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A Happy Madness: I’m Diagnosed With PEBD

September 18, 2012

I visited my old friend Neal the other night.

“I read your blog every week. It’s depressing! Always about ageing and mortality. I can’t relate. And you’re always talking about the 60s and your hippie past.”

At first I took offence — this is all you see in my posts? But then I thought more about it. And when I did some research, I found to my shock I am victim of an ailment endemic to many of my generation.

The malady I suffer from is called PEBD: Post-Ecstatic Bliss Disorder. I contracted it from my years as a young man fighting the culture war on the front lines.  Finally, all the flashbacks, the obsessions, and the persistent wet dreams are beginning to make sense. 

Whether it was the first time I saw The Living Theatre perform Paradise Now;  the week I spent in Dr. King’s Resurrection City on the Washington Mall, not to mention countless other demonstrations; the first years of Pad Six (our crash pad) in the East Village where I made lifelong friends who came right off the street or the road; the first glorious years of college in ’67 and ’68; hitching the continent as a freak in the summer of ’70; nights at the Fillmore; or all of it. It had a cumulative effect that was devastating to my cynicism and my pessimism. The collective generosity of spirit I experienced shattered the illusion of separateness I’d been living in. 

How can I convey what an experiential glimpse of heaven on earth could do to a person? 

After having been repeatedly – not traumatized; ecstaticized – it’s been hard to settle for a normal life. Or to pretend that I’m normal myself.

I mean, is it my fault I was in the right place at the right time?

As a result, I suffer intermittent attacks of nostalgia and a stubborn inability to believe in “no way”. I recognize my brother or sister in almost everyone I meet.  I sometimes experience difficulty distinguishing friend from foe, and think everyone’s a member of my family.

This ailment is common among boomers, though many of us seem to have shaken it after years of intensive treatment consisting of countless hours of face-to-screen cultural reconditioning.

I found some helpful information about my plight online:

What are the major symptoms of Post Ecstatic Bliss Disorder (PEBD)?  

  • Flashbacks—reliving dreams of communal harmony over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart, sweating, and prolonged erections
  • Unreasonably optimistic thoughts
  • A compulsive need to express gratitude and love combined with an irrational generosity
  • An insistence one sees God in other people’s faces
  • Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the ecstatic event(s) can also trigger symptoms…


* Irrational attraction to places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience…

Guess where…

  • Persistent feelings of hope and elation, along with episodes of pronoia (defined as “entertaining the sneaking suspicion the world is conspiring to do you good”)
  • Pronounced difficulty working at meaningless jobs
  • Sudden outbursts of laughter; and a regarding of western civilization as hysterically funny
  • Dillusions of wonder

In addition, I often find myself in a state of being happily pissed off. In the sixties, after all, our joy was outrageous and our rage was joyous.

Actually a better word for it may be mad.

I experience a happy, mad knowledge that deep in my bones, frozen in memory cells I thought I’d lost, I know that there is no “them” and there’s no “there” either. There is only us here now, and we’re all right here. The technological revolution finally proves it. 

I’m happily mad (or maybe just mad) we live in a world where we still deny that unless we are all taken care of here, none of us will be safe.

Personally, my PEBD teaches me that my problems only loom large when I’m playing life too small. When I’m all about me and mine, I get lost in all my frets and frustrations. When I try to be about giving to someone else, and giving my best, I disappear a little and my problems do too.

I’m learning that part of my PEBD is being driven by a sense of urgency – to sing my song full throated; and change the world full-throttle — before it’s too late for it or me.

At times I find myself seized by crazy (or mad) thoughts…

That whenever people want more than anything else to give their love away and connect to something bigger than themselves, all change becomes possible.

That I and others of my generation were given a unique gift, and so we have a unique gift to give back. 

That this poor crazy earth is like a broken home that needs mending, and the only solutions are planet-wide solutions.

That I need to take my crazy notions of nirvana and let them infuse and inform me once again. Otherwise I’ll die with the best song I’ve learned to sing still stuck in my throat.

And yes, maybe it’s true that I’m playing a bona fide fool this time around. Stuck in (a Freudian might say) infantile fantasies of oneness with the womb, or stuck in (a conservative might say) a socialistic-“Kumbaya”-pipedream-utopia that has never worked and never will.

Ah yes, we who suffer from PEBD are subject to ridicule from those who don’t understand how smitten we are.

But let’s get back to my friend Neal’s complaint, and how often I write about ageing.

Here’s what I notice: There’s an old man in my face who is slowly trying to emerge. He’s been latent all my life, and I’m watching him slowly reveal himself,  developing like an old Polaroid film (remember?) right before my eyes.

I’ve only been peering at him in the mirror with dread and dismay, but I now wonder if he’s not actually smiling – even winking – at me from behind the glass. He’s saying…

Hey you young whippersnapper! Don’t like our old age, eh? Well listen —  The world needs our age, our outrage, and our courage! And our ecstatic bliss too, by cracky!

9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 18, 2012 1:37 pm

    You should go to the Rainbow Gathering sometime, it’s right up your alley. Meanwhile, stop living in the past–head out to Bed, Bath & Beyond, it’s at least psychedelic to wander in their hand towel section as when King marched in Selma. Tune, turn on, and ADJUST man.
    Early-bird specials; senior citizen discounts; the hippies never had it so good. The waiter at Carnegie Deli once served me soup and said, “Someone put LSD in my matzah balls; I took a trip to Israel.”

  2. September 18, 2012 3:14 pm

    I think of the “60s” as an imaginary utopian ideal to which we can compare our real present circumstances and try to improve them. But imagination is a double edged sword. It allows us to strive towards a better future. But it also casts a shadow on the present, which never measures up to our ideals. And that is the source of human suffering. We suffer from our own capacity to imagine something better. However, a not insignificant portion of the human population thinks it has found the solution to this problem: extinguish your imagination. Stop thinking.

    • September 20, 2012 5:26 am

      I never thought about the down side of imagination! But you make a good and useful point: When we imagine something better, we’re stuck in this-isn’t-it thinking, and become attached to things being other than what they are.

  3. Dave Abramowitz permalink
    September 20, 2012 8:41 pm

    You seem to revel in your recollections about how great things were “back then.” I remember back then very clearly and not just my own subjective back then, but what it was for so many others, too. I’ve recently been to a Rainbow Gathering to check it out. The overall effect was deeply depressing. I remember numerous be-ins back then with all these ‘flower children’ wanting to recreate or find a lost innocence and, like in Peter Pan, never want to grow up. The overall effect, now seen in clearer retrospect, was like alcoholics trying to cheer themselves up, fondly remembering the times they had “tripped” and greatly gotten drunk, often to too much hilarity. Never mind that the body often paid a heavy and toxic price. What a waste and a muddying of God-given potential!

    Last I looked, you had “grown up.” and your hair had turned white, and mine, well, my dome is mostly bald. I have news for you, those happy hippie days of yore were never that great as we now might like to imagine. Indeed, I remember you and us back then, too. Mostly you had become inspired realizing different states of consciousness were possible, but you, yourself, for all the cannabis, were not so very happy or well connected as perhaps you now might like to think. Mostly, now, as I generally and think clearly recollect, it was mostly about being young and getting little seductive glimpses how much we could be free. Mostly in retrospect, it was ALSO about lonely people who often wanted to get stoned because that was their way of not feeling the everyday pain of not truly loving themselves when they looked in the mirror.

    I gave an introductory lesson in the college where I teach where students interview each other in groups of three, with twenty-or-so questions, and then the two students introduced the third to the class until all are introduced, and in this and other classes where I give this getting-to-know-each-other exercise about half the students in these mostly Black and Hispanic classes. tell each other that what they mostly do for “interests” is to go get stoned on cannabis or often on alcohol, and, as so much is revealed, I see them. I see what has happened to their God-given clear and clean energy, what has happened to their God=given, natural. clear auras, how they vibrate too fast and out of balance. I can feel who is escaping, who is somewhat asleep and somewhat awakened. I can feel their pain, and I can, after eleven semesters, recognize usually who will and will not be successful in college because of their psychological drug dependency.

    We have a responsiblity as teachers, as elders, to see and feel how too much drugs and cannabis, too, can fuck up the body, Indeed, a recent extensive study came out that for teens who have smoked too much pot in their early and mid -teens, to the age of eighteen, they can actually physiologically impact the young growing brain and diminish one’s IQ by eight points. Charley, you mentor and lead by example. There are repercussions to everything each of us does, says and writes You have and will always have a great heart. I challenge you also to print this. I know I paid a heavy price and conned mostly myself big-time in the happy-seeming haze of smoke that was often the hurting “psychedelic” hallucinatory sixties and seventies.

    • September 21, 2012 3:57 am

      Responding to Dave Abramowitz: I think you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Of course psychedelic drugs (including marijuana) can be abused. And of course they were abused in the 1960s/70s. These drugs were new to western culture. We had no traditions to draw on to show us how to use these drugs constructively. The communities that were engaged in their use were subject not only to false ideology and propaganda but to police harassment. Even scientific study of these substances was outlawed. The federal government literally declared war on them. In such an atmosphere how can you expect them to be used in the most constructive manner possible? And yet in spite of this incredibly hostile setting, some people did succeed in using psychedelics to achieve insight, personal transformation, and creativity, as well as–and this should not be lightly dismissed–aesthetic appreciation, particularly of music, but not only music–which fueled a cultural renaissance from which our society is still benefiting.

      It’s interesting that you would invoke your black and hispanic students to justify your stand against marijuana. Race and drug prohibition have been connected since the beginning. For some, the argument has been that drugs are bad *because* blacks use them. For others, drugs are fine for white people who know how to use them safely but not for black people who don’t. Both arguments are racist, of course, but you need to be aware that that’s the historical context you’re writing in without unintentionally invoking these arguments.

  4. Dave Abramowitz permalink
    September 21, 2012 1:11 pm

    Black, white, blue, yellow or green, I just see how the potheads who get caught generally are copping out and generally don’t make it, and so often pay a terrible price. and so often, what’s worse, they don’t even realize it. Under the false banner of freedom, which is really a pseudo-freedom, people think that they’re entitled to”get enlightenment”.the way one would buy a pack of Camels. It doesn’t work that way. The mostly so-called white generation who “experimented” on themselves “back then” with various psychedelices and hallucinogens didn’t become tremendously transformed as much as they liked to imagine,, nor did the society they so naively thought would become all peace and love because of them. Yes, Ed, yes, Charley, observing different states of consciousness can be valuable, can help us realize how conditioned one is initially, and can be at times sensorially freeing, but one should move past and not get attached, and one should come awake enough to realize The Source of consciousness connects us up to something that necessarily is not dependent on chemicals but on our willingness and courage to trust ourselves enough to know we can reach that clarity we wish for, if we’ve only enough presence of mind and clarity of heart to come to it. One can get glimpses through drugs and even so-called enlightened to a Limited Extent, but only to a degree, to a degree. So many people, especially our precious young people, think they can play the drugs the way a man can play a woman for sex, or a woman a man, for that matter, only to discover in the end, if they are more honest, how much the drugs have played them. The source of our gratitude should always be our Creator and not some “flow of cosmic energy” or abstract , depersonalized universal bliss that comes by inhaling. Cough-cough . . .

    When we reverence the tao primarily, I’ve observed how often we forget that God truly exists and what thatcan and should mean for us.. Yes. Ed. societies are often not very loving or supportive, and can often be oppressive and repressive, but on what does your freedom depend and what’s the Source of your freedom, and what’s the responsibilty that comes with your freedom to yourself and others? . . .Brother Dave

    • September 27, 2012 5:52 am

      I fear I left myself wide open by giving an idealized version of my hippie experiences, and of the times. That’s what happens when one doesn’t give the expected apologia/disclaimer, which always read something like, “But many abused their freedoms and indulged themselves and used sex and drugs irresponsibly. So children, take heed!” etc.

      David, your diatribe against drugs is well-intentioned, I’ll give you that much.

      First off, you did not know me “back then” as you claim. We didn’t meet till ’77, way past any hippie time.

      Further, in truth, my post recalls only the good times I had, and how I’m insisting on letting them continue to inform me, here and now. In these times, and at this age, one occasionally needs reminding of a more optimistic, possibilty-laden time. It’s one of my guards against becoming another tiredsome clichey like so many of my generation: “Oh I was wild and naive back in college, but I grew up and matured and so now I know that the world is really a very serious, dangerous, and sad place full of mean people. This makes me a realist, you see.”

      Sorry, but the memories I have are real and they did, as you said so well, offer me “little seductive glimpses of how much we could be free.” Forgetting these glimpses, or worse, revising them to match one’s current worldview, is done at one’s own peril. Recalling them, I can use them as a compass when I go off course into pessimism, cynicism, resignation or despair.

      And yes, I do lead by example. And so do you, my friend. I myself stand by what I’ve written.

  5. dave abramowitz permalink
    September 29, 2012 4:24 am

    It seems so many of us were corrupted by Aldous Huxley, the atheist and Timothy Leary,especially, whose too facile ,” All you have to do is tune in, turn on and drop out,” and the world will be just love, light and laughter, and freedom is a puff or an lsd trip or a hundred trips, or a mesc tab or a bottle of codeine-laced cough syrup away.

    “Man, have you herard of the better high. You’ve got to try this . .”

    Never mind that cannabis lowers one’s blood sugar and can leave a hypoglycemic seriously damaged and wasted over a period of time.

    There IS a special responsability that it seems to me should come with people who claim that there is consciousness raising to be had through drugs, especially often gateway drugs. My friend’s good little daughter and three of her friends have become addicted and two now have prison records. They are all under twenty three.

    One other question, my friend. How would you know your memories ARE real if what you are mostly remembering is when you were stoned or under the influence?

    For those who do believe in God, not just in the abstract, but in having an increasingly personal relationship, I would think that they would want to safely turn to their Creator for their deliverance and “higher consciousness” and not to drugs. However YOU manage it, I’ve observed that most people with a particular mind-set DO overindulge and badly rationalize it, at least for a period of frequently some years, especially when they are young, and often do seriously mess up and frequently damage their bodies in the process.

    One can be full of fun and life and love and be RADICALLY PROGRESSIVE, too without needing and taking drugs. There are better, more natural ways of listening and enjoying music, Ed. There ARE always better ways or techniques, if you will, that challenge and invite our greater creativity., without the corrosive and sneaky side-effects.

    • October 1, 2012 8:33 pm

      David you seem to have a drug problem.

      You keep making your responses about drugs. I’m not talking about drugs. I’m talking about positive memories of the sixties, most of which I experienced sober.

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