By Edward-Yemil Rosario

As humans we need love, we crave connection and empathy more than anything else. We need it more than food or sustenance. This is not an exaggeration on my part; we literally die without connection. Children especially are vulnerable in this aspect. Our neurology — the way we’re wired — makes it that way. At the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, infants suffering from the disease were consciously neglected by nurses ignorantly fearful that they would somehow become infected. Many of these children died quickly. One woman, noticing that those children who were coddled thrived, created a foundling hospital where the workers made it their business to caress, hold, embrace, and emotionally nurture these little angels.

We literally die without connection.

So today, this is about the journey back home, or rather, how I came home to healing and wholeness. I think I mentioned that my own “recovery” included psychological, physical, and spiritual components.

A physical manifestation arises from our feelings. How we feel and connect directly shapes brain structure, for example. Let me repeat that because it begs reinforcement. How we relate and connect with one another changes the very structure of your brain. Hugging, caressing, physical expressions of affection literally help make crucial neuronal connections and shape who we are and how we perceive the world and relate to it. We don’t know that much about the genesis of depression (or “mood disorders”), but we do know that brain function is altered. Clinically depressed individuals suffer from neurochemical imbalances. For some this imbalance progresses to the point where the ability of carrying on even the mundane tasks of daily living is severely hampered. Another example comes from those suffering from addiction, the reward center — how we experience pleasure and pain — is altered (and there is some preliminary evidence that it’s altered permanently).

No amount of willpower will change this.

Medication is necessary for many suffering from depression and there is nothing wrong with that. However, because of pressure from insurance companies and incentives from drug companies, the medical establishment has come to depend too much on pills as a way out of depression. This is dangerous and unethical, in my opinion. We don’t even know the long-term effects of these drugs and we certainly know very little about balancing the brain’s chemical makeup However, an ideal approach to depression would combine drugs with psychotherapy along with a support component.

Psychologically, there is a cognitive component to depression. And this is where therapy would come in handy. In my work, I always run into what I call faulty belief systems and thought constellations. Many of us (and not just those who are depressed) actually buy into beliefs that have no foundation in reality. A good therapeutic approach would challenge these belief systems and the accompanying thoughts that arise from the beliefs. The belief/ thought, which begins with “I have always been ____,” is often based on a myth. Believe me, you weren’t always anything, no one is that good. No one, not even you, can be that fucked up all the time. However, the belief that you were/ are dumb, inadequate, depressed, addicted, ugly, fat, skinny, stupid is a powerful force serving as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Contrary to what you have been told or believe, you’re all right just as you are this moment. At the bottom of the garbage can of your faulty beliefs is a luminous beautiful luminous life-force — a human being. Dig it out, dust it off, clean it up, and you’ll experience its glow. We can’t keep blaming our childhood and parents, folks.

The word spirituality comes from the Latin root meaning “to breathe.” It’s the one common aspect we all share as humans, we all breathe in the same air — we all share the same air supply on this small green little tuft of soil we call earth. And in that way we are all connected. Therefore, I define spirituality broadly. I see spirituality as the web of connection that binds us all to one another and to our ecology. It’s that simple. No burning bushes, no commandments, no having to accept Jesus or anybody else as your savior before you are saved, born again, experience redemption, etc. — none of that.

Faith? Very important, but not there are many different forms of faith — not just the blind faith often associated with extreme forms of religiosity. When I speak of faith, I am referring to the state of trusting in the experience of our lives. We use faith all the time and maybe the second step toward wholeness is to take that one leap of faith that we can realize genuine happiness in this very life.

You might ask me if I believe in God, or in an afterlife, or heaven and hell and my answer to you would be: what the fuck does any of that have to do with the price of potatoes in the big city?!!

If there is a God it’s love. Period.

That’s it in a nutshell, a holistic approach that’s psycho-spiritual in orientation — that’s my path. I won’t go into details about my chosen spiritual path because I refuse to be a public relations man for a specific spirituality. I think it’s important to connect, to bond with others and with your environment, sharing our pain as well as our joys, not so we can co-sign each other’s bullshit, but to lovingly and firmly challenge one another to own up to our shared humanity. We have a physiology that is made for connection and when we lose sight of that connection, we become ill. Therefore, recovery, or healing, is about taking steps to re-connect, to celebrate our humanity and our innate essential goodness.



13 Comments on “SACRED SORROWS”

  1. Being in the private healthcare industry for almost 18 years–notably in GP/Internal Med practices–I can attest firsthand that clinical depression and its wide spectrum of related conditions are mis- and overly diagnosed an alarmingly high… number of times. The influence of insurance companies and tricks of the pharmaceutical industry that you mention are part of the problem, indeed. Because of terms in their policies that effectively penalize them if they seek treatment with the proper mental health professionals, many patients turn to their family doc for something that even the best of them are really not qualified to treat. And when it comes to those nice little perks that the drug sales reps like to dangle while they pitch their mood med du jour, even physicians with the highest sales resistance are more prone to write ‘scripts for the most oft-peddled pills. All this plus no referrals or even recommendations are given for supplementary therapy. I’ve seen these scenarios over and over!

  2. What infuriates me is the interference of the insurance companies and HMO’s in dictating treatment plans. Medication without talk therapy may provide an immediate intervention in crisis, but ultimately is not the best treatment for depressi…on – and many if not most plans will not pay for an adequate amount of sessions. I am also against the practice of assessing and diagnosing an individual based on 1 or 2 sessions (2 if you’re lucky) – people are constantly misdiagnosed and your chances of healing are not great if you’re being treated for the wrong illness. Suddenly EVERYONE is bipolar – maybe we’re just a bunch of moody bastards? hmmmmm?

  3. Yeah, Puma you’re right on point re: how treatment is run on a business model and most of those writing scripts for medication are doctors (GPs), not mental health pros. I forgot to include the link where it was shown that in some municipalities medication is so rampant, it’s leeching into the drinking water!

  4. “I think it’s important to connect, to bond with others and with your environment, sharing our pain as well as our joys, not so we can co-sign each other’s bullshit, but to lovingly and firmly challenge one another to own up to our shared humanity. We have a physiology that is made for connection and when we lose sight of that connection, we become ill.”

    Beautiful. You said it all. There is nothing else I can say.

  5. I will say it again although you said it: as infants we must be touched, caressed, talked to, looked at, in order to be “at home” in our skins. This is not a psychological theory; this has been proven by pictures of brain physiology. Possibly permanent, yes, but I would never underestimate the power of person-to-person connection no matter how late in life it comes about. Neither do you, as I read.

  6. Connie: thanks for you insider’s take on this issue. Sadly, the REAL bogeyman here is the for-profit health care model, wherein profits matter more than actual health.

  7. Benni: I’m walking proof of the plasticity (the ability to adapt and change) of the brain/ mind/ body system.

    It’s interesting that at least two of the respondents here are mental health workers.

    For people interested in the link between relationships and the brain, see “A General Theory of Love.”

  8. A beautifully written article and yet somehow to me it seems incomplete, because we have not talked about how to make these reconnections. Or new connection for those who have never had them. The plasticity of the brain and the mystery thereof is great but the rebuilding of good is not something talked about or taught enough. We have discounted our shaymen, our “withcdoctors” or Grandmothers those who would have been there to provide a path. Medicine does help but it never helps on its own as its only objective is to block and replace what we have starved ourselves of. It doesn’t build a community or faith or a spirtuality for us. To do this we need others and we need others who aren’t afraid of censorship while they are helping because most of the time the ones with the wisdom don’t have a bunch of fancy lettering after their names.

  9. Eddie, I think we’re all agreed that medication doesn’t tackle the underlying causes for the problem, it only suppresses the problem for awhile. As you pointed out, early on in your article, depression is generally the result of low self esteem. Somehow, the person becomes hoodwinked into thinking the particular attributes assigned to him or her are not quite up to par, therefore of little value. This particular mental state is of a great deal of concern to me as Alaska has the highest percentage of teen suicide per capita of any state in the union. Village Native suicides among the youth are double the suicides of young whites. They’ve come up with a dozen government programs to try and alleviate this problem; usually through some rather intrusive means, but the youth themselves, are not being listened to. What they are saying is being taken to mean that their lifestyles themselves are inadequate and need changing, when in fact if you listen closely, you will hear that they love their life styles, but that when they compare their lives to the modern world, they feel small and ugly, not beautiful and unique. A friend of mine has been planning to return to Barrow, after living in our community for nearly five years. She has four precious daughters, which we’ve watched develop from toddlers, to young girls. It seemed horrible to me, she’d rob the community of these fresh faced, glowing children and i asked her, “oh why do you want to leave? Aren’t you happy here?” She answered yes, but only in Barrow could she really be “Eskimo”.

    This saddened me because it was true. They couldn’t hop on their snow machines and go hunting whenever they pleased. They couldn’t hold giant potlatches in their yards, inviting people for miles around to pile in and cozy up wherever there was shelter. They couldn’t spend their afternoons performing Native dances. We live by municipality laws, which issues licenses and permits, which governs what is public, private and what creates a nuisance. The depression is the collision course of the two life styles and can only be resolved when the validity of cultural distinctions are recognized.

  10. What a great article and discussion. Thank you Eddie for share with is your holistic journey of healing. I find it interesting how the comments reflect the division in view points that exist around the world about mental illness and wellness. The medical and pharmaceutical establishment is an easy target for us to point the finger at. But I fear that when we do that it takes us away from the key issue which you and others here have well defined. Connection and community. Without these most organisms do not flourish. When a child suffers from neglect and abuse early in life it does in fact change their brain development and structure (see Dr Schure’s work out of UCLA). But Grainne, Karlsie and Eddie make important points. Grainne mentioned neuroplasticity. And i would add neurogenesis. Our brains can and do heal. Karlsie and Eddie talked about the importance of community and connectedness. Mental illness is real and can be successfully treated. Many times by people without fancy initials after their names. But what is treatment without connection and purpose afterwords?

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