Unexpected Pilgrims


By John F Zurn

ISBN: 978-1-84991-897-8
Published: 2013
Pages: 158
Key Themes: Mental Health, Fiction, Empowerment, Bipolar Disorder


My new book, Unexpected Pilgrims, is a collection of writings that represent a somewhat different direction in both concept and theme for me. Instead of relying on mostly autobiographical experiences, this book is an attempt to create a number of fictional plots and characters that are meant to mirror the happenings in the objective world. To be more specific, my book portrays many mental health issues and social situations from unique points of view. Throughout the text, various individuals who struggle with mental challenges are required to set out and discover ways to cope with adversity in both their external environments and from within themselves. In order to live a purposeful life, each character must face the world or escape from its cruelty and indifference. These travelers are “unexpected pilgrims” because they represent a group of seekers who aren’t usually considered distinctive or heroic. Nonetheless, they bravely sojourn through an insensitive world in search of their own secret sanctuaries of acceptance and love.

In terms of arrangement and content, Unexpected Pilgrims is divided into three individual segments that are meant to describe and elaborate on this idea of pilgrimage. The first section is comprised of eight short stories that express some of the many ways in which individuals find their way in hostile societies. This search for understanding is often forced upon these seekers, and their success is never guaranteed.

Following the short stories, the second section of Unexpected Pilgrims is a one act play called “Behind the Metal Doors.” This play is an attempt to describe the mental health professionals and their patients in a way that scrutinizes society’s incessant need for conformity, control, and obedience. This obsession with authority is illustrated in the play by the way patients are treated and how they are perceived as human beings. Since these themes have been repeatedly addressed in every kind of writing, I chose to employ strange props and outlandish dialogue in order to awaken in the audience the concepts and themes that have become almost cliché and so seemingly irrelevant.

The third and final section of the book is a collection of eighteen original poems. They represent my own personal effort to overcome disappointment and manage depression. These poems also serve as quiet reminders that help me refocus my energy in my own sojourn through the world. Finally, the title of my book, Unexpected Pilgrims, is my way of explaining the idea that we are all pilgrims who are trying to find our way home. Some of the characters in my book go from innocence to experience, and they either succeed or fail. Still others are overpowered by a world that cannot or will not accept them. Nevertheless, the courage, creativity, and perseverance of these mentally challenged pilgrims and their counterparts in the world are a testament to their originality and power. Even in a hostile world that rewards ambition and bows down to the powerful, these unusual souls take to the open road where the uninspired dare not tread.

About the Author

John Zurn has been faced with the challenge of bipolar disorder for his entire adult life. Despite this challenge, he still managed to work as a teacher and counselor for over thirty-five years. In the past, he has also been a member of Nami of Dupage’s Speaker Bureau and has given numerous presentations to various groups including police officers, medical students, and volunteer groups. He is currently the book reviewer for NAMI Line, the affiliate newsletter, and continues to volunteer there in various capacities. John was born in 1954 and has been married to his wife, Donna, for thirty years. They live in Geneva, Illinois.

Book Extract

The Snow

Christopher Downing was one of those unfortunate people who couldn’t stop himself from worrying. Even as a child his mind often obsessed about all kinds of thoughts and feelings that ruined his day and haunted his nights. These obsessions usually took the form of fears that made him miserable and sometimes humiliated him when he was with others. Believing he was weird and creepy, Christopher had always attempted to hide his thoughts and subsequent behavior by keeping to himself. Sometimes, he was able to isolate himself and fool others, but not always.

Perhaps two of Christopher’s biggest worries were his fear of becoming ill and his preoccupation with cleanliness. These deep and ever present concerns made him extremely vigilant about his physical health, and he lived in the constant dread of becoming physically ill. This fear of germs and other contaminates created and sustained his belief that death was only an infection away. This overwhelming fear of illness was so real to Christopher; it was unbearable if he ignored it, so he eventually created specific behaviors to defend himself. These behaviors were meant to minimize his fears when they appeared or stop them before they surfaced.

For example, Christopher gargled with mouthwash for ten minutes ten times a day. He even monitored his watch to make certain that he didn’t spit it out until the entire ten minutes had elapsed. This both killed germs and prevented them from troubling him. He also washed his hands incessantly throughout the day, especially when he accidentally touched something like a drinking fountain or even a wall.

If Christopher was forced to shake hands – something he absolutely tried to avoid – he would quickly but discreetly take out his hand sanitizer and scrub his hands vigorously. These unusual behaviors often protected Christopher from his fears and worries for a brief period of time; however, they were also somewhat detrimental to his health. His mouth was often sore from his overuse of his mouthwash routine. His hands were also often raw and cracked from his incessant hand washing.

This apprehension that he might become ill was based, in part, on Christopher Downing’s catastrophic thinking. His fears were almost always based on the question “What if?”. The sense of uncertainty buried in the question led Christopher to follow the question to the extreme. For example: What if I accidentally sit at a table that has been contaminated by a dog’s paw? What if I then get sick and have to go to the doctor? What if I become even more ill at the doctor’s office? What if I end up in the hospital, and they give me food poisoned with salmonella? Therefore I need to avoid germs, or I will die.

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This product was added to our catalog on Thursday 07 February, 2013.