A Happy Madness: I’m Diagnosed With PEBD
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…
- 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!