I drove on Highway 236 today. It’s a windy, mountainous road high up in the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains of California, surrounded by towering redwood trees. While driving this route I’ve often spotted families of deer along the wayside. For all I know, I’ve unwittingly passed a mountain lion or two! (There have been recent sightings of them over the past year.)
It was a slightly cool, sunny day as I wove my old, white Suburu Forester up and around the curves of the steep highway. It takes me over forty minutes to reach my therapist “Tara’s” home office, and while it’s a total pain in the ass to get there, a session with Tara is worth the effort. When I’m not feeling up to making the rigorous drive, I opt for a phone session, but Tara prefers to see me face-to-face.
The “Green Tara” Buddhist Goddess
Over the past four years I’ve driven this road to visit Tara in all kinds of emotional states. A few times I met with her when I felt fairly stable, a handful of times I was hypomanic and manic, but most of our visits have occurred when I’ve felt deeply depressed. She has been supportive and available to me and my family in ways that have gone above and beyond what most counselors offer their clients.
I first met Tara at the co-op preschool where each of our daughters were students. At first I found Tara a little intimidating. She looked like a tall, blonde supermodel and she appeared confident and serene. As soon as I found out what Tara did for a living, however, my intuition prodded me to ask her if we could meet.
We had a good rapport, and I felt that Tara not only knew what she was doing, but she genuinely cared about helping me feel better. It didn’t hurt that she hailed from Germany and had a beautiful, scholarly German accent. Tara and I were able to keep our boundaries clear; it never became problematic when I saw her at the preschool or around town.
When I was hospitalized a year ago, Tara invited my daughter Avonlea to stay at her house to play with her daughter so Avonlea could have a good time, and to help make things easier for Craig. Tara was also one of the very few people who offered to visit me at the hospital last summer. She lived over two hours from the hospital, and I was very moved by her willingness to make such an arduous journey for a client.
Nowadays, every time I drive to a therapy session, I can’t help remember the Geodon incident. Several years ago, I was prescribed the atypical antipsychotic Geodon by my former psychiatrist. I hoped with all my heart that it would make a dent in my bipolar depression, but since I was “medication-resistant” I felt dubious any pill could help me.
The first few weeks it seemed that Geodon was truly helping me. I was in shock to feel the weight of depression finally lift. It was a sensational feeling as I hadn’t felt happiness like that in a long time. But then my bipolar depression returned with a vengeance and along came some brand-new, terrifying sensations: derealization and depersonalization.
Before this experience happened in my life, I had no idea what deprealization or depersonalization even meant. I’ll paraphrase their Wikipedia definitions: “Derealization is an alteration in the perception of the external world so that it seems unreal.” Depersonalization consists of “a feeling of watching oneself act, while having no control over a situation. The world has become vague, less real, and lacking in significance. ” Both sensations were over-the-top horrific, as I’m sure you can imagine.
When I first experienced these conditions I was driving down a steep, super-windy hill on Highway 236 after a session with Tara. The unnerving states came upon me suddenly. I didn’t feel like myself. Worst of all, I felt like I was losing my grip on reality. I clutched the steering wheel so tightly that my hands cramped for hours into the night. I honestly didn’t know if I’d be able to keep my car from veering off the road. It was a miracle that I made it home safely.
Unless you experience depersonalization/derealization, you can’t understand it, and I hope you never will…
to be continued