You look around at your four walls, and you are overcome with the sensation that they are closing in on you. It seems as though your bus commute to school or work every morning and home every afternoon, is playing on a continuous loop in your head.
It’s never easy to change the channel on those repetitious cycles or to tell the voice in your head that he isn’t allowed to speak to you that way.
This is the beginner’s guide to your existential crises, plural; because feeling angst and anguish at nothing in particular doesn’t go away after your teen years.
Tip #1: Remember Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
To refresh your memories, these two are Hamlet’s old school chums slash village idiots or “slightly bumbling courtiers” as SparkNotes aptly describes them. But the thing is, they were actually quite brilliant. One of my favorite plays, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard, really delves deep into what might’ve been going through their heads while they were trying to help out poor mad Hamlet. Here’s possibly the best little excerpt from that:
Rosencrantz: Do you think Death could possibly be a boat?
Guildenstern: No, no, no… death is not. Death isn’t. Take my meaning? Death is the ultimate negative. Not-being. You can’t not be on a boat.
Rosencrantz: I’ve frequently not been on boats.
Guildenstern: No, no… what you’ve been is not on boats.
Ros and Guild always remind us that it’s important to remember the absolute silliness and absurdity of our existential torment. Yes, thinking about death is scary, yes, trying to plan the next 5 years is totally daunting– but Ros and Guild are like, “hey man look it’s all crazy so just laugh a little and loosen up”, or at least that’s what I took from them.
Tip #2: Take your own advice
One of my favorite, brilliant people is philosopher and writer, Mr. David Foster Wallace, of “This Is Water” fame. Tragically, DFW couldn’t live in this world. He chose not to exist anymore. Suicide is something so sad, and so tragic, that I can’t help but think about it nearly every single day. It’s definitely hard to grasp how someone could make the “choice” not to live– but what’s even harder is when it’s someone who so poignantly wrote and spoke about the madness and beauty of living.
Taking your own advice is probably one of the hardest things there is to do. But you know this, you’re a smart person, so what have you got to lose? Just keep reminding yourself of that.
Tip #3: There’s a difference between
an existential crisis and a mental disorder
Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what that difference is. As a pretty good general rule though, if it feels like you’ve been numb, sad, angry, or anxious– beyond recognition of your self, and for any long period of time– talk to someone about it. If you don’t have someone you can trust to talk to, consider finding a therapist. Sometimes just talking can help. Sometimes medication can help. Sometimes just changing your life can help.
The point though, is that existential crises are normal, and they come and go. Mental disorders, however, can persist for your entire life if left alone.
Tip #4: Use it
Find something that brings you joy or energy and use your crisis to fuel it. Write an essay about your angst on your Tumblr or in your diary. Keep strumming your guitar in an angry craze until the feelings start to subside, or you’ve plucked your fingers dry. Bake a goddamn bumbleberry pie for your grandparents. Go over to their house and drink tea and eat pie in peace.