Euthymia Trains and Squirrel Stars

Originally posted on my newsletter, The Standard Rainbow Hour, which you should subscribe to (free)

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Hi all,

CHECKING IN

As I write this I am full of anxiety and maybe half full of depression. My stomach feels unpleasant and my whole body has a slight buzzing sensation, both of which I attribute to anxiety. My bank account is making the sad sucking noise of an empty McDonald’s shake. Collections agents don’t even bother to leave voicemails anymore. A rambunctious puppy is sitting next to me chewing on a toy that he destroyed in five minutes. He doesn’t chip in for rent but he fills me with love and occasionally the most frustration. Outside, I am living in probably the most pleasant place in America. It is 70 degrees, sunny, with a sea breeze coming in off the sea.

I have lots of doubts about the future, about money, work, home, and love. I feel an old familiar feeling, the sensation of a vast, unscalable wall, between me and what I want.*

*Spoiler alert: The wall is trauma.

The above is what is known as a check-in.  I am in with that. Now you go.

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I’m thinking every two weeks for this email. Sometimes I will embed an essay, sometimes I will adopt a digest form if I have too many things to say (frequent problem). I’ll probably include some links I think are worthy. Like Doctor Peyo, the hospice horse.

Read on:

FIRST, SOME FUN NEWS,

and some recent history. During the early days of the pandemic, I was looking for solace, and I found it in a badly worn squirrel puppet I’d rescued from a Goodwill in Bellingham. I put the puppet on my right hand, opened his furry mouth, and out came this Boston—New York accent. Squirrel was born.

Today I opened my TikTok app to check on my videos, and saw that I had 500 notifications. My third video, in which Squirrel advocates that we stop making war with ourselves, has about 18,000 views at this writing. I’m not exactly sure what that means on TikTok, but that video has been viewed more times than the rest of the Squirrel Dialogues project combined.

A word of caution.  The way of views lies madness. Internet fame is a tricksy dragon. I’ve dabbled with it in the past.  It comes and goes in a heartbeat.  It doesn’t pay well. And the numbers become a kind of drug,  tied directly to one’s mood. Not great.

So enough about numbers. What matters to me is that a lot of people watched the video, about a third of them “liked” it, and rather many of the commenters told me Squirrel made them cry. Which means, miraculously, that I have transmitted my message of compassion, through a squirrel puppet, through digital video, through a mysterious algorithm, into the hearts of those who need it.

This tells me that Squirrel is on the right track. I follow in his paw prints.

OTHER THINGS I’VE MADE RECENTLY

Is something weighing on you? – Squirrel Dialogues

Thank you for being here – Squirrel Dialogues

The Last Post of Leeza Of Beaverton – Lord Bezos Rides South

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EVAN, TELL US MORE ABOUT KETAMINE

TL;DR (Too long; didn’t read) version

I’m going to write more about ketamine therapy, other trauma-informed therapies, and Complex PTSD (It’s complicated™). Stay tuned.

Medium-long version:

In late 2019, I made the very uncomfortable step of talking publicly about my mental health challenges, and the work I was doing to address them. I called the endeavor The Euthymia Train.

The train choo-chooed through depression, and anxiety. It whistled and wooshed through high-dose ketamine-assisted psychotherapy. And then there was a loud clunk and a lever was thrown and the train sidetracked into a dark tunnel. And there, I admit, I allowed the Euthymia Train to choo choo into the distance.

“Euthymia” refers to an equanimous mood, neither positive nor negative. It is a word I discovered during the early days of my mental health research. In 2019, my goal was euthymia: For the depression and anxiety I was feeling every day to subside to alrightness.

I now have a loftier goal for this train I am riding.

I’m now interested not just in alrightness but *thriving*. And the more I investigate what it means to thrive, the more I find the western mental health model completely inadequate to the task. Because thriving touches all aspects of a human life. It’s well above and beyond what mental healthcare typically touches. It’s like asking firefighters to combat climate change, which is another dumb thing we’re doing.

If thriving is our goal, then our approach to mental health must necessarily be much broader based, more holistic.

I’ll speak for myself. I used to think I had two mental illnesses: depression, and anxiety.  I no longer think that. I think depression and anxiety are the tip of the iceberg.

The next layer is a raft of other symptoms: Self-abandonment, toxic inner critic, dissociation, all under the banner of Complex PTSD.

The next layer is childhood trauma transmitted to me by my parents.

The next layer is intergenerational trauma transmitted to my parents by my grandparents. There are probably dozens of layers of further intergenerational trauma. [Resmaa Menakem talks about how European Americans can trace their intergenerational trauma back to the extraordinary violence of late middle ages Europe.]

Deeper still we broaden to society, to the breakdown of the social fabric, the breakdown of extended families and tightknit communities.

Deeper and broader still, I see the inherent violence of capitalism, of systems of oppression, of inequality.

Deeper still I see an estrangement from our fellow humans and our natural home and fellow living creatures.

Near the vast base of the iceberg I see a fundamental and unmet longing for love, for connection, for purpose.

The bottom of the iceberg is a dark and mysterious thing but I suspect it is entirely spiritual in nature.

~

So, I see layers of trauma, of wounding, of unmet needs. In myself, and in everyone around me.

And I find our paltry interventions at the top of the iceberg to be inadequate, the garden hose on the forest fire. I find myself digging deeper, motivated by a single question: Why? I want to know why. I want to know why I am so wounded. And why my neighbors and loved ones are as well.

I think healing lies in the Why.  For me, the Why, and the healing, have been entangled and inseparable from the start. Because the Why is the source, the root, the cause. It’s very difficult to heal without awareness of what needs healing. Or if wounding is still happening (because, Life), what is the source, and what can be done about it?

And, and… Simply knowing the Why can be liberating, and healing, all by itself.

So it was kind of astounding to me how disinterested we are at a societal level on the Why. I’ve spoken to all manner of folk, from elders and dear ones, to mental health professionals, who are simply not interested in the Why. I think the cost of this attitude, this culture-wide incuriosity, is continued wounding.

So I will be talking about the Why.

I’ll also be talking about Complex PTSD, which is a sapling of a diagnosis, having first been described in 1992. It is not yet in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual, the sacred tome of the American mental health complex (and so, presumably, does not exist yet. Much as PTSD did not exist until 1980, and “Ego-syntonic Homosexuality” was a disorder until 1973, when it suddenly wasn’t).

And I’ll be talking more about trauma therapies like ketamine-assisted psychotherapy. Because holy K-hole there’s so little good information out there about ketamine.

CHECKING OUT

I’m checking out with relief that I have finished this damn letter, gratitude that you’ve read this far, and a candle flame of confidence that I’m doing right work.

Thank you for staying,

Evan WL

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