Photo credit: Caitlin Strom http://www.caitlinstrom.com/

Posted by Michael Stone on Wednesday, November 23, 2016

When the Buddhist and yoga teacher left his home in British Columbia's Gulf Islands earlier this month and didn't return, his family became concerned.

Michael Stone, a well-known author and social activist, had suffered quietly from bipolar disorder, they said, and several months ago “his mania began to cycle more rapidly.”

On a day trip to Victoria in mid-July, he called “a substance abuse and addictions pharmacy,” presumably to get a controlled drug. When he was turned down, he got something on the street, his family said in a statement.

Stone, who was discovered unresponsive later that evening, was rushed to a hospital in a coma, where he was removed from life support late on July 16.

His family said that initial toxicology tests showed “inconclusively” that he had drugs in his system, including fentanyl, which is a potent synthetic opioid.

“It may be hard to put one’s mind into his, to imagine how he could take such a risk with a young family, baby on the way, with such a full life and such fortune,” his family said in the statement Thursday. “It could be easy to shake one’s head and think, what a shame. Culturally we don’t have enough language to talk about this.

“Rather than feel the shame and tragedy of it, can we find questions? What was he feeling? How was he coping? What am I uncomfortable hearing? What can we do for ourselves and others who have impulses or behaviors we cannot understand? Impulses that scare us and silence us? How can we take care of each other?”

Stone is suspected to be one of the latest victims in a relentless epidemic that knows no bounds.

Both Canada and the United States have been battling a fast-moving and far-reaching opioid epidemic. Canada is reported to be the second-highest opioid consumer in the world, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The Canadian Institute for Health Information and the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse released a report about the country's opioid epidemic, which has led to a spike in overdose hospitalizations.

Preliminary data shows that there were nearly 2,500 opioid-related deaths in Canada last year.

In British Columbia, 967 overdose deaths occurred in 2016, an increase from 517 the previous year — and fentanyl was linked to 68 percent of them, according to data from the Coroners Service of British Columbia.

When asked about the incident, the Victoria Police Department referred The Washington Post to the coroner's office, which confirmed that the case is still under investigation and said no further information was yet available.

On his website, Stone once wrote about his uncle, who he said suffered from schizophrenia and helped introduce him to meditation.

“A few years after my uncle died, when I was 20, I spent almost a year alone in the wilderness learning about meditation practice,” he wrote, noting that he decided to study psychology and religion.

He said he got a master's degree in psychotherapy and became a student of Buddhist teachings.

In 2003, Stone founded a nonprofit group called Center of Gravity, a Buddhist community in Toronto. He published numerous books on Buddhism and yoga and was called a strong voice in the Occupy Movement.

He said he tried to help others leave behind stress and anxiety, quiet their minds and invest their energy into living a meaningful life.

“All the things my uncle first introduced me to — understanding the mind and waking up to the way things are — are as alive and important to me now as they were then,” Stone wrote.

But his family said that he kept his own struggles private, even though he wanted to share them.

“If you met or studied with Michael you may remember him as wise, charismatic and poetic. He seemed unshakeable and capable of holding everyone else’s suffering. And he did, but he struggled with his own,” his family said in a statement.

They said his bipolar disorder, characterized by manic and then depressive episodes, colored his life:

He was aroused by life, he sought experiences. As a young man he drove race cars, followed the Grateful Dead, and experimented with psychedelics. He perceived the world with incredible sensitivity, through music, art and literature. Along with this lust for life was an impulsivity that he struggled to quell through yoga and Buddhist practice. His brain was rapidfire and wide open. It was part of his brilliance and his sensitive nature.

Michael came to spiritual practice innately at a young age, and then to formal study as a teenager. It was also a way to take care of his mental health. For a long time he was well enough to resist the diagnosis and stay balanced naturally through practice and self-care, but as things got worse, he opened up more to family and friends, and sought medical help. Taking care of his extreme mental states became a full-time job for him and his partner Carina. They were a team. They were doing well. His international work was incredibly inspired and flourishing. They established self-care routines. He exercised. He went to bed early. He ate a special diet. They joked about fecal transplants. He saw naturopaths and herbalists and trainers and therapists. He continued his daily practice. As things worsened he turned to psychiatry and medication as well. Balancing his meds was ever-changing and precarious. He struggled to be completely open with those around him about how much and how deeply he struggled. He tried.

“As versed as Michael was with the silence around mental health issues in our culture, he feared the stigma of his diagnosis,” his family said. “He was on the cusp of revealing publicly how shaped he was by bipolar disorder, and how he was doing.”

His partner, Carina, said last week that Stone died “beautifully and peacefully” on July 16. “There was joy and release in his time of transformation,” she wrote on his Facebook page.

This story has been updated.

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