Cassie from England asks,
Recently I discovered that I’m a highly sensitive empath, but although this discovery helped me to better understand who I am, it doesn’t really help alleviate my emptiness. I have struggled with depression since I was 13 and have tried to commit suicide multiple times. I feel as though I’m ruining my parent and sister’s life because they’re always so concerned about me. I hate it. But as hard as I try to be happy, I feel lost, numb and completely alone. I’ve tried medication, but it only deepens my feeling of being dead inside. What can I do to “be normal” again … if there even is such a thing?
Depression is a topic that we’re frequently asked about. And there are many causes of it. If you’re currently struggling with depression it might be caused by any one (or combination) of the following reasons. It might be for example:
- Situational — or caused by external events such as a death, tragedy, loss of employment, etc.
- Hormonal — caused by an internal imbalance of chemicals
- Biological — triggered by genetics
- Seasonal — caused by the changing of seasons (as seen in seasonal affective disorder)
- Intrapersonal — caused by toxic beliefs and perceptions that lead to low self-worth
- Existential — caused by a lack of meaning and soul connection
This article will only be dealing with existential depression which is resistant to traditional treatments such as psychotherapy and medication. For this reason, existential depression is often the hardest, most stubborn, baffling and persistent form of depression. But it can be healed.
What is Existential Depression?
In a nutshell, existential depression is a spiritual crisis. It is crippling, profound, pervasive and highly personal in nature. Clinically, existential depression falls into a “grey” area as it is often classified as “uncaused,” although it can sometimes be triggered by internal or external crises.
Signs of existential depression include:
- Continuous “deep thoughts” about the meaning and nature of life
- Intense desire to answer seemingly unanswerable questions such as “what is the purpose of existence?” “what happens after death?” “why was I born?”
- Intense dissatisfaction with the state of society
- Feeling disconnected from others (thus few or no friends)
- Feeling misunderstood and on a “different level” to others
- Chronic and profound loneliness
- Sensations of being “dead,” “numb” or “empty” inside
- Disinterest in social contact because it feels shallow
- Melancholic moods
- Loss of interest in usual pursuits
- Lack of enthusiasm or motivation
- Low energy
- Belief that most things are “futile” or “meaningless”
- Contemplation or attempt of suicide
If you’re suffering from existential depression you’ve probably been taken to, or sought out, psychotherapy already. Chances are that it didn’t work for you, and no matter how much medication, counseling, or analysis you underwent, your feelings never left. If this is the case, you probably feel even more hopeless and alone than before.
But the true failure lies not with you, but in the psycho-therapeutic profession and its blind treatment of all depression as “one and the same.” Writes one author:
The danger with depression in the gifted adult is that to 99% of the psychological profession “depression is depression is depression.” Thus someone who presents with “depression” is drugged and treated for “depression.” Sorry! Wrong! But thank you for playing.
What Causes Existential Depression?
So then, if existential depression is not like usual depression, what is the source of it?
As I mentioned previously, the clinical understanding of existential depression is that of a vague and uncaused mental illness. (In other words, it isn’t external, biological, seasonal, hormonal or to do with self-esteem.) But this is an extremely superficial definition, and one that it based on the limited insight of the psychotherapy profession.
As someone who has personally struggled with existential depression in the past, and counseled countless others with the same issue, I can say confidently that existential depression is a crisis of the soul. That is why I have written about it in the past being connected to something known as “the Dark Night of the Soul.”
If you don’t know what the Dark Night of the Soul is, it’s a period in life when we awaken to the deep disconnection we have with our souls. Our souls are the deepest sources of our creativity, hope, joy, love, bliss, compassion, energy and passion. When we lose touch with our souls, we lose touch with our deepest essence or divinity. And when we lose touch with our essence, we feel lost, alone and empty. This is what is known as “soul loss” and THIS is the very cause of existential depression.
The Dark Night of the Soul was originally written about by the 16th century mystic St. John of the Cross. He described it as a period in life where the soul yearns to reconnect with God (or Spirit). Although the Dark Night of the Soul is a painful and tormenting experience at first, it is actually a cause for celebration. I know this sounds crazy … but you are finally waking up! For many people the Dark Night marks the beginning of the sacred journey back to Wholeness or spiritual Oneness.
So how do we experience soul loss in the first place?
Soul loss, and our subsequent existential depression, happens for a number of reasons. Reasons can include, for example:
- High sensitivity (HSP)
- High intelligence (emotional and intellectual)
- Contemplative personality type
- Soulful maturity
- Tragedy or hardship
- Poor self-awareness
- Soulless living (e.g. being raised with thin values, working in a trivial job, making choices that aren’t aligned with the soul, destructive societal influence, etc.)
Without fail, I have always found that existential depression is the product of being a sensitive person. After all, sensitivity allows us to feel what other people usually can’t feel. This is usually why existential depression sufferers feel so isolated and misunderstood: they really are on another plane of existence from the typical population.
At heart, the existential depression sufferer is always some form of “gifted” individual — a poet, artist, philosopher, healer, mystic or sage in the making. Because such people find very few places to call “home” in our current society, it’s no wonder that they naturally feel misplaced, alone and consumed by irrelevance.
Recovering From Existential Depression
Recovering from existential depression can be immediate (in rare circumstances), but it is usually a gradual process.
I want to share with you what I have discovered that helps speed up this process:
1. Re-frame your unhappiness.
Give your pain a meaning. Learn to see your unhappiness and meaninglessness in a different light. This is where being introduced to the “Dark Night of the Soul” helped me out immensely: I realized it was a journey, not just an endless pit of suffering. Yes, when you start out it sucks. But eventually you start finding your path again with time and patience.
2. Realize that the mind is limited.
Certainly it is natural for us to want all the answers in life. But this is what I found: the more answers you get, the more questions you ask. The mind is an endless cycle, an endless labyrinth of questions, thoughts and more questions. But here’s the thing: the mind is not all there is to life. Don’t fall into the trap of making the mind and the intellectual pursuit for answers your God. The mind is only one layer of existence, and it can actually PREVENT you from living.
As author Søren Kierkegaard once wrote, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”
You might like to read more about this topic in my article, “What is the Point of Living?”
3. Stop, pause, be still and know peace.
If you have ever read into the works of enlightened people you will discover one major message: peace can be found in every moment. And this isn’t some airy fairy promise, it is a reality that you can experience first-hand. But it requires patience, stillness, and dedication.
Meditation is one of the best ways to experience this deep, eternal, abiding peace. Make sure you dedicate at least 10 minutes in the morning to meditation — try to increase it to 30 minutes or even 1 hour eventually. There are thousands of articles and many studies out there that have focused on the miraculous benefits of meditation. Read into them, watch YouTube videos to find different techniques, and find your niche.
4. What fills your soul with fire?
If you are unable to answer this question, think back to childhood … what did you love doing? If you still aren’t sure, explore different fields and topics of interest. Find what your passion is, or what makes you feel excited, fulfilled, energized and engaged.
5. Nurture yourself.
Only you truly know what you need and want from life. Therefore, only you have the answers and love you need. Be kind with yourself and show self-love. Release old patterns, thoughts, beliefs, situations and people that don’t support your well-being.
6. Be responsible for your happiness.
No progress can be made without self-responsibility. You need to 100% commit to your growth and fulfillment as not only a human being, but a soulful being as well. You can read more about how to do that here.
I truly hope this examination of existential depression has helped open some new doors for you. I would love to hear your experience with this topic or any advice below. You could help a lot of struggling people out there.
Finally, if you are contemplating suicide, please seek immediate help here. Your life is a precious gift and one that can be salvaged, transformed, and healed if you allow it to. Please note that this article is not meant to diagnose you in any way, it is simply offering my opinion and experience. In many situations, seeking professional help and taking prescription medication is not only important, but life-changing.
Existential depression is often linked to going through the process of Spiritual Awakening. If you think you might be going through a Spiritual Awakening, you might like to look at our book “The Spiritual Awakening Process” for more guidance.