I’m not exactly sure what a nervous breakdown is. Is it the same as a mental breakdown? Emotional breakdown? Whatever it’s called, I’ve had a few of them. Like in every job I’ve ever had. And with every man I’ve ever loved.
When I was hired to work in the Clinton Administration I walked in the door of the U.S. Department of Education knowing it was the best job I would ever have. I worked for Secretary of Education Richard Riley, one of God’s greatest manifestations of His image and likeness. Surely this was a good sign.
The previous year I’d been working at the Cook County Clerk’s Office. I’d landed a job there after cracking up in the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign. In that grueling 16-hour-a-day job as Clinton’s scheduler, sleep was constantly interrupted by phone calls from Clinton friends who questioned my every decision—everything from who would be introducing Clinton onstage to what sandwiches would be in his holding room. When I returned to Chicago from Little Rock I blamed my getting canned on sleep deprivation rather than a frazzled emotional state. I didn’t want to look weak.
At the Cook County Clerk’s Office, I tucked the shirt tail of my mental collapse into my suit skirt and presented myself as an emotionally stable, confident, experienced political operative. At about the 11-month mark as Director of Communications I took an extended sick leave and started Prozac. That’s when I received a call from a campaign friend who worked in the White House Personnel Office inquiring about my availability to move to Washington. I accepted without deliberation, convinced it was a sign of better days ahead.
A friend keeping watch over my umpteenth nervous breakdown tried to warn me. He said moving to Washington was not a sign from God. He told me it was not a good move. But my default modus operandi is self-sufficiency. Deep inside my soul grows a bed of weeds whose dandelions of reason attract me like bees to nectar. They tell me I am my own master gardener. I provide my own seeds, water, nutrients and sun to my life. Reason tells me it’s unnatural to ask for help or accept advice from others. Whatever my spiritual condition is, at any given moment, Reason proclaims, “You are your own god. Be perfect.”
All spiritual teachers say a life lived on reason leads to despair. And so it did. By the end of the Clinton Administration I was seeing a psychiatrist every day. On weekends I feared I’d drive across the Potomac and buy a gun at a Virginia Wall Mart and blow my brains out.
When I returned to Chicago in 2001 I sought help, as I’ve always done when hitting a spiritual bottom. There’s been no loss of despair but I’ve learned to let hope live next to it—not hope in imaginary perfection but hope in the unknowable.