When existential crisis hits
Not to be too dramatic or anything, but I was in the middle of doing chapter two of my thesis when I suddenly got caught up with asking myself: What am I even doing? What is the purpose of this, or my purpose for that matter? Is there a definite meaning of our actions and our lives or is it something that we just fabricate or validate with our own judgments? To make the long story short, due to the constant overthinking and overanalyzing, I wasn’t able to finish my paper, because after all, what’s it going to matter anyway?
It’s difficult when existential crisis hits you—really hard—because once you fall into the abyss of your own thoughts, it’s not easy to get out of it. The struggle continues and it takes away all vibrancies—eventually desaturating your world. See, existential crisis isn’t just material for viral memes, but an actual reality the youth experience but rarely face.
Existential crisis isn’t just about questioning the meaning of life, but also questioning the decisions, motivations, and other anxiety-inducing circumstances surrounding you. The great thinkers of existentialism, Søren Kierkegaard, Albert Camus, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and John Paul Sartre, might give you differing definitions of existential crisis, but they all agreed that existence as a whole is so important that an entire field of study was dedicated to it.
Sometimes we start to think “Why are we in this university when we could be somewhere else doing much more interesting stuff?” or “Why are we following these social norms when, in fact, it was only made by people like us?” It only shows that we live in a world full of options, but all these norms merely hinder us from taking a different path. We are told to go to school, find a stable job, and build a family; but we forget that these options are simply human constructs made by people who are just as anxious and empty as us. To add to the doubt, there are people who “succeeded” in life without following the norms, like Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey, F. Scott Fitzgerald—even freaking Walt Disney. Maybe it was all due to their natural talent, but maybe it was also because of their strong commitment to what they believed in—something so rare in the world today.
Once you fall into the abyss of your own thoughts, it’s not easy to get out of it.
It’s impossible as college students not to encounter at least one moment questioning our own existence and purpose in life because I know that most students like me end up feeling empty at some point in their college years. You may find yourself staring at the void, having a constant breakdown, and isolating yourself from anybody else, but according to James T. Webb, PhD and founder of SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted), people who experience existential depression are more likely gifted because of their more highly developed sensitivities. He also mentioned that these people are idealists because they see the possibilities of how things might be, but feel extremely disappointed and frustrated when the said ideals are not reached. I can’t help but relate with this because I myself have encountered people who are creative, intensive, and highly sensitive, yet are battling existential depression as they don’t just focus on superficial aspects of life, but rather reflect on the deeper meaning of it.
Before getting caught up in another existential crisis as I write this, I’d like to quote Kierkegaard on his first published work Either/Or, “I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations — one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it—you will regret both.” Kierkegaard believes that the only way to respond to these tough times in life is to laugh defiantly at it, and for him, humor is based on the incongruity and as philosophically important.
So, do what keeps you alive—even laugh at it if you must, and remember that these crises in life will transform you person into a stronger person. Albeit depressing, these moments questioning everything around us open an acute awareness that can only be learned through dark experiences. Sometimes we find ourselves stuck in our thoughts of how meaningless our actions are that we forget that, as Kierkegaard said, this world can only be understood backwards—but must be lived forwards. We might not understand it now, but we will eventually—if we only hang in there and keep going.
Just don’t forget to finish your thesis.