I don’t find it surprising that I suffer from existential crises. I find it surprising there are people who don’t. I envy them their contentment, their unquestioning approach to life, their ability to put aside the big questions that plague me, the “who am I and why am I here and what is the purpose of my existence” questions that have always been a part of my existence.
Sometimes I wonder if the questions are important, or if the search is based on a warped need created by my depression and anxiety. Would I be more sanguine and therefore happier if I found the right combination of medications to numb the constant questioning? Is an unexamined life worth living? It would certainly be easier.
I’m not easy about my existence, however, so the search continues and progresses. I question the meaning of my life. I scour schools of philosophical thought, search among the social sciences, contemplate, meditate, and reflect, yet find myself no closer to answers that satisfy. The big questions continue to rattle around my brain.
I went to a wine and cheese the other night. I joined the political organization that was hosting it to motivate me into leaving the house. It’s a connection to the world, and I find those challenging. Joining was a way to give myself ties, meet people, and be part of the world again.
Going to the party was a challenge. It was out, in an unfamiliar location, attended by people I didn’t know, and I would be forced either to interact or hide in a corner, pretending I didn’t feel wrong and unworthy. I spent a fair amount of time on the drive over talking myself out of turning the car around, challenging the fears generated by my psyche as it tried to convince me to turn tail and run. I reminded myself that I’m not fat, not hideously ugly, not poorly spoken, not unintelligent, and not a waste of skin. I reminded myself that occasionally, people like me. It’s fortunate that after so many years, driving has become somewhat rote; my full attention was not on the road.
I sat in the car for a bit after arriving, taking deep breaths to calm myself, reminding myself I could leave if it proved to be awful, thinking up things I might have occasion to say.
I almost left when I got entrance; I was ready to head back to my car when the door swung open to reveal my host. He smiled, expressed thanks that I’d come, and held the door for me to enter. What was left to do but comply?
It was as I imagined, a room full of people I either barely or didn’t know, clustered in groups I wasn’t a part of. I felt like a child again, the odd one out, unwanted. Luckily, there was wine. Glass in hand, I chatted for a few moments with the host before he left to carry out other duties and then I was alone, and the voices started to clamour inside my head, reminding me that I was out of my element and out of my depth. I wanted nothing more than to ditch the glass and run but I’d committed a fatal error when I entered; I let them take my coat. Now I was somewhat trapped. I could’ve run without it, I suppose, but it was new, and I like it, and I didn’t want to draw attention to myself by pushing through the throng to retrieve it.
I thought about grabbing a chair in the corner and feigning interest in something on my phone. I thought about pretending an emergency in order to take my leave. I was semi-committed to that course of action when I chanced to look up and saw standing near me a woman who looked as alone and out of place and uncomfortable as I felt. I realized in that moment that I had a choice: I could give in to my fears and leave or do something equally horrifying – approach a total stranger and make conversation. I decided to be brave.
Over the course of our conversation, early on, in fact, a question came up, a question I hate. “What do you do?” She was waiting for an answer and I wasn’t sure what to say.
I navel gaze? I search for the meaning of life? I try to find a reason to exist? All true, but perhaps a little deep for the situation at hand.
What do I do? How do I label myself? Do I tell her I’m working on my recovery? Do I explain to a total stranger that I’m on disability for my neuroses? What is it that I do with my life?
An answer came to me, though I was hesitant to share it. I was afraid to say it out loud, afraid to own the title, afraid to confess to the thing that I affiliate with in my heart of hearts. I channelled bravery once more and said the words I’d never said out loud to anyone before that evening.
I’m a writer. I write. Even writing it here makes me anxious, makes me tense. Who do I think I am to make such a claim? Yet writing takes up the largest chunk of my time. I write short pieces and long ones. Some are published, some I blog, and some live out their lives on a hard drive, never seeing the light of day. I’m even working on a second book. I do all the things that a writer does and yet laying claim to such a title feels arrogant. Writers are other people.
Writers are successful. Writers are creative. Writers have their shit together (okay, this one is patently untrue, but a neurotic brain is rarely truthful). None of those things apply to me. I’m mentally ill and troubled and unproductive. I have little in the way of material success. I’ve skated through my life, taking this job and that, only to lose them when mental health concerns reared their heads. It’s why I struggle to define myself. It’s why I search for a label to give meaning to my existence. When I look at what I’ve accomplished, I feel like I should apologize for taking up space. I’m not perfect or particularly successful in any area. And yet, I write. That is the main criteria for calling oneself a writer, I suppose.
Having owned the label once, perhaps I can own it again. It still feels uncomfortable to me. I still feel like I should be more and better before I claim such an august title. But we need to start somewhere. We need to define the “who am I” question. We need to understand ourselves, or at least I do. Giving myself a label that is not derogatory, pejorative, or diagnostic is a good thing. Being able to answer the question “who am I and what is my purpose” is vital. Owning the label “writer” seems like an important step in addressing the existential angst that has challenged me most of my life.