There are few things as moving as the power of collective voices chanting this ancient sound.
The sound before sound.
The reverberation that existed at the moment of creation.
It is the primordial cry of the birth of the universe, of consciousness. It is everything and nothing. Within and without. The alpha and omega. It is the cosmos and of the cosmos. It is a part of each of us and the sum of all the energy in the universe.
All that has come before exists at this exact moment and will unfold in the future.
It represents the line of continuity. Creation. Preservation. Destruction. Forever and ever, amen.
Imagine my dismay when I realized I misplaced it.
A dream took shape deep in my subconscious Wednesday night and slipped back into the shadows as I awoke the next day. It wasn’t until Thursday evening yoga class, when my mind’s center of gravity shifted in downward dog that my brain took note of the tattoo that marks the inside of my right wrist. Suddenly my unsettling dream breached the levy.
In the course of whatever other shenanigans I was up to in the Land of Nod, I dreamt I glanced down at my right wrist and noticed my Om tattoo had gone missing. Or rather, it was barely visible and quickly fading. Like it was soaking into my skin or being erased in a time lapse video. I looked at my left wrist: the tattoos were intact; their color vivid and unchanged.
It was only my Om that was slipping away.
While the rest of the world rushed on about their frenzied lives, I was stopped dead in my tracks on the sidewalk of a bustling city street, paralyzed by this strange fear that a part of me had disappeared.
I’ve been struggling on a number of fronts, with the culmination being a nosedive and crash landing in a forest of catatonic depression. I was ill-equipped for survival, had no emergency provisions, and became resigned to the fact that without a voice to shout for help or a map to guide my way out, my fate was sealed. This depression was going to be my undoing. My connection to the outside world had been severed.
Here’s the thing about depression: while it can happen suddenly, more often it’s a clandestine operative that stealthily shifts your perception by moving one molecule at a time. Life is good, relationships are satisfying, it’s all quite manageable. Then, small things slowly start to become strangely overwhelming: dirty dishes pile up and mail is left unopened.
It gets harder to manage day-to-day tasks like figuring out what to cook for dinner, making it to yoga class, or committing to a social outing. Emails and phone calls go unanswered and all of life collects a layer of dust. Eventually, every single daily task feels insurmountable and you close the blinds so the light doesn’t illuminate this bleak new reality.
All that and yet I was still unaware I was dealing with depression.
Me, who’d been on antidepressants for years to help with a genetically predisposed tendency to wallow in melancholy and have moods that were not exactly steady. Like half my family, I was blessed with major depression. But I’d come down with a range of debilitating unrelated symptoms in recent months. So in May, with doctor approval, I went off all meds in an attempt to establish a baseline for determining what was going on with me physically.
I slowly weaned myself off of an antidepressant I’d been on for years. Withdrawal was far more than I’d bargained for. It was excruciating. I did a video diary to record what I was going through, because it was so unbelievable. It was difficult to form coherent sentences, let alone get them down on paper.
I experienced what I called “brain shocks”—like my brain had the hiccups and low voltage electrical charges zapped me continuously for weeks on end.
I hit the Google machine hard to find answers for what I was going through and discovered that my withdrawal experience was quite common. Interestingly it is left out of the pharmaceutical company’s marketing literature. I was angry that my doctor was so completely uneducated when it came to the risks associated with withdrawal.
He blew off my concerns when I raised questions on the day I asked him if it’d be alright to try to establish the aforementioned baseline. His exact words were, “you weren’t born with a Cymbalta deficiency,” which I interpreted to mean he didn’t think it would hurt to get this crap out of my system.
It took a month before I felt almost normal, but what I didn’t realize was it’s impossible to tell up from down when your instrument panel is on the fritz. I was barreling full speed toward disaster. When I finally had an inkling that something didn’t feel right, it was too late. I couldn’t pull back hard enough to stay aloft.
For weeks I barely functioned. I slept. I lost track of the date and the day of the week. I flipped through all 500 channels on the television multiple times a day and never found anything that kept my attention for more than a couple minutes.
I tried to read. I tried to write. I willed myself to go for an occasional walk, take my vitamins, try to eat right, but I was losing ground quickly. I couldn’t bear to talk on the phone or be around anyone because I could no longer make conversation.
I felt like I’d handed in my resignation: Dear Life, I quit.
And then I remembered a conversation I had last year with my aunt, when asking about her experience battling lifelong major depression. She told me she always knows it’s as its worse when she can’t concentrate enough to read. She and I are devourers of literature and I remember thinking “Wow, I’ve never not been able to read.” If anything, it was the only thing I could do when things were particularly bad. I could always lounge in bed and read. Until now.
It suddenly dawned on me that I couldn’t read. I’d tried repeatedly to find something that would hold my interest, but would inevitably find myself reading sentences over and over again without being able to extract meaning. The sky is blue. The sky is blue. What does that mean?
I’d lost every connection that gave my life meaning: my relationships with friends and family, my sense of humor, my ability to concentrate, my creativity, my passion for every aspect of life. My self. I quit watering my garden.
The first step was admitting I had a problem.
I had lost my Om.
And I wanted it back.
So, I opened the blinds.
I called the doctor, made an appointment, and cried as I told him I needed to be back on meds.
Two weeks later I dreamt that I’d lost that little Sanskrit symbol on the inside of my right wrist. My tiny tattooed reminder of my connection to the universe, to life, and to my sense of self.
And I realized that we cannot go at it alone; we aren’t meant to live life hanging by a single thread.
We are a part of this vast magnificently intricate web. It sustains us, feeds our spirits, and cradles us when life knocks us off our feet.
Even when we are oblivious to the complexity of the connections in our lives, the universe will continue to subtly remind us: we are part of the same Om that echoes among the stars.
And while I am now taking Prozac every day, it’s not exactly a magic pill. I’m getting my Om back the old fashioned way. One day at a time.
Stacey Wright-Pollard is a slightly off-key and off kilter aspiring artist, writer, beekeeper, photographer, tightrope walker, yogi, and amateur kite flyer; part-time muse, insomniac, vegetarian, carnivore, nihilist. Just trying to figure it all out, and resist the urge to overdose on life, on self-effacement, or prescription meds. You can find her writings here.
Editor: Olga Feingold