When Change Feels Like Losing Your Mind: A Story of Spiritual Emergence

by Jessica Sabo

When I quit my job in mental health, I did so because I wanted to feel more sane. Though I really enjoyed working with my clients, some of whom experienced psychotic episodes or delusions of one sort or another, I became tired of never being able to do enough self-care to recharge at the end of the day. 

My decision to quit my job had been accompanied by some other powerful inner changes: namely, creating relational boundaries, allowing more adventure through travel, and deciding that I wanted to move closer to family. Though these changes all felt empowering and right, they were all still just that—changes. My decisions to align more with myself in my life had launched me into a period of major transition and change.

What was intended to free up my life and feel good soon turned into a surprisingly painful, scary time of breaking down the structural elements that had held me. I felt like the mush in the cocoon as the caterpillar disintegrates down to a cellular level so it can re-form itself into a butterfly. Now, I don’t know what cellular mush really feels, but I felt like something had died…or was getting lost. Was it my mind?...My connection to human life?...Was I going to turn into a purely spiritual being? Wait. Was I crazy to worry about these things? But they’re possible, right? Wait…right?

When I quit my job, I thought I was creating more space for sanity to enter in. Instead, I slowly watched my mind slip into states where it felt like my sanity was leaving me.

Exacerbated by my new lack of schedule, I had enough free time to feel increasingly groundless. Newly separated from a tight community of coworkers, I was plunged into isolation. As the yarn spun, my terror deepened.

This, at times, felt utterly petrifying. My life has included a spiritual component for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always been more interested in religion and spirituality than most other topics. Because of this, I was equipped with enough stories of mystics and prophets and spiritual emergence to create a vivid mental list of what could be going on with me. Was I getting a kind of spiritual steroid shot? Was I becoming enlightened? Was I entering a spiritual emergency that would trigger a full-blown psychotic episode? Am I doing this completely wrong?

Writing this out makes me feel self-conscious, even embarrassed. What would people think if I told them that I’d spent parts of the past couple weeks wondering if I was some special human destined to a path towards spiritual enlightenment and power? What kind of look would they give me if I told them that I now partially, personally understand how people could go from feeling sane to being convinced they were Jesus Christ?

I am realizing that for me, change – sense of purpose – community – a set schedule (all the things I set into motion when I quit my job) = potential for some existential questioning and mental instability. Perhaps this isn’t the case for other people experiencing change. Other people may respond differently. Sometimes I respond differently. This just turned out to be my cocktail for this particular transitional period.

Ironically, in my former job, I spent most of my time helping people insert things into that equation in hope of relieving their mental suffering. When the tables were turned, my friends were the ones who became my rocks and sounding boards and helped me come back to myself. 

I realized that to ground myself in difficult periods I need to talk to people every day. I need to eat three good meals and sleep 8 hours. If I don’t have a job, I can volunteer. I need to express what’s going on in my head, even and especially it if disturbs me. I can do this through writing, making art, or even better, talking to a friend who will listen without judgement. I also need to do activities that have historically connected me to Self—like reading.

In the midst of my isolation, I started reading a book that caught my eye at a friend’s house. This book validated that some of the “crazy” thoughts I’d been contemplating have context and are rooted in a deeper tradition of spiritual journeying. I wasn’t alone. I was just passing from one phase of my spiritual journey to another—one that I didn’t yet understand.

As I continue to travel this rocky road of change, I now constantly remind myself that change and transformation are, by nature, disorienting. They are designed to bring unfamiliar elements into your life and make you uncomfortable. They are meant to challenge you to find new ways to adapt, adjust, and grow.

My brain was freaking out because that’s what it’s designed to do when it doesn’t know what to do and I don’t give it a map. My discomfort, my irritation, my grumpiness, my fear, my existential questions are all NORMAL and APPROPRIATE ways to respond to change. 

Hey, maybe I’m actually rockin’ this whole transition thing… 

About the author: Jessica is a mental health professional living and transforming herself in Boulder, Colorado. She spends most of her time reading, making art, engaging in personal growth, and loving people.


Interested in writing for The Growth Studio? Submit your personal stories of creative ways through change to monica@thegrowthstudio.org.