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The Autobiography of Russell
Life from a different perspective
Identity Crisis (Part 1): Morbidity & Death
To anyone I've talked to within the last month or so, and not explicitly mentioned it, probably doesn't realize I'm going through something of a identity crisis. It's sort of like a midlife crisis, where you examine what you've done, where you are, and where you want to go, and see how you measure up, but I'm technically not at the midlife point of my life and this probably won't result in anything negative or too drastic. Maybe.

My question of identity revolves around multiple aspects of my life. Sexual, financial, professional, life goals, death, and possibly others. Each one could end up being several paragraphs long so I'm not going to try to shove them all into one entry. This is just the topic starter, and in a way the most depressing of them all.

There has also been a lot of morbid trends in my life recently that have further affected my mood. Two of my normal sources of humor, web comics, have turned extremely violent, morbid, and with very dark humor (if any). My niece, who has had major health problems most of her life, is "not doing well" (I'm the last to find out these things, and often with little or no detail). There have been a number of celebrity/etc deaths that get posted to Facebook, LiveJournal, etc. To top it off a huge percentage of things posted into my news feed on Facebook are also morbid, largely to do with one person's struggle with MS (I understand it's hard for you, and that it consumes a huge portion of your life, but you post so much, and almost all of it is about MS or politics, or both; it's depressing. Just because it's painful and depressing for you doesn't mean it should be depressing for everyone else as well, otherwise everyone is going to be too consumed with depression to get anything done).

Today I called my brother to inquire about our niece's condition. He actually didn't know much more than I did, and in fact had even more morbid news (though, thankfully, not about him). Maybe 5-10 minutes after I got off the phone with him my oldest sister called, the mother of the niece with the health problems. I was on the phone with her for over an hour, and maybe 20 minutes into the call I broke down. I got choked up, cried a bit, and explained some of my thoughts on life, death, and the various things going on that I'm questioning now. It was during this I made one realization: That as long as I can use my skills to improve someones quality of life then I want to live. If that means programming on education systems, or disaster recovery systems, or whatever can contribute to making the world a better place then I want to live.

I still have to come to terms with death, though. I have been at peace with it for a long time, but something has brought it back up and left me disturbed. When I think about death, how I'll feel about it, and realize that that's the big kicker: once I'm dead I won't feel about it, and that frightens me. It frightens me to realize that I'll stop thinking. How do I know I'm not already dead and everything is just in my head, so to speak. I still wish for voluntary immortality, but I need to accept it's probably not happening within my lifetime given the way our political environment and science and medical advancements are going. Instead I need to kindle an enthusiasm for life as much as possible. There's nothing wrong with being realistic, or facing facts, but whenever possible I want to put energy into the things I do, and not do them just because. I want to enjoy them, to revel in the novelty of whatever I'm doing. I don't want a 9-to-5 desk job where I mentally checkout and do things on automation. I want to think as much as possible about everything I can while I can, and not regret anything. Anything could happen tomorrow.

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Current Mood: drained drained

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mcfnord From: mcfnord Date: June 20th, 2012 09:10 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm sure you were alive when you wrote this, and you live on in your deeds. Do live it up.
zimzat From: zimzat Date: June 20th, 2012 09:17 am (UTC) (Link)
I'll probably be one of the many nameless people that live and die without even a footnote in history. But I'm going to try to at least enjoy it, and maybe along the way someone will remember me and pass on something good I did for them. Pay it forward, as the movie goes.
mcfnord From: mcfnord Date: June 20th, 2012 09:18 am (UTC) (Link)
well, what's history? everyone has a history.
zimzat From: zimzat Date: June 20th, 2012 09:22 am (UTC) (Link)
Everyone has a history, of course, but once they're gone it may as well not have happened unless they've made an impact on someone else who still lives.
sisyphus238 From: sisyphus238 Date: June 20th, 2012 01:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
There's nothing wrong, and it can actually be quite rewarding (though that's not really the right word for it) to live anonymously in the world; even a 9-to-5 job can be worked with joy and grace if the 'right' attitude is in place.
Unfortunately, for most of us, our egos have led us to believe that there must be something permanent, something we can hold on to, and that leads us down a road of constant, albeit, perhaps, low grade anxiety and all kinds of futile activity.
legolastn From: legolastn Date: June 20th, 2012 03:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well said.
mai_neh From: mai_neh Date: June 20th, 2012 04:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree with this. Sometimes when I start feeling overly important I remind myself that I'm no more important than the mosquito I slapped yesterday while it was trying to bite my ankle. This is one reason I've allowed my nickname "Bug" to stick over the past 30 years. Because that's all I am. Something big could slap me anytime, for any reason or no reason, and then Game Over.

On the other hand, even without trying, every action we take in our lives will reverberate down through eternity via the unbroken chains of cause and effect. Even if such effects are completely anonymous. So, I think acting mindfully and responsibly is important, even if nobody will remember this Bug 1000 (or 100) years from now. To me, the important thing is not to be remembered, but to act well while you can.
zimzat From: zimzat Date: June 22nd, 2012 02:46 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't think any of us are irreplaceable. That's where I get my mindset of just moving on after things happen. On the other hand while I'm here I want to do something that makes a difference to influence the world in a way that perpetuates my ideals, or at least improves the lives of people. I don't have to know how or who I've affected, but currently it feels like I'm not even trying to make a positive impact, and that's what bothers me. In some ways my seriousness turns people off and leaves a negative impact. Like you said, our actions reverberate down through eternity and I shouldn't be so flippant or mindless about what I'm doing.
zimzat From: zimzat Date: June 22nd, 2012 02:39 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't need to be the President of the United States (although I wouldn't turn it down and do occasionally fantasize what I would do if I were and what it would take to make happen), the next Linus Torvalds, or the next person that changes our understanding of the physics of the universe, but I want what I do to make a positive difference. What I did several years ago for my first job was the complete antithesis of that: I helped create software that ripped people off (with their eyes wide open, or they were just stupid). What I do today isn't really negative, nor is it really positive.
legolastn From: legolastn Date: June 20th, 2012 03:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Just dropping in a couple of observations that might make you feel less alone in this:

A crisis at around 25-30 is a common phenomenon in contemporary society. I've heard some people call it a "quarterlife" crisis. (Of course, there's also evidence people are having "midlife" crises earlier as well - 35-45. Uhoh.) I quit med school during this period, which was one manifestation of my own quarterlife crisis.

I think everyone with any kind of life of the mind struggles with coming to terms with death, at least now and again. Existential crisis and all that. I've certainly had what I refer to as my "dark nights of the soul."
zimzat From: zimzat Date: June 22nd, 2012 02:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Although I had figured I can't be the only one who has gone through something like this before, it's good to know I know someone who has gone through something like this.

I'm not sure what's going to become of this because I don't know what my options are. I don't feel a calling toward anything like I used to with programming. I used to think about writing, but my muse is dead and has been for a long time. I ruled out anything actually dependent on math a really long time ago. I have no interest in memorizing specifics or analyzing motives regarding history. Psychology was interesting, and still kind of is, but that would be primarily about memorizing the names for concepts. I've lost so much potential of who I once was, and who I am now is limited and getting more so.

Oh well, I'll figure something out eventually. Just gotta give it more time and more thought.
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zimzat From: zimzat Date: June 22nd, 2012 02:57 am (UTC) (Link)
I had a similar long-term altering experience, although it was when I was ~12 and it caused me to always reach for logic when thinking or making decisions. In some ways it has helped me go far in life already, but in others it has stunted me. Sort of a trade-off, I guess.
From: anarchomo Date: June 20th, 2012 09:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
My quarterlife crisis led to me coming out, and to me getting involved in grassroots politics. People come out the other side, changed for the better. Just gotta let the old things fall away, mourn their loss, and make a sheltered little greenhouse for the new ones to grow in.
zimzat From: zimzat Date: June 22nd, 2012 03:01 am (UTC) (Link)

I had little doubt I would, oh, start using drugs and buy expensive cars I can't afford. My morals are too hard-coded in me for that when there's no physical torture involved. But the first things mentioned on the wikipedia article was "usually involves detrimental behavior such as ..." etc. :-D

Thanks for the advice, though. I'll try to keep it in mind as I work through things.
ncbarnard From: ncbarnard Date: June 21st, 2012 04:12 am (UTC) (Link)
I echo legolastn's and anarchomo's thoughts. I moved out to Seattle on a dream when I was 25. A 26 year old friend of mine who was working toward her Ph.D. in Sociology recently decided to drop out of grad school an go do something else.

I really do understand the urge to help folks, although I'm not quite sure my professional skills line up well with that. Just today I was thinking how wonderful it'd be if I had $1k or $10k to give out in $10 or $20 increments to folks on the streets in Seattle. It'd do a little to ease their suffering. However, it'd also be a selfish act, because part of doing that is to make myself feel better.

I'm reminded of two women I knew in Northern Kentucky. One served food at a Bob Evans and the other drove a public bus. Both chose to embrace their job and life with the most positive outlook possible, and my day was always brightened when I ran into them.
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