Depression And Existential Crises

6 minute read

Many (maybe most) of us will experience mild depression throughout our lifetime.

Depression is one of the most common mental health issues and requires serious treatment.

Essential part of it is the realization of which personal experiences lead you to feel depressed or more specifically: to have persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood, feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism, irritability, feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness, loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities, decreased energy or fatigue, feeling restless or having trouble sitting still, difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions, difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping, appetite and/or weight changes, thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts, aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment*. Of course not every depressed person experiences all of the symptoms, but is very likely to be depressed if you frequently experience various, and more often than not some of these signs are present.

Sometimes depression can be a purely physiological issue, related to hormonal changes or malnutrition, but very often it is provoked by certain life changes that are scary and unexpected. When you try to figure out what to work on in therapy, think about some of the possible life crises that can be experienced a lot like depression. Of course, left untreated they can eventually escalate into more serious state (of possibly maybe even clinical depression), this is why even if you feel that everything is going relatively OK, it is still recommended to seek help.

Which existential crises can lead you to experience symptoms of depression and/or anxiety?

Crisis of identification

It is unbelievable how much our world stands on our identifications. What do I mean? I lost a lot of my identity when I quit my first serious job in IT. From an important employee of a big corporation I became a student again and soon unpaid trainee in a free clinic. Nothing that I did seemed serious enough. This was due to my tight identification of a crucial specialist. Changing my career path back in 2016 was a difficult transition. Graduation can be also such a transition. Being a student is much easier than being a doctor (for some people), and then, of course, retirement can bring along serious crisis – letting go of a job that identifies you, gives an answer to the question “who am I?”. Maybe a new identification as a mother or grandmother can be a bit difficult to swallow, no matter how much joy the birth of a kid can bring.

If you feel depressed and you try to identify why you can think of recent big changes and your feeling about them. Do you feel that you are YOU anymore?

Realization of one’s own mortality

It is never clear when a person is supposed to actually know that he/she is mortal. Of course we all know it in theory, but the realization of this simple fact is much deeper than expected. It can be a parent’s illness or death, and accident, near-death experience, friend’s death. It can be anything, but in a certain moment the thought that you will be no longer here someday, sooner than you’ll ever expect just clicks in your mind and becomes part of your psyche.

This can be a moment of great creativity, intense care for your family, intense work… or a deep depressive state with no way out (seemingly). It is something to be acknowledged and worked on, not ignored by voicing the simple truth, well we will all die after all, so why bother?

Fallen absolutes

At a certain age most of us figure out something important about life – it is not black and white. Of course there are people who seek refuge in this idea, but if we think about it, most things in life are relative to the subjective experience and emotional response. There is no good or bad, just things we wish to happen to us and our loved ones and things that we most certainly do not. In any case life just IS and the more grey areas we encounter, the wiser and/or confused we become.

This can be again, great relief or excruciating realization.

Relationship crises

And I don’t talk about a bad break up (because this is an event which is more likely to bring identity crisis) but the realization that nobody will ever complete you. We don’t start off thinking what a complicated puzzle life is and how people complete a little, just small parts of it. There is never The One, there are just pieces of a life that we try to get in touch with. Friends, parents, siblings, and lovers will never be enough… and what is even scarier – you will never be enough for anyone.

Fallen ideals

Unfortunately you will never be enough even for yourself either. Nobody is completely satisfied and this is not the case. You might have imagined for a long time that certain profession will bring you the desired satisfaction, or a certain lifestyle is just all you need to have in order to finally be happy. But there is a reason why meeting your idols or achieving your goals is such a traumatic experience. The reality is never perfect. You have to give up something in order to get something else.

Idealization falls with time and at a certain moment, you might get to the conclusion that whatever you imagine as perfect, it is just flawed as anything else.

Of course there are goals much more worth pursuing than others and the realization that there is no ideal state of perfection can liberate you, or burn you out. Big insights come at a certain cost with certain risks.

Crisis of meaning

Of course everything that I just mentioned will eventually bring you to question the meaning of all you have considered clear. Sometimes this questioning will be addressed to the deepest core of yourself. You realize that the meaning is something you attribute to objects and events and this is too big responsibility to bear.

I can’t tell you what is a desirable solution, nobody can, and everyone who claims to be the one who can give your existence meaning is most probably trying to recruit you for some sort of cult. You need to find one yourself. And finding is often preceded by years of nihilism, pain, and uncertainty.

It is not surprising at all that during such crises of your mind, your body can experience symptoms of depression. The question is, are you trying to solve the core issue or you just work on the surface?


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