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Drinking port wine in a tree

Yesterday morning there was a layer of frost on the ground. Almost all the insects are gone, and in low temperatures meat won't go bad - ideal conditions for slaughtering livestock. The sky was clear, the world was bright with all the sunlight. I watched my roosters happily foraging, digging and kicking the autumn leaves, jumping up and down - and decided not to start slaughtering today. Instead I took a bottle of port wine and climbed the oak to enjoy the sunlight.

Before I bought my house I rented a room in kind of a countryside hippie-collective. In the collective we had a small flock of hen. They were living in a small henhouse, and in the summertime the door was kept open so that they could freely go in and out as they wish. Well, one early morning in mid october I went to check how they had survived the cold night, to check if it is time to close the door and put some heating on. When I walked to the henhouse I noticed that the door was still open, but I couldn't see any of the hen. Maybe they were all indoors. As I got closer I saw a raccoon dog, it was standing in front of the henhouse door, and it had its jaws around the neck of our rooster. With my bare hands I rushed towards them, the raccoon dog dropped the poor rooster and rushed to escape. Naturally, it tried to run away from me, but that meant that it ran into the henhouse. I slammed the door shut, effectively trapping the animal inside. The rooster was lying still on the ground, so maybe the raccoon dog had already bitten him to death. With a rush of adrenaline in my blood I quickly decided to handle the intruder first and then think what to do with a dead rooster early in the morning. I ran to grab a first astalo I could find - a spade. Holding the spade I stepped over the wasted rooster, entered the henhouse, cornered the raccoon dog and killed him with couple of fierce hits to his neck. Looking at the dead raccoon dog I realized it had lost a lot of its fur - seemed like symptons of mange. I took the corpse of the raccoon dog into the forest and buried it there. Feeling the adrenaline rush slowly calm down I went back to the dead rooster. Just when I was about to pick him up he made a hell of a noise, flapping his wings he jumped up, shaking vigorously he screamed, then relaxed and went to recover in a spot of sunlight. Needless to say, for a second I was shocked to see a dead rooster first turning into a zombie and then going back to normal. Some drops of blood dripped from the peck of the poor rooster, but otherwise he seemed fine. And slowly the hen came out of their hiding places, and started to continue their lives as if nothing had happened. The rooster was rather passive for couple of days, and then he was fully recovered, actively taking care of his flock of hen. What a brave rooster!

Thinking of that incident I now realize that the rooster displayed a clear example of a freeze reaction. I can imagine that when it had encountered the raccoon dog it had first tried to fight or to flee. Failing both of these it ended up having sharp teeth pressed firmly against his throat - game over, man! In such a situation the last option is to freeze. To give up, to passively wait for the end to come. And I think that a biological freeze reaction comes with a good doze of some hormones making the animal feel numb - wiping away any sensation of pain or fear. The rooster remained being freezed, for about half an hour. The predator was gone, everything was back to normal, stil the rooster was just lying there, making absolutely no attempt to stand up. And when he finally did, it was not like he was first carefully and slowly testing if he was OK and could move his legs and wings - no, instead he freaked it all out in an instant.

This summer I read a book "The Revolutionary Trauma Release Process" by David Bercell. One of the central ideas in the book is that just as other animals we humans have a freeze reaction too, and it is easily triggered by any traumatic experience. But when the traumatic situation is over, instead of letting go of the freeze reaction we sometimes might get stuck in it. Of course maybe not in such a total state of freeze as the rooster of our hippie-collective, as it is possible (and more common) to be just partially frozen. Things like post-traumatic stress disorder and depression might be essentially built on getting stuck with a freeze reaction - feeling numb and indifferent, alien to ones own body, being passive and lacking the willingness to live. And Bercell argues that most of the time this kind of symptoms can't be cured with just a mental therapy - as the freeze reaction is a deep bodily function, it also has to be discharged with natural bodily reactions like tremoring and shaking. Well, all of this might be bit simplified, but a lot of it makes sense to me.

In my earlier post about hand cart mainenance I mentioned how I have a tendency to give up when facing a minor practical problem. Reflecting on my own emotional reactions, I recognize that my reaction is: "Oh, there is a problem. Maybe if I wait passively and pretend being dead the problem might go away and leave me alone. And if it doesn't, then I just die, but who cares." And this, I guess, is not a healthy way of reacting to issues like flat tyres or having too much work to do. Well, from another perspective this kind of a freeze reaction is called state of "learned helplesness" - which is usually described as a attitude of "Bad things just keep on happening to me, and there is nothing I can do about it, I just have to suffer silently no matter what comes." Couple of weeks ago I googled if the internet has something to say about recovering from a state of learned helplesness. I read one site, which started with saying that the attitude of learned helplesness is based on a (false) belief - and that to recover one has to change ones beliefs, that is, to start believing that ones own decisions make a change - that one is both allowed and capable of steering ones own life. OK, I understand the point in that, but at least in my own experiece it is not as simple as that. There were years when I was mainly struggling with recovering from depression - I took antidepressant medication and tried to revive my energies. Well, with the help of the medication I indeed believed that now I can again do things I want to do, I can actively make decisions and carry out projects. Which quickly led to me having all too much things to do; I had too many projects, they all seemed so interesting and so valuable and I felt that I'm lousy if I abandon those projects. So there I was, with an equally false beliefs, head long rushing towards just an another burn-out. But at some point I indeed realized that I can make my own decisions, and instead of just suffering from the way things are, I can steer my life to some other direction. So I quit the medication and dropped the cognitive therapy and went to gestalt therapy instead. Instead of false belief "I can do things like I could when I wasn't depressed" I adopted an attide of "Well, this depression somewhat drains my energy, so I'd better not try to do more than I really can. I'd better to listen to myself and accept the way I feel - as that is the road to recovery."

Well, nowadays I'm much more balanced, having regained much of my inner energies and happiness. It feels as if the freeze reaction was a giant iceberg, but now it is only a small block of ice. It has been a slow process, and so many times I have been frustrated for not finding a quick solution like our rooster did - it would be so nice to just freak out for a moment and then be fully recovered after that. Well, it worked for the rooster just because he was all strong and hale before the incident, and only experienced a short traumatic experience. Things might be bit different for people (and other animals) like me, who grew up in traumatic conditions. There is not a "previous, healthy state" to go back into after shaking off the trauma - but luckily enough it seems to be possible to rebuild a lot. I mean, I can't and I don't want to change things in my childhood, there is no need to forget those memories, but it certainly is possible to let go off the fear, pain and the freeze reaction associated with those memories. And this rebuilding takes some time, it takes more than just cognitive work - it requires diving into ones deep emotions, re-connecting with ones own bodily presence, re-learning to breathe, to feel, to touch. Re-learning to trust and to be open and honest. Simple things like that =)

So, with these thoughts I was sitting in the oak, feeling the warmth of the sunlight on my face, sipping some port wine, and singing "Kukkurukuu" by Mariska & Pahat Sudet. The song is about recovering from childhood traumas, you can find it in youtube if you are interested.

As I have said before, Mariska is my favorite artist, especially because of her brilliant lyrics. Recently one of the most popular Finnish singers, Jenni Vartiainen, released a new album - and many of the song lyrics are written by Mariska. Today, in the middle of a long day of work, I quickly visited a local supermarket. I picked food for the dog, some youghurt, instant coffee and dried fruits. In the supermarket they also have a small shelf for dvd's and cd's. And there was the new album by Jenni Vartianen, so I decided to buy it for tracks like "Suru on kunniavieras" and "Muistan kirkkauden". I so do like the way they mix contemporary (dance)pop-music with some elements of Finnish traditional folk poetry and singing, and lyrics about how there is something to learn from sorrow, and how there is such an experice of radiance and love which is strong enough to guide ones life towards love and compassion. Mariska and Jenni clearly have a message to say, yet I don't experience the songs as preaching - instead they are just empowering. I took the stuff into my car, it was already dark, and I was about to start driving to the last customers of the day - but I saw that the lady working as a cashier came out from the supermarket, looking around the parking place as if she was trying to find somebody. There weren't that many people around, nobody had left the supermarket after me, and the lady went back indoors. I thought that maybe she was looking for me but just couldn't see me as I was already inside my car, so I went to ask - and, indeed, I had forgotten to pick up the CD after paying for it.

That was such a kind gesture - strictly speaking it is not her job to run after customers who forget to collect some of their stuff. Of course their boss might encourage the workers to do so, as it contributes towards a good brand of their supermarket. But, most of all, I feel that she did so just because she is a nice person and willing to help others. And I feel that this is a normal way of behaving in our small village. A small thing, but it made me feel good in a special way. After all, this is all we need to have a paradise on earth. Kind people paying positive attention to each other. If everybody did that we would have love and harmony amongst all the peoples of the world, there would be peace and no war. But, so many times if people talk about this kind of ideas they get quickly labelled as naive hippies with unrealistic dreams - claiming that in reality people will always be egoistic, uncaring and willing to use violence to get what they want. Oh, I think toddlers at the age of two might behave bit like that, but that just doesn't justify why we should think that adults can't develop past that stage. So, this is the paradox of human emotional development and spiritual growth. The basic message is simple and clear, and it has been around for ages - yet there is a lot to learn. At the same time it is about re-connecting with mystical, transcendental, eternal Love - and about small, ordinary, mundande simple things like helping others.

Roosters
Roosters
The oak with autumn colour
The oak with autumn colour
Kukkurukuu
Kukkurukuu
tags: 
depression
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Comments

I think the major problem with modern folk psychology about depression is that it doesn't heed sex differences. Evolution has built men and women differently but all self help writing now is written by women and addressed to other women.

Women are happy when they feel safe and loved. Men are happy when they feel strong and capable. The depressed men feel they are paralyzed or forced into passivity. Shifting down or pampering oneself helps women and usually gives a temporary relief for men too but ends men feeling even weaker.

Your example with carriage tires is an excellent one. You don't probably get depressed when you encounter real problems you have to tackle, like with tending the animals, building stuff, or programming. You get depressed when you find out you cannot act on some rather harmless and easy problem. The fact that you could do with soft tires and leave the problem unsolved actually made it a lot harder for you than if, say, your horse's life had dependent on it and you had to act regardless of how you feel about it.

We all admire will and determination, fighting against all the odds, but we cannot see how to start, and when we fail even with the small everyday problems, we get even more discouraged.

I know very little about modern folk psychology and self help literature. But I always thought that the problem with those is that they over-emphasis that women are from Venus and men are from Mars =) Also, I have a vague feeling that there is a whole breed of "nowadays-men-have-problems-because-they-cannot-be-real-men-anymore" literature, like Iron John by Robert Bly. But since I haven't read any of that and I don't know the scene, I won't go into the details.

Maybe gender and sex differences deserve a blog entry or two - I'll see if I feel writing more about them later on. Today I'll just say that I agree that there is a point to consider here. For example, watching sheep and ram makes it clear that there might be some differences in their psychological build. So why not in human species too. Only that personally I feel uneasy with statements like "All men are like A" or "this thing B is masculine, so every man has it equally, and no woman has any B."

Actually, I think I didn't get depressed when I failed to repair those tyres - but the other way round. Last summer I failed to repair the tyres because I was depressed. The steps needed to succesfully repairing the tyres were small, and in my rational mind I always knew that. But somehow I just lacked the energy to try - the whole issue with the tyres felt like a dead-end, a problem with no possible solutions. And why it felt so? I guess because it activated a freeze-reaction already stored in my psyche.

Like, a healthy organism falls into a freeze-reaction only when faced with a life-threatening situation with no possiblity to fight or flee. But a depressed organism has a tendency to slip into a freeze state even when faced with a simple and easy task like repairing tyres.

Couple of years ago it was very hard winter, it was about -30°C for many weeks in a row. And I ran out of firewood in mid-February. Well, I knew that there are simple options available: buying readymade dry firewood, or buying electric heaters. But I decided to face the challenge in a simple physical way. An old man living near me had asked me to take down several dead pines in his forest, near my house. I figured out that those dead pines would make instant dry firewood, so I took my chainsaw and waded in more than knee-deep snow to get to the pines. It was something like 200 metres uphill to get there. I fell down the trees and cut them to smaller blocks. For the rest of the winter I went there once a week, hauling those blocks on my shoulder down a small path in the snow. One weekend after a snowfall there were fresh lynx tracks in the forest, the lynx had used my path to go uphill, then continuing deeper into the forest. Well, heating my house with firewood made of those blocks of pine I felt like a man being able to survive with his physical skills and psychical determination. I guess sometimes physical strain and basic things like warmth of the fire are better medicine than chemical antidepressants =)

You are so lucky to be able to enjoy wine surrounded by nature! I hope your recovery from your depression will be a complete success! It sounds like you are winning the battle, so don't give up!

Thanks! I feel that this long and slow process of recovery has learnt me a lot. And I hope that the more I learn the more I'll be able to offer my support to others struggling with similar problems. Also, I hope this blog engourages people to believe in their own dreams. Once I was a penniless depressed hippie trapped in a city, dreaming about a small house in the woods. Now I am here, being able to enjoy port wine sitting in an oak in my yard.

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