Transitioning Back to the Default World / Post-Playa Depression

By Brian (Gougey) Gowdey
July 11, 2016

Today I’m going to write about Post-Playa Depression. Whether it is the big burn or a regional burn, PPD exists. What is Post-Playa Depression? Post-Playa Depression is an emotional state that many burners experience after a burn. It doesn’t matter if you were a virgin burner or a ten year veteran, anyone can experience PPD. It is the emotional dissonance created when we, Burners, return to the default world with all its societal norms after experiencing something we helped create.

Everyone has different symptoms. My first burn was a unique experience because I was not employed before or after the burn. I was the crazy virgin burner who wanted to keep Burning Man going after it was over. After my second burn, however, I experienced some of the following symptoms with differing degrees:

  1. Feeling that life in the default world is meaningless.
  2. Questioning the meaning of existence.
  3. The need to hug everyone.
  4. A heightened sense of what others are feeling.
  5. Feeling trapped or confined.
  6. Difficulty getting back to a normal sleep schedule.
  7. Non-burners, they just don’t “get it”.
  8. A desire to build on relationships made on Playa.
  9. A deep need to connect with like-minded individuals.
  10. A desire to return to the playa.

These are just some of the symptoms I have experienced in my eight years of burning.  Your symptoms will be unique to you and based on your unique experiences but no matter what the symptoms are or how intense they may be, there are a few things you can do to help transition back to the “default world”.

  • Talk to someone.
    Talk to a friend. A fellow burner or someone you trust. You are always welcome to send us at Sanctuary an email at sanctuary@fireflyartscollective.org.
  • Go to a decompression party.
    Decompression parties are great because you get to see some of the awesome art from your local burner community. Some art you may have seen at the burn or some you were unable to find time to see. There are always awesome DJ’s too so you get the sounds of the playa as well.  And then the burners.  The costumes worn by your new friends in a default world venue.
  • Get involved with your local burner community.
    In most metropolitan areas there are local burner meet-and-greets. Some meet weekly or monthly. There are also many events that burners participate in.  Get on your local communities email list or facebook page for information about events.
  • Bring what you experienced on playa into your real life.
    Being a burner for some might be to be able to say you went to a burn but for most burners it is a lifestyle.  You don’t have to adopt all of the ten principles of Burning Man but you can bring some of the experiences back to the default world.  At Firefly, our New England regional burn, I have a tradition of going for a naked mindfulness walk in the wee hours of the morning at Firefly. I focus on my foot steps and how each one moves and interacts with the ground. How the changing terrain causes me to change my footing.  Now I don’t go for naked walks around my neighborhood in the morning but I do take fifteen minute breaks at work to walk mindfully, while clothed, around the buildings at work.
  • Experience the burn from the perspective of your fellow burners.
    Look through the thousands of pictures taken by burners just like you. Watch videos of your friends experiencing their burn.
  • Practice gifting
    Gifting is one of the fundamental practices of a burner. You don’t have to stand at the reception desk at work handing out chocolate covered strawberries to anyone who walks by while dressed in a rabbit onesie but you can offer a hello or a smile to a co-worker. Some may respond back but that’s not the point of gifting is it.

These are not the only things you can do to ease back into the default world. Be creative and follow your heart.  If on the other hand you just can’t shake those playa blues, post on Facebook or email your local burner email list.  There is always someone out there willing to listen!

“There is no true joy and compassion except through the difficult emotions — all we get without the experience of fear, anger, and sadness are cheap imitations of joy and compassion — pleasantness and sentimentality.” – Gabrielle Roth

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