Existential crisis: a time when one questions whether their life has value, and whether that value transcends life itself.

About six weeks ago I contracted a bacterial infection that landed me in the hospital for eight days with another five weeks of serious follow-up. During the early, medically-induced-spacy hours of this trial, I honestly thought I might die. It was for me an existential moment.

I had plans. I had goals. Suddenly, none of them mattered. When I got home from the hospital, nothing mattered. I didn’t have the strength to do those mundane things to which I hadn’t ever given a second thought – laundry, bed-making, even tooth-brushing were impossible chores. I couldn’t focus long enough to read a page, much less a book. I could hardly climb the stairs, much less take a walk. My appetite was gone in the face of heavy doses of medication.

Ironically, right before this illness, I faced a different kind of crisis moment, when the manuscript I had worked on for a year (and a story I had loved for years before that) fell apart in a heap of “not working.” My editor and I decided it had to be shelved. This, too, was existential. What would happen to my career? To my commitment to my publisher? Where would I go next? Was I at the end of my writing life?

I’m happy to say that I’ve returned to about eighty percent of normal, at least physically. Emotionally is another matter. Every decision, now, is made in the recognition of my own mortality and the question of whether what I do is transcendent and adds value, or not.

And even more fortunately, I’m not only on a road to physical recovery, but I’m also at work on a new manuscript about which I’m deeply excited (and Rookskill Castle fans will be happy to know is a companion novel) and which has my editor’s blessing.

That these events, the illness and the writing derailment, coincided added to their weight. And that adds to my consideration of value, and whether I am able to transcend my own existence and create something – or leave something behind – or act in such a manner in every daily encounter – that is meaningful and adds value, even in the smallest of ways.

That’s the question that I’ll ponder every morning I wake up from now on.



12 Responses to “Existential”

  1. Marion

    Sorry to hear about your illness. Prayers that you will regain your strength.

  2. Marlo

    Wow, Janet. Beautiful sentiments, though difficult to live through. I’m not surprised. You’ve been through utter hell, and that the book fell apart at the same time is meaningful. I’m extremely grateful that you’re tough and on the mend, that you’re writing again, and that we have Volcano Dreams to look forward to, too.

    I heard something once that has really stuck with me. “You have to die while you’re alive”–and if you do, and the sooner you face your mortality, the more meaningful and joyful a life you will live. Though events that bring you to that place are very, very hard (and I know this personally), what comes on the other side can be pretty damn great: true purpose and focus, no moments wasted. (As if you waste anyway…) XX

    • Janet

      Aw, Marlo – it has been such a pleasure to work with you on Volcano Dreams! And what a lovely sentiment – and so true. Learning to live well is a great reward.

  3. Linda W.

    Oh my goodness, Janet! What an ordeal! So glad you’re feeling better. You’re in my thoughts and prayers. I’m also glad to know you’re doing a companion novel to The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle!

    • Janet

      Thank you so much, Linda. It’s been a time of deep reflection, that’s for sure. All best to you.

    • Janet

      Peter – so kind of you to think of me – thinking of you as well!! xoxo

  4. Nancy Stone

    Thank you for sharing this, Janet. I’m so sorry about your illness and so happy to hear that you are back on track. Your beautiful closing paragraphs are a great reminder of what matters most in writing and in life. Inspirational.

    • Janet

      Aw, thanks, Kim! I hope to see you in New York!! And congrats on your release!