How I Climbed Out of a Rut
Lingering effects of an existential crisis
Last month, I faced an existential crisis.
If you haven’t read the full story, here’s the TLDR: my growing self-doubt, magnified by external pressure, led me to question whether my life was on the right path.
It culminated in a two-day minor breakdown. I felt overwhelmed and stuck. I was confronting a high-stakes question with no idea how to answer it.
Though I recovered quickly, the effects lingered. I found myself in a slump for weeks after. I’ve had a few lulls in my journey, but this was certainly the most challenging. It was a slow grind to climb out.
Here’s what I learned about ruts:
- They are unavoidable.
- They make you lose sight of reality.
- They get harder to escape the longer you wait.
Ruts are inevitable
Life isn’t a linear path. It’s not an “up and to the right” type of graph. It’s much messier than that. It’s more like two steps forward, one step back.
We all experience this in different ways. Ruts come in all shapes and sizes. Some last for days, others for months. Some are debilitating, others are less consuming.
But one thing remains true: they will happen. Ruts are unavoidable.
Every journey has peaks, valleys and plateaus. There are long lulls followed by bursts of progress. Ask any athlete or businessman; their biggest breakthroughs always follow a period of apparent stagnation.
So, don’t try to avoid them entirely. It’s futile. Instead, learn how to escape quickly when they happen.
Ruts alter your perception of reality
I was shocked by how the existential crisis floored me.
For two days, I was barely functional. I had lost all motivation to get out of bed. I just wanted to crawl under my covers.
It robbed me of all hope. It felt like nothing would ever work out. There was no light at the end of the tunnel.
I became enveloped by the gloom. I lost all sense of time as everything blurred together. In the moment, it seemed like I had always felt this way and would continue to forever.
I worried that it would never end. This is just how my life is going to be from now on, I remember thinking.
Of course, these fears were ultimately irrational. Though it felt like an eternity, the episode only lasted for two days.
In hindsight, it was just a blip.
Now, it’s almost a fever dream. I recall my internal monologue, but I can’t access the emotions that I felt then. The situation appeared so dire in the moment, but I don’t feel anything looking back at it.
This juxtaposition lies at the heart of the issue: ruts alter your perception of reality. You become consumed with emotion and your mind plays tricks on you. This makes things seem much worse than they objectively are.
Internalize this. Next time you’re in this position, retain perspective. Remind yourself that it’s only temporary. This moment will pass, as all things do.
Ruts are black holes
Unfortunately, you can’t simply wait for a slump to pass. It rarely goes away on its own.
In fact, it’s usually the opposite. Ruts are black holes. They suck you in. The longer you wait, the deeper the hole you have to climb out of.
To overcome this inertia, you have to be proactive.
Remember: compounding works both ways. Regression also compounds. Ruts become exponentially more difficult to escape with time. You’re better off taking action early to save effort down the line.
Some actionable steps that helped me:
Taking a break. It’s not going to kill you to take some time for yourself. This gives me the breathing room I needed to unwind and recover. Stella, a fellow reader, sent this reassuring note after my last post: “Life happens naturally even when you are not pushing yourself to the limit.”
Focus on your health. Drink water, go for a sunny stroll, exercise, meditate. Start off with the easy tasks and build yourself up from there. I was surprised by how I instantly felt better after just one minute of any of these.
Use your support network. I’m immensely grateful for all the friends that showed up for me and helped me through it. I got valuable advice, felt less alone in my journey and generally supported by their love.
It’s a slow climb out, but I promise everything will be better soon.
Special thanks to all the readers who reached out: Aakash, Aditi, Akhil, Anqi, Ashutosh, Michael, Naman, Pankaj, Rishi, Stella, Tarun. It means the world to me to have your support.
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P.S: You can find more of my thoughts on Twitter @_suketk.