Existential Fatigue

Screen Shot 2.pngIt’s snowing again outside, which is inconvenient for most people here but for me it provides me with the opportunity to look out at the world with fresh eyes. There’s nowhere to go at the moment, the narrow island road is sheet ice and the temporary car park is a quagmire. Finding stuff to do is the single most important occupation for people like me to prevent their descent into an abyssal of navel-gazing wrapped in a black cloak of boredom, accompanied by ambiguous fatigue. I was always told as a child that I should have no time to be bored, my days instead should be filled with wholesome purpose and activity, all else being sinfully slothful. What a shame. Chronic boredom has been an awkward little companion that I’ve carried around for a long time, sitting on my shoulder whispering nothing in particular into my ear. Sometimes, it feels like a piece of chewing gum, spat out and discarded, that has the nasty habit of lodging itself under the shoe of my life, making everything so wretched and annoying. Wherever I walk, it’s as though I’m always aware of this imperceptible presence that sullies the experience of whatever comes next with its infuriating stickiness. Burrowing down into some psychobabble the other day – how else does one spend one’s time –  I came across the phrase ‘existential fatigue’. I wasn’t altogether sure what it meant, so looked it up:

“Existential fatigue is the weight of the world on your soul, mind and emotions. A fatigue born of the search for meaning and purpose that your foremothers and forefathers returned to the soil without it wetting their dry tongues and cracked lips.” A little bit flowery perhaps, but I quite liked that part – very tribal.

Continuing the rather doom-laden theme: “This sort of fatigue peels the fear of death from your childish eyes. It hangs you upside down and bleeds the hope, the audacity to dream, and self-confidence from the veins of your soul. This is a form of lynching that allows you to go on living as you’re half-dead. It blinds you with generational anger and places your feet on the red coal of your ancestors’ bones.” There’s a kind of Camus-like absurdist certainty about this which is mildly disturbing. Those who know me will be aware that I have been, let’s say, ‘generationally angry’. I’m angry AT my parents – because of them, if you will, but I don’t carry the same externalised rages as they did.

Reading on: “It’s the kind of fatigue that shows you the naked and grotesque difference between perception and reality and inverts both.  You are now not sure whether it is you or the world that has gone crazy.” Some truth there – Nietszche would have agreed, but he was insane so his opinion can’t really be trusted.
So, this post is, if you like – or even if you don’t – my attempt to speak a new language to articulate the discomfort, to crystallise fleeting moments of possibility and so internalise intuitive truths. Against all odds, we – even I –  persist in our/my search for meaning and purpose in a world increasingly bankrupt of both. So much for definition; what about solution?

Boredom is often a result of forgetting to be thankful for what we have. When the mind is in the habit of constantly finding gratification in a future-orientated thought or feeling, the present can never quite feel “good enough.” Not only that, but when we take for granted what we have, we often expect it to be even better than what it is capable of being by imposing our beliefs, desires and expectations on to it. The result is, inevitably, disappointment.

Ingratitude is a frenemy because it fools us (OK, me) into believing that there is something perpetually “better” than what we have, while at the same time causing us considerable present unhappiness.

One solution for ingratitude is stopping everything I am doing for a few moments, savouring my surroundings and forcing myself to think of five things  (more or less) that I am grateful for at this moment. The small things, as well as the larger, seemingly more important. Walt Whitman once wrote in “Song of Myself”:

“There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.”

Also – I am such a merciless creature of habit. What If I were to forgo a morning shower and leave it until evening? It won’t materially affect personal hygiene and it breaks routine. What if, instead of choosing which watch to wear, I just didn’t wear one at all?

Please, will someone poke me with the proactivity stick sometimes? If left to myself, I tend to slip into apathy and laziness, basically becoming a slob, which is deeply unattractive both to myself and those around me.

I came across a fascinating phrase the other day – “hedonistic adaptation”,  which is the other side of the coin – too much proactivity isn’t necessarily a good idea either. It is a phrase that refers to the pursuit of happiness much like running on a treadmill because no matter how much we get, we aren’t completely happy, and we always want more thus, we keep running and running, seeking for the next ‘hit’. The result is, we get tired emotionally and tired people make mistakes when they look after themselves. The delight of ‘now’ eludes them.

Oh, enough. I am now going to go and live in the present for a while and play with my dog, who completely understands me.


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