented by people. As were pens, bricks, and skyscrapers. We are surrounded by these physical inventions as well as psychic and cultural inventions such as race, gender, politics, the way we engage with our emotions, conflict, ideas of success and value, etc. These psychic constructs are constantly reinforced within us by radio, television, ads, billboards, Netflix, music, etc.
What this means is that in the civilized world, we are essentially living in our collective dream. AND, as members of this collective dream, we are constantly re-creating the dream in the same shape because we have never seen the outside of our own construct.
By spending extended time in nature, we become acquainted how nature works outside of our human constructs. The trees grow according to their own wisdom. The plants and insects interact in dynamic and symbiotic webs. The civilized concept of causality becomes blurred as everything connects with everything else. You begin to realize that the Western concepts of reality are simply incorrect.
During my time on trail, I realized that depression is actually a symptom of human civilization being out of alignment with the Earth and with human nature.
All these realizations honestly made things a lot harder before they got easier. I came back to society and was shocked and horrified by how miserable, stressed, afraid, and out-of-alignment the majority of people were.
However, my time on trail made it immensely clear to me that depression is the symptom of misalignment with our planet. We are meant to be stewards and caretakers of our Earth, living with symbiosis with it as it develops into greater evolution and being.
These were the "Big Three" of my recovery journey, however, there are many more 'honorable mentions' that I will delineate in a sequel article.
So I have described the things that worked insanely well for me, but there are many ways to heal via a very different path than mine. However, I've noticed both in my experience and in other peoples' that my "Big Three" seem to represent three common factors for a true recovery process:
First, releasing emotion to move towards wholeness and authenticity.
Second, directly experiencing spirituality. (a.k.a. "direct revelation," "seeing God," "having a vision," etc.)
And third, developing a deep and reverent connection with nature.
All of these are interlinked ideas that mutually support each other. However, in my journey, these themes came up over and over again in different forms. This causes me to believe that these are the factors that facilitate true and lasting recovery from depression. So, if you find healing work that has any of these factors at its core, chances are good that you have come upon something that actually works.
So where to start?
My best advice is: GO WITH YOUR GUT!!
Which of these directions resonates with you as the direction to explore? What is something that feels like it must be done? Do that. If you're like "I KNEW IT, I ALWAYS WANTED TO WALDEN IT UP." Then fucking Walden it up. Or if you're like "What the FUCK is this Rolfing thing? It sounds weird enough to be for me!!" Then do that.
I believe that your body, mind, and soul have intelligence. Deep down, you are the one that knows the best direction for YOUR healing. NO ONE ELSE. In the end, you are the expert on your own destiny. Follow your gut, that niggling feeling, that strange and inexplicable desire. Whatever it is, do that.
Recovering from depression was the most difficult thing I have ever done. In that process, big parts my identity had to die to make way for a new and freer self to emerge. My conception of reality was deeply overhauled. My conception of what I was here on this Earth to do drastically changed.
I have begun to see depression as a sign that people are waking up. We're waking up to a society out of alignment with the planet. We're waking up to massive consumerism that fills our spaces, but not our souls. We wander about our lives with a sense of emptiness and lack of purpose. We are disconnected from our true feelings. We chase experience after experience and continue to feel incomplete. What is missing?
In retrospect, I no longer see my story as "recovering from depression" and more as "growing into my truest and most authentic self." Growing into greater alignment with my purpose, the Earth, the powers that be, and the ancestry before and after me.
I have come to believe now that true recovery from depression is a shedding process wherein previous identities die in the flames of pain. Sounds kinda melodramatic, but my recovery process was a long process of stepping into the fire and rising from the ashes over and over and over, until enough layers came off that I could begin to go about my life in a whole, vibrant, and aligned way.
True recovery is actually a transformation process. It is surrendering yourself to the fire so that you may step into your greatest self.
It will be difficult. It will be scary. It will hurt. And it will be the best thing you've ever done.
Many blessings on your journey. Thank you.
This is Part 1 of a two-part article! Stay tuned or join our mailing list (bottom of the page) for the next one. :)
Thank you again to Anna for reaching out and inspiring me to write this article!! 🙏
If you, my dear reader, also have any questions, I invite you to send them ovahhh and I'll probably write a way-too-long article on it. You can comment below or message me personally if you'd prefer not to be public about things. :)
You can reach me @aurorasmedley on FB or IG