1975. I’m 26 years old and my life is just what I always dreamed it would be, yet I’m raw and desperate. I’ve achieved all the things I set out to do: travel, happy marriage, a meaningful job. I’ve somehow proved myself Successful in conventional ways and unconventional ways, taking on all the tasks of being an acceptable member of the Counterculture of the time. And then, without knowing why, I hit a dead end.
It happens in a moment. I’m walking down the street and I suddenly feel flat and hollow inside. Not there. It seems like a dead end: there’s no exit in sight. I’m deeply scared, and my bed seems like the best refuge. I spend a week there. Soon it’s January 2nd. I’ve been on a holiday break from teaching , and I have no idea how I’ll be able to go out in the Real World, much less function in a classroom. I beg my husband to take me to the state mental hospital because I think maybe shock therapy will work.
He convinces me to try one day back at my job. I somehow get to the school and walk in the door , clutching my lesson plans. The sheer challenge of coping with a class of rowdy ninth-graders takes everything I have. But it also distracts me enough that I get through that day. I decide to take it step by step. I go back the next day. And the next.
Nights and evenings are spent latching on to little pieces of hope: insights or information that bring a brief respite from the fear and the pain of depression. I take desperate note of insights from friends and strangers and pursue random articles I ferret out in magazines and books.
Again, this is 1975. It’s a little more cumbersome to follow the leads than it is today, what with no way to hop online for answers and all. But I was fanning every little glimmer of hope that came my way.
I uncovered one study showing that schizophrenics and religious mystics had almost exactly the same profile. The notable difference, as far as I can tell, was that one group seemed a whole lot happier and more at peace than the other.
Here was a clear message. One of my friends had mentioned that maybe I was having a spiritual crisis. I entertained the possibility, not even knowing what that was since I’d never thought of or used that word before. It occurred to me that one thing I could do about these two clues was to explore what positive paranoia would look life in my life. I figured the exact opposite of paranoia was seeing the possibilities lurking behind the darkness. It was a kind of hide-and seek game I began. I see now that this is one of the key decisions that moves me through the dark and kept me kept afloat in life ever since.
Depression lurks everywhere in my family tree. My only sister took her life at age 43, its tragic victim. I always thought I’d have periodic times when this was part of my life. But it hasn’t happened for 40 years now.
I don’t know why. But yesterday, I looked online to discover my invention really is a “thing,” but it has another name: Pronoia. Apparently there are some other people who have discovered it too. We’re all figuring this out together.
What discoveries have you made in the middle of dark times? What supports you now as those days hit? Where do you find hope?
Photo by Geoffrey Whiteway, stockvault.net