THE MEANING OF SUFFERING
Updated: May 22
It’s a trend I’ve been seeing a lot of throughout this period of pandemic and isolation – a rise in social media posts relating to mental health issues, and an overall sentiment of hopelessness.
And maybe some of us question whether we’ll ever see a return to normalcy.
I was lucky, in many ways, to have developed effective coping skills prior to the pandemic. In the years leading up to 2020, I was forced to re-assess the life I had grown accustomed to, and to re-evaluate myself entirely. It’s the kind of dramatic shift in perspective that not many people are required to make… but then again, a decade of addiction and mental illness will have that effect on a person.
And I think, in the end, that any kind of change in perspective is a blessing. It is those shifts in how we see the world, and ourselves, that create the most profound transformations.
It’s understandable that people are struggling. It has been an unprecedented year.
People have lost loved ones.
They’ve lost their jobs.
They’ve been forced to isolate.
They’ve faced financial difficulties.
They’ve experienced health challenges.
They’ve witnessed disheartening news from all over the world.
And so it’s only natural to feel lost, hopeless, and fearful of what lies ahead.
But I firmly believe that through hardship arises our greatest strengths. Through our own struggles we are forced to adapt in surprising ways.
And often, the most despairing of times can lead to the most inspiring stories of growth.
I think the first step is to accept that hardship and struggle play an important role in our lives. As human beings we learn from our experiences with pain and discomfort. That’s evolution, after all… our species has struggled endlessly throughout history, and our adaptation has kept us going.
Life is meant to challenge us, then. And accepting the trials that life throws at us as having some kind of meaning is powerful. It is conducive to healing and growth.
That’s the biggest change that I’ve witnessed in myself – my willingness to accept my own moments of darkness, and to acknowledge that those moments serve a purpose. That maybe, in the grand scheme of things, the pain I might feel and the despair that might sit heavy in my heart, have the potential to lead to something remarkable.
It’s not about hope, despite frequent use of the word in mental health advocacy. I think it’s more about faith… faith in ourselves.
Faith that we have what it takes to turn the tide.
Faith that what brings us down is a powerful reminder to never give up.
Faith that we, alone, are in command of our actions.
They say life is what we make it. Maybe there’s some truth to that…. not in the sense that we should embrace the toxicity of the positivity gurus, who preach that positivity is the cure to all our woes.
But in the sense that we are human beings, and in our moments of fragility there is also great strength. I don’t think there’s a greater show of inner-fortitude than sitting in a moment of complete hopelessness, taking a breath, and reminding ourselves that it’s okay to feel.
It’s more than okay… it’s human.
And it’s necessary.
As Marcel Proust wrote,
“We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.”