Writing In A State of Fugue

by | May 11, 2022 | Blog | 2 comments

I write this in celebration of Mental Health Awareness Week (May 9 – 15). The Mental Health Foundation in the UK set aside a week in May for this annual event. Their aim is to raise awareness of mental health issues “with a focus on preventing mental health problems before they happen and helping people to stay well.” (Source: Mental Health Foundation) Each year has a theme and this year’s theme is loneliness. 

I understand loneliness. I know how loneliness can cause other mental health issues. But today, I want to talk about a state of mind that shares its name with a musical compositional form — the fugue. 

If you love Johann Sebastian Bach’s music, you’ll know what a musical fugue is. 

Not so long ago, I was in a state of fugue and I don’t mean immersed in a musical fugue. I mean fugue — in “a disturbed state of consciousness…” as Mirriam-Webster explains fugue also to be. I wish I were deep in musical rapture though. 

What really happened was this: I became dissociated with the self. I forgot who I was, sometimes where I was, what my purpose in life is and why (or the reason) I should even be alive, and I was easily confused. On days that I had clarity of mind (so I thought) I was angry. So angry that I saw red, cried buckets of hot tears and refused to see people because I thought they hated me and would only want to harm me. On days that I wasn’t in this state of rage, I was so sad that my heart ached and I found it hard to breath. Now, all these things happened to me whilst it seemed that I was living life harmoniously.

This state of being is known as a dissociative fugue and it ruptures… it breaks friendships, relationships and connections. 

In psychological terms, a dissociative fugue entails a few things, though not necessarily in the order I’m writing them down here: the individual leaving their home and forming a new identity, aka bewildered wandering, or the individual becoming depressed and/or anxious, and developing amnesia (usually reversible), and yes, getting confused. In short, it is because the individual simply wants to forget. But it isn’t as simple as this.   And there is no way I can really explain it all… but I will try my best, because words are all I have… and as we know, words can be limiting.

There is no known cure for disassociative fugue. This state can last for days, months, or years. The individual will suddenly snap out of it. So, patience is key. 

I can’t tell you how and when I entered this “disturbed state”. All I know is that I just wasn’t there mentally while physically I went through the motions of all the things I do daily. Things like waking up and making a cup of coffee, buying the groceries, answering emails, working on my writing, giving interviews. You know, the things that normal people do normally. All this went on for months. 

So, like in a muscial fugue, where there are independent musical lines that can be followed independently while simultaneously together they form a melody, and the ear can hear this melody whilst also catching each individual musical line, I was experiencing loneliness, confusion, anxiety, depression, fury, fear, and deep sadness — all these independent emotional states — while still living harmoniously, as if my life was normal.

I didn’t leave home, though there were many times I wanted to run away. I had fantasies of taking the family car and driving to nowhere. I just wanted to leave. But images of hitting a child on the road because road rage and I am driving at full force stopped me. Thoughts that my children will be devastated and I will hurt them by taking off with no known reason stopped me in my tracks. Further thoughts of being incarcerated for insanity barred me from taking off. So, I stayed home. 

As you can see, all these illogical reasoning anchored me, even while I continued to be shrouded in confusion. This meant that I slept but would wake up exhausted. 

I went to work each day: opened my computer, answered emails. Worked on my presentation slides for workshops and webinars. I was present but far away. There but not. 

Everything seemed normal. Life seemed to be in harmony. But in the home, there would be days when I would not know how I found myself in the kitchen or in the bedroom again and back in my writing space. Like a ghost, I wandered about my home lost, confused, looking for something but unable to find it. 

And you’ll be surprised, I even managed to go to a writer’s retreat; even managed to socialise and behave myself. Then, after the activities, I would go to my room devastated, doubting myself and berating myself for not deserving my place there at the retreat. Through all this, I even managed to work on a new story and to revise an older one. 

Don’t ask me how I did it. I just did. But the memory is fuzzy.

But, I remember this clearly: One morning after returning home from the retreat, I woke up and made myself a cup of coffee. The coffee was bitter, though it’s the same Nespresso flavour I have every morning. It was overcast as is the norm in England. But I could hear the birds chirping. A squirrel skirted by on the banister rails. Then the word Reiki popped into my head. 

A friend had mentioned a particular pratitioner a while back. I took down the name but more out of politeness than honestly wanting to book a session. I prefer massages if I had to be honest. So I don’t know what propelled me to contact Anupa and book myself for a session of Reiki with her.

Now, for those of you who think that Reiki is like a massage, you’d be disappointed. I’ll be honest with you, nothing physical happens during a Reiki session. You just lie there and the Reiki master holds your head in their hands. Then after some time, they will move away from your head and hover their hands over your stomach. You won’t know this, of course, becuase you’ll have your eyes closed, but you’ll start to feel a warm sensation in your tummy. Stay with me here, folks. Whilst all this is non-activity around you is taking place, a lot of things are happening inside you: your chakras or energy points are moving, getting unblocked. You won’t know this at the moment, because how could you? You’re just lying there in this liminal state, half awake, half asleep, and also wondering what the hell is happening and whether you’ve wasted hard-earned money for this woo-woo stuff. 

But let me tell you, two days after the first session, I was crying and crying and crying. All the rivers in the world would not hold the water that was pouring out of me two days into the session. All the hurt, disappointment, pain, anguish, anxiety, loneliness came pouring out of me. As the saying goes, the floodgates opened. And after two days of crying, my mind cleared. And I was in love. 

I tell you, I never felt so much love like I did after my first Reiki session. The love continued and I became kinder, sweeter and less cynical. I felt a well of emotions opening up. And, like all this woo-woo stuff, I can’t explain why. So, you’ll just have to have faith and stay with me. 

After my second session, I became more aware of the people in my life. They are my husband and daughters and all the men and women I’ve loved before. No, it is not the title of a new book. I know what you’re thinking  — how could I suddenly be aware of them? Okay, I’ll give you that. But here’s what: I saw and felt their pain, their anguish and their hopes. And I found that I could forgive them for hurting me. And, the next thing that happened was this: I suddenly had an idea for a new story. 

That was because Anupa had opened my sacral chakra where creativity resides. 

I’ll also say that the sacral chakra is more than just creativite energy; it is the energy centre for your emotions, your sensuality and in my own terms, the centre of love and passion. 

Writing is only possible if you love to write. It has to be something you’re passionate about. Likewise, working out how the stock market works and writing about it has got to be something you’re passionate about and love writing about. Financial journalists, I’m looking at you! 

Creativity lies within all of us. And as Sylvia Plath says correctly, the only thing that stands against our creative energy is self-doubt. 

And, in my fugue, self-doubt was something that COULD’VE destroyed me. I was about to give up writing. 

You know, there are so many great picture book writers out there, who am I kidding?

Picture books? Only those who can’t write novels write picture books. 

There are no pulitzer or nobel prizes for picture books — I would never be known in the writing world! 

For those of us in the industry and who are jaded by it all, you’ll get me. But for those of us who are still writing  and who are still passionate about the work we do as writers, you’ll also get me… stuff self-doubt. 

Too much self-doubt eventually leads to low self-esteem and low-confidence. Self-doubt causes you to be lame even before you can start to crawl. And self-doubt only leads to poor mental health. And it can be a lonely journey when all you do is doubt yourself. 

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, as you know. This annual event exists to give people a space to talk about their mental health and for advocates of healthy minds to talk about the importance of self care and self love. This year’s theme is loneliness, as you also know. And I want to say, you’re not alone. You never are. Reach out and you’ll find the right person who will answer your call.

For recommendations about books that can help you feel less alone, here’s a piece I wrote recently for SCBWI British Isles. 

Books do save lives. If you don’t believe me, see what this person has done for migrant workers in Singapore. Read his interview about ‘One Bag, One Book’. 

And lastly as a writer, when you feel self-doubt creeping in through the cracks, arm yourself with the knowledge that you’re enough. You can do it! 


Anupa Panjabi

All In Sync

t: +44 (0) 787 019 0657 | e: anupa@allinsync.co.uk

(I am not recommending that you seek a Reiki master to help you. Reiki was my choice. And I’ll be honest with you, Anupa won’t be able to help me much if I wasn’t ready to accept help. )

Written by evawongnava

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  1. Jyoti nagrani

    Wow what a beautiful account of your submission to the time period we all go through with so much honesty 👍🏻Could not agree with you more that things change around only when the awakening happens and I am glad that happened in time and you were ready for help which came in the form of “Reiki” ! I am an advocate for Reiki since my daughter Anupa opened up my channels/Chakkras🙏🏾

    • evawongnava

      Thank you for tuning in on my blog, Jyoti! Change can only be manifested when we embrace change in our lives. We are constantly in a state of change, anyway.


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