#3: What does an existential crisis feel like

I've always been curious about how the world works, the origins of humanity, and the meaning of life. These questions aren't new to me. What's new is the sense of real crisis they're causing now.

Just to provide some context: I lead a comfortable life—comfortable enough to have the luxury to think, read, and write about my existential crisis. And I'm doing this because I feel a sense of urgency.

So, what's going on in my mind? How am I feeling? Let's think out loud:

One: There's a physical sense of heaviness in my head. It's not exactly a headache; it doesn't even hurt. It's just a weight, similar to overeating. It's transient, but as someone who generally lives a stress-free life (lucky me!), it feels abnormal. I can't say for sure that this physical feeling stems from my existential burden, but it does intensify on days when I wake up feeling lost, like today. (I was consumed by weird thoughts even during sleep.) Another thing: my appetite isn't staying under control. Despite largely eating healthily, my craving for carbs has shot up in the past few weeks. I'm sure other factors contribute, but existential stress is among them.

Two: I'm constantly paralysed by the thought that nothing really matters. Nothing we do has any significance. The universe doesn't care about my existence or deeds. So why do anything?

Three: We are all deluded, every one of us. We've constructed fictions so we don't have to think about the Big Questions, and society has created structures so we remain perpetually distracted. We talk about things that absolutely don't matter, we fight over things that don't matter, some commit crimes and some sacrifice for things that don't matter. Money is fiction. Countries are fiction. We are basically animals with some consciousness. We've created human society not because there's any purpose to it — we did it because we could and had nothing better to do.

And now, we are so deep into this idea of the world as it exists now, that we seem to ignore this reality. We are just performing in a giant theatre.

Four: The sense of heightened self-awareness that we are basically living a story. Some of us are privileged enough to choose a story for ourselves, like me. But in the end, it's all just a story. Some realise this and change their story, only to live another story. Some stay stuck, or maybe even happy, in the story they're living. And so, the goals we set, the plans we make, the careers we choose, the relationships we craft — all are part of the story our mind is constructing.

And depending on the situation, we think of ourselves as heroes in the world the mind has constructed or even as victims the world is conspiring against. But it's just that — a story. And if that's so, how can that be real? And if what I am looking around is not real, what really is real? What is reality?

Five: All of this also makes me realise that we have more freedom than we think. Again, freedom is contingent on some initial conditions, but despite that, we have freedom because there's no universal order dictating our roles. This realisation leads to anxiety, especially if you have choices, because then you're responsible for your decisions.

If you can decide how you want to be in the world, you have to accept the sufferings you subject yourself to, or the pain or guilt that comes with it. (You know, it's not that simple, and I will explore existential freedom in more depth later, but this is the top-line feeling I often have.)

Six: If all this isn't enough, I also feel a bit pretentious. Like, really? Is all this worth thinking about? With so much happening in the world, so much suffering, this is what I decide to focus on? Have I gone totally insane? Or even if I have to think about this stuff, why make it the centre of my existence, to label it as 'I am going through an existential crisis!'—could I be doing something better?

So yes, there's some guilt about having the luxury for contemplation, but trust me, it feels necessary. Because while I may not know what's real, I do know that death is. We have a finite amount of time to live, and as they say, death is the ultimate truth. So I'd better figure out how to be a human being while I still can. I don't want to get stuck playing a character in this staged world without taking a step back and attempting to get a slightly better grasp on reality. That's what all of this is about.

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