The Reality Settles In

I ‘m hearing it all over: the days are blending into one another. Every week is the same. My memory sucks. I feel anxious all the time. I’m depressed.

I’m feeling it, too. Even though I still get to go to work every week (and yes, that feels like a privilege), I feel cooped up and like nothing ever happens except work. Work itself is incredibly stressful: the food bank has doubled throughput of food since March and everyone there is stretched just short of the point of breaking.

The “adventure” phase of the pandemic has passed. No longer is this a project of pulling together and overcoming adversity. Now we see people for who they are, when they refuse to wear masks and ignore public health orders. And it very often isn’t pretty.

And then there is national leadership–both in the US and in many other places. What a mess.

This, as I have so often said, is a marathon, not a sprint. The disease, impact worsened by the incompetent federal management in the United States, is going to be with us for a long while. And many of our pastimes and pleasures are simply not going to be possible if we want to stay safer.

Anxiety and depression are natural responses to the omnipresence of the virus and the hypervigilance it requires to stay safer. It’s oppressive and stressful to have the threat of a serious disease dangling over you all the time.

This has real implications not only for our moods, but for how our brains function. Stress hormones are absolute murder on memory formation, so rather than being fearful or angry at yourself about what your sudden forgetfulness means, understand that it’s a temporary phenomenon and make accommodations. Personally, I can’t get ANYTHING done without a written list, on paper. Right now I can’t hold my tasks in my head, even to the degree of a 6-item shopping list.

I guess that what I want to say here, folks, is that it is normal and natural to have these symptoms under these conditions. Don’t worsen them by expecting yourself not to experience them and giving yourself a hard time.

If you can, try to get out into nature. It really helps. Even just a weekend camp out can work wonders.

In the meantime, hold on. I know it’s hard and frustrating and boring and you feel helpless. We all do. But we’ll get through this, as people have always survived pandemics.

Most of them, anyway.

My heart goes out to you. I know how hard it is to manage right now. It may feel like you’re sinking, but you’re not.

We’re going to get through this.

It’s going to be okay.

GUEST POST: By Helping Your Community, You’re Helping the World

By Meredith Jones

The world is a truly unforgiving place, which is why we all need to band together, look out for each other, and help one another. Of course, there are those who need more help than others, and it’s for their benefit that we’ve created this list. The fact is that we all have the responsibility to hold up those who may be finding themselves at the bottom — a courtesy that we’d want extended our way if roles were reversed. It’s not even anything heroic, but rather, just basic human decency. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at who we can help and how.

The Hungry

Regardless of what you believe in, one thing remains certain: nobody should go hungry. It is our shared responsibility to ensure that everyone is not only sufficiently fed but healthy, too.

The Oppressed

Unfortunately, the world in which we live keeps some populations in a holding pattern. This can cause generational poverty and discrimination. If you’re looking for a way to have an impact on the oppressed, you are part of the solution.

The Defenseless

In the same way that we look after each other in the community, so must we look after those who are unable to defend themselves. There’s simply no shortage of threats to wildlife and even domestic animals, and it’s our mutual obligation to do our part to ensure their safety.

The Vulnerable

In an ideal world, everyone would be on equal footing. Sadly, we already know that this world is far from ideal, so it’s our collective job to look out for those who are most at risk.

  • Understanding the problem of homelessness is a step closer to assisting the homeless, which can be done in so many different ways.
  • There are just so many people made vulnerable by their circumstances, gender, skin color, immigration status, sexuality, and more, so donate to the best charities to do your part in alleviating the hardships of many.
  • Above all, do not be silent in the face of injustice.

Indeed, the world would undoubtedly be a better place if more people would step up to help those that need it in any way you can. The fact that you’re reading this already shows that your heart is in the right place, so thanks for doing your part.

Photo via Pexels.com

Confessions of an Obligate Psychonaut

I’m a psychedelic survivor.

No, wait. I said that incorrectly.

I have survived because of psychedelics.

There, that’s better.

Now, people have varying opinions about this class of drug…and all drugs which are used by some for fun and recreation.

This is a big subject, and I hope to unpack it, but let me disclose my bias at the outset: Illegal psychedelic drugs saved my life.

True story. I’ll get into that in a minute. Settle in: it’s a long one.

The backstory of all of this, of course is Calvinism: the deep, inchoate Protestant fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time.

Pleasure phobia is deeply baked into Western culture. It is hypocritical, of course, in countries awash in alcohol and caffeine, but there it is. We have demonized mind-altering substances, with only a couple of exceptions.

Fear mongering and indoctrination from an early age have frightened whole generations of people into a childish, reflexive fear of such substances which results in a number of dysfunctional responses, including an authority-flouting tendency among many young adults not only to use them, but to use them to excess and under dangerous circumstances.

Not to mention the criminalization of such usage and the wholesale railroading of millions of people–overwhelmingly people of color–into the criminal justice pipeline simply because they enjoy altering their perceptions in a manner not sanctioned by their societies. Mostly completely harmlessly.

The result of all this puritanical nonsense has in the end been complete and utter disaster, suffering and ignorance. Countless have been imprisoned, their lives ruined. Research into the beneficial uses of these substances has been choked to a tiny trickle for decades. Without study, there are only anecdotal reports and amateur research, little of which has any traction with the established canons of academia.

It has literally taken the aging of an entire generation of people who experienced psychedelics in their youth into “respectability” as doctors and scientists and litigators and legislators to mature our culture even to the point of considering that they might have some legitimate usages.

But that generational shift has happened, and now we have solid scientific evidence that drugs such as psilocybin, ketamine and MDMA have extraordinary potential for treating such conditions as PTSD and depression.

I have lived with crippling depression since elementary school, and the miserable, alternately abusive and indifferent household I grew up in—and the utter disconnect of the Baptist/Mormon foster homes thereafter—ensured that when I emerged on my own at 17 to move away and start working my way through college, I was a thorough psychological mess.

Ask anyone who knew me in my 20s. I was just…well. An offputting mix of screamingly insecure and too smart for his own good and absolutely unfamiliar with how to deal with others and flailing—flailing—to somehow come to a place of centeredness and calm. Manic, pompous, histrionic…a psychological disaster.

With a sweet heart down in there, somewhere. But under a lot of layers of pain, anger, reactivity, and bullshit. I was intermittently suicidal. I smoked like a chimney. I stepped suddenly into traffic, daring it to kill me.

I hated myself. I was on my way to dying young.

And then came MDMA.

It’s a long story, and a more personal one than I care to go into in detail. But the synopsis is what matters: a deep, loving relationship coupled with several experiences with Ecstasy over the period of two years completely changed me and my view of the world.

She was older than me by 11 years, and wise for her age. A grounded person, and deeply familiar with the emotional landscapes I floundered in. She was kind, and forgiving; creative and loving. There were things I offered (somehow) that she needed or wanted, and certainly who she was and what she offered were a desperately needed tonic to me.

It couldn’t last, and it didn’t. But it changed me forever.

Central to that change were the brief windows, six hours at a time, when the world was an exquisitely beautiful place, and I—like all of us—was a luminous, extraordinary being.

When I was on MDMA.

The marvelous thing about that experience is that after you come down, you don’t forget what you have seen. For a depressive, the ability to see the world and myself in this way was healing in a way I cannot possibly describe.

And this is the power of psychedelics. Once you have seen it, you cannot unsee it.

Now, many years later, a more whole and healthy person, I have very few opportunities and not much inclination to experiment with psychedelics. I may have done them three times in the past ten years.

But I remain permanently changed by them, and by the antidepressants I finally acquiesced to taking in the early 2000s. They, too, are psychoactive drugs, though not psychedelics. And so I call myself an obligate psychonaut: a person who depends on—indeed, cannot survive without— psychologically impactful drugs.

I do not make a moral distinction between these two classes of drugs. Indeed, I think it would be hypocrisy to do so. One was an acute intervention; the other is an ongoing support.

The result is that I am happy, functional, and the person my current friends know today.

Now.

When I created the Atheopagan Principles, there were a lot of reasons for #10: Pleasure Positivity. I believe that joy and happiness and pleasure are our birthrights: physical pleasure, emotional pleasure, intellectual pleasure, sexual pleasure. But specifically, I wanted to refuse the puritanical, joy-hating convention of the Overculture which rejects the value and legitimacy of experiences such as those we have on psychedelics.

I write all this to lay my cards on the table. I was saved by psychedelics, and I believe many others could be, too. I believe there is a deep kindness and a moral obligation for us to learn what we can about how best to deliver our fellow humans from the hells that our minds can create, and our abusers can arrange.

I support the legalization of psychedelic drugs. Yes, some will abuse them, but probably not any more than abuse them now, under the shadow of law enforcement.

And I wish—truly, I truly wish, so much—that every human on Earth could have the experience of MDMA in a loving setting. Just once.

It would change everything.


Image is “Shaman”, by Manzel