Strategies for Coping with Existential Depression
Embrace the Pain
Let’s just tackle the most difficult part of living with existential depression: the pain of existence. You cannot take a painkiller for it. You can only overcome it by living through it. My clients cringe when I tell them that. However, I can feel that they just want relief from this pain that comes from the depth of their being. Dare I say; the peace of mind and sheer joy you feel in just being alive can be addictive as well. I can say this with first hand experience. However, I know darn right that it takes some hard work and pain to get here. And I don’t expect it to remain like this forever. Today as I write this, I feel inspired to share my message that there is reward in doing the trek however painful it might feel.
I remember a scene from a hiking trip with a group. We were a group of 6 and one of the group members (we will call him Joe) had never hiked before and this was a moderate to difficult level hike. Joe was overweight at the time and about mid-way, he started to burn. One of our friends supported him through out the hike by sitting with him to rest, pushed him from the back, sharing hiking sticks, etc. We could tell that he was in pain as he carried his weight to the top of the summit. He literally cursed his way to the top; however, the joy of witnessing the breathtaking views was worth the pain. He was very thankful that we invited him and supported him to get to the views. To our great surprise, he wanted to go again after we came down to the valley.
Hopefully this story will inspire you to take another step towards the higher planes. I see existential depression as a transformational period that will expand your awareness and consciousness to another level. I am not saying it is not going to hurt to live from more of an inspired place, but I will say that it is worth it.
Writing down your thoughts and feelings provides you some order to them. You can then observe them and analyze them to understand a common thread of your questions, queries, and worries. Read more here about different types of journaling and its benefits. I would encourage you to find out what is really bothering you: bills, relationships, work, mundane, lack of compass, fear of death, fear of being alone, etc. Get down to the fears-some common ones are shared in the next point. Ask some big questions. You eventually will be able to answer your own questions. That is when you start to discover the truth you have been searching for outside of you. Tune into what feels true to you and rest is not important.
Consider the following four universal existential fears by Yalom. A lot of the worries at the surface usually boil down to these four fears. Understanding and learning to cope with these can be a big plus on the journey of existential depression.
- Death: Death is inevitable and this uncertainty produces massive anxiety.
- Freedom: There is no external structure to the world. We provide the structure by creating family, society, city, country, governments, rules, laws, etc.
- Isolation: No matter how close you get to another person but you never will fully know the person and the vice versa. Therefore ultimately, we are alone.
- Meaninglessness: If we must die, provide our own structure to the world, and are ultimately alone, then why go through this at all? The world is meaningless and meaningful both at the same time. The caveat is that you define it whether it is meaningful or meaningless.
People usually go through existential issues because they are trying to understand themselves and the world around them. They are looking for universal structure to the world.
Growing up, the world is simple and safe, however as you grow you learn that the world in fact is very complex and chaotic or even dangerous at times. You learn that rules can be bent, laws can be broken, the color of your skin matters, money can make or brake things, life is not fair, people are not fair, people hurt each other and create wars, etc. It becomes natural to question if anything is real, whether God exist, what happens after life, why bad things happen to good people, etc. The more you try to understand the world and its structure, the more chaotic and complex it becomes. I see this as a sign of growth and the process.
Disillusionment, I feel, is in fact important for the journey towards becoming whole. You have to break through the barriers and accept that ultimately you are alone in this journey. You can share your experiences and life lessons with others, but ultimately you have to complete the journey yourself. No one else can do it for you, no matter how much they love and care about you. This disillusionment process helps you to understand that you die no matter what. You have the freedom to create your own structure to the world. You are ultimately alone, and that there is no inherent meaning accept the one you create by yourself and for yourself.
Embrace the process
It is a process that unfolds on its own course. I believe that it comes from deep within and you can just sit back be in the awe of it all. Try to remain non-judgmental and learn to embrace the peaks and valleys of this journey. Enjoy the journey!