- Mental Health
Coping With Existential Depression
People who live with sensitivity to existential issues may suffer from existential depression. Existential depression may be defined as the life-long tendency to be a very ‘deep thinker’ about the nature and reality of existence, resulting a deep, fundamental, and ongoing sense of the absurdity of life. In addition, there is a terrible and constant awareness of the imperfection of life. Coping with existential depression can be a monumental task, and when the individual does not have insight into the tools that can help, a hopeless one that can last a lifetime. Many who suffer from existential depression become so troubled that they choose to end their own lives, often to the complete surprise to those around them. But this answer is not an adequate answer; there are many other means to cope and find serenity.
Actively avoiding isolation is a central key to coping with existential depression. Most issues of depression lead the sufferer to isolate from others. This isolation may be literal in that the individual strongly avoids physical contact with others, but isolation can also be an internal process of ‘masking’. Masking means that while we are in physical and verbal contact with others, we put on a ‘game face’ that hides our true feelings of being down, creating an effective isolation from the outside world. While one of the stages of learning to cope with existential depression is discerning how to continue to engage with a world in pain without being overwhelmed by that pain, isolation is not the path for this result.
Intimate connection becomes the answer to avoiding isolation. For many who suffer from existential depression, exposure to mass suffering (in the media, for example) becomes an overwhelming experience of pain that can cause ‘target fascination’. This means that it’s hard to look away from the pain that the world endures. It is impossible, of course, for one individual to have intimate contact with everyone in the world that is suffering, but we can choose to narrow our field of view and focus on creating and maintaining intimate contact with a few select people in our lives. This intimate connection with a few significant people serves as a method to ‘ground’ us and secure our sense of identity and purpose. It also serves to provide us with the positive joys that intimacy can bring, and joy is a limited commodity for those with existential depression.
Likewise, an important tool is grounding our self in daily life and work. Since those with existential depression have a tough time coping with the senselessness of evil in the world, it is important for us to feel like we are making a difference in the world. Life still needs to be lived, despite the wars, famines, and evil of the world; groceries need to be gotten, kids need to be played with, and paperwork needs to get done. Far from using these tasks of daily life to distract us (for nothing can distract us from the absurdities we see), our daily life tasks can provide us with a clear sense of doing something to make our lives meaningful and impactful to others.
Those with existential sensibilities need always to be aware of self discipline; how to restrain our thoughts from getting lost in the many dark and dangerous allies of comparison of how the world could and should be with how it really is. To do this, we need to decide upon focusing our passions to a few areas. These passions can be anything from relationships to social justice, to politics, service to others, or even leisure activities. Many who live with bouts of existential depression find that they tend to be very passionate about the things that are important to them. And in this there is also a danger: becoming terribly imbalanced between passion and self care. The lack of self care is a common issue with people of passion; they may rarely take into consideration their physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual limits and simply run themselves into the ground. Imbalance in these areas creates great vulnerability to becoming overwhelmed to such a degree that not only produces exhaustion, but great vulnerability to moving an existential depression to a clinical one.
Education is a tool that may be difficult for the existentially depressed, especially if they have developed such a dark, pessimistic view of the world that has them convinced that there is no way a particular situation or circumstance can be repaired or become positive. After all, the pessimistic, existentially depressed person just knows that when a situation sucks, it will not stop, right? Wrong, of course. If we self discipline to engage in self motivated education, we can begin to find reasonable answers to our existential questions as well as new tools to positively affect our little sphere of influence in the world.
The process of continuing education can assist in finding and assigning meaning to life and the many tragedies that affect us both directly and indirectly. After all, the central feature of existential depression is a deep sense of the vastness of existence and discerning meaning of existence. A discipline of education can lead us to the doorstep of those wise individuals who have gone before us and have, perhaps, more adequately answered the meaning of existence. Much like the story of Buddha, we may search for an exceedingly long time to find the meaning of existence and suffering, only to find that there is no satisfying answer to this fact when asking the question in that way. Meaning, therefore, must be gained by attaching to something far more positive. In Buddhism, for example, once enlightened, the individual help others to ease their suffering by detaching from psychological constructs that are illusion. Or, in the Christian sense, to empty ourselves so that Christ may fully enter in to us and share the Good News with others. Despite the power of these approaches, the existentially depressed person’s deepest challenge remains banishing the question of existence; a challenge that may take a lifetime to achieve.
Eventually (perhaps not until the fifth or sixth decade of life), finding serenity becomes a clear goal, if we can endure the process of working through thru the earlier stages of existential discernment. Ultimately, perhaps, the solution becomes, a spiritual one that challenges us to find the delicate balance between a life with purpose and meaning, and tolerance of the existential realities.