Friday, January 22, 2010

S.O.S. Trapped in a Gray Box

I find myself in a gray box. Outside the box, the world waits for me. It waits for my contributions, my skills, and my gifts but I can't seem to leave the box.

Lately I seem to be just pacing and swaying in place, nearly paralyzed by my inability to move forward with any plans or goals. Ha! What plans and goals? A million years ago I knew what I wanted but today I feel completely uncertain of where I want to go, what I want to accomplish and even who I am. Since completing my doctorate, I've been demoralized and frozen, completely disgusted with my inability to grasp onto any ideas that would propel me forward.

I suppose part of it is that the momentum of my graduate work finally dumped me into a reality that I had not fully anticipated. I have a useless degree, a dead-end teaching job, and no ambition. (What happened to my ambition? I used to have loads of ambition.) About two years have passed since graduation and I just continue teaching despite the fact that it gets me nowhere.

Most troubling of all is my sense that I have wandered away from my calling, that Voice that beckons, chides, and challenges me toward my mission. Did I take a wrong turn somewhere? All the old tools that used to help magnify that Voice seem to have lost their power. I strain to hear but the Voice is all but stilled.

And this writing sucks. Sucks. I can't even do this anymore. I don't know how many times I've tried to write a blog entry only to abandon it partially completed. I'm bored and discouraged, and disappointed and increasingly pointless as a human being. A waste of education. A waste of time. A waste of sentiment. A waste of skin.

But I do have faith- just a very little held in reserve. If I did not have this tiny fragment of faith, I would not write this entry and I would not push the publish button. I know that while this is poorly written, self-pitying, irrelevant crap, someone will read it and will offer some small nudge. Perhaps there is a little tear in a corner of this gray box. Perhaps I will see the light and move toward it. And so now I push the publish button and wait....


Morgaine said...

While I'd love to be the one to give you the nudge, you just exactly what I was thinking just days ago. So, I won't give you a nudge; just company!

Bright Blessings,


Hystery said...


I imagine that this box is very crowded. If I had a dollar for every creative/intelligent/compassionate person I know who feels trapped and useless lately, I'd be a wealthy woman. Actually, that's not true. I don't know that many people. But I would be able to go out to eat. LOL

Bright Crow (Mike Shell) said...

Dear One,

Almost everyone I know seems stuck right now. I just talked to the head librarian of our Children's Department...a man who can ALWAYS find humor in disaster...and he feels stuck.

I'm not writing this to trivialize or deny your personal stuckness, merely to offer the possibility that your own real stuckness is magnified right now by whatever has the whole cosmos stuck.

Holding you in the Light for relief.

Blessed Be,
Michael Bright Crow

Morgaine said...

'Tis the Season, Hystery. And a good Season it is; come Spring we're going to bring Life like mad, just because we've been so caged through this long, cold, lonely Winter.


I am really enjoying you and your blog, regardless. Even trapped, we reach each other, no?


Lone Star Ma said...

I think that raising caring, compassionate children is enough, even when we feel we are not achieving any other grand purpose. That's what I think. What I feel is often more like what you said.

Natasha said...

I have felt that way at times in the past (and would not be surprised to again in the future).Your post reminds me strongly of my struggles with depression, in particular lack of ambition or enthusiasm for formerly loved activities. I cannot presume to have insight into your own mental health, but have you considered the possibility that your troubles are not of your own making? If there's any chance it's a chemical imbalance that's holding you still, there's plenty of help available.

Meanwhile, my heart is heavy with your struggle. Holding you in compassionate light.

Mary Ellen said...

Dear Hystery - I have SO been in your shoes. I'm going to say some obvious things, so bear with me. Are there any physical reasons (or treatable psycho-physical reasons) that you are feeling stuck and without energy? Do you have members of your local Meeting you could ask to form a support group for you? (I did this in the deepest darkness of being stuck on my dissertation writing.) Such a group could be a "spirit-led vocation" sounding board for you. Also, ambition is not always the healthiest attribute to nourish in ourselves. May you find that next step that has some light, and set off with good courage and a light heart.

Squirrel said...

The box IS very crowded. But *I* feel better knowing you're in the other corner.

Self-pitying can be very relevant.

Hystery said...

I do not feel less stuck but I certainly feel less alone and that is so very important when one is stalled out. Thank you all so much for responding so quickly. That was a very cool surprise. I forget how kind people can be.

A couple of you have suggested that what I may be dealing with is some form of clinical depression. Indeed, I know this to be the case. I have been depressed and/or anxious my entire adult life. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective) medications do not work with me. In fact, they make "my condition" (my personality is my condition!) much, much worse. For whatever reason, as is true of many women in my family, I have a weirdo personal chemistry that makes all drugs, from OTC painkillers to pyscho-therapeutic drugs, have unexpected and unpleasant side effects. Weee! Lucky me.

I do spend a great deal of energy maintaining my mental health which for me means that I take supplements, exercise, and engage in meditative exercises when I am overly stressed or having an anxiety attack. Come to think of it, I haven't exercised much lately. That could be a problem.

Spiritually, I am bereft. This may be coming from the process of academic work which seems to discourage me from that which is non-rational. Ironically, my dissertation challenged this kind of dualism. Still, it is mighty hard to resist skepticism if being a skeptic is what one is trained and paid to do.

Mary Ellen, I very much wish I felt confident enough in my meeting to ask for assistance. Here are my excuses. I'm articulating them because I find that articulating one's excuses often exposes them to more reasonable challenges that will eventually dissolve the fears they mask.

1. Friends at my meeting don't like me.
2. I don't know Friends at my meeting and don't trust them with my feelings.
3. I've seen no interest whatsoever in me even when I've offered my skills or assistance and when I've asked for help in the past, no one has helped.
4. No one has time for me.
5. Our family schedule does not allow for social interaction.
6. It is selfish to engage others in my problems.

Although in writing these I can already see a bit of self-centered and juvenile silliness in them, I'm going to leave these here unanswered to allow myself time to analyze them more carefully and critically.

Lone Star Ma, you're right. I would always tell anyone else in the world that rearing compassionate children is enough for anyone. But I don't actually believe it. I can feel myself slowly wasting away and my sadness will injure my children who will likely interpret my lack of fulfillment as related to the energy I use on them. Because, in part, this is true, the injury will be deeper.

Bright Crow, do you really think the Universe Itself is stuck? Or is it just the Winter as Morgaine suggests? Is it both? I've learned to distrust my own sensitivity to such things. I've become like the grown-up in stories who can no longer see the fairies or hear the animals speak.

In the end, I'm suddenly reminded that when looking up a word for my son in the dictionary my eyes settled on three words. Hel, holly, and hope. Interesting....

Morgaine said...

You've said so much there, Hystery. I'm sending you a hug right now. But more than that, I am sending light to you, 'miga. Spiritually bereft? Without time for sociable interaction? With those who dislike you and your ideas? No longer being able to see the faeries?

May the faeries dance in your dreams;

May the silliness of your imagination whisk you away on pillows filled with brightly-colored feathers;

May the beauty of the Winter’s Moon shine upon you and light your path;

May you see those who would think you silly (including yourself, if need be) with the eyes of Love for it will doubtless be reflected back upon you.

There are many things in this world that are quite real without any need for academic explanation or what some may call “sound reasoning.” The only things that are really, truly real, are those things we hold true in our hearts. Our minds are the tools we use to navigate with, but the heart is the real essence of us.

May a gift fall into your hands very soon that will take you to flight.

Deep Peace to you.

Leslie said...

Bright Crow is right that a lot of people seem to feel stuck right now. Personally I don't think the universe itself is stuck though. Firstly I don't think that's even possible. Secondly, I'm part of this universe and I don't happen to feel stuck at all, I feel like my life is right on course. Since I'm out of a job I might look stuck to others though ; )

I think we live in a culture that is of late sending us the constant message that we are all having a very hard time of it. Many of us who were brought up to be helpful feel deeply that We Should Be Able To Fix This! And of course we can' least not by ourselves and not quickly.
If you've got even a smattering of depression going the media message these days is going to just make everything seem that much worse/more pointless.
I sometimes cynically wonder how much listening to the news, which is so focused on the negative, keeps us thinking the world is worse-scarier-more dangerous than it actually is. Most of us are pretty ok most of the time, but to hear the reporters you'd think we were all on the thin edge of disaster every minute. It makes us feel like we really need "those in power" to "take care of us"....and of course that's to their advantage to have us believe we need them.
No matter how useless your degree seems to you right now, it is not wasted time, wasted effort, wasted money, wasted energy.
Nothing is Ever Wasted. This Universe is far more intelligent than that.
As my kids and I remind each other, just because we can't see what's going on doesn't mean nothing is going on. I honestly believe there's a greater plan behind every bit of this life....and since it's not My plan, or Your plan or any human's plan I think it's ok if we don't always understand it.
Things seem to work out ok in time without my fully grasping how that happens.
If you think this is nutty just ignore it....
Meanwhile I'n sending comforty thoughts and energy your way!

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Hystery,

Actually, your post reminds me of another post you wrote last year in which you spoke of boxes. Remember, you said your father used to put plain presents as well as fancy presents under the tree at church. And the unexpected surprise was that the plain ones had the best gifts for the children.

So what's my point? Even "gray boxes" have purpose. As a teacher, for years, I often used to think I was going "nowhere."

Only later did I learn how much difference I helped make in others' lives. So even though at present, your "teaching" may be getting you "nowhere," career-wise, it is getting others plenty of places:-)

Another important point. Remember that highly purposeful individuals often go into down times after a great accomplishment. They experience a time of lostness/listlessness until their next great ambition is found.
Isn't this maybe a part of your current bog? (blog/;-)

I have other stuff pawing to get out (like my cat Fizzy who just jumped up on my lap), but I will refrain from writing a tome here;-)

Sorry to give so much advice.

Hystery, be a branch in the Vine:-)

And new fruit will come. Live in the Divine Flow.

In the Light,


Anonymous said...

Hystery, I don't think that anything I or others say is going to make much difference until you come to see for yourself that you are most certainly not a useless lump. Raising decent human beings *is* important and teaching can never be regarded as dead-end.

If it's true what you say about Friends at your meeting, I would urge you to confront them; I'm sure that's not the way Quakers are supposed to be.

And finally, I'm pretty sure you won't take me up on this but a couple of years ago I *forced* myself to be a bit more social by joining a belly dance class (at age 60). Much to my own surprise I'm still at it and have performed twice in public (hula/belly dance fusion). As one of my class mates was heard to remark (though I have no terms of reference) it's better than coke :)

Be well,

Now blogless Sandra

Hystery said...

I seem to always have much to say...but not this time. I'm overwhelmed by all your kindness...Wow. Just, wow.

Thank you.

Heather said...

So much of what you wrote here resonates with me. I am also feeling uncertain about where I want to go with my life, even though just a few years ago I was full of plans and ambitions. And I don't know how many times I have begun writing a blog post only to convince myself that it was all trash and deleted it. I don't know of any solution. Sometimes I try to not worry about the future, not worry about where I will be in 5 years, and just focus on trying to make my current situation not so depressing, even though some days it is very difficult. I guess that is my advice, just to keep going, looking for the bright areas, and hoping that something will come up, that something will change. Although sometimes that can be little consolation. Good luck anyway, and my best wishes go with you.

RantWoman said...


Regarding asking for help from your Meeting, a few thoughts:

Open your ears? Are there others expressing hints of problems talking about what is real or making personal connection. Recently I was talking to a weighty Friend who, after discussing some themes around forming deeper connections, said something along the lines of "oh, we had a great workshop about that--20 years ago." Other people probably also have time constraints and fears of connection. So what can be done about it together?

Anonymous said...

You might feel like you're useless and a waste of space, but as Burns put it,O to see ourselves as others see us.

You see, I always check your blog. Every week, I have a peep to see if you've updated. When you haven't, I feel like I'm saving up a present to be opened at some other time; when you have, I feel like I'm unwrapping a gift.

Your blog - just your blog! not even the REST of what you do in the world - always makes me think harder, always makes me feel deeper. I don't always agree with you, though I most often do. But you push me to examine my assumptions, and that is invaluable.

If just your blog has this effect on one person who lives on another continent, how many other lives are you touching? How many other people are reading what you write and being changed by it? How many of your students are going into the world transformed by their interaction with you? What unknown and unexpected positive effects are you having on people in your community and far beyond?

You have no idea.

Having been through awful depression myself, contemplating suicide frequently for years, I know my thinking was totally whacked out. So here's what I realised about my own process:

How arrogant was I to assume that a) the universe should revolve around me and make me happy all the time, and b) that I was not having an enormously positive effect on others? I mean, they seem like opposites, contradictions, but they're not. It was arrogance on my part to believe that I should have the brass ring of Happiness, instead of working to bring peace to myself by providing myself with proper self-care; the world didn't owe me a living, I had to take responsibility for learning to notice the signs and take the appropriate steps to look after myself. It was arrogance on my part to make assumptions about the effects I had on others; how could I possibly know?

The hardest lesson for me is learning to accept responsibility without blame, to recognise that appropriate self-care is not selfishness and that failing to make it a daily habit (instead of only when I feel bad/overwhelmed/in need) not only contributes to my ill health but can actively harm the health of others. I am not sure I'll ever learn the lesson so well that I'll never have to think about it again - I suspect it's a lifelong thing - but if I don't learn and act on what I've learned, then I'm being a fool to myself.

If you can find anything helpful in my experience, that's grand.

If nothing else, remember that your experience of yourself as worthless is a world away from how many, uncounted and unknown, people see you.


parise said...

i don't know why we go on. sometimes going on seems not just pointless but even contradictory to common sense.

that's the problem with thinking.

faith is probably the only answer but damn, that's irritating.

maybe we should have a party in the box.

new years is the 14th of february. we can eat long life noodles and set off fire works. maybe the box will burn.

and since it's also that love holiday maybe all of us in the box could resolve to love our selves a wee bit more.

just a wee bit.

if you went to my meeting i'd give you a big old hug this morning.

be well.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Hystery--What a splendidly honest description of this cycle of your life! The first thought that came to me was the concept of "ripa"--the pause between the breath. If we didn't pause we would die. I think that that is so in the rest of our life. We're active, and then we need to "pause" and just be. It's seductive to think that productivity and feeling a particular kind of connection in life is whhat it's all about. It's easy to think that if we don't feel that way/aren't productive are useful in a certain way, that there is something wrong. Not necessarily so. The cycles and seasons are lovely examples also--some winters are longer and deeper than others. Also there is something to be said about accepting life on it's own terms/that present moment stuff. Your life has great value just because you are you in this present moment. I'm wondering if you could scoot yourself to that place, if you would feel somewhat more at ease. You are a good woman and have a good life just because you are you, and that is enough. Bright Blessings! Caroline Cornmoon

James Riemermann said...


My heart aches for you, and I hope the time when the box cracks open and new opportunities arise come soon. I know from our interactions online that you have a lot to offer.

Without understanding your situation well at all, I find myself wondering if, given how deeply unsatisfying your teaching is, you might consider seeking a radical change in your work life, a completely different path. Scary, perhaps foolhardy but perhaps not, I don't know. I have known a few people who have taken steps down in their work lives that turned out to be steps up.



Hystery said...


You've led me to tears of gratitude for your advice and concern. Truly, I did not expect more than a couple comments here. Not only the number but the quality here has me a bit overwhelmed. Let me say that I feel recharged with the knowledge that though I cannot at this point rise phoenix-like out of this box, I can, in fact, do purposeful, quiet work within it. I see that I'm so used to moving forward that I've forgotten that part of the journey also involves rest and pause. I think I must continue to write on this phase in new posts but I did want to share this link to the work of an artist who is exhibiting in a favorite museum near my home. Note the gray box at the bottom of the page. I think it is perfect.

Dogaroo said...

I've been sitting here in this dark, silent box for so very long, not realizing that others were silently sitting in this place, too. Thank you for speaking up & letting each of us know we are not alone, but in very good company. :-)

chelavery said...


You say you are stuck in a dead end teaching job and have no ambition. Have you sat with the possibility that perhaps (like it or not) you are exactly where the Universe is calling you to be? I think our culture teaches us to define ourselves so much in terms of our careers that when we look for spiritual inspiration, we over-expect it to come in the form of career or work or "accomplishment" guidance. Perhaps your calling is to something that is irrelevant to your day job -- perhaps the Goddess needs you to be a certain kind of presence in a specific place at this time, or something else for which any particular career ambition would be secondary. I am not suggesting that you submit to a life of boredom or that you should not address issues of depression or anxiety (speaking from experience). But I do encourage you to consider whether you are judging yourself wrongly for your "lack of ambition," and if there is some other way in which meaningfulness calls to you.

forrest said...

I've come late to the people pile, but I too have always loved what I've heard from you!

And I've been down in that "What on Earth am I doing here?" hole myself, a lot, recently enough. Reading other unhappy posts from you, I've wanted very much to reassure, but didn't have your email address. For awhile, I couldn't even access your blog because of some odd glitch!

I don't think your reaction to meds is as unusual as you think--Rather that what was unusual was being able to recognize that they were doing you harm, and to resist the social pressure to take them. But these things are often addictive, and I've known several people who had a very hard time after quitting, a long-lasting recoil effect.

The times just might not be conductive to much more than keeping one's head down and enduring. (See for what I consider to be a realistic long-term outlook. It's a little scary, but I find it reassuring, because the guy keeps insisting that human-human solidarity is going to turn out to be the only real wealth we've got!)

Sylvanus said...

I could identify with your comments so easily and even sat silently for a while before replying as my own 'stuckness' often makes me simply revert to silence as all words often feel meaningless and empty.

My own 'stuckness' has lasted a few years now and at first it concerned me so much, that the concern itself became just as much a problem and so I simply began trained myself to stop trying and simply wait, and the letting go was in iteself quite a relief - though at times one can still get very impatient, espcialy as this blocked feeling stretches to years and not just months and weeks.

I did so so much before, had so many ambitions and firm beliefs but suddenly found that all that doing and believing was meaningless and 'pointless' which I suppose is the source of my present 'stuckness'. However simply letting go and indulging this dark night of the soul can indirectly be quite a creative process as even the universe was born out of the night and dark chaos.

When o when will it all end, or is this just the begining. I still feel impatient at times, and bewail those seemingly empty activities and thoughts that one indulges to fill in those supposedly meaningless and pointless days. But every now and then a ray of light bursts through the darkness and lights the way, and each time that ray of light gets brighter and by avoiding the clutter of my own impatience and trying, I feel able to appreciate that light more and more.

So hey, join the club, but go easy on yourself as one might do more harm by beating yourself up by thinking there is a right or wrong way regarding all of this.

I hope that did'nt all sound tooooo trite.