When I was driving to a client meeting yesterday morning, I relapsed. All of a sudden I just felt depressed and that sense of existential angst returned.
There wasn’t anything wrong about yesterday. Nothing out of the ordinary happened, but I just got the sense that everything was pointless and that this project would fail and at the end of it I wouldn’t end up being any better off than when I started. I couldn’t get into negative visualization mode (imagining all the ways things could be worse) or find a way to “get outside of myself.”
I’m not sure what causes these mood swings. Perhaps it’s the cold weather, maybe it was the mellow music I was listening to, or maybe my body’s hormones were all out of whack. I’m not sure.
Does this mean my ice baths and Stoic studies aren’t working?
I don’t think so.
William Irvine’s writes in his book, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy,
Thus, Epictetus, after telling his students what they must do to practice Stoicism, went on to tell them what they should do when they failed to follow his advice. He expected, in other words, that novice Stoics would routinely backslide. Along similar lines, Marcus recommends that when our practice falls short of Stoic precepts, we should not become despondent and certainly should not give up our attempts to practice Stoicism; instead, we should return to the attack and realize that if we can do the right thing, Stoically speaking, most of the time, we are doing pretty well for ourselves.
The Stoics expected that they would sometimes fail in being Stoic.
…they realized that because we are mere mortals, some grief is inevitable in the course of a lifetime, as are some fear, some anxiety, some anger, some hatred, some humiliation, and some envy. The goal of the Stoics was therefore not to eliminate grief but to minimize it.
Instead of determining Stoic success by the unrealistic goal of never feeling any sort of negative emotion, perhaps it’s better to measure the frequency of these feelings over time and how quickly you recover from those negative emotions.
If you get mood swings Pre-stoicism every other day and take a full day to recover, and post Soicism you only get them once per week and it merely takes you a few hours to recover, that would be a success.
I’ve only been doing this Stoicism thing for 10 days now and while I haven’t been rigorously tracking the frequency of my mood swings and existential angst, yesterday was the only time I had one during this time.
Last year, I would get waves of depression much more frequently than once per ten days. During some months, it might have been every other day or a few days at a time during comparable circumstances.
Based on my new, admittedly unscientific, tracking of my moods, I’d say I’m doing okay with this whole Stoicism thing.