The Saving Grace of Space

The space in between us and another person, us and ourselves, and us and life may look like ordinary air, but don’t ever treat it that way.

Michele DeMarco, PhD
5 min readSep 5, 2021


Photo: Design Ecologist/Unsplash

I never considered what the descent into madness looks like, but as they say, you know it when you see it.

The space that surrounded the madman and I was the size of small conference room, only it was well lit with natural light, thanks to a large window that faced the street. The space was an office. It was located on the first floor of a lovely brick building, on a quaint street that overlooked the water.

The sun was just starting to make its decent. Shadows from blossoming trees cast layers of light into the well-decorated room: a chestnut leather occasional chair sat catty-corner to a natural woven sofa; a large model boat perched in the window behind half-drawn shades; photos and memorabilia hung on the wall.

Photos and memorabilia. That was the first sign that all was not okay with this man.

On two of the four walls, with barely an inch between them, was not one, not two, not eight diplomas; more like ten. Admittedly, this man had earned a few degrees in his life, and it’s certainly not uncommon for people to frame the paper that recognizes their academic achievements. What’s not common is to make copies of the diplomas and frame them and then hang those frames inches from one another in multitude. Nor is it common to do the same thing with pictures of yourself holding a diploma or other activities and frame and hang them in duplicate.

The space was creepy, like a workplace version of the Stepford Wives.

This person was my boss, and until that moment he had only qualified in my estimations as a buoyant eccentric, at best, and a narcissist, at worse. But when I unintentionally spoke a handful of words he wasn’t prepared for, something in him changed dramatically; it was as if there was a tiny switchman inside his brain that caused him to jump the sanity track. Seconds before he was complementing me and my work, rattling on about a promotion, and offering to take me to lunch. His eyes were dancing, like they held the universe in their scope. Then, in the space of a second, they turned to…



Michele DeMarco, PhD

Award-winning writer, therapist, clinical ethicist, and researcher specializing in moral injury. I talk about the stuff many won’t.