What do you do when you’ve run out of energy, for both the motions of living and the grand, sweeping meta-vision of it? What do you do when you feel hopelessly confused in life and as if nothing could save you? Mental turmoil is hardly a stranger to most of us and modern life tends to exacerbate it. Plenty of us are perpetually riven with mental distress on a daily basis and want to throw up our hands, give up and give in at just at about the same frequency, if not more.
There’s no shortage of maladies: depression is one and corresponds to a person perpetually living in a blended state of gloomy cynicism and apathy. Depressed people often aren’t so much trying to figure out what to do but are moreso generally disaffected with life, though secretly, will admit that they have not, in fact, completely given up. Some part of them, after all, is usually quietly searching for meaning.
The anxious counterparts, on the other hand, feel riddled with unease and feel as if they are in a constant state of tension that never lets up. To them, all of life’s inherent open-endedness reads as dangerous and can easily make them nail-bitingly nervous. When life hits them particularly hard, they are panicked. What to do, exactly? The trouble is, they don’t know and can never seem to know for sure, and any possible solutions seem too weak and questionable when one is wed to an all-pervasive anxiety, a sort-of dumping ground for distrustful sentiments.
And of course there remains a separate category of those somewhat vaguely suffused by what I would call “existential chaos” that does not per se, have either of the formal ailments and doesn’t appear to belong in the equally encompassing arena of mental illness, but is instead categorized by a permeating, perhaps crippling, state of confusion. This can manifest in colorless, weakly experienced days wherein the individual feels muddled in terms of their life vision, overwhelmed by life itself to the point that their very existence feels increasingly draining, or wants nothing more than to just pull the covers over their head, take a break, sleep, and hope everything is sorted out in the morning.
Unfortunately, things don’t work that way and escape from reality will not untangle the knots. Only we can do that. And seldom does numbing ourselves from our torment do us any real favors. When we don’t know how to deal with mental torment, it obviously worsens. The reasons are complex. Depressed individuals often do not want to deal with it, anxious individuals often do know how to deal with it (as in, there are too many options, and oh god, what is the right one??) And the latter category, of ambiguously defined confused individuals plagued by a light breed of ennui, just cannot face their own consciousness to the degree that they can begin to organize their life’s philosophy.
Have you ever found yourself on some bleak afternoon listlessly staring out your car windshield perhaps, veering into dissociative territory, thinking about the strangeness of existence and how do you know what you’re supposed to do with your life? Are you living it all wrong? Or if you’re depressed have you had one of those nights with ragged sobs, shuddering about whether life will ever come to mean anything as it seems to to other people and how on earth, do you dislodge yourself from the trenches of despair?
What’s recognizable about any of these situations is that they are all are characterized by confusion. This isn’t recognized in the sphere of mental health nearly enough as it should be, I would say. Instead, there’s a tendency within the field to assume that all mental predicaments stem primarily from one’s past, and that addressing the past should be the primary means of solving them. This is certainly true in some cases but crucially, not in all.
Sometimes the origin of the problem is less perennial and deep-rooted and doesn’t actually require “therapeutic excavation”. In a lot of cases (and this may sound flat and simple and initially unimpressive to some) it is that a lot of people are just very confused. More specifically, they’re confused about what to do. People with mental illnesses spend a lot of time in their heads precisely because everything is so maddeningly unsolved. By spending so much time in their heads, they’re actually trying to accomplish something. I would note, however, that the third category of people discussed that do not fit neatly into either the depression or anxiety camps can be characterized by numbing or distracting themselves from their confusion.
Plenty of addictive behaviors are given all sorts of clinical explanations — biological reasons and chemical imbalances frequently touted among them. But I’d venture to guess that even deeply rooted behavioral patterns, no matter the perfectly legitimate presence of dopamine, say, and its influence, are mostly psychological. Unhealthy mental behavior can nearly always be traced back to an inability to stay present in one’s life, deal soberly and patiently with one’s confusion, eschew fast, convenient modes of distraction at one’s disposal, and generally to not develop bad mental coping mechanisms as a result. (By this line of thinking, depression and anxiety disorders could almost be seen as coping mechanisms themselves for the larger issue of life confusion. But that’s a grand claim and a whole another matter entirely.)
That said, confusion can have a lethal quality to it, in the sense that it muddles one’s life, turning some things indistinguishable, collapsing previously maintained goals and habits. One’s life gradually becomes unable to be analyzed properly and everything becomes lumped into a pool of swirling chaos. This is what can occur alarmingly easy when you can’t keep pace with life in a mental sense and start to become scared, capitulating to the fear and wanting to pull the wool over your eyes so you do not have to contend with things like reality, the transient nature of life, and the idea that haunts so many of us, wasting your life.
In my own life, I even so much as developed a label for this phenomenon: “Slime” is an area of confusion, a lack of substance, a sticky stagnancy, a rotting puddle of chaos. It is wherein all the things that one encounters and that must be analyzed with, or dealt with, collect, and failure to attend to them results in their breaking down and congealing into this mental slime that oozes over any clarity that might be promisingly glowing in one’s brain at the moment. Like molten lava, it slowly seeps over the accomplishments of a neatly organized mind, and a bright optimism, and overcomes them. It is where so many thoughts, ideas, aspirations and hopefulness go to die.
Sometimes it is confusion that is the source of your angst and it looks like a veneer that slips over you. This is juxtaposed with deep-rooted issues that have been cultivated in the most shadowy parts of your psyche for years, of which can alternately produce mental disorders. Take heart if confusion is your personal misfortunate. Confusion can be addressed very forthrightly and it’s pretty amenable, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. One must be patient and must practice claiming consciousness again and again and must resist the pull into the sleepy, blurred state of negligent, sloppy living.
Something initially rather sad and regrettable happens to many of us on the fateful bridge from childhood into adulthood. Gaining new cognitive skills of abstraction, we’re left to puzzle over own existence, something that we were only foggily aware of as children. Most kids, you see, are not wringing their hands over the purpose of life. Instead, they are mostly caught up in the simplicity of living and day-to-day enjoyments and novelties. But these gradually acquired powers of abstract thinking and existential musing have just as much power to be used to make us feel fulfilled as they do to make us miserable.
The truth is, we have to refocus again and again, tirelessly honing in on what we are to do this week, this day, this month, that will ensure we stumble upon the future that we want today. Nothing happens by way of surprise materialization. Everything depends on clearing the clutter and making the room for a healthy style of living in every tiny moment that comes to grace our doorstep.
My advice to you if you feel as if your life is being disconcertedly narrated and laid out in these paragraphs is not to trample on your own confusion. Even recognizing the confusion is a enormously victorious step. Don’t run away from it and begin to ask it questions. Begin to determine what it is you want out of life and never let this blueprint stray from your vision. Sometimes you will want to slip away and to fall into sleepy obscurity, but try valiantly not to. If you do slip, you are are vulnerable to anxiety and depression and ennui and addictions that have seemingly mysterious sources and a slew of other undesirable afflictions.
Confusion may be the backdrop of your life and you might not even know it. But it does not have to be. Confusion does not have to be yours but the choice is, of course, all yours.