I suffered a year in mental darkness. I feel I have emerged, cautiously optimistic. Let's reflect on what I did and learned. I will not write this in the form of a story with some wonderful hero's journey, it's mostly for my own retrospection, but perhaps it may help others.
For over a year I struggled with low energy and a lot of negative feelings. What have I tried so far:
Take steps back, dropped all my hobby projects. Slowed down some at work.
Rest in my evenings as much as possible.
Contact old friends.
Started a journal. I called it a mind log. To note down my feelings.
Meditated more and more.
Talk to people about it, though probably not enough, I always prefer to fix things myself.
Full stop. Took a two week holiday. Rest.
I needed that last step, I felt my fatigue was growing by the week and I could not stop the downwards spiral.
My mind log really helped monitor myself and to just write it off. Here is a summary of feelings I felt weekly or daily:
Tension in the face, especially around the eyebrows.
Somekind of constricted feeling inside the mind. I could sometimes open it up in meditation.
Another contricted feeling in the chest. A tightness along the central axis of the body, from the stomach to the throat.
General exhaustion. After work, and growing during work.
Bleak worldview. Like everything feels bad and getting worse. I have to remind myself that how the world feels is part of the mind, not a property of the world.
Fuzzy head. Brain fog. Like I got dumber and dropped IQ points.
Serious headaches. Varying from 1 to 3 days in each week.
Ball of tension in the stomach. Often combined with overwhelming swarm of thoughts.
Frustrations with other people. Desire to be left alone.
Occasionally I would experience a really positive worldview and a high energy state. I would cling to these and desire more of them.
I believe my meditative practices have helped me a lot, so let's summarize this journey for future reference.
What steps did I take so far?
Decided I needed to be more mentally present at home with the family.
Started mindfulness via a mobile app. Slowly went from 5 minutes (of pure agony sometimes) to relatively easy 15 minute practice. Took a year or so.
Stopped using the app, explored mind states experimentally by myself. Tried to observe my own thoughts passing by. Tried to observe the observer. Accidentally found some altered mind state, got a bit scared.
Started reading up on deeper meditation. Read the book Mastering the core teachings of the Buddha
I actually stopped meditating at some point, focus entirely on my biosensor hobby during a high energy period lasting several months. I recall I hit some feeling that caused severe aversion, I now think it was the 'central body axis tension'; a pocket of repressed emotion.
I recall I did somekind of 'micro-meditations', which create some pleasure boost. I could use these to overcome fear or exhaustion temporarily. But the strenght of the boosts faded over time, they became less effective.
When I got increasingly tired, I dropped the project, started meditating more and more.
Began reading the book 'Seeing that Frees'
Followed Nick Cammarata on Twitter who talked a lot about the pleasure states (Jhana). Others also mentioned how embracing pleasure states and self-love helped them.
Watched this YouTube video on How to Jhana — with Michael Taft. Tried it, it instantly worked.
Read the book 'Right Concentration, A Practical Guide to The Jhanas'
Explored the Jhanas
I noticed myself getting more tired over time. After discussing this with my wife I decided to take a two week holiday in a period where I felt I had no important meetings or tasks. The children were at school, so I would have a lot of time to rest.
My main activities during this holiday period:
Walked in nature.
Did many chores slowly.
Meditated a lot more, often reaching sessions of 45-60 minutes. Sometimes multiple sessions per day.
Explored opportunities. Casually reached out to people.
Let my wife read my journal. Talked about it. New insight. Cried for the first time in many years.
Dissolved central body axis tension in meditation. Reached higher beginning of immaterial Jhana.
My current hypothesis is that the central body axis tension was a felt-sense representing a bunch of repressed emotions. I've been slowly dissolving these. Communicating with it, accepting the emotions. The Internal Family Systems (IFS) model suddenly seems a lot more realistic.
After my holiday period I went back to work. The team I work with is doing great in my absence. Another good aspect of the holiday is that I can now let them go better, let them self-manage.
It's been two weeks since my holiday period. My energy levels were extremely high afterwards and I talked to a lot of people. A few days ago we had our internal company conference, where I presented. I burned through a lot of energy there, so the days afterwards I was tired again. Quickly tried to rest more and analyze myself. The primary 'problem' in the last days (and also during high energy) is this constant fabrication of stories and thoughts in the mind. The meditation books call this conceptual proliferation. When left unattended, this can spread out like a web, causing increasing amounts of suffering. On the other hand, my curiosity wants to explore new ideas all the time, so I'll have to find the right balance. Finding this balance will be the next challenge. The journey never ends.
In general, I notice a lot more subtlety in my feelings and thoughts. I monitor myself much more carefully. I am able to let go of things more easily. These are good improvements. The struggle is how to rest enough, meditate enough, gain new insights, feel happy, all while going about normal busy life.