And suffered intense pain and a nervous breakdown as a result of my choices

I was in my early thirties when I first started looking inward, which I conceived as a descent into the unconscious mind, as popularized by Sigmund Freud and his form of psychoanalysis. Later on, I discovered Carl Jung’s complex writings on the unconscious mind. I believe that he became the benchmark by which all future therapists would be judged. Certainly in terms of his understanding of the difficult notion of transference.

It wasn’t a choice for me, as much as a compulsion to go deep. I was suffering from crippling emotional problems and needed to change. Could I have done it differently? Yes, of course, but perhaps not as completely and in depth.

Jung utilized the word “psyche”, (“the human soul, mind, or spirit” according to online dictionaries), which for him referred to the totality of a person’s mind — the conscious, unconscious and collective unconscious aspects.

Jung writes: ‘By psyche I understand the totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious”, (CW6 para 797) so we use the term “psyche” rather than “mind”, since mind is used in common parlance to refer to the aspects of mental functioning which are conscious.

Jung maintained that the psyche is a self-regulating system (like the body).

My hunger for change occurred in the mid-seventies, in the year leading up to my father’s death from stress. I was married, and working full-time to support myself and my husband, who was enrolled at university. We had plans to start a family, once my husband, who was younger than me, was qualified and in gainful employment.

I had been suffering from long-term chronic depression. Being an intuitive person, I sensed that my problems were a result of childhood trauma.

I wanted to become stronger, in order to benefit my role as a teacher, to help my partner, and to better support my prospective offspring. I wished to throw off useless feelings left over from the past, especially lack of self esteem, and I longed to find my true voice. My particular brand of melancholy was bound up in all of these negative issues and feelings.

I engaged a Gestalt therapist on the recommendation from an actor friend of my husband’s. The therapist, Sarah, utilized a holistic approach, focused particularly on Fritz Perls’ post-Freudian type of psychology, specifically utilizing Gestalt Therapy. This suited me well, since I had always been drawn to and loved the idea of “wholeness” (the German Gestalt)

Gestalt Principles are principles/laws of human perception that describe how humans group similar elements, recognize patterns and simplify complex images when we perceive objects. Designers use the principles to organize content on websites and other interfaces so it is aesthetically pleasing and easy to understand.

Sarah introduced me to the Gestalt Prayer invented by Fritz Perls:

I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.
If not, it can’t be helped. — Fritz Perls, 1969

This made a lot of sense to me at the time, as I was struggling with trying to make friends and carrying a heavy sense of rejection.

Sarah interpreted the Gestalt in her method of treatment as working on the whole person. Again, this suited me to perfection. She was a gifted talk therapist and dream analyst, she encouraged my love of writing and sent me off to body therapists and even to sex therapists and astrologists. I loved it all, relished it and found myself making huge strides quite quickly.

Therapy brought me face to face with the unconscious mind and with dreams. Most of the dreams were to do with parts of myself that needed integrating:worker, wife, mother, friend, lover. Some dreams were luminous and one or two were prophetic.

It seems now, in my wisdom seventies, as if the process of individuation — I flew with Jung’s terms — has taken a life’s work. But by the end of the eighties, I was free of the debilitating depression that had dogged my steps for decades, and I was more in control of my feelings. Accessing some medication, and tasting a little cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) followed, and my recovery sped in leaps and bounds.

When healing happened, it seemed to me like grace descending: a Jungian rather than a Freudian occurrence.

I knew by then, that I had paid the price of delving too deeply and too quickly into the unconscious: with a painful nervous breakdown. It had happened in 1987 when my children were seven and four. I had discovered guilt at the bottom of my psyche, guilt for “causing” somehow my brother’s near death fall from a pony, when I was six.

But the mental collapse occurred as a result of my changing therapists. Now I felt guilty all over again, as my husband had to take over the reins of supporting and nurturing the family for three months while I curled up in a fetal position in front of an open fire.

I’m presenting this story here as both an encouragement to others and as a warning about taking unnecessary risks. Once I’d started on this descent into the unconscious in the 1970s, there was no turning back. I now believe that it was the journey that I had to have. I had always been afraid of death. This experience was like the death of my self, followed by a reawakening to a better model of self.

It might not have happened if I had not pushed and pushed, causing the descent into the void that followed. Perhaps, too, the breakdown had been inevitable.

I was no longer afraid of death after this event.

Take Away: Know that you can change if you really want to, and if you can do so safely, so much the better. Carl Jung was one of the creators behind the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Program. He recognized that the effort required to throw off an addiction, such as that to alcohol or to drugs, can be so great that it needs an almost unearthly strength to achieve. This is why the program contains a reference to “a power higher than ourselves”, which many define as a spiritual strength. I believe this is so.