I’m so glad you’re here. First, I just need you to know that you’re gonna be OK. Better than okay, actually. Let’s just get that out of the way right now.
I shouldn’t say this, but screw it, CONGRATULATIONS! You’re thinking, “Did you just have the fucking nerve to congratulate me?! I feel like my life is ending. My emotions are all over the place. I’m confused and anxious. I’m questioning if my life has meaning and if I’ll ever be happy again. I’m bored and stressed at the same time — is that even possible?!” It is. I did. And here’s why. The fact that you’re here means you’ve probably Googled some pretty intense shit lately, like, “existential crisis,” “midlife crisis,” or “how to find my purpose.” If you’ve made it to the point of experiencing an existential crisis, you’ve already come further than most ever will. Frankly, I like you already. If you’re asking these #deep questions about existence, by nature, you’re probably kind of awesome. You know you’re not living life to the fullest. Your soul is barking. You chose the red pill. I’m into it. Let’s do this.
This is not gonna be some fluffy food blog where you have to scroll through 82 pictures and 15 pages when all you want is the f’ing lasagna recipe. This is going to be highly utilitarian so you can feel some relief and start figuring your shit out as quickly as possible. You know why, because you’re in a FUCKING CRISIS. It may feel like the world around you doesn’t recognize this, but I do. I got you.
People around you are all, “la-dee-da-dee-da, well, you seem to be acting pretty normal, you haven’t shaved your head or anything yet so we’re not really recognizing this as a ‘crisis’.” Even your therapist (which you should definitely have by this point) is acting like there’s allll the time in the world to figure things out. “Nice work today, see you next week…,” and you’re like, “Yeah, if there is a next week! Lady, I’m about to do somethin’ loco. Def gonna quit my job and stow away on a fishing vessel.”
But, here’s the problem. If I’m honest, I wasn’t actually telling people the full extent of my crisis. A lot of it was ego, but mainly I was too afraid to admit it to MYSELF. I thought that admitting I had anxiety (which went unresolved and ultimately led to depression) would somehow make it true…that it would somehow make it worse. I’d been avoiding negative emotions for 33 years and, not gonna lie, it was sorta working (hey, I’m an enneagram 7, it’s what we do). To admit that I was experiencing anxiety and depression would mean completely shattering my entire self identity and everything I believed to be true about myself.
I was doing the absolute best I could to help myself with the knowledge I had at the time. I know you are doing your best too. People may not see that, but you are doing what you think will stop the anxiety and alleviate the pain. You’re trying to make the best decisions for your future. You want to feel like yourself again, you just don’t know how. But my logic was flawed, so maybe yours is too. In fact, I was so unbelievably wrong…about literally everything.
I plan to write more about what I’ve learned for people at all different points on this long ass quest for inner peace, but these next tips are specifically for those suffering from “acute existential crisis.” Which is maybe a term I just made up, but it must be real, I experienced it.
1. Admit to yourself that something is oh so very wrong.
The big kahuna. The hardest step. Here’s a little hack I thought of to help you determine how dicey things are in the old noggin’. Pretend a family member or close friend that you love and trust is secretly listening to your thoughts for a day, to hear the things you say to yourself and about yourself. Do you think they’d say “Hey, these seem like pretty healthy thoughts and fitting with what I think of this wonderful individual.” Or would they say, “Okay, these thoughts are a little concerning, they don’t seem to be in a great spot right now,” or would they think, “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK is going on in here? Sound the alarms! Why is this amazing person that I love thinking horrible things about /themselves/themself?/ and their life?!!!”
Please do this exercise. Until you’re honest with yourself about how unhealthy your mindset actually is, you’re not going to be able to find the answers you’re seeking, even if they were tattooed on your face. You can’t feel better with unhealthy thoughts hijacking your brain and terrorizing the shit out of you. The thoughts you think are extremely important, even if no one else can hear them.
And guess what? You deserve to feel really great about yourself and your life.
2. Find alone time and destress.
Ok, maybe I’m irresponsible for recommending this, but I believe with all my being that you need time ALONE right now, as quickly as humanly possible. I can not emphasize how critically important this is.
You need time alone to destress (something you may not have fully done in years, especially if you have anxiety). You need to step outside of your “normal” life and get space from the people and routines in it. You’ve lost yourself and being alone is the only way to find yourself again. The longer the better, but even if this just means getting an Airbnb for 4 days. I mean, your soul is dying, your job and kitchen renovation can wait, right? Don’t plan anything for this alone time. This is NOT a vacation. Do not post or scroll on social media, watch less TV. Drastically lower your expectations of yourself for a little bit while you’re working on finding answers that will bring you some peace.
If you’re incredibly stressed or anxious, you may feel like you can’t be fully present and relax in your body. If you’re disconnected from yourself, you’re going to start to feel disconnected from others as well. It may feel like you can’t be fully present with the people you love, and that’s a terrible fucking feeling. So make less plans, set boundaries, don’t do things you don’t want to do right now. Be extremely gentle with yourself, you are a baby bird. You need to quiet the outside world and be alone with your thoughts and emotions. It may seem selfish to others, but it’s not. If there’s no YOU, there’s no relationships, right?
There’s something called the “stress curve.” If you’ve been experiencing high levels of stress for too long, it can be extremely dangerous to your physical and mental health. You may have temporary moments of lowered stress, but if it never gets a chance to reach base level, this is a huge problem. Prolonged stress can affect your emotions and make it difficult to see things clearly or make rational decisions. It can cause you to lose touch with yourself, your intuition, and even your sense of identity. Basically, it can make you feel like you’re going insane.
Where are you on this curve? Typically, your body will start to give you physical symptoms or warning signs that you’re headed for a breakdown if you can’t reduce the stress. The more you ignore them, the louder they will get. For me it was a locked jaw and panic attacks.
Your anxiety and depression are alarm bells warning you that something is not right. This is when most people go to the doctor and ask them for anti-anxiety or depression medication. I am aware that medication is necessary and helpful in many cases, but it was not right for me. The medication felt like numbing my inner compass to fit into a life that I didn’t want. I thought, “Why don’t they just print out a cardboard cut out of me? My family and friends can prop it up at events.” It implied that I was broken, my emotions were a “chemical” problem to be fixed, that questioning my purpose was wrong. It was a medical “solution” to a spiritual problem. It was like if your house is on fire and the smoke alarms are going off and you’re like, “This beeping sound is SO annoying, I hate it, hmmm, how can I fix this? I’ll just take the batteries out of the smoke alarm. Great plan…but it doesn’t change the fact that your fucking house is on fire!!!
SO…can you take a trip to be alone with your thoughts and destress? Would you feel guilty, selfish, unproductive, weird? Are you afraid you’ll get bored? Are you too codependent to spend a few days alone somewhere? If you have MAJOR resistance to this trip, that’s actually a good sign. It means you really need to do this. Think about why you’re uncomfortable. Maybe you’re worried that the people you leave will realize they’re happier without you because you’ve been so not-yourself lately. That’s a scary thought. That most likely won’t happen, cuz like I said, only awesome people have existential crises, but even if it did…living your truth does not come without risk. Tell them that it’s really important that you take this time alone for your mental health and tell them what you’ll be doing and when you’ll be coming back.
Maybe you have kids, money is tight, or you’re out of vacation days at work, but if you’re in crisis, you have to make this alone time happen. I know it’s hard, but ask the people in your life for help right now so you can have the time you need to regulate your nervous system. I stayed in my friend’s guest room, sobbing. It was not glamorous. However, the most valuable time was the time spent alone in my car and in hotels on the 36 hour drive to the west coast. I literally forced myself to sit with my thoughts and listen to Podcasts in search of the answers I was seeking (i.e. why am I anxious, why am I unhappy, what should I do, what is my purpose). Even after you return, you will likely need regular time alone to sit with your emotions (preferably in a bath, which I’m obsessed with).
3. Tell someone who gets it.
This part also sucks. After you admit to yourself how shitty you feel, you have to tell someone else how bad it actually is. You don’t have to tell the world, but you need to find someone you trust or find a therapist you trust (keep looking if you haven’t found a good one, they’re not all winners).
At this point it’s likely that you’ve already told some people. Or at least hinted that you were feeling “off.” Gave them a little cocktail party approved splash of vulnerability followed by a joke. OR you may regret having told some people. You may have word vomited all your darkest fears to someone you barely know in hopes that your demons would hop off you and be their problem now, like making someone else watch the possessed VHS tape in The Ring. You’re all like, “Bye, Samara!” (Worth a shot, but not a great route either).
It’s really important to find someone who understands what you’re experiencing who can validate the way you’re feeling. Most of our friends and fam are not therapists. They have no clue what to say to someone who expresses feelings that life is not worth living, thoughts of self harm or feelings of “existential crisis.”
There is a very likely chance that the people closest to you may actually be unhelpful, to the point that they’re making things worse. You may be in an invalidating social environment. They usually aren’t trying to do this intentionally. They’re just scared, ya know? They love you and they don’t understand what’s happening so they’re trying to take control and fix the situation. They want to stop your suffering and the fact that they can’t really terrifies them. But they can’t stop your pain, only you can.
Pay close attention to the people in your life and how you truly feel around them. Set boundaries and distance yourself from anyone who is adding to your feelings of stress, guilt or shame at this time, or anyone who makes you feel judged for what you’re going through. You must be “self-ish” in the short term.
The next best thing is talking to someone who’s been through some shit and come out clean on the other side. If the person your confiding in has never seen a therapist, or worked through a mental health issue, prob not the best person to get chatty with. If they haven’t looked at their dark shit, you can’t really expect them to understand yours. You need to find the truth seekers. If they’re not in your circle, you can find plenty of us out here…on the internet.
Listening to upbeat music on your drive to work is not going to solve this. You ARE a firework, but Katy Perry can’t get you through this one. Start actively seeking the answers you need to feel at peace. You basically need to become your own therapist. You need to become an expert on YOU. That sounds corny, but it’s true.
Podcasts saved me during the height of my existential crisis. These two, in particular, were extremely helpful (pay close attention to the concept of “horizon living”):
Please for the love of cheeses, listen to them and take time to really absorb them.
Here’s something that is completely counter-intuitive. Don’t hate me for this. You need to break. You need to have a MASSIVE, celebrity cancelling their tour for “exhaustion” style breakdown. Often it’s the only way you’re going to find the answers you’re seeking. We’ve already agreed that you feel all fucked up, right? Falling apart will be the bravest thing you ever do. It helps to be at an almost “rock bottom-esque,” throw your hands in the air, on your knees begging the heavens for guidance, last resort, whatever the hell I’ve been doing hasn’t been working, open to anything, if I continue on this route my soul will die, mindset. That’s when the magic happens.
You’re gonna have to get really serious about figuring this out, because the hardest part is, no one can do it for you. No therapist, no friend, no partner…no one but you. Once you have cried your last tear about how unfair the world is (I cried for like an entire year) you have to pick yourself up and decide you’re gonna figure this out on your own.
You need to take full accountability for where you are in your life. It’s likely you’re stuck in a negative thought pattern and you can’t envision a future that looks good to you. On some level you don’t feel worthy, and the world can only give you what you believe you deserve. You have limiting beliefs (we all do) and you need to identify them and start working through them or the “cycles and patterns” you’ve begun to notice in your life will just keep repeating.
You’re gonna have to look at all your negative thoughts and emotions and really go INTO the abyss. It’s gonna be dark and terrifying (it’s an abyss, what did you expect?), but you won’t die, I promise. And eventually you’re gonna feel so damn good when you start to reprogram those bullshit beliefs with powerful ones. That’s when you can take your true energy and start creating a life that you actually want (but that’s a whole other blog. Right now I’m just trying to stop you from moving to the Alps so you can hide in the mountains).
Brene’s blog below really pinpoints what I was feeling during my existential crisis, and maybe it will for you too.
The Midlife Unraveling | Brené Brown
In my late thirties, my intuition had tried to warn me about the possibility of a midlife struggle. I experienced…
4. Trust that the answers are coming.
Without the risk of freaking you out, more often than not an existential crisis is followed by a “spiritual awakening.” I wish someone had told me this. You’ve heard people talk about getting “woke?” Yeah, that’s where you’re headed if you trust yourself and keep bravely seeking your truth. Let this one hit: The only way out, is through.
And always remember, you’re not alone. You’re not the first person to go through this (um, hello, Nietzsche), even though it may feel that way. You will get through your existential crisis (anxiety, depression, etc.). You’re going to find answers that make sense to you so you can be at peace with yourself. Hell, I did, and I’m a real shit show.
I know you won’t give up. That voice that keeps telling you you’re meant for more, it’s fucking right. I can’t wait to talk to you about the other things we’ll learn on our wild quests.
Love from the other side,