Lost in Place, Finding Home


Simple things can overwhelm, turn me upside down, submerge who I am in a great wave. I was turned over once as a kid, swimming at a beach near LA, the ocean churning and huge. I tried to jump into a breaker and ride it in, but the surge tossed me up in its gritty gnash of turgid green, where I whirled about, then smashed head first into the sand. Lying there on the beach, I turned to see if I was safe and saw what was left of the wave easing away in a mass of bubbles, like so much harmless fizz in a glass. I had been completely lost inside that thing, powerless to move, jetsam to be thrown aside. And now it was nothing.

It’s one thing to be taken over by a force outside you, another to be overwhelmed from within – tossed into emptiness only by your mind. Little things – nothing at all really – can tear you loose from the ground you stand on.

I was driving home one evening on autopilot – it was late, I was tired, preoccupied. My mind was obsessing, vice-tightened on every mistake I had made in my work that night. I had done everything wrong, was sure my colleagues now thought me a fool, a liability. How could I have done this, said that? Every detail cut into my skull, and I thought my head would just crack with the tension.

How could I go back to the office the next day, continue working as if nothing had happened. How could I live with myself? I could never do anything right – I was a fraud, and everyone would know. I was the star in this masterpiece of depressive thinking.

Then I came to a stop sign, a routine stop sign. There wasn’t any light, not even moonlight, but what I could see was suddenly all wrong.

I knew I must be near my home, but I couldn’t recognize a thing. I had come through here hundreds of times, yet now everything was strange. Those tall dark masses must be a row of trees – but there is no row of trees on that corner. How could the road angle off to the left? I knew it went straight ahead, it had to go straight ahead!

I was completely lost. I panicked – I couldn’t make any sense of this space. It was like driving off the freeway into an emptiness without direction or even the pull of gravity. Whatever internal compass it is that keeps me oriented on the face of the earth was broken – a suspended needle spinning round its wobbly circle over and over again, and my mind was spinning with it.

I tried to search my memory for the corners and streets I knew to get my bearings – but there were too many – I could hardly think straight. I was flailing inside, and I couldn’t choose among those rapid flashes. This is crazy, I told myself, just calm down for a minute – it’s no big deal. Why is this happening?

But I had to do something in that dark, empty place without a sign I could see. I was all panic, but I knew one thing. I was in my car, the wheel in my left hand, the shift knob in my right, the accelerator next to the foot pushing way too hard on the brake.

I forced myself to stop thinking and drove straight through what felt like a wall of flashing red lights warning me not to move. But that was all I could do, and somehow I just did it. If I kept on, I would have to find something familiar, something that would place me back where the world was instead of in this nothingness. Movement felt good. Panicked confusion was so many bits of broken glass cutting my hands, but here was a smooth and useful fragment.

It took another couple of miles heading straight down the silent street until I found it. A light, a sign with a name I knew, a corner with a small store and post office, just where they were supposed to be. I knew where I was. A few miles too far, but I knew exactly how to get back. I knew where my house was and would soon be there.

Everything looked right, I could sink into the comfort of the familiar, an order around me that contained my feelings, my awareness. The world was still there, and I was back in place. I wasn’t lost, and the panic ebbed away. No crisis, just a dark night. I knew where I was.

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21 Responses to “Lost in Place, Finding Home”

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  1. John,

    I have to admit that I felt as though I could cry when I read your comment. You are so encouraging and I appreciate it so much.
    Yes. I suppose I can stand back. Often I feel like I stand back so far I will never be in touch with anything at all though. Not sure how that works.
    I do like the idea of writing “a few rings around the harmful stuff” though.
    I also like it that you say “no matter how fragmentary” because it feels like being ‘let off the hook’.
    I was touched that you made the effort to read some of what I wrote. The posts on the langauge of pain, although written ‘at a distance’ are actually quite deeply personal and I think the prickling in my eyes came from the fact tht someone had actually read them and been moved.
    I’M moved by your encouragement and your kindness.
    Thank you for reading.


    • john says:

      It’s great to find a blogger who is honest and brave enough to talk about some of the most difficult things. People should read what you write – I’m only sorry that I have such limited time now that it’s hard to spend as much time with your writing – and other good blogs – as I want to.

      Keep at it. I’m sure the writing itself is a healing act.


  2. Kathy says:

    Very descriptive writing. Multiple layers of meaning for a reader. Comfort too–someone else has been there and survived. 4 years going down this dark road with an occassional light-streetlight–to provide a glimpse of world around me. I am appreciative of the medicines that provide a lifting of the weight but there are still so many days when the weight seems to grow much heavier than usual. I find myself looking forward to your next entry to have a chance to see what you see. Keep writing….

    • john says:

      Hi, Kathy –

      Thank you so much. 4 years is a long time to be without much light, and I hope that changes soon. What I’ve seen is the importance of breaking out of the inventory of fear and debility that I used to keep track of, goods (bads) on the shelf I never thought I could part with. Writing about that over and over again and trying lots of other strategies finally flipped a switch, just that suddenly, and what I saw changed completely.

      I wish you the best in finding the way that works for you.


  3. John!!!! I haven’t hardly blogged at all, and if I did, wrote it from my e-mail account. I haven’t been online blogging for ages and OMG I have missed you!!

    I am still trekking along and trying to put one foot in front of the other. Not a small task at times. 🙂

    I have missed you. *HUGE HUGE hugs*

    • john says:

      It’s great to hear from you – I’ve been missing you too! I hope you can soon move a little more smoothly and happily.

      All my best to you & total hugs —


  4. Thanks. That’s such a kind thing to say.
    Around six years ago, any passion for words or music that I ever had just turned to dust and blew away.

    Keeping a blog is going to be a real challenge… but, I’m trying!

    Warm wishes.

    • john says:

      WonderingSoul –

      I hope you can keep on writing, no matter how fragmentary or hard it may seem. Your posts on the language of pain are really moving and reflect an ability to stand back a bit and write a few rings around some of the harmful stuff. I think it helps to break apart pain and depression and see what they’re made of. I’ve found that there’s something about writing down what I see going on inside that’s empowering, even just a little bit at a time.

      All my best to you –


  5. Yes John. Spoken like a true depression veteran… The inability to recognise all its masks leads us to deny we are depressed and therefore causes utter chaos and confusion in our minds… Which does, as you say, give the darkness much more power.
    You have to know your enemy in order to fight it effectively.
    I think that depression relies on its stealth and its unpredictability. It relies on us failing to recognise its disguise.
    I’d like to write a post on this myself when i have the strength to face doing so.

    Thanks for your response.

    • john says:

      Wondering Soul –

      I hope you have the strength quite soon to write about this. Your insights and way of describing them are original and extremely helpful.

      Feel better soon!

      All my best –


  6. Barbara says:

    Hello John,

    I couldn’t decide as I read your story whether this was a one time occurence for you or the one you chose to write about. What your writing did do was instigate (again) the investigation of my own feelings of lost and loss.

    About four years ago, I had a lost experience. It was different than yours. All of a sudden I didn’t know who the person was that was acting, living some of the most foreign of things. It seemed like ‘overnight’ but it was a gradual process culminating in a big event, I presume to get my attention.

    Since that time, I’ve tried to return to the person of “before”. I find I cannot accomplish that either, maybe don’t want to. I keep believing or hoping there has to be another choice, a new combination that will make a person that no longer lives lost, in and with mostly losses. It has been infinitely more difficult to remain with my third option.

    I think if I could somehow make my four years seem like your single evening car ride, I’d be at that juncture where I knew where I was and how to get home. Or in my case living as a person I could exist with comfortably, more effortlessly. Maybe soon.

    As Evan recommended reading here again today, this was at once for me, a painfully honest, wonderfully written and thought provoking story. Thanks.

  7. I am so moved by your writing. You have captured so beautifully the throes of panic that try to overwhelm in the disorientating darkness.
    I too suffer from depression although, it’s been so long now that I don’t always recognise or know it (contrary, I suppose, to what you would suspect).
    I hope that you keep working out in the emotional gym and that you can keep running the red lights when it becomes desperate.
    Thank you so much for sharing this.
    I will be reading a little more of your writing if that’s ok.
    Warm wishes.

    • john says:

      Hi, Wondering Soul –

      Thank you for such kind words – and please do read a bit more. It’s here for you.

      I know just what you mean when you say you don’t always recognize or know depression when it comes. Just ask my wife how many times I’ve angrily denied her observations that I seemed depressed – even after all these years of talking about it. I always want to believe that I’m doing better than I am – I think that’s one of the things that gives depression more power, not less.

      My best to you — John

  8. Evan says:

    A fantastic piece of writing John, thanks. Others have commented on what it is about and how it has helped them, which is I guess what is most important.

    I’d just like to add that it is very well written too.

    • john says:

      Thank you, Evan!

      And many thanks also for noting this post on your blog – that’s so generous a thing to do.


  9. Jaliya says:

    “Simple things can overwhelm” … Ain’t that the truth, and Lord I’m tired of it! John, was it an experience of sensory / perceptual overload? … Even too little was too much?

    I have a dear friend who loves to lament, “It’s too MUCH!” — Sometimes she’s joking and we laugh ourselves silly … and we both know that “It’s too MUCH!” is often our quotidian experience, given that we both live with long-term depression and PTSD.

    “No crisis, just a dark night” … Very bittersweet words to read — The “dark night” is another aspect of the “dysregulated ordinary” for me … The “dark night” is the familiar … Do you recall Camus’ words about the invincible summer? — Often, in major depression, the opposite is true most of the time — “I felt in myself an invincible winter” …

    John, your words ring true. I’m so glad you were able to right yourself and relocate yourself. It’s so exhausting to be spun out of orbit by “the little things” … and yet that is what happens to a brain that is wired for overwhelm at the slightest blip on the radar. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed at the thought of just brushing my teeth!

    I think, John, that your words here, and the harmonious beauty of your blog, are a True North for your soul — no matter how lost you feel, you return here, and you compose beauty with your words and images. Your blog is an oasis. Celebrate that, no matter how crappy your workday has been. Your online presence is a gift!

    This entry has helped me to right myself tonight. I had a crappy day — slept through most of it; did nothing that I imagined I would accomplish. A rather lost day … and then I read your piece here, and I’ve righted myself a little bit.

    Thank you. 🙂

    • john says:

      This is so humbling – thank you is hardly enough, but that will have to do for now since I don’t know what else to say – thank you! It’s true that the blog has been an oasis – but also a kind of emotional gym – sweating out fear, grief and the rest – often hoisting words like weights a little too heavy to hold up for long.

      I love your adaptation of Camus, but, as I’ve found, that winter isn’t so invincible – if you’re lucky. (Actually, the images I play with to describe depression have been a big part of reducing its grip.)

      I don’t know what causes that sort of sudden disorientation – it certainly has to do with stress, and probably depression.

      May you find more ways to reclaim those lost days. Of course, if winter is the problem, move on down to California where the sun is. 😉


  10. Dear John,
    A very well-written essay. While I’ve never felt what you have, you certainly describe it clearly and I can see how disturbing it would be.


    • john says:

      Thank you, Susan –

      I’m never sure which experiences of mine will match up with what other people have been through and which are really uncommon. I’ve had a few of these moments of complete disorientation about where I was – at widely spaced times in my life. I’ll have to check around to see if this sort of thing has been written up anywhere.

      Thanks so much for your kind comment about the writing.

      My best to you — John

  11. A dark night but a bright, lucid metaphor, you know.

    I’m glad of the reminder that the devil truly is in the details. And how easily they can get under our skin!

    • john says:

      Hi, youngbohemian –

      Exactly, I guess it’s hard to take anything for granted.

      Thank you for your comment. I’m glad you said hello – now I can discover your blog! 😉


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