hi all of you,
thanks for reading this. i'm hoping it will help you.
i remember the day it hit me like it was yesterday. it felt like i had fallen out of the world from one instant to another. suddenly, i was shit-scared of myself, of everything, of every second of my own existence. everything seemed absurd and alien to me. i tried to relate to the world - i tried to remember how normal it all felt just before, but it kept eluding me. i naturally had no fucking clue what was going on, and i didn't yet have the vocabulary to pin point what it even exactly was that was troubling me. i was terrified 24/7, being deeply melancholic and after a while depressed about the sense of loss i had been experiencing. i felt i had lost a perspective that protected me, and it started to dawn on me that i would never get it back.
what followed was a long journey. all in all, it took me 3 years, first to make sense of what was happening to me, and then, to come out of it better than ever before. i'll try to to take you through the most significant steps of this journey, share some of my insights with you, and to keep it reasonably short.
a little caveat first. my concern, that i wouldn't be able to get back my old perspective turned out to be true. but that should not discourage you one bit. a change of perspective, an existential crisis even, is healthy i found, and a huge opportunity for personal growth, for philosophical insights, and for love.
the first night
the day it hit me, i cried. it felt like a catastrophic crisis. floodgates open. panic attack. the whole spiel. it came out of the blue, regular autumn night, after work at my home. i was 24. it felt like i had just made sense of everything, saw clearly for the first time, discovered the ugliest of all truths. from one moment to another, existence became a burden, utterly meaningless, possibly fake somehow - definitely artificial in its appeal. all the constructs i had collected and accepted over the years, all the truths i thought i knew about myself and the world, crumbled at the same time. intrusive thoughts bursting through my head. i felt robotic, on tracks, could barely recognize myself in the mirror. my human nature, my entire anatomy disgusted me. i couldn't trust my senses any longer for the reality they produced seemed false.
this is all night one. like most of you, it hit me sudden, and it me hard. i locked myself in my room and put on some beethoven, in an attempt to make myself appreciate human genius and accomplishment. i'm more of a hip hop kind of guy, so that was very much out of the ordinary. i guess i tried to fight this ugly feeling that i was nothing more than a consciousness trapped in some algorithmic bio-machine, unfree in a world that seemed crafted and simulated. it didn't work.
my roommate sat at my bed and comforted me, trying to relate to me by telling me about how he was in awe of existence and somewhat scared of opening some intellectual doors in his own mind. some questions about the universe, and existence, he didn't dare asking he explained. he postponed it, until he got older and wiser, he said. i said to him, shaking with fear, that i couldn't hold those doors closed any longer. he comforted me until at some point, deflated from an hour-long panic attack, i fell asleep.
the first week
the next morning i woke up alone, and immediately probing my perception for relief. within moments i realized, i still had my newly gained perspective from the night before. nothing had changed, i didn't sleep it off. if this was a trip, i was stuck in it.
i became unspeakably sad, and for a week walked around like a zombie, confiding in my 2 best friends. one of them basically just laughed at me, tried to help me laugh it off as well, but i couldn't.
the first month
after a week, i went back home to visit my family. i tried to explain to them what i was experiencing, and how discomforting it was. my father called it a "storm in the head" which will pass, and my brother coined my mantra for the next 2 years: "this too shall pass", because you know - everything does. naturally, that is what i wanted. i wanted "this" to pass, and i wanted my old life back.
the worst thing was, it wasn't only my human nature that felt alien to me. my family, my friends felt alien to me as well. their bodies seemed weird to me. a little bit like the weird aliens in mars attack. i couldn't look my family in the eyes. it was so sad, i don't know how to even put that in words.
in my hometown i had a lot of time to kill, so at one point i walked into a book store, and picked up a random book. it was "sapiens" written by yuval harari. didn't know the author, had no previous intention of buying it. was just browsing, and it caught my eye somehow. well, it's a pretty fucking powerful book. even more powerful when you read it with no filters. that's how i felt all the time. no filters. every thought could just knock me out, make me panic, i had no truths and no confidence to protect and shelter me. so i spent a few days lying by a fire place reading this book about the history of the world and humankind, and it really shaped my outlook going forward. more on that a bit later
the first winter
autumn was over and winter had arrived. depressing outside, and very very melancholic on the inside. basically, i was disgusted by existence, i couldn't bear it. the alienation made me panic all the time, and i felt so incredibly sad and alone that i just wanted every day to pass as quickly as possible. i couldn't work anymore at that point, i had basically retreated, was hiding in my apartment most of the time. i tried working in the beginning, but i really couldn't - or at least that's how i felt. i lived off savings, day to day, and in the evenings often rewarded myself for getting through the day by getting a beer or two in the bar on the corner. it was the only time i could at least sometimes relax, except for maybe when i slept. i loved to sleep. best thing. didn't even mind nightmares. anything was better than this shit.
at some point, i went to see an old friend of mine who is an artist in the city where i lived. elder guy, in his 60s. i had (and still have) a ton of respect for him. the man has experienced a lot over his life, and i somehow sensed some of that wisdom might help me out. i certainly didn't want to go to a shrink, because i didn't feel like that what i was going through could be fixed by a person who looks at it as a mental health issue. it felt bigger than that, and it felt like truth despite the horror it brought. but you know, it's weird, how when you feel like you lost all orientation in life, you're still able to run into people. if not connect, then at least to bump off one another. serendipity requires very little of you, if anything. really it just requires you to exist. i was surprised to see how i somehow ended up on my friend's doorstep with the words: "i don't know where to go anymore, or what to do, i need your help". he invited me in, i sat down in his atelier and described, in much less words than here, how i felt. again, i didn't quite know myself then, and i was almost too sad to speak most of the time. i remember trying to explain how i can't tell what's real anymore, that i'm afraid of going crazy. my friend might be old, and he's not the tallest, but as we were sitting there, he kicked my leg under the table so hard i had blue spots on it for a while. he just casually did that and said to me: "that was real, wasn't it? trust me, this is reality." he got some philosophy books from his bookshelf and started explaining to me how i had just run into some basic human mysteries. that's all; and that this is a natural human crisis. he had this idea of a human program that runs through all of us over the course of our lives, including a crisis every now and then that sweeps us off our feet. he said "look, you are standing in the middle of a heap of rubble - your house is in shambles. everything you believed in, your identity, shambles. now, you begin to rebuild your house, build a new one in fact, brick by brick. it will take a long time, but you can do it". it gave me a lot of confidence even though i didn't feel like i was just "running into some philosophical problems". fuck, i was feeling those philosophical problems.
he helped me put together a plan for the winter. it went as follows: 1. walk everyday, 2. pick something up on your walks everyday - anything you want. the point is, something that catches your attention 3. keep a journal and write about your days and thoughts.
now i know this doesn't sound like much, but i was so - i guess, at this point - depressed, that doing anything was a huge exercise.
so i went out everyday, often walking 20 miles or more, through rain and snow. that was great, i almost got addicted to it, because it made me feel something. finally, i was able to feel something again. i also tried to pick up something everyday. i didn't quite get it in the beginning, but as my collection of little things grew: a chestnut here, a bottle cap there, i had to smile at all the little random items that had caught my eye. and at some point i noticed how it helped me relate to the outer world again. to connect with things, as random and irrelevant as they might seem. they made it through the filter, i picked them up, so now they meant something to me. if you don't want to get your hands dirty, that's fine. but getting out there and walking every day is a must if your health allows it. just touch the plants, get your face wet and cold. throw yourself in there - that helped me.
also i wrote in my journal everyday. often, when i felt a sudden surge of fear, i scrambled for my notebook, and just started writing down my thoughts as i experienced them. a lot of depressive stuff about human nature, free will. but often i also wrote about my family, about how i loved them, and how i wanted to go on, even though sometimes i felt like i couldn't anymore.
i remember my brother came to visit me that winter, "to take care of me". it meant the world to me. we made some music and we talked and talked and talked. and i felt like one person in this world understood at least some of what i was experiencing, and that somehow we were in the same boat. #existence - it helped. family can be such a blessing, and i'm so so very grateful for mine.
the first year
by now, i had built a lot of new habits. often, i went into the forest at night, when a panic attack hit me, almost to face it in complete darkness, and complete isolation. i didn't run from it anymore, i just spent quality time with it. i spent almost entire nights outside staring into the sky, marvelling at the stars. yes my body didn't feel like it was mine, yes the world seemed fake, but what a fucking wonderful world full of mysteries. i mean i dared to think about the scope of the universe at depth maybe for the first time in my life, the magic of life itself, all of the things i used to take for granted that now stared back at me with an absurd grimace. i felt more alive, and more awake than ever. constant anxiety does that to you, and i chose to enjoy the rollercoaster ride as much as i could, even if i didn't choose to be on it. every night i fell into my bed, feeling i had just come home from an epic journey.
with time i realized that this kind of acceptance of my perspective was a true remedy. in the beginning, i had told myself: "just accept that it is like this now, and it will pass again". but i grew more and more disappointed and desperate, seeing it not leaving. i was stuck with it. now i had developed this sense, that i should accept and embrace it as a tunnel that would lead me to a new place. and once i had that perspective, i stopped feeling like i went in circles everyday, and it felt more like i was on a heroic journey. heroic journeys are rarely easy and peachy for the "hero". that's the point. they are arduous, often come at a high cost, but they are rewarded in one way or the other.
you know how they say, that we are the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves? yes that's true, and i suggest you use it to your advantage. you can be the victim in a great tragedy, or you can be the hero in an epic existential novel. what i'd like to take you away is that you have every right to think of yourself as a bit of a hero in your own right. and by the way, it helps to think of everyone around you as one, too.
looking around me now, i saw magic, where before i felt disgust and alienation. yes things were still alien to me, but i approached them with a sense of curiosity now, rebuilding my relationship with everything - every little thing in this world, one by one. i remember one particularly romantic night where i stared at the moon forever, and at some point decided: "yes, i know you now". and that was that. i did pretty much the same with every mundane item, from cutlery to cars, thinking about how humans built it, for what purpose, its history and so forth. i tried to make sense of everything in the world, as if i had been reborn. at some point i came across a copy of harry potter. that was kind of funny. i remember i had read the first book to my brother when he was a toddler. now i felt like i lived in a world of magic, and i couldn't understand people who needed fiction and entertainment to distract them from the mysteries right in front of them.
i still had all the same intrusive thoughts and questions from the beginning. questions about this and that popping in my head, challenging my existence, my beliefs, and so forth. but now i had collected a whole bunch of answers, so i interrupted each intrusive thought, that earlier would have put me down a dangerous path, often leading to panic. i just went to myself "look man, you've answered this question for yourself already, now chill". the intrusive thoughts became less and less and less until they practically disappeared.
looking back some time later
i'll be honest with you. one of my best friends (the one who laughed at and with me), said to me in that first winter: "call me when you're completely fine again, and I'll buy you a crate of beer". it took me i think almost 3 years before I told him that I'm ready for those beers.
it took a lot of walking, a lot of writing, a lot of panic attacks, a lot of debating with myself, a great many relationships to be rebuilt.
looking back, this phase of my life means so much to me, and truly it feels like it catapulted me from an infantile perspective on the world into what i can wholeheartedly say is, ironically, a more real one. i realized that for me, things felt fake, because they didn't match the previous concepts i had of them. my previous ideas of what they were, where they came from, etc. had crumbled - now, i had to build new relationships with myself and the world around me, and develop new concepts that matched my experience and intuition.
it brought me closer together with my brother, whom i owe more than i can ever express. it brought me closer to my family and friends, and it brought me closer to myself and the world. pretty good outcome for something called dp/dr, isn't it?
it brought me back to university, where i started to study philosophy and physics to make sense of it all.
it brought me to writing and making music, and brought me to an appreciation of any kind of art really, while before i was pretty blind to it all.
it brought me up, kind of.
it'll bring you up to. be patient. just know, that this too shall pass. everything does. you're in a tunnel, but there's a whole new world on the other side waiting for you. i'd tell you to not be afraid, but that's shitty advice. i'd say, embrace the fear and the anxiety, and deal with it. you are already the hero of your journey, i suggest you start thinking of yourself as such. make sure you get plenty of time to experience your body in action. it helps to reconnect. make sure you have outlets to express yourself. try to paint your experience, if you can't write it down. confide in friends, use this forum or any other place you deem fit.
i think it's totally ok to approach your struggle in every way you want. you can go to a shrink, to coaches, to spiritual teachers, whatever floats your boat. for me, i took it on as a great personal challenge. it's almost like i became an existentialist philosopher, not by choice, but by sheer force of nature.
i suggest, if someone asks you what's wrong with you, you just tell them you have an existential crisis. you'll be surprised how many people can relate to an experience like yours in one way or the other. we all lose our perspectives and beliefs from time to time.
when you read this, you're probably currently going through the most epic, formative and mind-boggling challenge ever. this too shall pass, so enjoy the ride as much as you can.
thanks for reading! i'm around, if you have questions. i'll answer any question, as soon as i see it.