I feel comfortable arguing that if you’re reading this, you have suffered in some way, shape, or form at some point in your life. I feel comfortable making this statement because suffering plays an inevitable role in the life of every single human being that has ever walked this earth. We all suffer. We will suffer in a million ways throughout our lifetimes, and many of us will never try to appreciate it.
I say it’s about time we start.
When I was entering the Honors Program at Central Michigan University as a freshman in 2013, I was asked to read a book by Viktor E. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist who devoted his life to helping people make meaning of their suffering. In Man’s Search For Meaning, Frankl explains how he found the strength to survive Auschwitz. In Part II of the book, Frankl discusses the meaning of suffering. He explains it as follows:
We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation – just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer – we are challenged to change ourselves.
Too often, we forget what Frankl says we must never forget. Too often, we fall into the clutches of pessimism and negativity. Too often, we do not view suffering as an opportunity to unlock our “uniquely human potential.”
I am perhaps one of the worst culprits of this. At least as of late. When I was growing up, I used to see my suffering as an opportunity for growth. When I talked about the things that hurt, I talked about them with the bittersweet passion they deserved. I never failed to acknowledge how much they hurt, but I also never failed to recognize how these trials and tribulations made me a stronger and better person. I never failed to acknowledge that they made me a more compassionate, empathetic, and appreciative individual. In other words, I never failed to “transform personal tragedy into a triumph.”
However, I think somewhere along the line, when all our suffering adds up, we grow tired and weary. For me, I became exhausted trying to make meaning out of my suffering. I became furious with suffering. I asked, why me? Why more?
You see, I believe as human beings, we have a tipping point for suffering. We can only handle so much before we get tired of it. I believe this tipping point is relative. Each individual experiences it differently.
For me, my tipping point was after my psychiatrist failed to listen to my cry for help after being prescribed medication that increased suicidal behavior and decreased my ability to feel human. My tipping point came after countless other experiences of pain and hurt. It came after receiving a phone call from my dad telling me that my dog had been hit by a car, and that he was in too much pain to make it. Less than a year before that phone call, I received a phone call from my mother telling me my grandfather was in hospice, and that he didn’t have long. It came after that. A year before that I was struggling through my first months at college away from my family. A year before that I was laid up for two months recovering from ACL surgery. Three months before that I was getting my heart broken. Again. Six months before that I was coming home to my family waiting at the basement door to tell me my uncle committed suicide. Two weeks before that I was finding out my teammate’s father and my middle school coach passed away. Two years before that I was being held by my dad as he told me my aunt was in a coma after her motorcycle accident. A year before that I was processing my own identity, and was terrified to come out. You see a pattern here.
I failed to acknowledge my tipping point as a tipping point because I expected some other experience would have broken me first.
My point for retelling this story yet again (sorry for people who read my blog on a regular basis) is this: our tipping points make more sense when we consider what led up to them. Our tipping points may not be the most traumatic experience our life has offered, but it may be the one that finally makes us question, what the hell do you have in store for me next?
Our tipping points, if left unacknowledged, can create a chain of events that leads solely into more suffering. We become engulfed in the water that surrounds us. We drown without making any efforts to find the surface. Once we have reached our tipping point, some of us enter into a relenting state of negativity. We stop trying to make meaning of our suffering. We stop trying to find the beacon of light in the dark. We become hopeless, scared, bitter, and often, we feel alone.
I left my tipping point unacknowledged. I never noticed the shift in my behavior. I became surrounded in hopelessness. I let suffering become my new best friend. I couldn’t shake the pessimism, because I could no longer find meaning in my suffering.
I am writing this because today, I remembered what it was like to see beauty in unexpected places. I am writing this because today, I remembered that I am by nature an optimistic person. I am by nature a romantic who looks at the snow and sees a world that knows how to endure when the deck is stacked against it, rather than a world that is bitterly cold and dark. I realized that what I miss most about who I was before I reached my tipping point is my desire to find beauty in the pain, my hope to be a light in the dark, and my desperate aching for love to win in this world.
I am writing this today, because today I pledge to be that person again. I want to look at the world with love in my heart. I want to see the people who hurt me, and still offer them the love and respect they deserve. I don’t want to be bitter. I want to remember what it’s like to let go. I want to forgive and I want to be forgiven. I want to remember what it’s like to open my heart back up to the people who hurt me. To love unconditionally and unrelentlessly no matter how much suffering another person, place, or thing may have caused. To do so cautiously, but at the end of the day, to do so. I want to remember that every living creature is deserving of my respect until they prove me otherwise. After they prove me otherwise, I want to remember what it’s like to offer my love and respect anyway, because we are all connected by our humanity and capability for change. I want other people to remember this when they think of me: that I am human, that I am capable of change, and that I am destined to make mistakes.
I am writing this today, because today I want to find meaning in the past year of bullshit. Today I am sick of being the person who was spared from death only to slowly die inside anyway. Fuck it. I’m done tucking misery into bed with me every night. I have overcome far too much to spend the rest of my life withering away because I can’t find a purpose to all this. Today, I start my search to find the purpose in all this. It will be long, and it will be grueling, and it won’t make sense at times, but it will be the most important thing I will ever do in my life.
In April of this year I lost my will to live. I can’t honestly say I found it again until today. I have been without optimism, without hope, and without a purpose for the past 8 months, and I refuse to live without them any longer. I refuse to walk around as a shell of the human being I once was. I refuse to believe that the Randi I spent 20 years of life building died last April. I refuse to believe that I am done building the person I want to be.
Today I pledge to find myself again, to find my purpose again; and it all starts with finding a meaning to all the hopeless moments I have been living in. It all starts with turning my “personal tragedy to triumph,” and I ask you to do the same.
I ask you to take some time to think about the suffering in your life. If you are suffering right now, I ask you to try and find some meaning in it. If you are experiencing your tipping point, I ask that you acknowledge it. I ask that you remember you found meaning in your pain and hurt once. You can do it again. If you are suffering, be it your tipping point or not, I ask that you reach out. To me. To your family. To your friends. To a professor. To a counselor.
I believe that the easiest way to find meaning in our suffering is to not try and do it alone.
I ask that if someone reaches out to you, you don’t expect that you can fix their problems or make their suffering cease, but rather that you simply act as a lighthouse on a stormy night. Offer them a safe harbor as they weather the storm. Show them love and kindness. Don’t ask for thanks. Don’t ask to be acknowledged for lighting a match for them as they struggled through the dark. Know in your heart that by being there for them, you may have helped them find the strength they needed to find meaning in all the pain surrounding them.
Most importantly, I ask that we stop acting as though suffering isn’t a natural ingredient in the recipe of human existence. We all suffer. We all know pain. Acknowledging our negative experiences in life doesn’t detract from the positive ones. In fact, I believe acknowledging the bad only makes the good twice as sweet. Acknowledging our pain only makes us appreciate the joyous, happy, and incredible moments a little bit more when we have them.
I ask that we stop encouraging the ideology that ONLY pain and suffering are fleeting. Everything is fleeting, happiness is not above this. We can’t keep teaching people to live their lives with the expectation that they can be happy all the time. We need to start lending a hand to one another in the dark, rather than trying to pretend that darkness isn’t natural.
I ask that we take a second to acknowledge our full existence:
Look at what we have accomplished. Look at what we have overcome. Look at all the incredible things we have become. Look at all the room for growth we have to look forward to.
We have to wear our experiences for the rest of our lives. We might as well be able to look at the shitty ones and say, “Hey, it’s not my favorite, in fact it kicked my ass, it tore me down, and I might have even lost myself a little after it. But I took it and made it into something meaningful, and because of that it’s beautiful.”
I ask that we remember there is beauty in everything. There is beauty in loss and grief and endings and heartbreaks. It exists in our darkest nights and our brightest days. It exists in our anger and our sadness and our happiness and our fear. It exists in all we do and everyone we meet, and it is beautiful because it is uniquely ours.
So search for beauty. Chase after meaning. Look for them in everything you do, because finding them in the bad is much easier when you’ve made a habit of looking for them in the good.
I hope you find meaning in your suffering. I hope you turn your tragedies into triumph. I hope you come to find that in some ways, “Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning” (Frankl).
Keep on living this experience that is uniquely yours. Embrace it for all it is.