Friday, February 20, 2009

Existential anxiety

This week has been a fairly ho-hum kind of week. Of course, compared to revealing secrets last week, anything is considered more tame. Surprisingly, however, I've managed better than I anticipated. In my other attempts to get past this particular secret/issue, it would leave me headed for a downward spiral. So the fact that I haven't gotten too disorderly is a positive sign. But then again, maybe I have some of other issues that are stirring in my mind.

Last Friday, I had an interesting talk with a client who happens to be a former professor of mine. We got into talking about the new undergraduate degree in gender and women's studies which is slated for approval in the fall. I had been thinking of possibly getting this degree since I already have 12 hours in the department, just didn't finish my actual minor in college.

I expressed my concern to P. would be how could the degree help me for a future purpose. She rattled off some ideas, and then said, "if you were to close your eyes, how do you see yourself in the world? What is your purpose in the world?"

Although P. asked this in the nicest, thought provoking way as possible, it was still probably one of the worst questions to ask me. My simple answer is an "I don't know." This answer is better than a few years ago where I couldn't even envision myself in the future at all. Yet still, I struggle with what am I supposed to do with my life? What is my purpose? How do I really go about finding it? Where does my passion really lie?

I've read a number of books about overcoming your quarterlife crisis, trying to find what it is in life you enjoy, stories of other people recreating an enjoyable life for themselves that isn't stuck behind some CEO job, etc.

Yet again, I get lost in it all, feeling overwhelmed, feeling like I'll never figure it out at all due to some existential anxiety/crisis of sorts. I know I'm certainly not the only one in the same boat. So many people question themselves about this at one point or another in their life. Why is it even when you get to this point, you continue to feel like you are the only one who will fail at this?

Right now, P.'s question just keeps replaying over and over in my head like a broken tape recorder. I don't know which is better to be honest--thinking about horrible crap from the past which is depressing, shameful, guilt-ridden or thinking about the future which just creates loads of anxiety.

So that's where I'm at this week. The one good thing out of discussing this with P. was that she said she would try to help me in any way possible and that she is my cheerleader. What a sweet thing to say!

On another note, it's good I have a therapy appointment on Monday. I can't remember if I mentioned that I brought Tovah with me at my last session. She did stellar! This week, I'm bringing Baxter.

*Here is an interesting study on the Role of Existential Anxiety in Anorexia Nervosa. I don't necessarily agree with all of it but food for thought anyway.
Here is also a cyber sermon about existential angst from James Park at U. of Minnesota. Personally, I can relate to a lot of what he says in this prsentation, however, at the same time, it feels over the top too?


Becky said...

Hey there!

I always have that same answer, "I don't know" the where do you see yourself questions. I'm a little jealous of the people who seemed to always know exactly what they want their lives to turn into. I feel like there is pressure on us to already know these kinds of things, but I've never been in a big hurry to figure it out.

Someone told me to do something interesting the other day...she said that I should ask God to put those desire on my heart. Just to simply ask Him. I believe that eventually it will be revealed. (I don't know your beliefs or anything, but it helped me).

Have a good one!!

Kristina said...


(By the way, it's 'kb', but I changed my "stuff").
I may have commented on another post in regards to existential anxiety, because that was a like a black hole for me (yes, when I was in my 20's) and it took me YEARS to find my way out of it - the 30's have been kinder to me. What did help was finding issues and interests that I'm passionate about, not in the grand, "I-want-to-save-the-world" sense but that were meaningful to me, like hiking and reading good books.
It also helped that my T. was very understanding about that existential emptiness and despair and allowed me to see it as a very real issue.
I'm sort of a fan of Viktor Frankl - he talks about "Man's Search for Meaning" and also about how to find meaning (and he leaves that pretty broad).
Glad that you have a cheerleader - that's great!
- Kristina

Kim said...

I get stuck on this "what is my purpose?" loop quite often -- usually when I'm bored or when I'm not fulfilled by my daily life. When things are humming along, I don't think about it much. I guess your purpose is whatever you want it to be. My hubby says his purpose is to just enjoy himself -- watch movies, take it easy. I call this "lazy" -- haha. But, it's all your perspective and what you want for yourself and YOUR life. You don't have to have solid answers today. I'm assuming you will change over time. Don't put too much pressure on yourself to know "the way." There may not be just one way...

Kara said...

I understand exactly what you mean about getting really overwhelmed with the future. I feel like I know what I want to do with my life, but I get overwhelmed just thinking about it. I fear that I will never be able to get there. The fear is overwhelming. You said that you don't know what your purpose in life is yet. I would say that there is no rush. You will figure it out.

Tiptoe said...

Thanks for the comments all. Most of you commented there wasn't a rush for me to figure it out right now. I agree certainly. I just would like some sort of direction, and that's where I'm having a hard time. Having a lot of interests is a mixed blessing.

Becky, I used to be one of those people who knew exactly what they wanted in life, and then I kind of lost the way. Maybe I should ask for a sign?

Kristina, thanks for your perspective and providing hope. I agree with you about doing what you're passionate about. I have a lot of interests, so I find it hard to narrow is down at all. The possibilities are endless in a way but it's choosing which one.

As for Frankl, yes, I think that book is great.

By the way, I checked out your new blog. For some reason, I can't seem to comment on blogs with pop up windows for word verification. It's driving me crazy why I suddenly cannot.

Kim, true, your purpose in life can be about your perspective. I think I'm too used to what other people think.

Kara, I know you also struggle with this issue. In time hopefully, we'll both figure it out.

Jessi said...

i hear you loud and clear x

Anonymous said...

Since I was a young teenager (12), I started questioning the meaning of existance, I dont know if it was the cause of a inquisitive mind or the result of a troubled upbringing, or both. In reference to hallucinogenics, I smoked marijuana from 16 and that certainly expanded my questioning and seeking for an answer. I haven't smoked Marijuana for 7 years (now 27). Recently I had a breakdown, realizing I live my life in anxiety. I chew my nails, I chain smoke (tobacco), I use alcohol to relax, I masturbate frequently, I sleep a lot, I have difficulty getting motivated and forseeing purpose in having goals in life, I used my spouse as a crutch as well (couldnt live without her, made me feel lost and empty without her as my spouse). It took me the collapse of my 5 year relationship to realize that I felt so insecure and used these crutches obliviously. Im concerned because I dont know how to tackle this disorder I am on a SSNRI (anxiety/depression medication) and seeing a psychologist regularly. I have recently discovered Existential Anxiety and believe it is what I suffer from. Its absurd to think I went so many years oblivious to my anxiety and use of my crutches until I hit rock bottom to realize I have a problem. I hope others who have experienced what I have can contribute as a comments so others in the future can benefit from methods of resolving this life modifying mindset.

Tiptoe said...

Glad (well not glad but more assured) that others can relate.

Anon, I think it is good you are getting treatment and trying to figure things out. It's not an easy place to be in, and I hope you won't have to be much longer.

Anonymous said...

I have been thinking about Existential Anxiety all day, this is Anonymous two posts up. I wrote this quote, based on my feelings of existentialism and how to perceive the present. It may seem a bit deep, but perhaps if you read it slowly, it holds some truth.

Life is a story, with always a beginning and end that be no different to another. The pages be written in time, that fade into the future, and the present holding your past, which is the story of choice predetermined by fate or preselected by faith.

Anonymous said...

I have been living with these feelings my whole life. My most vivid memories of my childhood from about when I was 4 years old and up until puberty was lying in bed unable to sleep because I was thinking about death and nothingness, or I feared that I would start thinking about it. I had a mix of music on a tape that I listened to for years after bedtime, it relaxed me, and many tapes were worn out. I was riddled with night terrors as a child and during these 'special' nightmares angst took a very special form, resembling almost an intense crisis on acid.

There is not a single day that goes by when I don't actively confront my own mortality, knowing it, in my bones. How everything and everyone I love will be gone, in reality not too far into the future.

As an adult I have periodically eaten ssri, and with the numbing comes the ability (one of the adv.) to really delve into the mind, deeper and deeper and facing reality without risking to immediately being sucked into a vortex of terror.

What is my conclusion? There seems to be some hard (emotional) facts about life which if not confronted can lead to neurotic symptoms. Actually letting go fully and float downstream into the sewers of one's mind and standing up to and fighting the demons of death and existence, will let you know their strength and your own. Eventually the battle will end.

Hate to use the word self-actualize, but in a way, if you fanatically try to be the master of your own crisis, and learn as much as you can about the workings of your mind, that is what you achieve some of in the end. More clarity, less games. I'm not there yet.

Missy said...

Thanks so much for sharing this, It is exactly! what I am feeling.
So hard to look back AND hard to look forward.