It goes by many names: existential depression, existential crisis, existential anxiety, existential angst… but what is it exactly? It’s pretty hard to describe if you’ve never experienced it. Here is the best definition I’ve found so far:
“Existential anxiety is an all-encompassing form of anxiety and stress that is present in a nagging way when we try to make meaning in life simply because, as humans, we exist. That’s a fun concept, isn’t it? We experience anxiety, stress, strife, worry, and even panic simply because we are alive.” — Healthy Place
My Story- Childhood
My journey began when I was about eight years old. I remember standing outside the apartments where I lived and talking to the neighbor kid. I felt slightly anxious wondering about where we were before we were born and what would happen to us if we were never born. I asked my friend about my ponderings to which she just looked at me strangely and said no, she had never thought about that. Then we went back to playing our game.
I don’t recall wondering about this anymore until I was about 14. I was in church during our youth service. Something was said about either heaven or hell and I begin to think about the concept of living forever after I die. I had my first panic attack and started crying. The youth leader asked me what was wrong, and I told her I feared dying. She assumed I was worried about going to hell and tried to reassure me that I would be fine.
She didn’t understand the profoundness of what I was talking about. I then started asking some of my teenage friends if they ever thought about what happens after they die. I remember one friend said, “Yeah, but I try not to think about it because it scares me.”
Once when I was 18, I was trying to go to sleep but kept having these overwhelmingly anxious thoughts about dying. I was crying and woke up my husband (yes, husband), trying to explain to him how I was feeling. He didn’t want to hear about it and just rolled over and fell back asleep.
I have dealt with this often on ever sense. Usually when the feelings come up, I distract myself and think about something else to avoid the anxiety that flares up within me.
I was at work one day when I was 38 and having anxious thoughts. I begin to Google questions about how I was feeling and discovered that it actually has a name! Oh, the relieved to discover that I wasn’t going crazy! One day however, I was reading about how scientists had finally managed to take a picture of a black hole. I was reading about all the wonders and vastness an ever-expanding universe.
My mind cannot wrap around these concepts, and once again the anxiety flared up. Only this time, it didn’t go away. It lingered on and on until I found myself thinking about it day and night sinking deeper into what is called an existential depression.
Life felt completely meaningless. Any decision that I had to make was excruciating because to me, it didn’t matter one way or the other in the grand scheme of things. It’s hard to explain this part of my life and the darkness that enveloped me. It’s different from regular depression because I have suffered with that for 19 years also. So now, I was double-depressed.
I just didn’t want to live anymore. I felt like my life had no purpose and so what was the point of living. I felt like ALL life was meaningless and why are we here? How did we get here? What really happens after we die? Is there really a God? Why did He make us? So many questions that nobody on planet Earth has the answers for.
Am I Going Crazy?!
My analytical brain wants to know the why behind everything, and no matter how much I analyze and Google-search things, I’m never going to have the answers to these questions. I would try to sleep but my mind would race, and I literally thought I was going crazy.
I began to do things known as grounding behaviors. I would look at different objects and name their colors. The thought behind this is that crazy people lose touch with reality and if you can identify abstract things such as color, then you’re not in fact crazy. It really works! I also spoke with my pastor who gave me an assignment to help combat my thoughts with scripture. You can read that story here.
Midnight Talks with God
I would try to pray but I would just cry and with frustration and questions to God. I would say over and over, “I don’t understand. I don’t understand. I don’t understand. Please help me…” I begin to set up late at night after my kids had gone to bed and talk to God. I would just look out my bedroom window at the darkness and talk about anything and everything that came up.
I did this every day for about two weeks and discovered that I have a lot of unhealed places in my spirit. Things that I was sure I was over a long time ago. All the hurt and bitterness and anger came bubbling back up and now I finally feel like God has healed those places in my heart.
Slowly but surely, the anxious thoughts subsided. They still surface every now and then, but I don’t have the same reaction to them anymore. I was praying the other day about this and I feel like I have finally concluded why I went through all this: If I-or anybody for that matter- solve these big questions and figure out life, we wouldn’t need to have faith.
If we knew how we got here, where we’re going, the purpose of life, the meaning behind the cosmos- all of that- we wouldn’t need to trust God. I truly believe that is why even as scientifically advance as we are now, we will never be able to answer these questions.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8,9
So, what do we do? I believe we just realize that this is our life and we have a purpose even if we don’t know what it is at the moment. One commenter on the article listed below said it well. She says, “Everything that exists physically in the universe has the ability to impact something else, and therefore has purpose.” Personally, I choose to trust God and his word which reminds me that-
“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” -Hebrews 11:6
Here is the best article I’ve ever read on existential crisis. Bookmark it to save and use as needed! “Why and Existential Crisis is Good and 7 Ways to Navigate Yours” It’s also nice to read the comments on both of these articles to know that you’re not alone.
Another good article I just came upon today: Existential Anxiety, Stress, and Meaning-Making in Your Life