I was no stranger to the toy company called Melissa and Doug, but I never knew much about the people behind it and who created this line. It wasn’t until I bought a book called LifeLines, written by Melissa Bernstein, that I learned Melissa was one and the same woman. Creator of a toy company, author and survivor of existential anxiety and depression. In her book she documented her extraordinary and inspirational journey from profound darkness to radiant light. To this day I have not read this book that appealed to me some time ago and it’s not unusual for a book to come forward and find me. Sometimes I read them immediately and other times they patiently wait for the right timing, when I need them the most. I don’t question it anymore, I just go with the flow and know that the information will find me in time, and that the purpose will be revealed when it counts the most. I don’t know for what reason I picked up the book today. I simply felt drawn and called to it. I held it for a moment, gazing across the front cover and the chosen words to grace and capture the audience.
“Today I saved a life, although it was my very own, which won’t serve a greater purpose til I rescue lives unknown.”
I began to open the book and her intro, “Why now” felt as if she was speaking about me. I could only imagine how much we would have to talk about, how much of an understanding there would be, how we would complete each other’s sentences, feeling heard and understood. For a moment I walked down memory lane and remembered that very feeling I was lucky enough to experience at a prior point in my life.
I didn’t had to go far into the book and within the first two pages something captured me that I never heard of before. Existential anxiety and depression. In order to understand the meaning we need to break this down a bit. According to the Cambridge Dictionary existential is defined as a philosophy according to which the world has no meaning and each person is alone and completely responsible for his or her own actions. Further research revealed that existential depression is considered the mental illness of the gifted and talented.
We often tend to assume that depression is caused by a situation, by something that triggered it, an event, a dissatisfaction. It can be seasonal, situational, or intrapersonal. But existential depression can occur during periods of deep reflection about the meaning of life. When we seek answers about the very purpose and meaning of our existence. It might even revolve around topics of death, isolation, freedom and meaninglessness. We might also experience existential depression after major life events such as bereavement, accidents, natural disasters, job loss, failed marriages and so on.
Some believe that gifted people, gifted children and adults, are more likely to experience existential depression in their lives. Those creative, gifted, and talented who actively search and question life’s meaning are often thought to be more prone to existential depression. This includes the deep thinkers, the scientists, the sensitive people, the gifted individuals attuned to everything around them. And yes most likely the empaths as well. Gifted children may find it especially difficult to navigate life if they have that intellectual excitability or thirst for knowledge, to explore more intellectually than others who may be around them.
While existential depression may be a part of, or a form of, a spiritual crisis, it can also be a positive catalyst for change and growth. It is said that especially gifted and creative people do learn and grow in a positive way from what they experience through traumatic experiences and life crises. Finally I found myself on familiar territory. I too had asked an eternity the question “why” while drowning in a sea of despair, not knowing what was going on, that there was a name, a title, a term for what I was experiencing. Like Melissa, I was in my fifth decade of life, still believing I was a visitor from another planet who would never be understood, who would never fit in or be embraced here on Earth. And while I often cherished and celebrated my uniqueness, my individuality, not being like everyone else, a cookie cutter version of everybody, I realized that there were also painful elements to this celebration. There was isolation, a loneliness, a sense of not fitting in, and yes, even a sense of something being wrong with me.
Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902-1980) spent his lifetime studying the mental health of intellectually and artistically inclined children and adults, recognizing that extreme intensity of their emotions and sensitivities was actually part of their psycho-physical makeup. In fact Dabrowski, in his clinical practice, saw many creative artists and writers undergoing profound spiritual crises. This forged his primary mission to “save and protect those who were tuned to the pain of the world and its dangerous trends, but whose voice was not heeded.” He saw those who were open to higher realities were often poorly adapted to this world and thus at risk for not succeeding or even surviving.
Having this knowledge now, perhaps every single moment, every single emotion and fear makes sense and can be seen in a new light. A radiant light of understanding and transforming the darkness within. Maybe the veil has been lifted, a mystery has been revealed and perhaps we can learn to understand ourselves a little better yet. Maybe we can see why we reacted the way we did, why we protected ourselves the way we did and why we seem to struggle just a little more. The enormity of this in itself is breathtaking and terrifying, but perhaps it can also be a tremendous relief to what seemed such a life mystery for so long. And my hope is to share this with you to bring you the same kind of peace, to be heard, and understood, and know that you are not alone.