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have been able to do without any real effort, what they have taken for granted as their due, has all of a sudden been withdrawn.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.