The pandemic has plunged many of us into an inner malaise that resembles an existential crisis. Existential crises can be defined as experiences that shake up your entire life. It happens when an event or incident calls everything we used to take for granted into question. In such a situation we find our lives disturbed in so many ways that it becomes confusing and dizzying.
Our physical safety becomes dubious, our emotions run high, our mental capacity to make sense of things goes temporarily on the blink. Even the principles and values we usually live by are stirred and mixed up. Everything we rely on is potentially in jeopardy and we become afraid that we shall never be able to feel comfortable and at ease again.
We learn to think anew
One of the few advantages of going through such a period of crisis, is that we learn to adjust to things we never thought we would ever encounter or could ever take into our stride. We find out what our inner and outer resources are and we become more flexible and adaptable. We learn to think anew about what truly matters to us and we set our priorities right.
This allows us to refocus our lives and readjust our direction of travel. In this process of realignment, we also learn to be stronger and more resilient, which will stand us in good stead further down the line.
Those who have been through an existential crisis often develop deeper insight into what they fear and what they value most. They also become more sensitive to other people’s troubles, trials, and tribulations, instead of dismissing them. When we are confronted with difficulties, we become more capable of compassion and therefore more willing and more able to help others when they are in crisis.
In this respect, and in many others, it has been a year of extraordinary learning for many of us. People all over the world have had to come to terms with the reality of living with insecurity and isolation.
Many of us have felt uncomfortably close to our mortality as we had to get used to the thought of catching a debilitating and potentially lethal disease.
Impact on daily routine and relationships
So far 3.5 million people in the world have died and the end of the pandemic is not yet in sight. Millions more people are grieving the premature and unexpected deaths of loved ones. Others are coming to terms with the loss of their business, their jobs or their homes.
Most of us have been challenged in our established routines to some extent at least and some have had their entire lives revolutionised. The pandemic has affected our relationships and daily routines as we became forced to live in isolation and at a distance from those we loved.
No longer in safe hands
In the UK, as in some other countries, there have been additional difficulties. Watching your government making huge errors in dealing with the situation is a frightening experience. For some of us, it has felt as if our country is no longer in safe hands.
The lack of confidence in a government that has not only been slow in responding to protect us, but that has often seemed nonchalant about the impact of the situation, especially on the frontline staff who have had to do the hard work, is hard to bear.
It appears as if those who rule over us are more interested in profit-making than in serving the public. We watch them painting a rosy picture, while our skies are clearly darkening. It is disconcerting to observe the lies and we are tired and we despair. We are reminded of Orwell’s concept of ‘double-speak’, where things have been spun so much that we no longer know what is true and what is false.
As if the world stopped making sense
Both the pandemic and Brexit have exposed us to that eerie feeling of losing our bearings. In my work with hundreds of EU citizens who live in the UK and who weren’t given a vote in the referendum, although the UK has been their home for decades and their safety and futures were at stake, I found that many suffered greatly from their change of circumstances.
They too felt as if the world had stopped making sense.
Most of them learned to live with this and found ways to courageously overcome their plight, be it by applying for UK citizenship, by leaving the country or by accepting settled or pre-settled status. In June, when time is up for EU citizens to safeguard their future in the UK, we shall undoubtedly see another wave of injustice and suffering.
It will be helpful for those going through this to know how to cope with their anxiety, their anger and their sadness, by learning the existential lessons that others have learnt before them.
Existential crises are here to stay
And as the implications of our national Brexit situation trickle through over the next months and years, it will become more evident that it is not only EU citizens who are the victims of this situation. Post pandemic, more people will realise that existential crises are here to stay. So, don’t let it get to you, but find a way to rise to these challenges, rebuilding your life where it has lost its meaning, its clarity or connectivity. We do not have to settle for less.
If your interested to read more about the writer’s work see Emmy van Deurzen. Rising from Existential Crisis: Living beyond Calamity, published with PCCS books on the fifth anniversary of the referendum, 23 June 2021.