I remember the exact moment this OCD formed.
I was 16 years old, burning a fire with friends under the clearest night sky.
I gazed up at the stars and it hit me.
I was nothing. Trapped inside the universe, hurtling through the vastness of space not knowing where we are heading.
This OCD came and went at 16, 25 and 32 years of age.
Trigger warning: This post may well increase anxiety for anyone suffering this form of OCD. But I type this in newly found peace and calm, and want you to know it is possible to overcome the worry.
- Fearing the unknown
- Constantly questioning life, universe and everything
- Crippling anxiety and depression from the thoughts
- Feeling like a zombie or experiencing ‘depersonalization’
- Having night terrors of the same nature
- Living with the thoughts and not letting anxiety take over
I became terrified of the concept of infinity and eternity
That exact moment of gazing up to the stars brought on a phobia I didn’t know about.
I panicked like I suddenly woke up on the edge of a skyscraper. But instead of a fear of heights below, I had a fear of the endless expanse above me.
It was like a fear of heights but worse. My legs became jelly and overwhelming anxiety overpowered me.
The problem was, I couldn’t walk away from the edge like I could on a skyscraper. There was nothing I could do but accept that this is existence. Whether I liked it or not.
I had butterflies for months
I felt like I was on a roller coaster constantly in free fall.
It was like I could feel Earth hurtling through space. You know when you put a VR headset on and feel every drop during the simulation? You forget it isn’t real because the brain thinks it is.
It was similar to this. The realization of us orbiting the sun made my adrenaline to pump. I would literally feel the need to hold onto whatever I was nearest to.
The worst part was not knowing when the ride would end. And we don’t know.
Is there an end? Where is it?
The anxiety eventually turned into depression
When my body realized there wasn’t an immediate threat to my safety, the anxiety died down.
But these questions were still left unanswered. And knowing I couldn’t answer them gave me a great sense hopelessness and worthlessness, more than I have ever had before.
I was empty. I had no motivation. Nothing mattered anymore and what I used to think was important to me was nothing more than a distraction.
I would hate that the universe exists, and that it has always existed. Questioning this existence and wondering if it is real or not.
I would worry about the universe existing before I was born and after I died, as if I was trying to take control of it.
The universe felt like a cage, and I was imprisoned more than a part of it.
I later learned that these were examples of ‘Depersonalization’ and ‘Derealization’.
I felt like I was in a world full on zombies
It wasn’t that I felt like a zombie. Quite the opposite.
I felt like I was the only one thinking straight in a world full of zombies.
I would still go to work, although very reluctantly. Jealous, and confused, by anyone that looked content on my commute.
Business people on the phone, talking passionately about a temporary task in a temporary job in a temporary life.
Friends meeting in a bar, drinking to make their existence a little more bearable.
I saw negativity in everything. And I wondered why I was the only one that seemed to care about the bigger questions.
Where are we? How did we get here? Where are we going?
The existential crisis goes away, and then returns
For anyone going through this right now, know that it can go away.
I found peace in my late teens, up until my mid twenties.
But in 2015 (at the age of 26) I went through it all over again. It was like I had another great awakening.
I felt like the years before this were just a distraction from reality.
Turning a blind eye to the fact that my life was just a pretend bubble of non-important events. Distracting me from the reality that we are on a rock, hurtling through space and we are not the pilot. Just the passenger.
My life wasn’t a destination, but a journey that I pretended I wasn’t on. One that I now want to get off but the seat belt is indestructible.
I attended CBT therapy as a result.
Again, it subsided. I had years of peace up until my 32nd birthday in June 2021.
This time round, alcohol withdrawal caused my existential crisis
Just before my birthday, I was told to isolate due to being around someone with Covid-19.
I have always consumed a lot of alcohol. Probably to help ease the anxiety that has plagued me for so long.
Not too dependent, a few cans or a bottle of wine every other night. But I had more severe binges during periods of my life.
I decided not to drink during this isolation period, as I was able to leave my apartment just before my birthday and would probably have a few drinks with friends over a few days.
I drank very little, in fact I think I just had a couple beers half way through the nine-day stretch. However the first day I was free to meet friends, I didn’t feel right.
I felt depression. The only other times I had felt this were back in 2006 and 2015. I started comparing these events and with that, my existential questions came flooding back.
I decided to have a couple drinks on the evening, and immediately felt better.
It was only during a health check two days later that I worried about my drinking and decided to quit cold turkey.
Looking up how alcohol withdrawal can cause anxiety and depression made me realize where this was all coming from.
There was some sort of sense in how I was feeling, and this was very liberating
I no longer felt as hopeless. Realizing that in life, we can make sense of things.
There is logic to be found and that just because something doesn’t make sense to us, doesn’t mean it is scary. It just means we have to work towards the answer.
This has helped me live with the anxiety and depression and stick to sobriety.
I looked up the timeline for alcohol withdrawal, and estimated when I would start to feel better.
Sure enough, as the weeks went by the symptoms started to reduce. I was eating more and motivation came back. Music sounded great and I was sociable again.
My anxiety caused existential questions, not the other way around
Anxiety was causing me to question things obsessively. It wasn’t the existential questions causing the anxiety in the first place.
Understanding that anxiety was causing my current existential crisis gave me a huge amount of relief.
Before this, I felt that my constant questions were manifesting on their own. And that I was anxious because I couldn’t answer them.
Now, it seems that going sober was was causing my body to adjust to a new normal. It was not used to being starved of alcohol. My brain didn’t like it, and hence the anxiety.
But it took me a while to realize this.
I now know how much my diet plays a part in existential OCD
I still question things regularly. But without so much anxiety.
It isn’t crippling worry. I don’t become depressed with it either.
I can sit down with these thoughts and they don’t overpower me. I don’t lose motivation to do other things in my day and still have a passion for life.
I have noticed that caffeine also has played a huge role in anxiety and OCD symptoms and compulsions.
The less alcohol, sugar and caffeine I have, the better my quality of life. The better my sleep and the better my brain function.
It is not a cure, but it is a huge improvement.
Existential OCD is terrifying, but it does get better in time
Know that it can pass. With the help of specialists and also a change in diet, I have seen a substantial improvement in my life.
There would be times when I would be too scared to even type this post in case it triggers my fears. I am now typing this with music in the background and a smile on my face.
I remember when I would call the Samaritans on my break at work. I then visited them after work before getting a taxi straight to the hospital.
I never thought those fears would go away due to the nature of them. Existential OCD felt like a scary awakening more than anything.
But it wasn’t an awakening. It was more of a defence mechanism.
A response to anxiety that was triggered by my poor health choices, along with OCD.
By finding the source, we can overcome anything.
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