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Exploring Existential Depression

The perennial search for sense and meaning

From a clinical perspective, depression is typically categorized as psychological, situational or some combination of the two. What we often overlook is the spiritual aspect of depression, which is not clinical, but existential. This subtle, cloying sense of incompleteness doesn’t so much paralyze us as haunt us, ringing hollow in our deepest heart.

We are graced with free-will: the ability to make choices. We are also charged with the responsibility of architecting our own lives, creating that life by virtue of the choices we make. For some of us, our journey may bring us to a place where we begin to question our choices as we try to make sense of our circumstances and find meaning in the sweet mundane.

Those questions may arise from a burgeoning dissatisfaction with the Babbitesque complexion of our lives, or the stark realization that our life—fraught with carpools, soccer games and sleepovers—is no longer our own. We may, by the same token, find ourselves burdened by a crisis of faith, or a crisis of the heart. No matter the genesis, the core of our conflict is a sense of hopelessness attached to the notion that, under examination, our lives may, in fact, be meaningless.

This sense of hopelessness is different from that associated with clinical depression. It is less a contained state of emotional debilitation and more a sustained sense of not-quite-rightness that we cannot seem to identify or get past.

Our moment of existential crisis is not, however, the dead-end it may, at first blush, appear to be. Rather, it is a starting point for an exploration of meaning, giving us an opportunity to push back against the interior darkness informing our immediate sense of meaninglessness. Identifying the sources of our sense of meaning—self-development, relationship, work, community and reconnection to spirituality—brings us back to ourselves and renews our sense of connection, not only to the sweet mundane, but the larger canvas of our lives.

© 2015 Michael J. Formica, All Right Reserved

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