When I was 15, I had my first panic attack. I wasn’t able to speak or breathe. It happened because I realized that life had no meaning. I thought about how small I was and how the universe was so big, and my heart started racing. I felt like I was going to die. I went down a rabbit hole and tried to figure out why people did their jobs. Life seemed so strange and meaningless. People worked so they could make money and support their families and exist. But there was no point to existence. There was no objective point to being a person. People seemed like these arbitrary robots who worked in offices, coffee shops, or didn’t work at all and were homeless. But the people who were doing jobs, they were doing them for no reason, seemingly. I didn’t understand them. It was difficult to look around at my peers and not wonder why, why weren’t they aware of the paradox of life? They were smiling and laughing, flirting with each other, playing Magic The Gathering and getting drunk. I was sitting on the other side of the lunchroom having an existential crisis. But I didn’t say anything.
I didn’t reveal the truth
I figured out that life had no meaning, but I didn’t tell anyone. I kept that to myself. I may have hinted at it. But I didn’t directly state it. I asked my mom if she was afraid of dying. She said she wasn’t going to die for a long time so she wasn’t worried about it and I should be less concerned about it since I was only 15. I didn’t believe in myself because I was anxious, skinny, freckled, awkward teen. But the other people around me in high school thought I was elitist and that I was better than them. In reality, I had little self-worth. I thought I was mostly worthless, in fact, and all I wanted was for someone to love me. I searched hard for that to happen. I tried to find a person who could see me. And I did, I saw him. He listened, and he loved me, and it was wonderful. I thought life had meaning. I found love, and surely love the meaning to life. But then my relationship ended, because I couldn’t get self -worth or confidence from another human being. I could only find those things within myself, and I didn’t have them. So life was meaningless again.
In therapy, as a teenager, I asked my therapist what the meaning of life was, and she turned the question back around at me. “What do you think the meaning of life is?” Her question in response to my question made me angry. She was supposed to have the answers not ask me questions. I was frustrated by her self-righteous attitude and internally rolled my eyes. She was the adult in the room, and I needed answers. Some types of therapy target identity and existentialism that I could have benefited from, but I was in psychoanalytic treatment. Instead of finding out what life went, I talked incessantly about myself and how I was depressed and anxious. Thinking back on it, it makes sense that I would feel depressed upon realizing that life was meaningless. Who wouldn’t feel sad about that?
When I discovered philosophy in high school, I was in love. Finally, there was something that satiated my need for meaning. I read Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. It’s a fictionalized tale about a little girl who goes into an alternate universe to learn philosophy. It’s fascinating, and I was enthralled with the subject. I knew what I wanted to study in college. At Ithaca College, I read What Does it All Mean By Thomas Nagel in my introduction to Philosophy class with Professor Michael Mckenna. I sat at my desk in class enraptured by a subject that kept me on this earth. Philosophy showed me that life might have an inherent meaning or that at least people were searching for it.
Life is meaningless or is it?
After studying Descartes, Kant and Thomas Aquinas I came to the same conclusion: life had no intrinsic meaning. At first, I was depressed about this. If life was meaningless, why was I alive? It still didn’t make sense to me. I thought about this long and hard and I realized something: it’s okay. Life doesn’t have to mean something objectively, because that makes life more powerful. If life has no meaning, we can do something revolutionary. We can create life’s meaning, and life doesn’t mean the same thing to you as it does to me. I value finding true love, raising my children to be good humans, growing and learning to manage my emotional health, loving my family and making and maintaining friendships. Your life doesn’t have to mean that at all because your life is not mine. So, what does your life mean?