The State of Being Lost
I think now is a good time to explore why I included the word “lost” in the title of my blog.
To start, it is a bit of a nod to Tyler Perry; someone whose personal narrative I admire, and whose work I enjoy. Mr. Perry’s story, in terms of the judgments passed on him, his career and the stories he chooses to tell, is in great part why I appreciate him – I may explore this in another entry, but that is not my focus today.
I switched the Mad to Lost, as a statement on where I’m currently at (intellectually/psychologically/spiritually), but also in relation to questions I want to explore about we are as culture, as women, and as a society and why.
Lately, when someone genuinely asks how I am doing I admit that I am feeling a little lost, and there is a pregnant pause in the conversation. I have come to have no shame about my game when it comes to mental health, but until very recently, social etiquette dictated that you keep it to yourself.
I have had challenges with maintaining good mental health since I was a young adult. I occasionally battle depression – not the jump off a bridge kind, but the curl into a ball, sit in the dark and hide from the world kind. I am also given to occasional panic attacks. Based on the situations that tend to provoke these attacks, the medical term that is currently the norm is agoraphobia.
Given that I firmly believe that my challenges are less biochemically induced than environmental (nurture not nature), I have chosen not to go the pharmaceutical route in dealing with my challenges – after extensive talks with my doctor as well as one-on-one counselling! Instead, I chose to build skills and strategies to help me mitigate the wear and tear of environmental factors I have no control over.
I formally recognised my mental health challenges just before starting studies to become a social counsellor. Needless to say, for me school was part training and part figuring out my own baggage. There I would be introduced to many models of human development, and I would fall in love with the work of Erik Erikson, and his theory of psycho-social human development. While most theories support the idea that the person is formed in childhood, and that is all there is to it, Erikson theorised that we develop over a lifetime – eight stages in all, and that at each stage there is something we are psychologically negotiating that will set the stage for the next.
At first, counselling drove me up a wall; all that digging into the past for what? Finding Erickson gave purpose to that digging, and empowered me with the understanding that once I figured out where my programming went wrong I could fix it. Moreover, examining my life through this lens, allowed me to see the implications of my environment and how that impacted my sense of self. To get the most out of such exploration, I learned to loosen my grip on my sense of self, so that the discoveries made could be properly integrated into a renewed sense of self.
When I tell people I am feeling lost, it often disturbs them, and they tend to respond with sympathy. They cannot conceive of the possibility that feeling lost could ultimately be a good thing.
For me, I will be going along and everything is hunky-dory, then one day I wake up, and everything just feel slightly off. Things I used to enjoy no longer hold me, a desire to connect to the outer world diminishes, and I start to feel like I am just spinning my wheels. -I had a workshop leader once, who labeled this feeling as Divine Discontent, and said it was an indication that the universe was inviting you to grow. I have come to believe she was right.
One of two things will then happen: a) I find some project to throw myself into as a distraction from my malaise or b) I fall into depression. Now you might think a is the better deal, but the truth is, for me, allowing b is the faster route to re-balancing.
Here is the thing, I can only indulge myself so long – remember environmental/emotional not bio chemical. If I allow myself to get in touch with my feelings of depression, it does not take long before I get sick of myself and focusing on that which is not in my power to fix, and move into problem solving mode.
So to focus on my current sense of being lost, it started at the end of last year when I a) lost my job and b) sat jury duty. Now, fundamentally, losing my job was partially my choice, and I won’t go into details because there is no point. What is important is that the situation had me questioning my competency and the integrity of my relationships with others.
Sitting jury duty on the other hand, left me with a serious psychological skid mark, which I can do little about, as I am legally barred from discussing the particulars with anyone. All I can say is that the process undermined what little confidence I had in our judicial system and left me feeling less safe in the world. Having been informed of the loss of my job just after I began jury duty – I knew of the possibility before, it only became official after, my employer did nothing wrong– meant that had a lot of time on my hands to stew in my own thoughts after I was released. Needless to say – hello depression, my old friend.
Now the thing about depression is that no matter how many times I’ve been there, it always seems to sneak up on me. At first it starts with me feeling like I am just in a funk, and then eventually, someone like my husband says something like, “I feel like I haven’t seen you in days.” That will kick start a process of reflection that will make me realize that I haven’t been truly present for a while and start to track my avoidance behaviours. Instead of just changing my behavior –fake it till you make it- I have learned to question the causes as a way of generating options for change.
The first step was to accept I could do nothing about my feelings as it related to the court experience – this is just something I will carry for the rest of my life. I will have long periods where I don’t think about it, then something will flash me back, and my reaction can be as severe as a full blown panic attack. I breathe through it, have a good cry if necessary and move forward.
Then I had to figure out what exactly I was feeling- feelings of futility, of being untethered, of uncertainty of purpose and impact, feelings that I am not doing enough to foster change and fear that change is not possible, and most devastating of all, the feeling that hope is slipping away – Ford/ Legault /and probably Scheer never mind Trump?! The undermining of the Fourth Estate? Alternate truth? The gleeful and entitled hoarding of resources? Climate change deniers? What would my senior years look like?
That was about the time I got sick of myself and started coming out of the cave of depression. My thought spirals were doing me absolutely no good and it was time to start putting one foot in front of another. I got a job – two in fact- started to invest myself in others, and I decided to battle on my feet rather than from my metaphorical fetal position.
So that is where I am now; living my divine discontent as I try to find my way and shape the next chapter of my life, given that my underpinnings have come loose; LOST.
Interesting note: Doing this blog forced me to review Erickson’s theory, only to realize I am exactly where I am supposed to be at this point in my life, struggling with the things I am supposed to be struggling with – stage 7. For your own edification here is a synopsis of Erikson’s theory:
Tomorrow, I will I will probably look at questions related to gender or culture: I don’t know which yet.
(Note: I use the word culture as opposed to race. I identify culturally as Black, West Indian and/or a person of colour, but when it comes my race, I only identify as human.)