My existential crisis

Diary, Mental Health

I’ve been feeling a lot lately like I don’t know who I am or what my character really is. And it’s really keeping me from being able to focus fully on my recovery.

I spent much of my life from my early 20’s to mid 30’s living a very socially outgoing existence, fuelled often by intoxication. I thought this was me. Being gregarious, becoming friends with strangers, living encounters as one day at a time, spontaneity driving me, I don’t want to become old and jaded, I don’t want to be boring. But with that character there came some pretty dark moments, some I have divulged and others I find it difficult to talk about. Am I really this reckless person who cared not for growing up and being boring?

This all changed after my fathers death. It struck me, hard. What’s the point of doing all these self destructive things and feeling unsettled when I’m really not happy with myself? What’s the point of having a life where I don’t have anything to show for it but tales of hedonistic nights out?

I think I realised then, I’d been trying so hard to fit in, I’d lost my sense of being. My creativity had sunk over those years and relationships only worked when I wasn’t sober.

I fight internally with myself all the time. Thinking that I have been a failure for wasting those years, when others had settled, had their families, bought the house, driven the car. My attempts to break out of the past and escape the social culture I’d found myself trapped in, were few, the occasional volunteer role and slim hope of ever finding out what it is that would make me happy.

In the present, I’ve now found a career I am content with, working for a charity, giving my time and energy to help those to live a fulfilled life and have their own voice. I champion the underclass, who may not be in this position through their own making. I have found my creativity outside of the bottle, and welcome it back.

But, I’m still fighting. Part of me wants to be capable of living both existences. The one who has fun and can be the social fixer, and the one who can give and work to my ideals. But I can’t have both. I do not have the energy. I do not have the will power to stop myself from being taken over again by the character who insists on being the last one home. Trying to explain that my associations are too deeply set with that lifestyle is difficult, because it makes no sense that I can’t just go out with my friends at the weekend and leave it at that. There’s much more to it, and that is between me and my counsellor to discuss and work upon.

Something I have discovered recently, that is helping me to understand this existential cloud I am under, has been taking the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test and ascertaining my personality type. Initially done as a fun exercise amongst friends, reading what the indicators of my particular result are, has been quite eye opening (I did this test on a number of different websites to see if my result was consistent, which it was). I am an INFJ. This personality type is the rarest of all 16. What this means for me, is an understanding of my behaviours and how this can be applied to the rest of my existence.

I was intrigued to read this part about when our characters react to the dark side, the weaker traits in our personality. In some way it has helped me to understand myself a bit better. I am quoting much of the section here:

Inside, the individual is likely to feel confused and split between two completely different world views.

In some circumstances, such a change may not be sudden or short-lived – the individual may choose, either consciously or unconsciously, to behave in this way for a very long time…

It is not impossible that the individual’s social circle will encourage them as well, by complimenting the clearly visible changes, e.g. more spontaneity, sensitivity or willingness to take risks – this would also reassure the individual, maybe even leading them towards a conclusion that this is actually their “real” personality and their previous persona was just a repressed version of their “real” self.

[This dark side is an] unhealthy version of the ESTP personality – it may push you towards things like being very cynical, taking extreme risks, engaging in pointless repetitive activities, befriending random strangers, drinking, or gambling. This may even feel liberating at times – for instance, you may feel strangely energized by social interaction or risky decisions that pay off – but that state is likely to be short-lived, succeeded by feelings of emptiness and confusion.

Simply being familiar with the fact that each one of us has a dark side is a good thing – this will enable you to spot when that “switch” has happened… Otherwise, you may be oblivious to what is going on and even think that it would be a good idea to shut down any doubts and simply “double up” on whatever you are doing, getting drawn deeper into the never-ending spiral of cheating yourself. It is one thing to use and develop your weaker traits wisely – it is quite another to give in and let them lead the way completely unchallenged.

It’s interesting that this describes me in a way I haven’t been able. How my existence was taken over by this dark side for so long, the opposite to what I am now. Of course I am going to battle with my own character when I have long believed the energetic social paragon was my true self, it’s how I now deal with this in a healthy way and learn to be at ease with my actual self that’s important now.

You can read the brief outline of both personalities, and also take your own test on the 16 personalities website.