The Privilege of Existential Dread

Abbey Ley
4 min readJan 20, 2024
A pineapple rots in Brooklyn

Today I acknowledge the frustration I feel, having received another seemingly AI generated rejection email from one of the many companies I’ve applied to work with. My disheartened sensitivity is valid. Self doubt creeps in but I do my best to squash it and remind myself of just how much I’ve accomplished. I stand in the midst of a pivotal career shift, 17 years into the professional graphic design world. And all I seem to want to do is write write write. So here we are. But I need income and my experience is in visual design, so down that road yet again we turn. It’s not that I don’t enjoy designing. But it doesn’t quite feel like the most important thing I can offer up in this dystopian world. I’ve decided to study journalism courses and check out writing workshops. We’ll see how I can work that into my career. I acknowledge what a massive privilege it is to be in my shoes, or rather, mismatched socks at the moment.

I may be wondering what my next moves will be, but so many fellow humans don’t know when their next meal will be. Don’t know if their family members in Gaza are still alive. Thousands of migrants who have just arrived to New York await permits to work, standing outside in below-freezing temperatures for hours, days. It’s truly a devastating time to be alive, and yet I have so much to be massively grateful for. Multiple truths can co-exist, as I was reminded today listening to the Self Healers Circle community check-in replay while lying in a warm bath, candle and some indica on the tiny table next to the tub.

I was laid off from my low-six-figure paying corporate pharma agency job over 2 months ago now. I was both bummed and relieved. I’m still both bummed and relieved. I had already begun the existential crisis and had felt anxious and deeply morally conflicted creating ads for cosmetic tox and filler brands after having recovered from Bell’s Palsy. That’s paralysis in half of the face, for anyone not familiar. For many, like myself, the condition is temporary and triggered by stress or a virus of sorts. Could mine have been triggered by burnout? I had been dealing with quite intense neck stiffness and pain for some time. I blamed my demanding full-time desk job. Even though I worked mostly remotely. For some as I’ve learned through an online group I joined, Bell’s Palsy stays put for years or even forever. It struck me while on vacation this summer in Palm Springs, California. Amidst triple digit temps, my mouth felt so dry and I just couldn’t seem to quench my thirst. Once again, just as I’d noticed twenty years ago, something felt very off while my lips rubbed together with peppermint balm. Going to urgent care and then the ER in the high desert was not something I’d planned on during our trip, but it could have been far worse. Now I know that it may and likely will reoccur. I am to reduce stress in my life so as not to trigger it. Well, I will sure try.

My lease is up in my duplex Brooklyn condo mid March. Two years back in the city, it will mark. My already quite high (but apparently low for the absolutely bonkers market) rent will go up $100 per month if I choose to renew. Honestly that’s fair and I figured it could be worse as well. Luxurious as the place is, I’ve been unsettled by mutliple gunfire incidents nearby, along with garbage and broken glass everywhere and the lack of places I can let my dog run freely. I reeeally want a backyard. Again, what a privileged place to be. Panic hasn’t even set in, despite my final severance payment arriving in two weeks. That’s because at my core, I know for certain that I’m fine. I will not go homeless. I will not go hungry. But I very well might slip a little deeper into existential dread. How can I avoid it, really? Dissociation has been my coping method lately. Netflix, Masterclass, an online NYU x Rollingstone Modern Journalism course I got for almost half off because I’m (f)unemployed. At least my dread has led to some productive actions? That’s cute.

Things do always work out somehow. Perhaps not in the way we expect them to, which may seem like things not working out. There are so many cliché sayings like, “This too shall pass.” I will figure out a new way or ways to generate income for myself. I resorted to looking at jobs on craigslist the other night, which really only made me feel worse. Of course, I saw a creepy ad for 38–55 yr old “actresses” being sought for a wealthy 59-year-old Manhattan man’s mate. Ugh. I suppose I popped on there out of curiosity, but maybe also to keep myself humble? Let’s be real. I will find my place with a yard and some nature to stare at while I sip my coffee with oat milk and continue to write my troubles away. I honestly just need to do some DECIDING on what it truly is that I want, and work toward those things. I think the perpetual indecision is largely contributing to the feelings of existential dread. But maybe it’s a catalyst… moving me through this patch and to what’s next. I’m sure, just as I’ve been well aware of, it will continue to not be easy. But don’t I know that it could be far, far, FAR worse.

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Abbey Ley

Hello! I'm an art director, motion designer and writer living in Brooklyn, NY.