I Am An Existential Crisis.

An existential crisis is supposed to be something you go through. A dark night of the soul, a confrontation with the absurdities of reality. It is a crisis that is, ‘a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger.'1Google’s Definition. It is a time – that is, something limited in duration.

Thanks to mark roy (electricnerve) for making this image available for reuse under the creativecommons.
Thanks to mark roy (electricnerve) for making this image available for reuse under the creativecommons.

Unfortunately, I find myself to be in a timeless existential crisis.

think this has a close relationship to my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I do not remember always being in an existential crisis – but I do remember being obsessive-compulsive in my earliest childhood memories.

I don’t know exactly when I moved from ‘normal’ or ‘simple’ OCD to existential OCD, only that it was full-blown by the end of my first semester at college. That was 12 years ago.

The presence of existential OCD has not replaced the normal OCD. Rather, to me, the normal OCD seems like a nuisance in comparison to the existential OCD.2I don’t suggest that ‘normal’ OCD is less painful than ‘existential’ OCD. My subjective, personal experience is that the existential aspects are more painful to me personally than the normal aspects.

Medication has helped significantly with the normal OCD, but has largely failed in treating the existential aspects.

The existential OCD varies in depth (how severely it disrupts my life), but it rarely (ever?) goes away.

OCD goes something like this:

  • “Did you check that the door was locked?”
    • “Yes, I did.”
  • “Are you sure?”
    • “Well, maybe I didn’t. I’ll go do it again.”
  • “Did you check that the door was locked?”
    • “Yes, we just went over this. I’ve checked it twice now!”
  • “But are you sure the door is locked?”
    • “Yes, I’m sure!”
  • “But you could have forgotten to lock it when you went to the door, right?”
    • “I don’t think so, but I’ll go check…just in case.”
  • “Did you check that the door was locked?”
  • ad infinitum3Google defines this as “again and again in the same way; forever.”

Some might object that a timeless existential crisis does not exist or that it should not be classified as OCD, and I am open to discussion on this point, but would note the similarities between ‘normal’ OCD and ‘existential’ OCD at the fundamental level. A conversation with ‘existential’ OCD might go something like:

  • “Are you sure you are doing what God wants you to do with your life?”
    • (insert long, difficult, painful process of self-examination)
      • “Yes, I’m sure.”
  • “But are you really, really, really sure?”
    • (insert long, difficult, painful process of self-examination)
      • “Yes, I’m sure.”
  • “But, if you are where you are supposed to be why isn’t God where He is supposed to be? Why is there evil in the world?”
    • (insert long, difficult, painful process of wrestling with the problem of evil)
      • “I cannot explain, but I trust in the God of the cross – the self-sacrificing God.”
  • “If there is a God, and the Scriptures are His Word, you are a horrible Christian. You fail His desires for you drastically!”
    • (insert long, difficult, painful process of wrestling with acceptance of God’s grace and a realistic perspective on self’s qualities and weaknesses)
      • “Are you sure you are doing what God wants you to do with your life?” (hey remember that one, we started with it…insert long, difficult, ad infinitum)
  • ad infinitum

I see these two processes as identical at the core. The existential form differentiates itself in presentation in a few subtle ways, namely: (1) it pertains to philosophical/theological questions (abstract) rather than concrete, (2) it tends to morph more than other forms (e.g. one might check a lock thirty or forty times…but one is likely to move from one question to the next when experiencing existential), and (3) it is not as obviously susceptible to compulsions as normal OCD (e.g. I have an underlying pattern in my life of hungering to know everything…I believe this is partially a healthy desire to grow and learn, but part of it is pathological – the compulsion to match my obsession…perhaps, if I can gain enough knowledge, if I can experience enough, if I can know enough, I will arrive at the certainty I desire).

So, there you have it. I am an existential crisis. It sucks.

How does one cope with existential crises? Well, first off, cope is the right word, b/c I haven’t found any way to overcome one. I’ve only found ways to hold onto my sanity a little while longer…and a little while longer…and a little while longer…ad infinitum?

I don’t feel like talking about coping right now. Goodbye.

Okay, I lied…I’ll talk briefly, just to not leave you hopeless if you are also experiencing this frustrating form of OCD:4I’ve never heard this officially classified as a form of OCD. There is talk of “Pure-O” which is OCD without compulsions – just obsessions, a Google search will return numerous results of individuals seeking information about existential OCD – so I am not the only one to utilize the term.

  1. Look for normal OCD and fight it. – For example, I struggle with pulling out my eyelashes. This is “normal” OCD5Well, technically, it may be trichotillomania, but we are working with practicalities, not academics. and as such I find easier to combat than more existential/philosophical/scrupulous forms. I hypothesize (though cannot claim with certainty) that reducing obsessions/compulsions in one area will weaken them in other areas. Thus rather than trying to fight something that is intangible, fight the tangible, and let this undermine the intangible.
  2. Give up on certainty. – I used to have a fear as a child – what if my entire life up to this point was just a dream in my head and I was going to wake up and realize I was just an infant and that I still had to live my entire life all over again!6Yes, I was an abnormal child…and yes, my thoughts on the ‘funness’ of life are probably well-represented by my childhood fear of having to live life over again.
  3. Escape it. – Run away! Run away! Friends, movies, video games, anything to distract the mind. (For those who are friends of individuals with OCD, one thing that it is important to recognize is that the individual with OCD needs passive escape – e.g. it can’t be something which involves significant effort on their part – this is why we (or at least I) isolate myself when going through a crisis.)

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Google’s Definition.
2 I don’t suggest that ‘normal’ OCD is less painful than ‘existential’ OCD. My subjective, personal experience is that the existential aspects are more painful to me personally than the normal aspects.
3 Google defines this as “again and again in the same way; forever.”
4 I’ve never heard this officially classified as a form of OCD. There is talk of “Pure-O” which is OCD without compulsions – just obsessions, a Google search will return numerous results of individuals seeking information about existential OCD – so I am not the only one to utilize the term.
5 Well, technically, it may be trichotillomania, but we are working with practicalities, not academics.
6 Yes, I was an abnormal child…and yes, my thoughts on the ‘funness’ of life are probably well-represented by my childhood fear of having to live life over again.

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