I've got angst - the honest-to-goodness, existential, "why are we here?" kind. Two years of trying to shake it haven't worked - and have sometimes made me wonder if it's worth fixing at all. What do I do now?
I'm a 23 year old straight single male, about to start graduate school. For the past two or three years, I've had anxiety issues which have severely impacted my quality of life (my anxiety per se has lasted longer - probably since early childhood). Most of my anxiety has centered around romantic relationships (How long should they last? Should I really be with this person? Should I be focusing on finding a permanent partner?) and money (Is spending X on a thing too much? Am I using my money wisely?). I broke an engagement a year and a half ago, and have had a smattering of relationships since on various grounds, each of which felt sort of essential to get into but then became a source of real grief when I realized they wouldn't last forever. I'm going for a degree in a field that I've worked in and care a ton about, relatively speaking, but I'll regularly get the impression that it, along with any alternative jobs or vocations I might choose, don't really matter much.
As cliched as it almost certainly sounds, boiling these problems down to their core reveals a Kierkegaard-style, purely existential angst: I don't feel like I know why we're here, why I'm here, or what a good sort of life looks like. My anxiety manifests in a lot of "If only"s - usually, if only I were in a long term relationship - but I can also feel at times like even that idyllic made up future is destined to fail or become unfulfilling.
Here's a list of things I've tried in the past, from least to most effective:
- therapy (for specific anxiety problems - usually leads to a temporary resolution of those problems without addressing the underlying issue)
- medication (for anxiety, which usually allows me to focus on the sources of my anxiety on the root level but has yet to help with the existential stuff),
- meditation (I feel incapable of keeping a sitting meditation up for more than a few minutes, though I've had one or two really successful moments with it),
- reading and writing out the ass about theology, philosophy and psychology (have provided me with some systems of thought that resonate with me, but these still go out the door when the existential willies creep in)
- exercise (running specifically is one of the activities I'm taking some joy in, but I can't motivate myself to make up goals for goals' sake here, like learning to run a marathon)
- mood regulation with food and caffeine (really effective in the moment, but I realize ultimately physically destructive. I'm not visibly gaining weight or losing physical function over fast food and soda - if anything, I'm losing some weight, which I attribute to anxiety in hyper drive - but I know I'm not doing my innards every favors. Also, I seem to be destroying my palate - there's not a lot of foods I crave during the week / month and most trips to eat food I once enjoyed leave me disappointed afterwards.)
Here's the bit of my arrogance that makes things complicated: when I get down to brass tacks with myself, I can't help but think that people who don't feel this sort of thing given how the world is are fooling themselves. I see most drug and alcohol use as pre-emptive self medication for these sorts of feelings (I do neither). I see lots of therapeutic approaches as attempts to quash the big existential questions without giving them real answers. Ditto for organized religion, which I participated in as a fervent Catholic until about nine months ago. As sweeping generalizations go, these are real doozies, which means I'm almost certainly wrong
about the entirety of this paragraph. Still, I'm having a hard time convincing my brain that all that must be wrong.
There's lots of tips and tricks, on AskMe and elsewhere, about coping with anxiety and depression and, while those have been helpful in the past, that's not what I'm looking for here. I'd like to hear from folks who have had this sort of angst in the most technical sense of the word - not just indecision about their specific life course, but indecision about life and their place in it which severely impacted their happiness or emotional well being. If those were feelings you had and got over: what did you do to change your mind? How can my anxious mind - which longs for quick responses - know it's doing the right thing in the moment? If you're still filled with existential dread but have gone on to be productive and happy - what tweaks do you make?
In other words: now that I've identified the source of my problem and revealed some real skepticism about the typical solutions to that problem, what do I do next?