I suffer from manic-depressive illness. In the early nineties, I was newly diagnosed and recovering from a complete nervous breakdown. A few years earlier, realizing I had a terrible problem, but not knowing its true nature, I had taken refuge in a shack near a 10,000-acre tree farm that bordered the British Columbia wilderness. All told, I was to spend sixteen years there, many of them in combative cognitive-behaviour therapy.
Winter can be hard on hermit writers trying to live on the cheap. (Image: WPClipart)
Old ambitions of becoming a writer had resurfaced so, being essentially shipwrecked anyway, I decided to live off my savings and have a go at writing full-time. The 1990s proved chaotic and painful years for me, so much so that I was never able to finish anything, yet they “made” me as a writer. For years, I kept a diary of my struggles. Those of you who long to be a hermit – writers or otherwise – may romanticize such an existence, especially one lived in a beautiful semi-wilderness area teeming with wildlife, yet the lifestyle itself really is quite mundane. What matters is what you do with all the time. I invested mine in making Jung’s journey of individuation and learning how to write. These two immensely rewarding activities literally transformed my life.
One frigid January night in 2002, while living a hermit’s life in my draughty shack nestled beside a ten-thousand acre tree farm, I turned on the radio at 2:30 AM to catch the CBC Radio rebroadcast of Radio Australia’s “The Religion Report.” I am a manic-depressive and sometimes keep strange hours in order to manage my mood swings. Staying up late to deprive myself of sleep shifts me (like everyone else) away from depression.
The mindset of an anchorite can be useful in everyday life. (Image: public domain.)
On that particular gloomy night, I was delighted to hear Rowan Williams, the then Anglican Archbishop of Wales, do an interview about the ancient Christian concept of what it means to be a religious hermit or anchorite. Badly in need of some cheering up, the unusual topic seemed wonderfully appropriate!