Phase 1: Be in the existential crisis.
…and then there is a lull. I often think of the universe as setting up a game of chess; between players, places, and situations, each move must be calculated just perfectly. So, while you have already been through the crisis, and you are spending time learning and reflecting on it, the universe is scheming and placing people and situations together so that everything lines up just right. It’s a very complicated strategy, because while the people and the places and the situations in your life are being set for your existential crisis, the people and the places and the situations in other people’s lives might be set up to start their existential crisis, or to teach them something completely different, perhaps something about resiliency, or about living with grace, or about setting goals and direction in life.
Phase 3: Solidify the existential crisis.
In some ways, Phase 3 of an existential crisis is the most difficult, because while you have spent all this time discovering and learning and growing and changing, it is now time for you to cement the person you have recently unveiled.
I imagine it like being held captive in the middle of a meteor shower, constantly bombarded by asteroids and other junk. You are tested, questioned, put up against difficult obstacles. You don’t really get to pick how this is going to play out (it’s up to the universe), and most of the time, you don’t really get time to think; you are put in split second situations where you just have to react. In real time, these things could come from your friends, family, co-workers, significant others, people you don’t even know. The tests could come from your car breaking, your credit card being compromised, losing your favorite pair of shoes. And, the universe is setting each of these obstacles up as a test, asking you to choose what kind of person you want to be: with the work, the effort, the introspection, and the emotional hardships you just went through during your crisis, are you going to decide to revert back to the person you once were, or are you going to choose the new track you just uncovered?
I write ad nauseam about this fight my long term boyfriend’s mom and I got into (Girls, and Their Insecurities, That Post Confrontation Awkwardness), but it really tipped off the beginning of my existential crisis, because it was within this fight that I was forced to begin discovering things about myself, my goals in life, and uncovering philosophies I never knew I had. In thinking about the aligning and strategizing the ultra complicated chess board of life, the fight for her was about realizing how she would have to soon cut the apron strings and let go of her son (even if it wasn’t to me), and for me, it was about beginning this identity crisis.
Flash forward a few months, post-existential crisis, and I find myself in an eerily very similar situation, where again my motives, my intentions, my philosophies were attacked and questioned. I had to check myself, and make decisions about how I was going to react; was I going to revert back to my pre-existential crisis self, or was I going to fight to maintain the identity I recently obtained? There were a few things I had to reflect on, and a few choices I had to make:
-Who was I going to involve? With my long term boyfriend’s mom, I involved everyone–coworkers, my family, my extended family and their extended family, my friends and their friends’ friends, random people off the streets (it honestly got a little out of control), and definitely tarnished my reputation a little; no one wants to be involved with someone who speaks ill about other people. It, of course, worked out in my own personal favor, because I was able to talk about it all the time, and by talking about it, I could undergo catharsis and therefore, I felt better. But telling every single human being (actually, living being, because my fish probably heard about it too) most certainly would not fit under the category of “the virtue of grace“, and my post-existential crisis self strives to live with grace (even if I am not perfect at it 100% of the time).
-How was I going to interact with the Ego-Executioners? Before, I was so devastated and traumatized by the attacks to my character that I ran. I hid behind my cell phone, my letters, and “tried” to reach out, but was never really that successful. I avoided any situation she might be in like the plague, because she brought up some insecurities and reactions in me that I wasn’t necessarily ready to face. So, it was easier to just stay away from anymore potentially ego-deflating situations. This, of course, would have been the easier route to take in the latter situation; avoidance is always easier than acceptance. But, my post-existential self believes the most important life lessons are learned through pain and suffering, and that conquering our fears, our insecurities, and our avoidant tendencies, and making difficult decisions is what causes us to become stronger, more resilient, better versions of ourselves. So, was I going to avoid, or was I going to conquer?
-And lastly, how was I going to let it impact me? The first situation traumatized me for a very, very long time. It’s all I could think about, all I could talk about, all I could focus on. I dreamt about it. I weaved it into my teaching. I stopped eating, started becoming fixated on some really unhealthy things. I said some really out of character, and very offensive things, to co-workers. I eventually had to sign myself up for counseling, because it was controlling my life so much. So, when this new situation came up, I had to decide if I was going to wrap myself up again in someone else’s opinions of me, or if I was going to expend my energies elsewhere. My post-existential crisis self wants to be rational, non-judgemental, solution based, ‘comfortable’ with the unknown, aware of the design of the chess game, of the tests constructed, and of the projected lessons I am supposed to learn, and letting it impact me to this extreme amount would certainly stunt my journey towards self-enlightenment.
I believe that the universe grants us agency; we all have the ability to make our own choices, no one is ever forcing us. The universe would prefer that we make certain choices, but at the end of the day, it is always up to us to throw in the final towel. It, of course, is always easy to make the choice to go back to what is familiar–to revert back to our rudimentary and instinctual natures pre-existential crisis, because these are the motives and behaviors that we have been driven by our entire lives.
However, I am inclined to think that, if we can just stick it out, endure the tests, stay true to ourselves, and be mindful about making those new, enlightened decisions, something even more beautiful, and rewarding will emerge. I believe that the best things in life never come easy. And, when we have decided to make this harder decision, we will have passed Phase 3 of the existential crisis: we have solidified who we have become, and forever, our thoughts, behaviors, and reactions will be motivated unconsciously by that new identity (well until the next crisis, that is, and then we have to go through the vicious, but so necessary, cycle again).
Last spring, I wrote about how we can use our dreams to monitor our emotional states, and that sometimes, I think our egos use dreams as a mode to re-frame situations in order to make new memories that are easier for our brains to handle (cognitive dissonance at it’s finest). The more I go to church, the more yoga I do, the more I learn about the world and the human condition, and the more in tune I am to myself, my desires, my motivations, the more vivid, and useful, my dreams become; I think it’s a sign of the integration between the mind, body, and the spirit. And, we are not in control of what our brain wants to dream about; it will bring up a situation when it wants to work through it, and we just have to let it takes it’s course of action.
Interestingly enough, I recently have been dreaming about my long-term boyfriend’s mom, and in these dreams, I am running into her, and very pleasantly, very maturely, very genuinely asking her questions about how things are going. Considering how everything went down between us, I originally was horrified, and embarrassed, when I woke up and realized I dreamt about her, but for some reason, my brain wanted to meddle on the situation. I am not sure an actual meeting would go as smoothly, but I think it is my brain’s way of looking at the recent confrontation, and re-framing the previous confrontation to be how post-existential Britany would respond. It’s my psyche’s way of validating that, “Hey, you have changed, and you are forever free to be post-existential crisis Britany. Congratulations”.
What a fulfilling prophecy to have finally cemented.