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Losing One’s Way, Losing Yourself

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Do you ever get lost? I don’t mean physically lost, but emotionally and mentally lost. One morning you wake up and find yourself wondering what the hell you did for the last month and a half and realize you have no idea. It’s not that you’ve forgotten, but when you play back the tape of your memory what shows up doesn’t look familiar, or seems completely out of character.

“That’s not me,” you say to yourself. “I don’t act like that, do I?” The next thing you know you’re questioning everything you do and say and doubting the veracity and of your feelings and wondering at your judgement. You’ve gone from being a relatively self-confident individual to doubting your competence and capabilities in a flash.

It seems to be something that happens to people who have a very intense focus in their lives and all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, that focus disappears. An artist who all of a sudden is unable to produce, an athlete who goes into a slump, or any person who’s work requires them to maintain a certain level of intensity, are all probably subject to these circumstances.

A writer who has been cruising along churning out several thousand words a day for an extended period of time, all of a sudden finds even the task of writing a single paragraph incredibly difficult. The hitter, with a .360 average, falls below the Mendoza line and can’t get on base except when hit by a pitch, and the stock broker who all of sudden sees everything go south no matter what he does, have something in common.

What they have been able to do without any real effort, what they have taken for granted as their due, has all of a sudden been withdrawn. That certain something that gave them distinct status, even if only in their own mind, has vanished.

Initially they won’t even notice, it will just be one of those days when things don’t go exactly as planned. It’s amazing how many of those days you can have when you don’t want to admit something’s wrong. After a while, and you’re still having a bad day, you start running away.

The last thing you want to think about is the actual problem; who really wants to contemplate the loss of what makes them special, so on both a conscious and unconscious level you look to ignore it. You may stop sleeping well at night and then find yourself too tired during the day to do the things you’re normally capable of, providing a great excuse for not doing anything at all.

Illnesses will crop up, that while not crippling are sufficient in their strength to excuse your poor performance and let you off the hook. You look for and cling to anything that will prevent you from having to actually deal with the circumstances that are causing the problem.

Because you are not getting fulfilment from your normal source you start looking for substitutes. Booze, drugs, shopping, anything at all that gives you a momentary thrill to fill the void created by not being able to do what you are accustomed to doing. But none of them really quite do the job.

All of a sudden you’re displaying far too many symptoms of clinical depression and that’s when you begin to face up to the fact that there might be something going on. But is the depression a cause of the problem, or are the symptoms appearing as a result of the problem. Even worse, could it be a little of both?

The depression, which is sapping your will, which was caused by being unable to do anything, is now preventing you from doing anything. Thus making you even more depressed which in turn makes it harder to work and, well you get that picture.

This is around the time that the irrationality sets in. Your mind starts playing tricks on you and bringing out any and all insecurities and fears that you may have accumulated in the span of your life. Your temper is only barely in check and you flare up at the slightest thing, real or imagined, and you find yourself snapping at other people.

By now what has happened is that you’ve even begin to lose site of what the root cause of the problem is. You’re feeling so disoriented and out of sorts that you have become so lost in the confusion that you don’t notice what’s happening to you. No matter how irrational, everything you do feels like it’s supposed to at that moment.

So what happens, how does this spiral ever end? Some people are better prepared than others to deal with this situation. When you hear a professional athlete, often a baseball player, talk about being in a slump, they talk about working through it. Day in day out they go out and try to hit the ball hoping and praying that their talent hasn’t deserted them.

No one ever just stops doing what it is they are supposed to be doing, and its that constant plugging away that ends up rescuing you. At the very least you retain a minute trace of what it is that made you feel complete. You may be lost in the deluge of emotions but you have a lifeline around your waist that keeps you from being completely swept away.

It’s the very fact that whatever you do is so important to you that it has the potential to drive you crazy when the ability deserts you that ends up being your salvation. No matter how far you drift it will still anchor you sufficiently that you very nearly always make it back to your safe harbour.

A very common warning offered to patients by their therapists is not to let themselves be defined by their jobs. To have a life that exists outside their job description. Unfortunately any job that requires passion like the arts, years of development like athletics, or is high reward and high risk like that of a stockbroker, separation is tantamount to impossible.

It is especially difficult for an athlete or an artist because their success depends on their abilities to produce at a certain level. They really are their job and you can’t very well leave that at the office can you?

It might be that very few of you have experienced what I’ve tried to explain, or maybe some of you have experienced it and not fully understood what was happening to you at the time. But the next time you are tempted to call the star player on your favourite team a “bum” because he may not be producing as well as you like. Or to think of him as an arrogant pig because he seems aloof; forget about the money and the glory, and think about the human struggling to achieve his heart’s desire there in front of you on a daily basis.

That’s what artists and athletes do day in and day out. Whether you see them at work or not the process is ongoing. They are working to achieve their heart’s desire to either enlighten or entertain anyone who cares to watch or listen. Some of them achieve glory but others just do it because they love to and they are driven to.

When something, anything, interferes with that desire, their sense of self is jeopardized and they have to struggle to hang on to their identity. That’s the real cost involved in producing a painting, writing a novel, or hitting over .300 for the season.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • Andrew

    Thank you for your post. It is spot on.

  • Tiffany

    Absolutely brilliant! This is the place I had been for awhile and have recently had clarity and peace in understanding with what was happening. You were able to verbalize this so eloquently. Thank you.

  • Wollister

    This is close if not exactly how I feel at the moment. I am 22 and i have been out of school for a semester and dealing with death in my family. Brilliant post, I am glad to have been able to read this

  • Arun

    I want to begin by saying i think everybodies comments are fantastic, very thoughtfull.

    I can’t help but think that any feeling of being unsure or more dramatically, depressed comes from dissatisfaction. An occupied mind brings us nothing but satisfaction and allows us to be inspired. The difficulty lies in the sadness stopping us from finding that satisfaction. I suffer from this at the moment, never have done before but it has hit me hard because i am passionate about my creative work and at the moment am unable to do it. Money is an issue, i have no job so i must concentrate on this before my passions can be fully realised.

    As a compliment to you all, surely the creative mind allows us to imagine the better things more vividly as long as the fundamentals of our hapiness are met. Creativity relies on our basic happiness and will emphasise whether we are happy or not.

    Peace of mind will get you everywhere and is very easy to achieve because it is simple, from peace of mind creativity will take you to wherever you want to go.

  • marie

    If I had cared to write an article about the empty thoughts that have long shrouded any rationality constituted within the depths of my own psyche… this would have been it. I am 21 and a final year student studying English. I have spent a lifetime immersed within the world of grammar, syntax and metaphors. They were the intangible fibers that defined my being. Grades were perfect and a peculiar calmness and contentment were obtained from the words that engraved themselves upon a page untainted from previous expression. Yet this academic year, words deserted me, essays were left unwritten and my perfect average plummeted to mere nothingness. I barely recognize the person that I am. Somedays I spend hours gazing into my mirror, but I can see nothing but the shell of the person that I once was. All sense of selfhood is gone. To loose the subjected self, the very essence of one’s being is certainly the greatest scourge in life. Somedays I feel so lost that I can barely breathe. I spend my days floating, not sure where I’m drifting or if I’ll never return and anchor myself upon the path I previously thought I was meant to follow. But I cling desperately to the hope that I will return there. I need to believe this, even though sometimes I struggle immensely to entertain such a hope. Not so long ago one lecture, in an attempt to shake the barrenness that grips my soul, told me that writing is my craft, and although that was a beautiful thing to say to me, I responded with involuntary tears as I knew that the description was incompatible with the person I have become. It belonged to the past and to the girl I once was. I am different now. I am someone else, a person who belonged to a world without words or contemplation. Everyone knows the common axiom “everything happens for a reason”, or “sometimes one needs to lose oneself so that one can find oneself”, but I am far too cynical to entertain such ideas but I do believe I have learned something from my loss: I have discovered the limitations of discourse and the nihilism contained within the dialogue of human expression.

  • Stephen

    I have to agree with all of you out there that say its good to get lost, but its always nice to have a place to come back to. I’m 22 and wasted 4 years of my life, feeling depressed, feeling like nothing I did mattered anymore. I did so many stupid things that I don’t care to mention. I was so lost and helpless, feeling like I was at the bottom of the ocean of life and no one would ever find me. Never to return with all the floaters that coast through life. After reading this post, I feel somehow lighter, ever so slowly returning to the surface. To a world of color and sound.

  • Dave

    You have just explained what has happened to me since I missed a semester of college due to personal family matters. Thanks a million for voicing it.

  • Victor Lana: “By the way, even those guys around the Mendoza line make some nice $$$.”

    And how! If only we all could be adequately paid for just doing the minimum at our jobs!

  • someone said “sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way to come back a short distance correctly”…
    i would know who said this if i replayed “grumpy old men”…

    the creative process, not unlike a spiral staircase, holds many fulfilling and seemingly empty moments…
    i would assert that we ought not expect every turn to bring us something but rather understand that every turn brings us that much closer to where we want to be…
    at the same place in the turn, but 4 levels up, we turned out one of our best works ever…to become discouraged with the same place on every new turn just because it renders little or nothing is to disregard the many turns it took to get to the previous position of creativity in the first place…

    and sometimes we must only be patient with ourselves…we don’t like doughy biscuits, yes?

    deadlines are different…even perseverance can’t force a good idea…that’s what downtime and a little notepad are for…keeping a file of drafts open and/or a journal is always useful when the ideas just won’t come out when we need them to…

    personally, i found depression (not sadness; i mean “i’m probably gonna do myself in soon” kind of depression) to be an almost endless supply of writing fodder, much of it rendering a good many things as they were and for reference…and of course some of it was just hideous, but we have to write crap in order to get it out of the way so the not-crap gets through…

    you can hardly eat another meal when you’re nauseous if you don’t first throw up…just be careful not to eat the same thing again…

  • Excellent. There is nothing more wasteful than depression and only one thing I can think of more fun than creating stuff — sex.

    I invite you to a light, quick post “Creativity and Sex” in the Sci/Tech section. It is related but not as serious and insightful as yours.

    Happy New Year.

    See it at Creativity and Sex

  • Gypsy,

    You know (excuse me while I open my bottle of Jack Daniels) you know you’re right about losing your way sometimes (excuse me while I pop open this beer). But the truth is that sometimes losing one’s way is a good way to find a different path.

    At one time I didn’t write for three years. Nothing! Zilch!! After dumping poetry (I still wish I could go back to it sometimes) I’ve written at least sixty short stories, two novels, and my latest (a book of 9/11 stories).

    Sometimes (excuse me while I replace my Buddy Weiser) we just have to lose our way. Sometimes it is for the best.

    Nice post.

    By the way, even those guys around the Mendoz line make some nice $$$.

  • A great article!
    I’ve linked to it at Sand Storm.

  • Chantal Stone

    gypsyman, get out of my head….you just defined the past few years of my life. thanks for the perspective.