Taking Care of Each Other

Sep 10, 2014

Mikki Baloy was working in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. Following the tragic events of that day, she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. "I don't remember laughing for two years" she says. The recent suicide of Robin Williams led Mikki to contemplate, and write about, her own journey into and through depression -- and what has helped her brave these dark waters.

From what I’ve seen all over the internet lately, we’re all going to miss Robin Williams. Aside from the obvious shock and sadness, there are also expressions of dismay at his apparent suicide, and messages of outrage about the stigmatization of addiction and misunderstandings around depression and mental illness. I’ve even seen messages like “He must not have known how much we loved him.”

We can’t know what he was thinking or feeling in his last days, or even exactly what his diagnoses were.  We can surmise all we want in an attempt to make sense of this loss, but when all is said and done, all there is to do is accept it. This is how it is with every loss, with every puzzle of disorder and grief. At some point, we just have to accept that there are pieces missing, and that the picture is too big and complex to see all at once.

From the fall of 2001 until well into 2003, I was depressed. I’m not entirely sure about the nature of clinical versus incident-specific depression, since my training as a shamanic healer makes me see these things differently than mainstream allopathic and psychological perspectives, but I do know that I was diagnosed definitively at that time with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression, and was offered medication (that I didn’t take). Most of this pain was a direct result of being in Lower Manhattan on 9/11.  I don’t remember laughing at all for those two years. Things that I used to live for were suddenly burdensome, and I resented that I couldn’t enjoy them anymore. I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, such that I was incapable of making plans more than a day or two in advance— the future was too uncertain, you see, so why look forward to anything? I had no libido, no real appetite for anything. Life was dry and grey, such that I actually didn’t wear the color grey for years because being around that color was too much like looking in a mirror.  I drank a lot. I ruminated on dark things of every description, and prepared myself for fights and confrontations that I always expected would happen. I felt veiled, muffled, surrounded by dense fog that was exhausting to move through. And no matter how I tried to give myself pep talks, they always fell on deaf ears.

Mikki.jpeg This is the thing about depression: I knew I needed help. I knew I wasn’t feeling the way I wanted to. I worried about myself. I also had some shame about feeling so shitty when I “have everything” and “I’m really so lucky” and “what about having some gratitude and working on manifesting good things, Mik?” But pain isn’t relative: it’s just painful. It didn’t matter how I thought I should feel, or turning the frown upside down or whatever bullshit clichés people use when they have a bad day. Taking care of myself was a Sisyphean task that required huge amounts of energy and wherewithal, even when I tried to tell myself otherwise. And people would tell me they loved me, but I couldn’t ever really feel it. I didn’t think they were lying, but there was numbness where my heart should have been.

When I was prompted by a friend to see a therapist, I was surprised and relieved that she mentioned it.  I got my diagnosis and went home, and then never went back to that office again; I just accepted what seemed like fate ---which meant I wasn’t really ready for healing. A year later, while working for a 9/11 foundation, I met David Grand at a work-related function, and he invited me in for a session. It seemed unprofessional to refuse a colleague’s offer (though there was also some intuitive alignment here), so a week later we sat down in his Manhattan office, and suddenly my life was different. The fog lifted. The feeling started coming back into my heart. I noticed energy and will I’d forgotten I possessed.  That one-hour session began to unravel the cocoon I’d been in for two years.

Had my friend not listened and encouraged me to ask for help, I know for sure that I wouldn’t have had the initiative to see a therapist at all. Had I not been approached and invited by David, I would not have gone in for those sessions. I needed help, and I couldn’t help myself.

I will be forever grateful to David Grand (and later Christine Ranck), and his specialized approach that includes EMDR. He may have saved my life, for even though I wasn’t suicidal at the time, if the depression and anxiety had continued… who knows? I can’t imagine years of feeling the way I did, and my heart goes out to those who are journeying with long-term depression and are still hanging in there: Keep going, Loves! For me and countless others, EMDR is an incisive, quick, patient-led, and extremely effective modality that targets the root causes of PTSD and its attendant symptoms, like depression and panic attacks. I credit my experience and the resiliency I discovered with kick-starting my entire journey, leading me to shamanic training and to embracing my calling as a healer.

 

There have been smaller, shorter bouts of depression since 2003, but I have a toolbox to work with now. Shamanic healing has been a necessary part of my spiritual evolution as well as a brass-tacks way to navigate hard times. (And if you’re struggling today, please know you can call me for a session. I mean it.) It also focuses on the root causes of imbalance, and has the added function of bringing ceremony, ritual, and a sense of the sacred into the work of healing. Estrangement from Spirit, however you define that – nature, love, sweetness, God, higher self – is part and parcel with depression. Shamanic healing is an access road back to that feeling of connection.

 I also have several good friends who would pick me up physically and carry me to a ceremony if they knew I was depressed again. And that’s what it takes sometimes. If you’ve never experienced it, you may not know that depression can be wholly debilitating and scary, such that it’s hard to even change the channel on the TV, let alone make a healthy decision for yourself. If you saw someone you loved crawling on the floor, wouldn’t you offer them an arm to help them stand?  That’s what it might take to start healing through some of the layers of grief, anger, and trauma that get superimposed onto otherwise vital people. We need to take care of each other. 

Perhaps that’s one of the gifts of depression and other imbalances (for I do believe that every form of suffering contains a teaching): in that horrible, isolating pain, we learn we simply cannot live alone. We are equal in our need for each other, for healing, and for a sense of connection and hope. And each of us has some capacity to pray, to make the phone call, to check in on that friend who’s been struggling lately.

 So please, go do that.

Let’s also send a collective prayer out to Robin, wherever he is now, and to his loved ones. And to all of those who are pushing that boulder up the hill, may they receive the help they need. May there be grace and strength enough for all of us, to help each other and ourselves as we walk the road home.

Mikki Shaman.jpg

Mikki Baloy is a shamanic healer, ceremonialist, yoga teacher, and retreat facilitator with an active practice in Westchester County, NY. She is featured in two books about post-disaster resiliency, and keeps a blog at www.shamanmikki.com.

-- Christina Holbrook, for Gutsy Gals




Category: Stories