There is a beginning to these things and this beginning is a type of back story or an ethic if you prefer. At its heart it the idea of a great quest. A Great Quest is a concept one might encounter in a common novel of the fantasy variety. I an sure that it occurs in other places as well but I have no examples that stand out in the front of my mind.
A great quest can be as simple as a journey through dangerous country or saving the princesses from a band of highwaymen and it can be very complicated like building an empire, discovering some long lost artifact or rediscovering some bit of knowledge that has been long lost. All of these are similar themes that run through many a story but the idea itself is not that foreign to our daily lives in a non fantastic context. It is important to note that the Great Quest is not limited to fiction. There are Great Quests that happen here and now in our shared reality, maybe not as glamorous as rescuing the princess but great none the less.
For instance, going for a higher education beyond a Bachelors for the sole purpose of gaining insight into a thing that is otherwise incomprehensible to you. This could take a life time and odds are their isn’t a weekly paycheck in it for you, not that you can’t turn that knowledge into cold hard cash its just that the process is different. A cashless journey to a far distant land and staying for a year, a life time or somewhere in between, even raising a family and keeping said family together is a Great Quest. For myself the Great quest was knowledge, it was the world I wanted to understand, the human condition and why reality was the way that it was. This great quest had two lines of attack, one the hard sciences and the second, the occult and mysticism.
Now that I think of it that probably should have been my first warning there that odd combination of seemingly incompatible fields of study. To me though it made perfect sense as I had extrapolated them from a quote attributed to Carl Gustave Jung, “Psychology and physics are facets of the same concept.” To me it seemed only natural to infer that Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, the Occult and Mysticism were all facets of the same concept, in this case human consciousness or humanity itself if you like. Of course there will be time management issues but I felt as I slept very little that I should be able to manage. I had contingency plans if something got derailed or if funding dried up or even if I needed to transfer schools in mid stream. What I didn’t have contingency plans for was failure.
It has been said, by my Action Theory Professor that one cannot plan to fail. One might argue that a contingency plan is a way of dealing with failure but I think these plans are for foreseeable obstacles and away of planning to succeed. The Great quest is very much like a horse pulling a load. Horses in this case often wear blinders. These are used to keep the horse from being spooked by the various happenings around he or she. People on the great quest also wear blinders in this case allowing them to concentrate full energy on the goal before them. The down side to this is that when an event comes out of left field you don’t see it until just a fraction of a second before it makes contact. This spells disaster and that disaster, in my case, was a mental breakdown.
I distinctly remember the sensation that all of that knowledge in Calculus, Wave Mechanics, Differential equations and Organic Chemistry stood like a house of cards built on shifting sands and when it collapsed it took a great deal more with it. I was aware that I wasn’t going to be able to proceed into the Masters program right away, that I would need experience so that I might reinforce and strengthen the shaky knowledge I already had but at no point did I think I was crazy. The thought never crossed my mind. I entered the work force with out my degree thinking that in time I could go back and finish, the thought of collapse still hadn’t crossed my mind. The hardest thing was the realization that the goal I had been working on since the age of 12 was now unobtainable. That all that time and effort had made little or no difference and that not all problems could be overcome or goals achieved through nothing more than hard work. Reaching this realization though would take some years. I just couldn’t keep from continuing the act of pounding my head against the wall. I think it was those blinders that kept me from grasping the reality of the situation more quickly. In a weird way it was like suddenly finding yourself in prison, through no fault of your own and in this case the bars of the prison were your own mind.
What to do?
Everything had changed.
Rage was beginning to build.
I could plop down in front of a television and booze it up until I died. Lots of people do that or something a kin to this each year in these days of late. This is not new, people have been drinking themselves to death forever it seems, now its prescription drugs. The difference is just the age. I had to redefine myself. I had to give up the great quest and turn it it into a hobby of sorts, something of a passing fancy I could dip into on rare occasion. But that was only part of the solution, I also had to find something to do with myself, something I enjoyed. This was very difficult.
In reality it comes down to how we define ourselves. Many of us define our self by the Great Quest, or possibly a job description and even that we are a parent or wife or husband, when we lose this key definition, an idea so deeply entrenched in our minds and for so long that we aren’t even aware it is there. It is a large part of who we are. When this is gone it puts us at a loss. We have a definition of ourselves that has been removed from our existence. Finding a new direction is practically impossible without first realizing that underlying definition.
I can’t tell anyone how to do this, I don’t think there is an expert out there that can. This is one of those instances where our individuality is most apparent. We are peculiar beings. In the end all I can do is point out that it needs to be done but I have no idea where the guideposts are or what they say.
To anyone going through something like this all I can do is wish you God Speed. The only advice is introspection and perseverance. The only wish…
Have a better than average day.