You may be a little surprised to hear this, but there was a time in my life when I was in a pretty dark, depressed place. I know I seem to have it all together now, but a few years ago, I was quite a different person. I felt like I was just going through the motions of life. I was doing everything I needed to do, and none of my friends even suspected anything was wrong, but I felt empty inside. I am extremely fortunate that after a month or so of going through life as a zombie, my brother insisted that I go see a therapist. After many hours of counseling, soul searching, and meditation, I came to the conclusion that I felt this way because I didn’t think my life had any meaning. I did not see the point of working so hard to be a good person, educate myself, and go to work, when I knew that as my disease progressed my life would only get harder. What was the point? Why didn’t I just sit at home, live off of the government, and do nothing?
As I was coping with this, one day my psychologist said, “Scott, I think there is a book you need to read. Would you be open to that?” Having nothing to lose, and being an avid reader, I agreed to try it. The book was “Man’s Search For Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. This amazing book recounts the author’s experience in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. The author goes even further and analyzes his thoughts and emotions throughout this horrific time in his life. In the end, he comes up with a hypothesis that there are 3 things that can give life meaning. Since I want you to read the book, I am not going to lay out all 3 reasons here (this is a spoiler free zone), but I will discuss the one that had a great impact on me and probably saved my life. This factor that can bring meaning to life is suffering.
Now, I know what you are thinking, “Suffering? How can something as horrible as suffering bring your life meaning?” I initially thought the same thing, but after multiple readings and careful thought, this is what I took from it that changed my life forever. Some people are going to suffer more than others, that is a fact of life. If these people are strong enough to carry their suffering well, and others see them living their lives in spite of this, this will inspire people. By inspiring others to be better people, meaning is given to the life of the person suffering. Frankl says, “Be worthy of your suffering.” This 5 word phrase really struck home with me, and I have adopted it as my own personal credo. By living my life the right way, and being worthy of all of my suffering, I can change the lives of those around me. I can not think of anything more meaningful than helping people live happier, more successful lives.
I still have my days when I wish I didn’t have to be so strong all the time, and that is never going to change. However, on those days where moving hurts so much that I get nauseous from the pain of just getting dressed, on those days that each breath feels like there is a weedwhacker in my chest, on those days where my disease suddenly takes away another part of my life, I have a reason to press on. By living my life the way I want, despite the obstacles I face, I can use my strength to endure this suffering to help others to suffer less. By carrying this suffering not as a martyr, but by merely acknowledging it and living with it, I become worthy of it, which brings value to my life.
Knowing that I have the ability to help those I care about to live without having to face the suffering that I do is something I take great pride in. By having the strength to be worthy of the cross I bare, by getting up every day, by having the will to keep fighting, I can make the world a better place for everyone else. This is a task I do not take lightly, and it is something I draw strength from. With every Roll Models talk, with every workshop I give, with every person I meet, I can turn my suffering into something positive by being worthy of it. Through this transformation from pain into life, I not only give meaning to my existence, but to others as well.