Edit 8/8/2021: This is one of the first blog entries I ever wrote. Since then I’ve refined how I write, so I’ve re-edited this post for clarity and simplicity.
We all have moments where we ask ourselves the The Big Questions: Why am I here? Why are we here? What is my purpose? Is there a purpose?
But have you ever had an even darker moment, a moment where you wholeheartedly asked yourself these questions and were shaken by the answers?
📌 What if you pondered these Big Questions and started seeing holes in what you believed about your way of life?
📌 What if you started feeling your identity crumble around you, that what you once held so near and dear now felt “empty”?
📌 What if what you once felt to be “true” now deemed “false”, sentencing your existing beliefs to become meaningless? A hopeless endeavor. A lost cause. A pointless journey.
There are many terms that have been used to describe this kind of experience. Mental breakdown. Existential crisis. Dark night of the soul. Depersonalization. Identity crisis.
It’s not pleasant! It can be scary, frightening, overwhelming, depressing, and all these emotions at once!
I know because I’ve been there. As Nietzsche would put it, I started into the abyss. What had once fulfilled my life had now become void. I was now stuck with way more questions than I had answers for.
I felt lost. I felt numb. I felt anxious. I didn’t want to do very much other than to sit, think, and figure out why I was feeling the way I did.
At the time I really didn’t know.
But I know now…
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Before I was diagnosed with any mental disorders, I remember as a kid being on the internet and coming across an online article that talked about the definition of Depression.
It read almost as if I was reading a questionnaire.
Was I feeling down for no reason? “Yes”.
Did hanging out with my friends not feel the same way it used to? “Yes”.
Did everyday things not seem to matter much anymore? “Yes, that’s so true!”
Well then you very likely have Depression and should see a doctor!
In minutes, and at the click of a button, I had self-diagnosed myself on the internet. In fact, I was the one who eventually said to my mom “I think I have Depression”, and it’s why I was ever taken to a psychiatrist. I probably wouldn’t have been diagnosed if I had never told her.
And when I was officially diagnosed after a short interview with a few doctors, I had ended up with 3 mental disorders: Depression, Anxiety, and Asperger’s Syndrome.
I hung onto these newfound labels. My newfound labels. Wholeheartedly, I embraced their titles and definitions as my own.
Why? Because I had discovered the answers to my suffering. It explained exactly why I felt the way I did, a comfortable Theory of Everything.
It wasn’t because I lacked a sense of meaning and purpose to my life; it was because I had a “chemical imbalance” in my brain.
It wasn’t because I had bad habits; it was because I simply “couldn’t help it”.
I hung onto these labels because I had a sense of identity back. Regardless of their accuracy, it provided me a feeling of emotional stability again.
I had found Donald again! Donald was suffering because of these illnesses. Donald is the way he is because he is ill.
It’s what others told me, it’s what I continually heard, and in doing so I inherited other people’s beliefs as my own. I had no reason to question it…
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But as I was asking before: why did I feel the way I did? The answer was because I accepted the opinions and beliefs of others about who Donald was: how I needed to live and what I needed to do, rather than discovering those answers for myself.
The problem was I was living in dozens of other people’s dreams, rather than the one-and-only I could’ve discovered and created for myself.
I believe this is why it’s so hard for any of us to change ourselves and our beliefs. I believe it’s the same reason why it’s naturally hard for many of us to be open to new ideas and perspectives. I believe it’s why so many people will fight each other to the death just for the sake of being “right”.
Because being “wrong” invalidates our identity and rattles our emotional homes. If Donald’s beliefs are “wrong”, then who is Donald to even possess such beliefs? If Donald’s beliefs are wrong, does his voice even matter anymore?
Dale Carnegie said it very well: “Why prove to a man he is wrong? Is that going to make him like you? Why not let him save face? He didn’t ask for your opinion. He didn’t want it. Why argue with him? You can’t win an argument, because if you lose, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior, you hurt his pride, insulted his intelligence, his judgment, and his self-respect, and he’ll resent your triumph. That will make him strike back, but it will never make him want to change his mind. ‘A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.’”
I write all this today because I believe this is one of the reasons why so many people are suffering today.
We each have our own unique identities. None of us sees reality 100% like another person, and no person is 100% the same. We each are going to experience different cultures, religions, lifestyles, and people in our lives we won’t agree with. We each will hear different ideas and opinions that will challenge our very sense of self and identity.
And that’s okay; there’s nothing wrong with that.
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I lastly want to let you know that if you’re in the dark, if you’re feeling like your life lacks any meaning or purpose, I want to provide some very good news.
Yes, it’s true!
We can certainly look and focus on this emptiness from a pessimistic viewpoint. But I want to provide you another perspective: With this emptiness, you now have a room you can fill up with ANYTHING you want! You’re a clean slate, and it’s now an amazing opportunity to fill it with the things in your life that make it worthwhile!
Here are some additional strategies that have greatly helped me in lessening my stress and anxiety:
📌 Acknowledging I’ll never know ANYTHING 100%. We want to believe that somehow, some way if we keep searching for the answers that we’ll uncover some Theory of Everything. I’d like to myself at times, as it seems like quite a comfortable destination to reach! But I’ll tell you: we as human beings have been seeking to find it for thousands of years. Perhaps we’ll get there someday, but for now we got a long way to go.
📌 Set standards for yourself. These standards are for you to decide, not me or anyone else. Build up your identity, build up whoever You want to be. Because every time you don’t hold yourself to your standards or your word, you make a dent in the foundation of your identity. Who are You if you keep changing your standards? Are you You, or are you what the Environment dictates you to be?
📌 You can STILL hold onto your old Self. That’s right! You don’t have to do a complete 180 degrees on your identity! If there are beliefs that served you in the past, why not keep them?! The only difference now is that you see you have a greater awareness and understanding that you can change them. The world now appears bigger. The possibilities of who you are and what you can create seem more infinite. You can not only embrace your old beliefs but you can also replace the old ones with new ones that better serve you.
📌 Change takes time. I know what some of you are thinking: “Well this is all easier said than done, Donald! You don’t know what I’ve been through!” You’re right, I don’t and I won’t pretend I have. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. As with any habits in our lives I’ve observed it’s much harder to break one than it is to create new ones. But is it possible? Yes!
📌 Don’t take life too seriously. I have chosen my mission to Transcend Labels. But am I to say my way is the only way? Not at all! I only wish to share with you what has personally helped me on my journey. You can take it or leave it. Look online and you’ll find thousands of people with similar or different beliefs than mine. You don’t need to take my beliefs, but you’re more than welcome to borrow whichever ones serve you. 🙂
“Life is not about finding yourself; it’s about creating yourself. So live the life you imagined.”
~ George Bernard Shaw
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