The Existential Crisis

Hello my Zebras and Spoonies! Thanks for coming and hanging out with me today, I’m glad that you are here. Today I am going to be talking about the existential crisis and how they relate to having a chronic illness.

Let’s start off by talking about what an existential crisis is. Basically, it is when you reach a point in your life that you question the purpose, value and meaning of your life. This term comes from the ideas presented in existential philosophy. The central idea of which is that we have no purpose, value or meaning in life beyond that which we ourselves give it. Because of this, it is possible to have that foundation undermined.

First, let’s start by saying that this is something that everyone goes through at least once in their lives, but usually more then once. We all struggle with an existential crisis when we make the transition from adolescence into adulthood and we struggle to define who we are and what our place is in this world. That one is pretty much guaranteed for everyone. But there are other times that it is really common to experience this. Empty nest syndrome is really an existential crisis. That parent just spent twenty or more years of their life with raising their children as their purpose. Once their children have grown and moved away, they have to redefine their purpose. So, it is important to know that if you are experiencing this, it is a very normal part of being human.

Another very common thing is to experience an existential crisis in context of having a chronic illness. This crisis can occur when you receive your diagnosis, when you have a decline in your status, when you receive news regarding your prognosis or when you need an assistive device. And it is possible that it could seem to come right out of no where. The thing is that having a chronic illness demands that we constantly re-evaluate what is important in our lives because we have to decide what we are spending our spoons on. This constant evaluation of our lives and the nature of illness changing self perception can easily lead us to having an existential crisis.

These times in our lives are very hard because we feel like we no longer know who we are and we question the fundamental value of our very being. Despite how difficult these times are, we can use them productively and to our benefit. These times are an opportunity for us to closely examine who it is we want to be, what we want to include in our lives and how we want to perceive the world around us.

The truth is that during these times, nothing has changed and that’s the piece that we need to keep reminding ourselves of as we struggle with these big feelings. There is no predetermined purpose or meaning in life so there is no way to loose it. The value in life is in the simple existence of it, so as long as you are alive, you cannot loose the value in your life. Despite feeling like you are in a crisis, there is nothing you have lost.

Alright, so how do we get through to the other side of these times? The first thing to know is that this is like anything else and it will pass because nothing lasts forever. No matter how awful it feels, it will pass. The tide comes in and we feel like we are drowning, but the tide will eventually go out. It always does. So, you really don’t need to do anything but wait and time will take care of it for you. But if you want to make sure that you get the most out of this difficult time, there are things that you can do to shift the experience to your benefit rather then just being a crappy time you had to suffer through.

As always, be sure that you are giving your emotions space and that you are paying attention to what they are trying to tell you. Give yourself time to just sit with your emotions. Notice what it is you are feeling without judgement. Then consider where these emotions have risen from and what they might suggest you need in your life. Feelings of fear and anger often arise from unmet needs. Recognizing those needs can help us better care for ourselves in the future. Keep in mind that no feeling is wrong or bad. They are there as warning lights to signal us that there is something that needs to be addressed.

Make sure that you are seeking out the support that you need during this time. Everyone will need the emotional support of their loved ones and should be sure to engage with the important people in their lives when they are struggling with life’s big questions. Often times, just being with the people we care about can provide answers that we need to these kinds of questions. However, there are times that these questions weigh heavily or become complex in our minds. Consider seeking professional support if that’s the case for you. It is always a benefit to have an outside, professional perspective if they are someone that you have an established rapport and trust with.

Express how you feel. This can be to your loved ones, to a professional, in your thoughts or in a journal. But it can be very helpful to take the time to tell the story of your emotions. When we tell ourselves a story, we are defining the meaning of the events that happened in our lives. Story telling is the way that we connect the pieces and pull together events with our feelings. It is a process of unification. This is why we have engaged in this activity since all of recorded human history. By including others in your story telling, you give them the opportunity to offer an outside perspective and to include them in your narrative. But it need not be a social affair. Journaling is a very powerful outlet that should never be under estimated.

Be sure to remind yourself of the things that matter to you. When we are pondering our purpose, our meaning and our values in life, it is often helpful to go back to the basics. What things in life bring you joy? Visit those things and explore what it is about them that raises you up. Where we find joy is often where we can build our purpose and meaning in our lives. If you love to write, you can create a purpose surrounding that joy. If you love being with people, you can create meaning in you life on the foundation of those relationships. Our joy is a treasure trove of possibilities that we can explore. It will also serve as a support to you by helping you cope with the difficult emotions you are experiencing while you tackle these big questions.

Evaluate what in your life is within your control and what is not. No amount of magical thinking will make me grow wings or change the fact that I was born biologically female. These things that we have no control over can have a profound effect on our lives. Having Elhers Danlos Syndrome is something I have no control over and it effects every aspect of my life. Everything within the realm of the past, is outside our control. It can no longer be changed or effected. What happened has happened. These things that cannot be changed must be accepted for what they are. That does not mean that we need to like them or that we need to forgive any past sins that have occurred. We need only accept that they are beyond our control.

Then we need to shift our focus to the things that we can control in our lives. I can make choices about my life style that will effect how much Elhers Danlos Syndrome impacts my life. I can do things that will manage my symptoms and will make it less likely that I will have more problems in the future. By choosing to focus on these things, I choose to empower myself. I can do nothing about the fact that bad things happened to me in the past. But I can choose to remove those people from my life and I can choose how I will manage my trauma. I can write the story so that I am a victim or I can write it so that I am a survivor that fights back. We cannot become anything or do anything in our lives. There are limits. But that isn’t the same thing as having no control or no power either. Focus on the things that you can control in your life and lay claim to the power that you have to evoke change.

Know that this is a normal part of being human and a very common experience for those of us with chronic illness. You are not alone. Seek out those in support groups so that you can talk to others who have similar experiences as your own. But above all else, be gentle with your self as you redefine who you are.

Well, that’s about it for my rambling today. Thanks for coming and spending some time with me. If you like what you read, click on that like button. It really does help! Until we talk again, you take care of yourselves!

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