Some of my issues are clinical. Others are rooted in something else. When I was trying to understand what was wrong with me, I discovered something called existential depression. It was very me. In brief it is a product of thinking maybe too deeply/too much about life. Over analyzing the value and purpose of everything all the time. Questioning everything you’ve ever been told, everything you’ve ever believed, questioning the fabric of who you are.
Found nothing solid.
I had been excessively existential and increasingly nihilistic as I grew up. Life felt purposeless, joyless, meaningless. Anhedonia crept in. It still does when I dwell on the thought for even a minute. I would put in a lot of effort to avoid such thoughts. Later, as an adult I would learn to stop running from them. I would allow myself to lay in and feel those feelings.
When I was first in the muck, I couldn’t find much to accurately describe my issues. At some point I did discover pieces that I felt did a really good job. Those are linked below.
So it seemed I was suffering from existential depression. Not to be confused with an existential crisis, which I had/have also. I seem to have an existential crisis every 5-6 weeks. It's like clockwork. I have to fight hard not to linger there and to get through that storm quickly. It still sucks. I've accepted it as something that happens to me. I've been better at not ruminating but it happens and I just have to let it pass.
I've not done the best job at describing what it is because these articles capture much better than I could tell it.
Here's a short piece.
Here's a much longer and detailed piece. The first half of it covers the theory and explanation of the phenomenon. The second half is solution oriented. Maybe read it in to separate moments. It's REALLY good and I really want you to read it. But I know it gets dense and everybody doesn't have the time or energy.
So in case you don't/can't read either,
Here are some highlights:
- Existential depression is a depression that arises when an individual confronts certain basic issues of existence. Yalom (1980) describes four such issues (or “ultimate concerns”)–death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness
- When they try to share these concerns with others, they are usually met with reactions ranging from puzzlement to hostility. They discover that others, particularly of their age, clearly do not share these concerns, but instead are focused on more concrete issues and on fitting in with others’ expectations. Often by even first grade, these youngsters feel isolated from their peers and perhaps from their families as they find that others are not prepared to discuss such weighty concerns.
- When their intensity is combined with multi-potentiality, these youngsters become particularly frustrated with the existential limitations of space and time. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to develop all of the talents that many of these children have.
- Psychologist May Seagoe (1974) composed a table in which she listed characteristic strengths of gifted children on one side, and then on the adjacent side, she listed possible challenges or problems that are likely to arise from those very strengths. Table 1 is a similar table for gifted adults.
- Anger that is powerless evolves quickly into depression.
- "...one cannot then go back to one's former life"
- "... they tend to be idealists. However, they are simultaneously able to see that the world falls short of their ideals. Unfortunately, these visionaries also recognize that their ability to make changes in the world is very limited. Because they are intense, these gifted individuals—both children and adults—keenly feel the disappointment and frustration that occurs when their ideals are not reached.
- They may question or challenge traditions, particularly those that seem meaningless or unfair.
- It is painful when others criticize them for being too idealistic, too serious, too sensitive, too intense, too impatient, or as having too weird a sense of humor. Gifted children, particularly as they enter adolescence, may feel very alone in an absurd, arbitrary, and meaningless world, which they feel powerless to change. They may feel that adults in charge are not worthy of the authority they hold. As one child described it, they feel “like abandoned aliens waiting for the mother ship to come and take them home” (Webb, Amend, Webb, Goerss, Beljan, & Olenchak, 2005, p. 136). This alienation creates social and emotional issues for them with their age peers, as well as with their teachers, which only adds to the possibility of depression.
- When their intensity is combined with multi-potentiality—giftedness in several areas—these youngsters may also become frustrated with the existential limitations of space and time. Although they try to cram 27 hours worth of living into a 24-hour day, there simply isn’t enough time to develop all of the talents and interests that they may have. They have to make choices, but the choices among so many possibilities feel unfair because they seem arbitrary; there is no "ultimately right" choice. Choosing a college major or a vocation is difficult when one is trying to make a decision between passion and talent in areas as diverse as violin, genetics, theoretical mathematics, and international relations. How can one be all that one can be? In truth, one cannot be all that one “could” be in every area. This realization can be very frustrating.
- People find that whenever they challenge or violate a tradition, it makes others uncomfortable. We want people to be predictable, even if it means that they are behaving in illogical and nonsensical ways. Most people vacillate in their thinking and behaviors; they can see how they might be and how they actually are, but making a leap forward to change is difficult. They may also find themselves feeling angry because they feel powerless to make the changes that they see as needed.
- In coping with existential depression, we must realize that existential concerns are not issues that can be dealt with only once, but will probably need frequent revisiting and reconsideration.