Suicide and Altitude

BLOG FOR MENTAL HEALTH 2014

I came across this article about neuroscientist Perry Renshaw’s research into what he calls the “Utah Paradox.”

Neuroscientist Perry Renshaw

Despite ranking as America’s happiest state, Utah has disproportionately high rates of suicide and associated mood disorders compared to the rest of the country. In fact, it’s the No. 1 state for antidepressant use.

I was intrigued, since I’ve known for years that a higher, drier clime has the power to make me feel remarkably happier, when I arrive from the sea level humidity where I live.

So I was intrigued, then argumentative, then baffled, then amazed as Brain Mic editor Theresa Fisher dove into the neuro-chemistry and the geo-demography (two of my favorite subjects!!) to identify the experience that I have: I lifelong depressive who feels uplift and well being from altitude.

The working theory is that high altitude hypoxia reduces seratonin but stimulates dopamine. Since I know from a major medication adjustment about 5 years ago that SSRIs alone don’t manage my depression, that helps explain my joy at altitude. Of course more sunlight and spectacular vistas certainly don’t hurt!

Where we live has so much to do with who we are, and how we feel. If you have climate or geography related experiences with your mental health, please tell us about them.

The Bay Area is Amazing

What more can I say? After our long journey across America in all its splendor, California’s Bay Area hardly disappoints. Jose’s new home is in Pleasant Hill, a dense suburb with rapid transit and all the comforts of American excess. The neighborhoods are more compact, the homes smaller than I’d expect with this level of affluence, and that’s grounding. It is a pleasant and convenient place.

Last night we drove in to the Oakland hills to visit friends. The route took us through and under some of those spectacular steep grassy hills that look like golden suede, or the hide of a Sharpei. Popping out on the western side, there is The Bay, shimmering like a mirror. Said friends have a complete urban farm that runs on solar power and collected rain water. On a small lot they grow fruits, veggies, flowers and herbs. I’m enjoying one of their luscious lemons in my water.

Today I got to visit the Siddha Yoga Ashram in Oakland for a lovely lunch in their cafeteria, a browse in the bookstore. We peered into the large auditorium, dim and scented with years of devotion, then meditated in the temple, a tented garden where the flowering vines are working their way in, as if to receive blessings. What a beautiful place. Not just the surroundings but the pervasive aura, calm and loving.

Golden Gate Bridge

After the Ashram we set sail for the Marin Headlands, which took us on a magical tour over the Bay Bridge(s), across the Embarcadero, through some neighborhoods and onto the Golden Gate Bridge. I remembered how the first time I saw it I gasped “It’s RED!” I had assumed the bridge itself was golden.

San Francisco Bay

The topography of the Marin Headlands is mind boggling. Climbing up above the GGB gave me serious vertigo – the sensation that I was going to fall down, down, down.

I’ll leave the rest to pictures, and Josephine.

Friday evening, May 3rd

We’ve now been in Pleasant Hill terra firma for just a little over 48 hours. I oscillate between open-hearted wonder of being here, gratitude for sleeping in the same bed — for two nights now! —  and a certain anomie. I am not altogether rootless, and yet, it will take time to grow those roots that makes this home. So when I’m experiencing that not-here-yet, I have my free-floating fearful moments. They pass. They rerun, sometimes in dreams.

Today, open-hearted delight in taking Patrise to my beloved Siddha Yoga Ashram in Oakland for lunch, and after, a brief tour of the place. I was welcomed by Swami Siddhananda at the front desk, an old friend from years back. The very energy of the whole place welcomed me, as well as Patrise. I have arrived, I am home.
Our next destination was the Marin Headlands, where Patrise, Tango and I ritually touched the waters of the Left Coast. Connecting and grounding of another sort. After 10 days and 3,550 miles of patiently curling himself up in a small corner of the car, Tango –off leash — joyously galloped full speed up and down the beach, a bit shy of salt water, and ran and played with several other pups.
I have arrived. I am home. I will need to repeat that mantra more than once.
Tango and Patrise in the surf

We have completed our #coast2coast project. Touching the pacific, feeling its chill foam slosh around my legs, touching the salt to my lips, the mission is complete. The journey, however continues, with no less wonder.

Mountain Time

I spent the last week of August in the mountains, on the edge of the Shendandoah National Park.

Click here and play a song while you read!

Compared to my usual environment it was another world. Just 2 hours away by car, but a century away in lifestyle. Its the first place I’ve been in some years with no cell service, and of course no WIFI! I felt the loss of instant connectivity acutely for the first day, and then it melted away. With it went the need to know what time it was.

I was raised in flat sandy marshes, so the rocky places are a thrilling magical mystery to me. I am amazed and intrigued and astonished by the rocks and boulders, and love to connect with them. How did they come to be where they are? What shaped them? What are they made of, and what do they know?

Then there’s the visual experience. When young, I studied the dutch painters for their landscape was as flat as my own. Later in life I had the pleasure of living in the Finger Lakes of NY, and learned the ways of waterfalls.

But these are the Appalachians: believed to have been the highest mountains on earth roughly 460 million years ago. We enjoyed musing about the billion-year-old rocks.

So these boulders recall a great deal of time, in their journey from sharp peaks as lofty as the Himalayas to these rounded pebbles (the size of an elephant, or a house, or a mouse) softened with moss and lichen, worn by eons of rain. Hillsides softened with trees. Valleys filled with the stories of life, love, struggle, triumph and loss.

Look how we change with time. It’s an amazing story to see everywhere you look in the mountains.