Existential Dread in an Alt-World


#1

Something has been snagging at the edges of my thoughts these past 6 months, and it’s grown so heavy that I had to acknowledge it, and maybe I could chip at it.

After this last election I feel like a dead woman walking. I’ve stopped seeing a future, any future: no relationships, no careers, no passions, no real interests or curiosities or dreams. No ideas about what I’ll be doing in 5 years or what I’d like to do. I have trouble making plans for anything more than a week out, even for important things I should be interested in like updating documentation with my new name. The only things I regularly commit to are get togethers where I can kill time while not being alone.

I don’t think the world is going to end, but it feels completely hostile to my existence and eager to make me a statistic in some systemic failure that’ll get recorded in history books. Everything just feels precarious, like any day a careless EO or a legislative bill or a local empowered jackboot will ruin my life and I have no way to prepare.

It’s beyond fatigue over Trump. It’s fatigue over every institution and every other neighbor that just doesn’t care - at all - what happens to me and other people who aren’t them. Fatigue over the idea I can be crushed without consequence - that the people making decisions in all domains public and private are completely insulated from the lives they affect. Fatigue over feeling like I have no voice, that no matter what the input is and how firm it is the output is always “double down, no compromise”.

I was wondering how other people here deal with what I guess is existential dread.


#2

Having a family helps motivate me to keep moving toward some kind of future, but having a dog helps me to actually get out of the house. Also the dog never complains about what I make her for dinner.


#3

This jumped out at me. Can you say more?


#4

A member of my extended family just passed away, and I came to a realization today. I process grief by diving into the mountain of tasks that are always waiting for my attention. I guess this is the opposite of what you mean, but I think it comes from the same place. The anxiety of what to do in the face of grief is terrifying, so I do anything and everything to avoid thinking about it. Even so, it’s always there in the corner waiting to take over. I don’t think I can exactly compare my personal experience to yours since I’m among the less immediately vulnerable (though by no means immune, and malevolent social forces can crush anyone with little warning) to what’s transpiring in the nation and world. But my friends and family who are on the more vulnerable end of the spectrum, such as my wife’s family of whom she is the first born in America, tend to confront the anxiety and dread by fighting and preparing to fight because they know things can always get worse.

That said, eternal vigilance is exhausting to anyone, no matter who they are, and everyone, IMHO, should give themselves permission to feel sick and tired and exhausted of the bullshit they shouldn’t have to face but do because the world is as chock-full of indifferent and opportunistic assholes as it is of good kind people. Sometimes out is through, and everyone process grief in their own way; there’s no one right way to face the onslaught.

FWIW, time not being alone isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even as an introvert, I recognize that people need each other more than ever in times of crisis.

Also, +1 million to @Brainspore’s much more helpful response. Pets for the win!


#5

Avoidance through writing, gaming, reading… trying to avoid burnout by spending time with people and activities that I love.


#6

Denial. I keep telling myself that Trump isn’t really POTUS.


#7

Still trying to figure it out… trying to stay focused on immediate goals so I don’t freak out too much about the future.


#8

I try to take some action every day, sometimes just a phone call to Washington, or a postcard. I try to attend the protest weekly. It helps me to know that others also want something better for the future


#9

Sure. While my interests would shift, I was always really curious about something and wanting to know everything about it / immerse myself. When I was a kid it was physics, then it was game development in college, then at work it became programming, software development, server administration, cryptography, etc.

So one day at the office I might try making an app in a new framework I found, and day dream about a job making much more sophisticated apps for a large company with an actual programmers salary and tech savvy coworkers. Then I’d come home and dive into my latest game, book, show, course, etc. and get really into it, and go to sleep eager for the next day so I could get back to one or both of those things.

Now I don’t have any drive. At the office I only ever look at articles about tech news to look busy, then I come back and check up on the latest scandals or sadism by TGOP, then maybe I consider playing or reading something but become quickly disinterested, then I go to sleep wishing I didn’t have to do anything the next day. Every part feels like waiting for something bad to happen.


#10

All of my parents are dieing, I am losing friends, I am sickened at the politics in the US, and I get in my own way every step.

The message, It Gets Better is powerful. But for people of a certain age–i believe both of us–it is It Gets Better If You Allow It. Or something to that affect. Fucking hell, it takes work.

And you are not alone. I suspect you feel like you are, but you really aren’t. The entire point of a community, which we have, is to not go through this slog alone. So post, ask questions, ask for help, it really works.


#11

I’m not a doctor, but your situation reminds me a lot of my struggles with depression. Depression can be caused by a lot of things, psychological, neurological and both. We’re here for you. As @japhroaig says, draw on us. But just talking things through with a trained therapist can be unexpectedly helpful, someone who can bring both expertise and objectivity to the problem and perhaps help you chart a viable course.

Also, as someone with extremely similar areas of interest to you, who also lost my passion for pursuing them during the worst of my depression, it can come back.

As Melz would say…


#12

Thanks @GulliverFoyle

But the most important thing @jproffitt71 is you know you are cared for. If you need to vent, this is a safe space to vent. If you need to huddle up and cry, this is a safe space as well.


#13

Mmm… I’ve dealt with this feeling most of my life.

It helps me to try to live in the moment and find a legitimate -if possible- way to release some dopamine. Exercise is the cheapest modality with the biggest dividends, usually.


#14

i’ve been toying lately with a career change. i don’t really know how to get started, and i’m not sure exactly how serious i am, but i’ve been puzzling over this which was posted on boingboing a while back.

i’m privileged enough in options that nothing is pressing on me too much. even 45 ( the president, my age; take your pick ) isn’t likely to radically change my own life too much ( though possibly that of my friends. )

the past few years i’ve been working outside of my field ( software ) at a more blue collar job, distracting myself with personal projects which provide me with personal satisfaction, and am relatively happier than i have been. but, i know it’s mostly navel gazing.

at some point i know i have to throw myself back into something: i will need healthcare, i will need to cover my ever increasing property taxes, i will need new shoes. you know: the basics.

it’s very hard for me personally to imagine going back into an office, working on software esoterica, and being satisfied with that. i feel like there’s got to be a better use of my skills than the latest acronym soup. i just haven’t figured it out yet.

if i felt like i was actually doing some solid good in the world, maybe things would be better.


#15

And when you get older still, you’ll realize that It Gets Better no matter what you do. And then it goes bad again for a while, no matter what you do. And then…

The only thing you can control is yourself. Keep in shape, stay vigilant, be supportive of friends and family, make sure you have access to beauty, and do something useful every day, even if it’s only useful to one person.


#16

Know what give me existential dread?

“relationships, careers, passions, real interests curiosities and dreams”

Less cynically, this is all I can offer: “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

Also, find shit to laugh about. Find it.


#17

If you have a hyperactive mind like I do, it’s very easy to psychologize the absolute bejeezus out of a situation where you’re feeling the way you’re feeling now. This is probably why the best therapist I ever had advised me to first work ‘outside-in’ whenever I found myself struggling with my executive dysfunction (diagnosed as ADD). By this he meant first accounting for and assessing any relevant structural or environmental factors–living space, workplace, social network, any routines imposed by the outside world–pretty much anything external of you that could have significant influence on your thoughts and behavior.

This is almost the polar opposite of the introspective approach championed in so many self-help books–not that introspection isn’t valuable. It just might not be the most helpful starting point in addressing your situation.

(I have more to say on this but the back-to-work buzzer just rang.)


#18

I was trained to listen to suicide calls and a lot of your language seems like what I would be listening for in someone who is suicidal. Please know that this is a safe space and I care about you. If you are suicidal, the hotlines are a great resource.

(edit I just wanted to add that a lot of people who are feeling suicidal are not aware of how common it is. Pretty much everybody has these feelings at some time or another. I just didn’t want you to think that I was jumping to some crazy conclusions. People don’t talk about it, but a lot of people feel it. )

Yes, the election has affected my mental health, too. The meanness this has unleashed in people is just hard to accept. I feel like a certain veneer of civility on our world has been torn away, and all that remains is the nature of cruelty.

We are not the only ones:


#19

This. So much this.

I’ve had depression off and on for quite awhile now, and this is what it feels like to me: I know there are things that I should do, things that I would enjoy doing, things (like cleaning up my place) that I know would make me feel better after they’re done… but I can’t be bothered to get off the couch and do them.

I’ve been on that train and off again so many times that I have a bit of a routine going to get myself going again. I have to echo @GulliverFoyle’s suggestion that you talk to a professional, but it can be difficult to even get enough willpower to do that. So, this is my routine for beating back the lethargy of depression:

  1. Take a day or weekend off from any sources of stress. If you can find the energy, exert control over your environment: clean your kitchen, or your bathrooms, or tidy your surfaces, or vacuum, or do something to fight the forces of entropy. Even something simple like making your bed can be an accomplishment. Don’t worry if you don’t get everything done that you’d like to; just enjoy the feeling of accomplishment from getting something done, even if it’s only exerting control by separating yourself from the things that stress you out for a couple of days.
  2. Fix your sleep schedule. During your anti-stress weekend, do your damnedest to get to bed early enough so that, if you woke up at your normal time, you’d get 8 hours of sleep. Don’t blame yourself if this doesn’t work out immediately (it seems like a really simple thing to do, but it’s hard), but your brain and body will take whatever you try repeatedly to do, and learn to do it better. The more you get to bed on time, the easier it will be to get to bed on time. And a good night’s sleep is often the difference between having the energy you need to take the next step (whatever step you’re at), or not. And, again, you’re exerting control over one of the things that are in your control.
  3. Make yourself a healthy meal. Whenever you have the energy to do so, cook something for yourself that isn’t laden with sugar, salt, and preservatives. Try your best to eat enough vegetables and meat until you’re full; this should stave off cravings for sugary stuff later. Sugar will give you a boost that will counter the depression, but, unless you supplement it with something more complex, it always comes with a crash, which means that you have just enough energy to come up with something uplifting to do, but not enough to actually do it (the lack of ability to do so crushing you further). On the other hand, a good meal will give you the energy to do whatever you feel like doing, even if you feel like doing absolutely nothing. Chances are, you might have an idea of something to do, and you’ll be able to do it. Or, you can just take comfort in the accomplishment of making a good meal.
  4. Once you’ve made one healthy meal, try do it again, and again, until you’re making one a day: dinner is usually the easiest for me, although your circumstances might make it better for it to be lunch, as that can be prepared beforehand and taken out with you. (I’m up to having one healthy meal a day and two not-very-unhealthy meals; I find it hard to get past that point).
  5. Exercise. You’re still going to be low on willpower at this point, so choose something that it’ll be easy to convince yourself to do, even if it’s just taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or literally running to the corner store instead of driving or walking, or taking a stroll around the block after eating lunch. It doesn’t have to be drastic; it just has to be an incremental improvement on what you did the day before. If what you did the day before was “absolutely nothing,” so much the better, as it’s easy to improve on that!
  6. Indulge one of your passions. If you’ve reached this point, you should (usually) be getting a full night’s sleep, you should be taking care of your body’s energy and nutrient needs, and even a little bit of exercise should get the endorphins pumping. Everything to this point has been towards the goals of, in order of importance: establishing a sense of control over your environment, rebuilding your wellspring of willpower, and generally getting your body to feel better. Now, do something that used to make you happy. My suggestions for what you should be doing here are to do something:
  • in a community
  • that requires a recurring commitment of time
  • that you enjoyed before the depression kicked in
  • if it is something physically active, that’s a bonus
  • if you feel that you’re contributing to making things better, that’s also a bonus
  1. Failing is part of the process. If you fail at any point, then take a breath, go back to Step 1, take a weekend off, and accomplish something small. Exert control over yourself and your environment. Sleep and eat better, and restore your twin supplies of energy and willpower. Get moving. Get involved.

You’re (probably) not going to be able to change the world all by yourself, but you can make yourself a little better, and you can make the area around yourself a little better, and you can make your area of positive effect bigger.

It may not feel like you’re accomplishing much, but there are a lot more little problems in the world than big problems, and the little problems are just as important and necessary to deal with as the big ones are. They just get less attention.

ETA:
To be clear, this is all tailored to work for me. If you find any of this doesn’t work for you, fix it, or get rid of it, or replace it with something that works.
The goals of “establishing a sense of control over your environment, rebuilding your wellspring of willpower, and generally getting your body to feel better” are pretty much universal. Whatever methods it takes to get there are going to be different for every individual. Step 6 might involve Scouting, or it might be lessons for a musical instrument, or it might be political activism, or it might be singing in the shower.
My prime directive is: do what it takes to keep yourself sane.
Figure that part out, and the rest is, if not easy, then at least possible.


#20

Cut the social media. Turn off the TV/radio/news spitting device and take a break if you can. As both @nimelennar and @GulliverFoyle said, this could be depression. Talk to a consular or doctor. Try some of the steps that @nimelennar posted. Remember this is a safe space and that the people here got your back. Take a breath and let the rest of us hold the note for you until you are ready to come back.

This shitstorm has made me realize I need to be in this fight in any way I can. I refuse to let this country go down due to ignorant dipshits and Nazis. I will do everything I can to make it as difficult as possible for them to do anything.

Edit:

One more thing. If you come to Nashville, I’ll buy you a beer or maybe two beers!