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I am in the midst of a full-blown, life-altering, cannot-see-my-way-out-of-it existential crisis so I can't really say that I've survived it - yet. But I'll make it, eventually. So I've decided to put down some of the strategies that are helping me at this time. Besides, writing helps me to unpack a lot of this stuff in my head. I hope it helps you too.
An existential crisis is a confusing time when a person is trying to resolve and find the answer to the greatest question of all time, that is 'Who am I?' In other words, it's an identity crisis and I am in the middle of it. According to Andrews (see reference above) it can affect anyone, at anytime and can include groups as well as individuals.
So how to survive it? Well, first we have to understand where it comes from. For me I have a number of major life events occurring simultaneously: empty nest syndrome, moving in with a partner and becoming engaged, feeling homesick and missing my tribe, grieving the loss of my house and the ensuing bankruptcy, a few injuries (including my neck), the unexpected deaths of colleagues and friends far too young, losing my identity that was built around spirituality and yoga and generally feeling dissatisfied with my life and career at 44. Of course, I have a lot to be grateful for, after all, existential crisis really is a Western phenomenon, but it doesn't stop my crisis as presenting as depression, not anxiety, like the literature says it should.
In early 2016, I was feeling great; I was confident, life was good and I had purpose and direction. I was healthy, I was happy and I knew where I was going. You can see some of my memes at the time here on Instagram, and to be honest, I was feeling really inspired. Then the great yoga debarcle of 2016 happened. I can trace the start of this crisis to a moment sitting in meditation three years ago. Three years. I've been in this state for three years. You can read about it here. Now, I'm starting to pick back up who I was but more importantly, who I want to be, or indeed, if I want to be here at all. I'm starting to pick up the literal pieces of my soul that were discarded in that time (you can see my poem about it here) and so far, I only have one piece of my identity that is sticking. And that is: I AM TASMANIAN. It's my home, my "country", my place of belonging, it's where I come from and where I want to be when this body dies, it is WHO I AM. Everything else, the pieces of identity come and go and yet, this tiny fragment of light that remains the core of who I am. It's all I can hang onto at the moment and to be honest, it's better than nothing.
It's such a deep depression that I'm in, and I'm not sure how I will find my way out of it, but here are some things that seem to be working for me at this time;
1. A professional psychologist - there's nothing better than doing a brain and body, verbal-diarrhoea-type of dump all over someone who is paid to listen and provide some form of therapy. Sometimes just talking to family and friends isn't enough.
2. Figuring out my core values - What is the most important to you? Career? Family? Wealth? Creativity? Health? Find out what your core values are. Once I found these, I knew I had some sense of stability within me about who I am and what's important to me. I'm not there yet. The psychologist has suggested that I do some short- and long-term goal setting around my values to help to frame some direction. We'll see how that goes in the coming weeks.
3. Gratitude - My sister has sent me daily reminders of things to be grateful for. And while it is only a surface level that I feel this gratitude, it's reminding me that focusing on the good is helpful, even if the feeling is temporary, for now.
4. Writing - There is an incredible amount of research into writing as a means of healing. Just getting it down, physically out of your body onto paper with a pen is incredibly cathartic. I have kept a journal since I was about 14 and in the past few years have not used it often enough. Writing for me is life-saving. It lets me see my thoughts and re-read them after a few months and see the patterns in my life.
5. Reaching out to others - I used to consider myself to be an incredibly strong, independent woman, but perhaps in striving for my independence, I had not allowed others to see into my vulnerable heart and now, when I'm in crisis, I'm seeing all the wonderful people in my life and how their thoughts and actions can make me feel less alone in the world. I have had lots of offers from people who care and for someone who feels alone in the world, this is gold to me.
I hope that in some way my process of getting through my existential crisis has helped you,
©Alyssa Curtayne 2019
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