Prevalent among gifted and sensitive adults
In a post on his HSP Notes blog – Of Giftedness, ADD, Depression, and being an HSP – Peter Messerschmidt writes, “Existential Depression.. generally doesn’t affect many people, except in a very fleeting and vague manner.
“However, it is extremely prevalent among highly gifted sensitive adults. It’s pervasive, non-specific, numbing and immobolizing — in some cases causing the sufferer to reach a very logical conclusion that it makes most sense to just kill themselves. It does not respond to drugs or “conventional” therapies for depression; it cannot be “cured,” only “managed” … generally through Existential Psychotherapy..”
In his article Existential Depression in Gifted Individuals, James T. Webb, Ph.D. writes more about this experience.
“It has been my experience that gifted and talented persons are more likely to experience a type of depression referred to as existential depression.
“Although an episode of existential depression may be precipitated in anyone by a major loss or the threat of a loss which highlights the transient nature of life, persons of higher intellectual ability are more prone to experience existential depression spontaneously.
“Sometimes this existential depression is tied into the positive disintegration experience referred to by Dabrowski (1996). Existential depression is a depression that arises when an individual confronts certain basic issues of existence.
“Yalom (1980) describes four such issues (or ‘ultimate concerns’) – death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness.”
The crime of not living
Clive Hazell, PhD, author of The Experience of Emptiness, speaks of a related existential despair: our experience of emotional trauma and the feeling of remorse that the trauma contributed to a “life unlived” – a feeling of existential guilt: “I have committed the crime of not living, and I shall never live.”
Fear of empty space in art
The ArtLex Art Dictionary describes a principle of design: Horror vacui – “The compulsion to make marks in every space. Horror vacui is indicated by a crowded design. In Latin, it is literally, ‘fear of empty space’ or ‘fear of emptiness.’
Anxiety is the great silencer
Other experiences such as anxiety can be associated with existential despair. In my article Fear and creativity is a quote from Eric Maisel , PhD: “… only a small percentage of creative people work as often or as deeply as, by all rights, they might be expected to work. What stops them? Anxiety or some face of anxiety like doubt, worry, or fear. Anxiety is the great silencer of the creative person.”
Creating is the antidote
And in his article In Praise of Positive Obsessions, Dr. Maisel talks about an antidote: “Positive obsessions.. are the fruit of a creator’s efforts to make meaning. Without positive obsessions, life is dull, dreary, and meaningless.”
Perhaps one of our best strategies to manage existential depression is to keep creating and thereby making meaning for ourselves.
Photo: existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) – author of The Sickness Unto Death and many other works
Related article: Does Depression Help Us To Be More Creative?
Existential dread page – multiple quotes etc.