A great thing about having survived extreme psychosis is that you learn to not trust your sense perceptions one-hundred per cent. Whereas before I might have thought someone was shit-talking me when they offered constructive criticism, now I can’t be entirely sure whether it’s my super ego reading them wrong or whether the whole situation is just a projection of my mind. I understand that this might seem scary, forever not knowing whether what I’m perceiving is reality or illusion, but the other cool thing about surviving these experiences is that such a quandary is hardly frightening when a few weeks ago I was convinced I had died in the ambulance and woken up in hell. I now understand that my heart had not stopped and the doctors were not going to zap me with the defibrillator because I was the anti-Christ. I now understand that the nurses in the psych ward were trying to help me, not poison my food. I now understand that when I perceive a person’s feedback to be judgemental criticism it is entirely because that has been the way I have chosen to interpret their behaviour. This is what I talk about when I talk about traversing the darkness.
I just lost a draft on Mum’s Asus about traversing the darkness through psychosis. Thankfully I learned from Hemingway that sometimes it helps to trash your drafts and write them from scratch, which is easy to say when you’re writing with a fucking quill. When the ghost in the machine takes the initiative to do this for me, my only recourse for subduing the rage is a hit of Manitou organic. It was also helpful to point ny finger at the computer and say, through gritted teeth, “Are you serious!? Are you fucking serious!?” I guess it’s just not time for me to think I can explain any of this to myself, let alone anyone else. And it sure as shit ain’t no time for blame. The ghost in the machine has protected me before from my engorged sense of intellectual pride. Why not now?
Aaaaaaaand … the document was recovered, replete without the over-intellectualised stuff. Yay!
after Milan Kundera
Due to recent awakenings I have decided to update my About page in the spirit of Milan Kundera, which means there will be almost no explicit information about “me” from now on.
In the spirit of lingering nostalgia, I am posting here, below, the last bio that I hope I will ever have written.
Meanwhile, in the early 2000s, I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being, an edition bearing the author’s then-characteristic two-line bio. There is now biographical information online about him, but around the time I read the book I also read something about how he is a very private man, who preferred to keep the story of his life to himself, in the hope that his books would speak for themselves.
I am intimately familiar with the reader’s desire to know how much of a book is based on the author’s actual life:
I was once asked, by an editor, about my sexual orientation, because their colleague had decided that the fiction I was publishing at the time was “thinly veiled autobiographical fiction”, which it was, but even then I felt uncomfortable about others making judgements about me based on what I had fictionalised about my life;
I often like to read around the books I’m reading, to discover more about what might have motivated the author to depict what they have depicted —
it’s a natural curiosity, but, ultimately, it’s a misguided curiosity, for reasons I don’t feel like going into right now.
All I can say is that I trust it will be enough that I am sharing my story here, without having to or expecting anyone to buy into this as being my story, because this is not my story:
the details that will slowly emerge on this blog are the common story of suffering and the desire for its cessation.
That will have to be enough for now.
I never finished the cycle tour I mention below … actually that’s not true: I finished the tour, only not when I had expected. But we all know what they say about expectations being the sure road to disappointment.
I’m not disappointed that I ended the tour early — I was disappointed, but I’m not anymore. I did what I had to do, and I continue doing that to this day, in each and every moment. Right now I feel the need to share this “final” bio, because for as long as we remain encased in these human bodies, we do need at least a little context if we’re going to truly understand each other, if we’re going to empathise for long enough to know that each and every one of us desires the cessation of suffering.
So here it is, and the time is now:
In 2015 i experienced a depression like i hadn’t yet experienced – it was both miserable and profound. Holed up in Castlemaine, Victoria, smoking far too much weed, i was only going deeper and deeper into a crushing sort of existential apathy. So i left. And now i’m here, cycling Australia to escape from (and raise awareness of) depression, anxiety and addiction. I’ll be blogging about it here and running a Facebook page – my intention is to initiate an open, diverse conversation about the sort of mental-health issues we all face on some level in our current society.
Is it Working?
So far so good. It might not be clear how a person could escape depression through cycle touring, but i knew i needed to get out of Head and into Body, and all i can say right now is that on Day Three i cried with Joy, which hadn’t happened for a long time while i was languishing in Castlemaine, depressed and addicted. And as i wrote this i feel my love of Language, Expression and Communication being stoked. It could have been the Fire i was sitting next to that was helping me feel warm Inside, and (camp)fire is definitely a big part of it, but there’s a lot to be said for Naturally treating Depression by dragging up the Courage from Inside you and setting out to do what you Love, whatever that is. I’m still smoking cigarettes, but i haven’t smoked marijuana since i left (apart from some kiff i took with me for the first day), and apart from some drinking in Mallacoota, i haven’t drunk alcohol with the Intention to obliterate Feelings. I feel very strongly about the idea #intention is an important factor in how drugs effect us, and how our use of them can transform into abuse, or abnormal use. Using a drug to enhance or celebrate Feeling (even so-called bad ones) can have great benefits – using them to suppress Feeling can be disastrous. So yes, it’s working, because i k(no)w longer feel a strong desire to abuse myself with misguided (ab)use of drugs. I still have Moments where i feel down, but it’s no longer that pervasive, heavy, impenetrable Feeling of Depression, just the Natural ebb and flow between happiness and sadness, contentment and frustration. And i only feel anxious when i don’t Trust myself, which i reckon is a Healthy sort of Anxiety, an existential warning sign that going with Head is going to land me in trouble, whereas going with Heart is going to land me in Love.
Dear friends, lovers, guardians, hopers and haters,
Please find attached, the following photos of my original laughing face, along with the following notes.
I got yoga drunk yesterday and took some selfies on Mum’s computer. I let my bun down to finish the session, and while I was happily taking photos of myself I found some old selfies that seem to be from when I came back from Thailand in late 2012. The video selfie is especially hilarious, and I enjoyed myself very much in this process of gazing at my own smiling face. You may notice that I happen to be wearing the same necklace in all of these photos, albeit five years apart. Coincidence is not a thing. The last photo is from this morning, after I cut short a yoga practice that was riddled with thoughts and excitement about the things I’d like to express to everyone as an antidote to depression.
The last three months of my life have been extra-ordinarily hard, characterised by some of the most intense psychological suffering I have ever experienced (including a week-long stint at Nambour’s notoriously shonky psych ward, starving on gruel and adamantly refusing their medication, doing yoga and scolling herbal teas that a mate had sent me), but through yoga and some other dedicated self-care practices, I have emerged out the other side with a feeling of hope and thoughts of positivity that are also unprecedented in my life.
It seems to be true, what they say: to reach the greatest heights we have to plumb the lowest depths. And now, here I am. This is me, and it feels fucking great to reveal my original face. As a young boy I was always too insecure to grow my hair (Mum always lovingly joked that my hair was so thick there must be three hairs coming out of each follicle, and it would grow to an inch long before it finally fell over into a dark-brown mop), despite the conviction that I had been born decades too late and was actually a hippy at heart. (I was actually born premature, to arrive on Christmas Eve, Mum’s birthday.)
But I’m no hippy. I thought I was, but I’m not. All I can say now is that I am a verb, or possibly an accumulation of actions. That’s all I might know for now.
At various times in my life I have been a self-identifying working-class bogan, hipster, arts wonk, nomad, metal head, cyclist, reader, writer, editor, whatever — a dear friend and former colleague once described my style as hobo-chic. I have worn many costumes, and all in the vain effort to “fit in” somewhere. After many years of campaigning Mum to let me set the clippers to zero, I was a skinhead for ten years, and even back in primary school I used to “hellbolt” through the playground with two of my friends after we watched Romper Stomper. Believe it or not, I have, before, referred to Asian people as “gooks”. One of my favourite comedians used to be Andrew Dice Clay.
I, like many other 80s born Australian males, appropriated a racist attitude from the suburban culture around me at the time. Thankfully, I escaped from that culture and I now identify as a survivor. During the intervening years I moved to the city, got work in publishing, and began experimenting with all sorts of lifestyles and ways of being. I used a lot of drugs, mostly soft, and mostly recreational. I drank a lot of booze. I’ve been a drug addict, an alcoholic, a workaholic. I’ve experienced internet addiction, porn addiction, sugar addiction, and above all the addiction to the potentially false belief that matter exists and is separate from other matter.
I have been grasping and grasping at this thing we call reality with our rationality-heavy minds. And I don’t even want to think about how many cigarettes I chain-smoked while busting my nut trying to understand these things using my considerable intellect. All in the vain hope to suppress the pain of being embodied spirit, a temporarily unique individual with a human body, on the planet Earth, in a culture where diversity is espoused as a value by those who would prefer to see us freaks and poets divided and conquered.
The pressure I felt to conform with society’s homogenising forces has proved to be profoundly dangerous: my determination to be myself through identity experiments left me feeling deeply confused about who I was. I have been a man of many names: Ryan Peter Paine; Swami Bodhi Abhijan; Ryan Bodhi Abhijan; Abhijan to some, Ahbi to others, and Abby to the older Victorian gentlemen I met in Castlemaine; I have been Bodhi to some, and Brodie to others; I have been called Painey, poofter and punk; on Facebook I was Grammaticus Paine, and then Uhn Sure; and who knows what else I’ve been called by people who never really knew me; with one of my oldest friends I share the nickname Knob, and this person once published a Wikipedia page in my honour … Ryan Paine, the recursive acronym for Ryan You Are A kNob, Please Answer In Normal English. This was after one of my characteristic drunken raves at Hogs Breath Café near Holden Hill, Adelaide. My stepdad calls me Rhinosaurus Rex, or Rhino for short. I have been described by my Path of Love angel as a stallion crossing Australia’s central dessert. Whatever labels I have appropriated over the years, I am powerfully compassionate human being who has suffered much at the hands, hearts and minds of others, but most especially at the hands of my own deranged identity. Not anymore.
The man who assaulted me at Christmas just gone was calling me Rollo, apparently after a character in the TV show Vikings, which I had never seen. At the time I was wearing a big red goatee beard with ever-wispy chops, a pair of hippy pants, and an engorged sense of pride for being environmentally aware. I won’t go much more into that story, except to say that his reluctance or inability to remember my name felt like an affront, and it was — to my ego. Expecting a drunk redneck to remember my Sanskrit name is my own fault, as was allowing my anger to get the better of me enough to retaliate. After he grabbed me by the beard, punched a crescent-moon gash next to my left eye (ripping half my beard out in one clump), and proceeded to wail on me until two elderly women pulled him off, I rushed myself (with Mum’s help and via two emergency rooms) to Chenrezig Institute, where I completed Kopan Down Under, a two-week training course in the lam-rim (The Graduated Path to Enlightenment), because I knew, even as the punches were raining down on my passivity, that this never would have happened if I had been maintaining my spiritual practice of meditation, yoga and dharma study.
The way I see it, these Buddhist teachings and practices are essentially a sort of de-conditioning from the false identity structures that form as our ego when we go about the world trying to be someone “society” wants us to be. I had done this kind of work before, but never at this level. My poor fractured self was not yet ready for me to start shedding major ego structures. We need a sense of self (an ego, or an i-sense) before we can start shedding the conditioning that we accrue by going about the world trying to meet expectations. If we don’t have a strong understanding of who we are before we start doing this work, shit starts getting really fucking scary.
After unskilfully and mistakenly taking someone else’s medication (we thought it was valium, and I hadn’t been sleeping well because I was a week and a half out of a 20-year marijuana habit … I’m 33 today), and by pursuing renunciation (of the self) with a fervour I hadn’t known before, I began to feel like my mind was going to crack and I would die from delusions of grandeur. In the week and a half following I experienced three major “psychotic” episodes and wound up in Nambour’s loony bin,
which I survived.
I’m sharing this here earlier than I had anticipated, because all of a sudden it feels kind of urgent — after taking these photos for myself, seeing how beautiful they are, and wanting to share them with you my friends, I felt like writing and soon understood these photos are about more than pure vanity. I am not sharing these to show you how handsome I am or how luscious my hair is. I am sharing these photos to show you the face of a survivor.
Writing that makes me feel emotional in a way that I haven’t felt for the whole month of January 2017 (a major teaching and practice of the Buddhism I have been learning is to not buy into the thoughts and emotions we use to justify our stories, for this only anchors us in the past, fuels our desire for some non-existent future, and bolsters the super ego). The emotion I feel when I write that, if it can be called an emotion, is hope … hope that my story, as I write it and share it online, will inspire others to continue seeking, continue the journey to find out who you really are. Because whether you know it yet or not, you are deeply and utterly and completely beautiful — you are compassionate, and free from fear. Others will try to convince you otherwise in various ways, and that’s only because they haven’t yet seen their own beauty. No one who knows their beauty would ever disparage the beauty of another. I know this from direct experience.
And I know from direct experience that there is absolutely a way to find yourself. It’s a cliché, I know, and I’ve been saying for a long time that clichés are clichés for a reason. I started writing a poem up at Chenrezig, which I continued in the ward. As an endnote to these photos I will share the first three lines:
I travelled halfway round the world
to find my
Okay, that’s four lines! It’s a work in progress, à la life.
May you find the peace that is inherent in your self and may your dreams blossom as the lotus does from cow dung. Suffering exists, and there is a way to cause its cessation.
Your sannyasin brother, friend and lover,
I had a major breakthrough yesterday – details to come, and may the insights be of benefit to all sentient beings. Praise the Buddha!
Hi everyone – just a quick update: i won’t be able to respond to all of your beautiful messages until late January, because the lam-rim retreat starts tomorrow and there is no computer here that i can use. The lam rim is, to quote a student here, a teaching of “the entire Buddhist path to enlightenment”. To be glib about it, you could say it’s a step-by-step how-to guide for reaching nirvana and escaping samsara. No biggie! Much of the retreat is in silence, and of course i will be offline for the duration. You are all in my prayers and may the work we are doing here benefit all sentient beings and non-sentient organisms. Buddha, what a legend!
I have re-activated my Facebook account Black Dog Barking because i need to call in support right now: i was hospitalised on Christmas day after i mistakenly and unskillfully called someone out for being racist, and bigoted about the environmental crises we are all facing as a species on this planet. I was not entirely blameless, but the attack was hardly warranted, and vicious enough that I was lucky to survive. I have learnt some extraordinarily valuable lessons from the incident already, and i am now safe in Brisbane with Mum and on the way to Chenrezig monastery, where i will stay for as long as i need to heal and get the mind-training i need to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.
Life is precious and i have a great deal to offer this beautiful world if i can just learn how to heal the psychological wounds that have contributed to major depression, anxiety and addiction these last few years – if i had done that when the signs first began to present themselves, this never would have happened.
So i’m asking you to get in touch with kind words, inspiring music (the only song i have on my new phone is ‘Nothing Compares to You’, which i have already played to death) and photos of us during the happy times. I am asking you to remind me of the qualities i possess, but which i forget when i fall into the pit of self-loathing.
And i am writing to say that civil unrest is upon us, folks. There was a fight over water in the valley where i live. The reason i got angry during this altercation is i am tired of tolerating the fallacious arguments of the last-ditch attempt to justify the destruction of our own habitat. This is just the beginning – if we continue depleting our finite resources, we’re going to start … no, *continue* killing each other for them.
We need to change our lifestyles. My way of doing this is in the monastery – whatever your way is, DO IT NOW. The future doesn’t exist – the only time for action is the now-time we live in.
And if you’re feeling depressed or anxious or otherwise unsure how to respond to the challenges we face today, DON’T DELAY in seeking help. Contact Beyond Blue or your favourite local source of spiritual succour.
If you want to get in touch, please send me a message and i will send you my new number or my email or whichever is your preferred medium.
Much love, and be kind to yourself,