If you’re in the mood for a really tasty existential crisis, I have got the perfect recipe for you. Several years ago I had the biggest craving to indulge in an absolute meltdown, so I whipped up this mouth-watering recipe and put my own special southern quarter-life twist on it. Read on to see my recipe for disaster that ultimately led to a life of freedom, ownership of my identity, and utterly delectable contentedness – all within the brand new world of secular humanism.
You’ll need the following ingredients:
- 1 cup deep investment in a fundamentalist Christian faith
- 1 cup over-analytical mind
- Pinch of same-sex attraction
- 2/3 cup can-do attitude (sub yes-man personality)
- 1 tsp spiritual doubt
- 3 cups self-worth wrapped up in a divine calling to a specific vocation
- 2 sticks perception that you’re a failure
- 5 cups losing everything that you think makes up your identity
First, in a large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup deep investment in a fundamentalist Christian faith and 1 cup over-analytical mind. Don’t be shy; use two heaping cups of each. Add a pinch of same-sex attraction. Stir.
I completed this step in college – yes, college. When you’re supposed to figure out how to use a beer bong, not whether or not you’re… an A-word… [whispers] apostate. Instead of putting my analytical mind to use calculating the exact minute to leave class to get to the pasta line, I used that ripe noggin of mine to interpret every condemning passage in the Bible that could somehow (even loosely) be related to me… and figure out how it precisely related to me. A dog that goes back to eat its own vomit? Well, I did go to a party once and threw up, and then I went back to that house 3 months later to tutor someone in Calculus… oh my God, I’m the dog. (Proverbs 26:11)
Now, don’t get me wrong; I was a happy person and loved college, but there were still patches of distress revolving around my faith that surfaced on and off like an underarm rash that you can’t get rid of.
Oh, and did I mention I got tingly feelings around a girl for the first time? Ugh. Distress.
Next, whisk together 2/3 cup can-do attitude, 1 tsp spiritual doubt, and 3 cups of self-worth wrapped up in a divine calling to a specific vocation.
Next, my first full-time job: teaching high school and coaching two sports. I felt a divine calling from God to be the most hard-working, committed first-year teacher I could possibly be. I stepped into the classroom with no formal education experience, while getting concurrently certified, while dedicating hours to coaching. After all, it wasn’t the principal asking me to take this on; it was God asking me. So of course I said yes! But, I as I became more distressed and overwhelmed, the guilt surrounding spiritual doubt continued.
Rinse and repeat with grad school. With another dash of can-do attitude, I accepted the offer to be a course instructor my first semester instead of just a grader. They asked… so… it was God’s calling for me… right? Between over-committing and questioning my chosen degree and my faith, I was in way over my head. I prayed without ceasing for things to get better. But they never did. God didn’t answer despite my plea and a white-knuckled grip on a Bible with a Southern-Baptist-approved translation: WHY. CAN’T. I. JUST. FIND. GOD’S. PERFECT. WILL. FOR ME?!
Plus: tingly feelings around women again. But that was just Satan, of course.
Finally, melt 2 sticks I’m-a-failure (yes, two!) with 5 cups of losing everything that you ever thought made up your identity, transfer to the bowl, and mix well. Pour into a pan and broil – until it’s completely ruined.
Grad school wasn’t working out, my fundamentalist brand of Christianity wasn’t adding up, and heterosexuality wasn’t quite making sense either. To sum up that year: I quit grad school, fled to South Dakota to find myself (because that’s where everyone does that, right?), had an absolute meltdown, was lovingly coerced into going to therapy, and… lo and behold, I found myself.
Everything I ever thought made up my identity had been stripped away from me: school, “respectable” jobs, a straight-and-narrow 100% attraction to men, and evanjellyfish Jesus. My AWANA badges meant nothing anymore! I felt a little bit like Dory in the giant void of the ocean (minus the short-term memory problems). I was directionless, and in a very deep, dark depression, which I had never experienced before. But something very strange happened once I started attending therapy: I got better.
I rebuilt my identity from the ground up. And it wasn’t based on academic accomplishments, beliefs in invisible deities, sexuality, certainty, or career reputability. I found happiness while stocking shelves overnight at a grocery store. And I was proud to tell people about it. Losing everything that society, friends, family, or I told myself was important was exactly what I needed to find out what really was important to me. Therapy helped me to retrain my brain and form new pathways of thinking. Am I still a neurotic mess sometimes? Absolutely. But I have ownership of my identity, and that’s pretty nice.
Oh, and did I mention I’m with a woman that I get tingly feelings around all the time? And I’m out? Thanks, quarter-life crisis!