My Concrete Strategy for Eliminating Existential Crisis, or, Take that, Evil Life-Block!

Recently I posted discussing how certain types of existential crisis can manifest themselves as a feeling of "life-block" (akin to writers' block, only about EVERYTHING), and how I believe that the process of finding meaning and becoming a person of purpose rests a great deal on the "people" I have been and the things I have valued over time. It feels as though I have in some ways let myself become disoriented in my own life, so the logical thing seems to take stock of the guideposts and landscape markers that lie behind me, in order to journey with confidence from here.

However, in my last post I spoke vaguely of considering this as a process of "integrating" myself, in order to better determine my priorities and live out what I value... and especially given the context, words like "integrate" and "reorient" are hardly concrete. So I wanted to describe how I mean to do it, because if nothing else doing so will help keep me accountable to it. I started out by making a list -- brainstorming the things that had been important to me at each various stage of my life so far, and then drawing from that list the items I still do (or should) find meaningful, as well as the things I regret having let go. Some are silly, just meant as a reminder of good memories, and some serve a key role in anchoring my life and motivating me. After I had my list, I tried to think of actions and choices tying into each that will help move me towards regaining the purpose and perspective that they had provided. This is more or less what I ended up with.

5 "not lost, merely misplaced!" things that help me find direction:

1. My faith. I'm so embarrassed that I didn't mention this one in my original post, when I was talking about the "threads of continuity" running through my life... because this is (/should be) the most important. The oversight is a unhappy indicator of the place I'm at right now, having lost sight of many of my priorities... But to be all kinds of metaphorical, if I was a ship sailing over the high seas of life, my faith would be ballast, rudder, and engine, all three. I've let myself forget that, so it should come as no surprise I've been drifting. Right now I'm incredibly thankful for mercies that are new every morning. There are a myriad of concrete ways I can go about reintegrating my faith into my day-to-day life, but the first item on the agenda will probably be to get involved with a church that deliberately makes itself accessible to newcomers, and to start reading scripture myself again. Or maybe I'll cut a corner temporarily on that last one and download some "daily Bible" podcasts to listen to on the bus... hey, whatever it takes right?

2. Volunteering. Throughout college I volunteered pretty regularly, and the experiences meant a lot to me... but I was volunteering with friends usually, and when I lost the structure of college I let it slip away. Scheduling and general busy-ness make this one hard to get back into a routine. Plus, the last volunteer opportunity I was interested in required *three* letters of recommendation, and I don't think there are that many people in existence who think well enough of me to write a whole rec... err, just kidding. (But seriously!) Nevertheless, I should be able to find something, especially seeing as how I live in a big city with a lot of options. Volunteering always provided me with great perspective, as well as the chance to get outside of my own head and work towards concrete positive change, and I'm eager to regain both. You probably should avoid me for a few days... or I might hand you a pen and ask for a letter of recommendation. Just FYI there...

3. Writing. Obviously I still do this one, but it's lost a lot of the joy it used to bring me. It's been a while since I've been swept happily away in an imaginary world all my own. I started writing dozens of stories as a teenager and I don't think I ever finished any of them -- a fact that feels a little too endemic of my life as a whole. I'm now planning on rewriting some of those stories that I started so long ago... or at least slapping endings on to them. Maybe a few will evolve into coherent pieces, and maybe I will just enjoy the sense of resolution and completion; either way, I'm already looking forward to it. And I won't be labeling the documents with self-deprecatory titles like "A Pathetic Medieval Tale" anymore either. Hello, self-confidence! Meet my writing...4. Books! This one was huge for me from the first moment Little Bitty Sarah learned to read, and I devoured books pretty much from that moment on until the middle of college... at which point the chore aspect of reading assignments and the demands of a burgeoning social life pretty much ended the hobby. I also developed along the way a somewhat highfalutin set of ideas about the kind of "intellectual" books I needed to be reading in my spare time... all of which factors conspired to keep me from ever loving reading again up until this point. But though books can be amazing tools for growth and learning, they are also allowed to just be a hobby sometimes... so for the first step towards recapturing my love for books, I'm going to let it simply be that. For now, this reader just wants to have fun! Note to whoever has the third book of the Twilight series checked out of the Atlanta library... can I bribe you to return it early??

5. Playing the piano. I had a love/hate relationship with this one while I was growing up, and definitely had to be forced to practice even the (highly minimal) 20 minutes each day, but I have to say that it was an amazing emotional vent for me. The distraction of focusing on something else, specifically something lovely and and ordered and harmonious, could ease away even the darkest of my adolescent moods. Anybody think it will work on PMS?? Somebody get me a piano, STAT!

Another key item on my list was journaling, so I will be making space on a shelf and lining up all my journals... starting with the purple one with the little lock that contains the lopsided writing of 8-year-old Sarah. Because, when it comes to remember the people I have been (the good, the bad, and the ugly) nothing can beat going back and reading my own words from the time. Journaling in the present also provides me with both perspective and emotional release as well, so that aspect is even more valuable. Other items from my list that serve more as a reminder of good memories and old loves than as motivators or guideposts include: Celtic music, thrift stores, fairy tales, embroidery and other crafts, and fun mail. I also plan to put together a couple of photo collages of random joyful moments, to remind me tangibly of how blessed I am.

For me at least, puzzling through the reasons for my existence and the direction my life should take tie a great deal into knowing who I am and where I come from. The day-to-day can be draining and distracting, and it helps to have solid reminders of the things I value, to give me confidence that there is meaning and worth in each day. There is meaning and worth, thank God! And surrounding myself with even these small things can ease the struggle to keep it "affirmed" in my head each day. That's my plan... and away we go! ;)

Note: I do want to make the distinction that an existential crisis is not the same thing as depression, anxiety disorders, etc, though at times they come hand-in-hand. Dealing with depression is a much more visceral, day-to-day survival kind of thing, and while questioning the meaning of life can be a component of that, the coping methods are decidedly different. That's a topic for a different post though -- here I meant to discuss strictly the philosophical issues of finding personal direction in the moments when uncertainty is its own problem, and not a by-product of depression. To someone struggling with depression this post would likely seem very useless, so I wanted to be sure to clarify.

1 comment

  1. You know, I think it's just the season for existential crises. I've been having my own lately--mine appear to be extreme introspection combined with a lack of directon--and they sure do grind the gears of my life workings to a halt. Hang in there--you'll figure it out!


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