When introducing me as a child, my parents always said, “Kitt is going to be a doctor when she grows up.” Or, maybe they said that I “wanted” to be a doctor. Memory can be unreliable. Anyways, by the time I was in high school, I aspired to become a neurosurgeon. I got almost straight A’s, allowing myself a B in physics, was a medical explorer scout, trained as an emergency medical technician, wrote for the school paper, and logged many hours in drama and dance. As a senior, I applied to the schools with the highest acceptance rates into medical school.
In spite of my hard-earned achievements, I didn’t get into those schools. Receiving rejection letter after rejection letter hit me hard. I had always been told I could go to school anywhere I wanted and could do anything I wanted. Wrong. Instead of attending an East Coast Ivy League school, I started my freshman year at UCLA as a biochemistry major. As the summer after high school graduation approached, I got a letter from UCLA saying I had to take remedial summer courses since my SAT scores totaled under 700. Back in the 80’s the math portion totaled 800, the verbal portion 800. My math score alone was 720. Apparently the Educational Testing Service incorrectly reported my scores to UCLA. When I showed the school my scores, they let me know that not only did I not have to do remedial work, but I was eligible for College Honors, in which I became active as a freshman.
At UCLA I fell into a deep depression. When I told my friends of my suicidal thoughts, they made me promise to get professional help. I did see a UCLA psychologist whose cognitive therapy helped me with my suicidal thoughts. Still, my underlying mental illness remained. Very active on campus, I volunteered in UCLA Medical Center’s emergency room, sat on the Executive Council of College Honors as Vice Chair of their Social Committee (aka glorified party planner), and trained as a peer health counselor. But, I was miserable and felt that the biochem curriculum was more of a technical training than a well-rounded interdisciplinary education which I craved. The August before my sophomore year I came down with mononucleosis and used that as an excuse to quit UCLA. I visited family and friends, worked, and attended community college part-time. Then I transferred to UC Berkeley as a Legal Studies major, a fabulous interdisciplinary program run out of Boalt School of Law.
During my junior year at Berkeley, my mother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and my maternal grandfather died. I was devastated to learn of my mother’s diagnosis. My mother and I researched the cancer. At the time, studies indicated a five-year prognosis. She pointed out that research was out of date by the time it was published, that cancer treatment progressed and life spans increased. In fact, she is still alive almost thirty years later thanks to cutting edge monoclonal antibody therapy.
The death of my grandfather hit me particularly hard. He had been a kindred spirit. My mother’s family asked me to give my his eulogy, which was a huge honor. My grandfather was a gifted orator, a story-teller. In speaking at his memorial mass, I was carrying on his spirit. On my way home from the funeral, as I was driving over the Bay Bridge, I fell into a trance state brought on by the flashing reflections of the lane markers, and had an out-of-body experience, or more accurately, an in-the-body experience. I felt a tingling all over my body, an energy pushing out, and a warm cleansing energy replacing it. The fact that I was driving over a bridge at the time disturbed me. To test whether I could safely drive, or whether I should put on my hazards and pull to the side, I put on my turn signal and changed lanes to the right. At the time it seemed safer to continue off the bridge than stop on the bridge.
When I got home I described the experience to my roommates as a spiritual orgasm. College students, we had been interested in spiritual enlightenment, read Alan Watts and D.T. Suzuki, wanted to experience satori, an enlightened state of mind. After that initial spiritual experience, I willfully entered a series of altered states. I would stare into a candle flame, go into a trance state, and enter an altered state of consciousness. The states I entered fell into two basic categories — the light and the dark. The light I would describe as a loss of self leading to clarity — a cleansing. The dark was addictive, as if a siren calling to me, and threatened a loss of self leading to madness. I identified the two experiences as the call of God and the enticement of the Devil and related it to my reading of “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis. The dark disguised itself as the light. It was deceitful and dangerous.
In retrospect, I can understand these mystic experiences as mania. At the time, given my history of depression, I knew if I went to a mental health profession and described the experiences, they would diagnose me with a mental illness. But I found them meaningful and did not want the meaning dismissed. I decided to stop entering the states at will and interpreted them as God calling me to the ordained ministry. I felt vulnerable and did not want to fall victim to fray religious sects, so I went to an ancestral religious home, the Roman Catholic Church and attended RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) at the Newman Center in Berkeley. In my twenties I attended two other RCIA courses, one in Manhattan Beach after I graduated from Berkeley and was working as a legal assistant in LA, and the other as I approached thirty when I worked in the Bay Area as a psychotherapist for severely emotionally disturbed adolescents. I was unable to reconcile confirming my faith as a Roman Catholic with the belief that I was called to ordination. I ended up confirming my faith as an Episcopalian, and remain something of a Catholic apologist in spite of my issues with the Church and my subsequent involvement with other Protestant denominations.