Existential Crisis

I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, but I have and come out the other end not even sadder, just wiser. I have a friend who’s in the middle of one right now and I’m realizing, again, that there’s no way to help anyone. That said, I do have a little recipe for that time and it’s very simple. Maybe the problem with it is its simplicity. But here goes. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these moments, too, and what brings you through them, especially since the cost of NOT getting through them is very high.

WARNING: These aren’t deep. They are simple and mechanical

1) Get up every morning at a reasonable hour, before 9.
2) Eat a healthy breakfast, even just a smoothie, as long as it’s nutritious, and drink a caffeinated beverage to teach your body to get up in the morning.
3) Do your chores. Clean up the dog shit, vacuum your house, put things in order, do your dishes.
4) Work out even if it’s just walking your dog. Outdoor exercise is best — morning or afternoon, depending on your nature.
5) Eat lunch. It can be small, but put something in your stomach. Blood sugar spikes and falls can derail anyone’s mental balance.
6) See friends or do something you love. If you find something you like — even marginally — keep doing it and do it again as long as it’s not self-destructive.
6a) Each of us learns how we can best hurt ourselves. Don’t be fooled into thinking oblivion is something you like.
7) Show sincere interest in others. You’ll find you’re less alone than you thought.
8) If you hear yourself complain a LOT and about the SAME THING recognize you might have either a problem you need to solve or you’re identifying with the negative. Solve the problem or stop complaining.
9) Catharsis is only so good for so long. The good feeling it gives you is temporary. It doesn’t fix anything.
10) Eat supper.
11) Go to bed before midnight. If you have problems sleeping, try an herbal sleeping remedy.

And, most of all…

12) Get professional help. Your friends aren’t professionals and they can’t prescribe meds.
13) Be patient with yourself. It’s OK to feel down. Change takes time.
14) Happiness is a pretty chill thing. It’s not GREAT. It’s not a fantastic balloon ride over mythical landscapes. It’s simply knowing you’re doing OK, your life is mostly good, you’re making progress. To help with happiness, count your blessings every day. Examples of blessings? “Wow. This is good coffee!” “I have somewhere to live and food to eat.” “There are people who care about me.” Other blessings include an education, a car to drive, the sun shining on a particular day, etc. Seriously, happiness is NOT “all that” but it’s millions of times better than misery.


I got my second email this morning from The Washington Post about how to cope with the mental challenges brought by our time in history. There is a lot of stuff there, but one thing I know from my own life is right on:

“…lots of small practices can help you move forward and recover a sense of time … Alvord (clinical psychologist) said, you accept what’s out of your control and look for what’s in your control, even if it’s as small as taking a walk.”

I think I learned as a little kid that if I just take a walk (bike ride, run) things will improve, whatever things are. There was another good thing in this morning’s email regarding mental habits that deepen peoples’ depression and feelings of hopelessness:

  • The “I can’t” habit. You automatically decide you can’t meet a new challenge. You give up before even trying.
  • The catastrophizing habit. You see disaster everywhere, and fall into what ifs. You spend a lot of energy panicking.
  • The all-or-nothing habit. If something doesn’t go just one way, it’s wrong. You’re irritated with yourself and others.

    These are countered with challenge questions:
  • The “I can’t” habit: “What is the evidence that I can’t do it?”
  • The catastrophizing habit: “What are five other things more likely to happen?”
  • The all-or-nothing habit: “What are some possibilities that fall between the extremes?”

Today’s newsletter thing was great — I guess I’m a fan of behavioral psychology which this whole thing illustrates. When I was having counseling myself, that was my therapist’s approach. She was perfect for me because I’m one of those, “That’s all very interesting, but what do I DO???” kind of people. Deep down I believe that we are what we do, the culmination of our choices and actions. I just wanted to make choices that worked. I wasn’t trying to expunge any deeply buried demons or get to the bottom of anything. I knew that dark icky stuff wasn’t going away. I wanted to learn how to live with it.

Still…I dunno. I think “sinking spells” are a normal part of life in any moment, “normal” or whatever this is. Maybe it’s all how we feel about our sinking spells, how well we’re able to ride them out and move forward. Some time ago — when I was still teaching Business Communication — I had an epiphany about the word “positive.” The text book talked about “good news” and “bad news” messages. Simply good news is what the audience wants to read/hear and bad news what the audience doesn’t want to read/hear.

It was challenging for my students to get that simple point, that good or bad depended on the audience’ desires, not theirs. A good news message started out with good news, ‘Yay! You get a refund!” a bad news message started with goodwill, an acknowledgement of the humanity of the audience, “We appreciate your business” or “Thank you for your inquiry” — something like that. Students had this idea of “justice” (“They want something they can’t have! They read the signs! Off with their heads!”) so it was challenging to teach this. Shouldn’t have been, but it was there I learned that we can’t take empathy for granted. Some people need to be taught.

The closing of both types of messages was supposed to be positive, and positive meant something that pointed to a future relationship. Positive didn’t mean up-beat or cheery, but something that pointed to a future that was better than the present, essentially the “light at the end of the tunnel.” In a business message like those my students were learning it might be, “Here’s a coupon for 10% off a future purchase” or “We hope to do business with you in the future.” Basically saying, “This, too, shall pass.”

Featured photo: For various reasons, I had a bad day yesterday. At one point, I started to cry. Teddy and Bear were very worried and Bear stayed worried (as is her nature) until I went to bed. The photo is Bear taking care of me in the evening. She can’t make me soup when I’m sick, drive me to the doc if I’m hurt, or offer any other concrete help, but when it comes to moral support, faith and affection, it’s pretty hard to beat a livestock guardian dog.