Embrace the suck of life
Most of us are familiar with the Latin term, carpe diem, which means “seize the day.” This phrase became especially popular in the movie Dead Poets Society with the late Robin Williams, where he quoted Henry David Thoreau and talked about sucking the marrow out of life.
I love this line and way of thinking. However, when you are deeply suffering with anything in life, as I did for years with a life changing, ridiculously painful health condition called dystonia, this means little. During my deepest suffering and feelings of helplessness, in my eyes there was no life left from which to suck the marrow. I lost everything so I had to embrace a new concept, which took me years to understand, a learning journey I am still on. I had to embrace what I call the “suck of life” and use my suffering as a tool to rebuild my life and reduce the suck of it all. This is actually very similar to carpe diem as you will see in upcoming paragraphs.
Before I continue, please forgive me for whomever I offend by using the word suck, my Mom being one of those people (sorry Mom). In my house growing up, we were not allowed to use this word or else we would be in trouble. It was considered as bad as any curse word. However, for the purposes of this article and concept, suck is the best word to use.
So, what does it mean to “embrace the suck of life?” It means acknowledging that life is hard and filled with pitfalls, and not resisting the bad things that happen to us; to not fight that which will only fight back and increase our suffering. It means that tough times are not to be ignored, denied, covered up, or masked with drugs, alcohol, food, poor relationships, and behavior where we deal with the suck of life in an emotionally reactive fashion.
This is something I did NOT do for the first 5 of my ongoing 20 years living with dystonia. I turned to food, alcohol, and isolation to try and hide from my pain. I also had to deal with morbid obesity after gaining 150 pounds from living this lifestyle. I didn’t know back then how to embrace the suck of it all, so I embraced anxiety, depression, and avoidance instead. Thankfully, I was able to get my life back on track and the photos below show my physical transformation. You can read more about the many things I do to manage all of the physical and emotional symptoms in both of my books.
We must roll with the suck of life rather than fight against it. In other words, it is not what happens to us that matters most. It is what we do about it that matters most, which dictates how much we can increase or decrease the sucky parts of life.
For most of my life, everything pretty much came easy for me. When I hit the age of 30 and was stricken with chronic pain from dystonia, everything changed and nothing was easy. In the last 20 years, I have found ways to improve upon my symptoms and am doing much better (I even wrote a book about dystonia that was recognized by the Michael J Fox Foundation and added to their list of suggested resources, as well as a second book that came out this past March), but my life is nothing like it once was. I am not involved in many activities that I love very much or the same social and business circles. My body can’t handle it like it once could. Along with many time-consuming self-care activities, treatments, and therapies I would prefer not do, I have to carefully plan my day so the activities of the day do not cause a reemergence of symptoms.
I could very easily look at my life right now and all of the physical challenges I have and get totally lost in the depressing suck of it all by focusing on all I have lost. If I do this, I will be in a frozen state where I do not see options and opportunities for how to make the most of my life, exactly as it is right now! In order to move on, I have to embrace the suck of this part of my life so I can get past it and make the best version of me I can, right now, in this moment.
I totally understand that this is a process for all of us and happens in our own time, so let it happen. The first step towards this is acknowledging that acceptance is the way to reduce the suck of life. It doesn’t mean giving up or not fighting. It means fighting in a productive way.
Most people I know who do not have the health condition I do, or something similar, too often take for granted the many things they can do that I once found so easy as well and also took for granted. But I am okay with this because we only know what we know, so no one can ever fully relate to me and I can never completely understand what another person is going through either. I just choose to be understanding and compassionate and hope others do the same.If we want to transcend any state of suck, we have to feel it, own it, live it, and face up to it. Click To Tweet
While my life is different now, I have replaced the things I used to do with new things, and experience the same joy that was missing for so long when I got lost in the suck of life and resisted the change in my life that I hated so much (please click here to read an article I wrote about this called, Replacement activities when living with pain). For those who do not have a persistent/chronic health condition, they have their own “suck of life” issues, so no one has it better or worse; we just have different stuff to deal with, so “embracing the suck of life” applies to everyone.
In a wonderful book called, the Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, it teaches us that whatever impedes us can empower us. In the words of Marcus Aurelius, what stands in the way becomes the way. It is an art known as “turning things upside down,” meaning the key to handling suffering and hardship of any kind is the belief that in all of life’s obstacles is an opportunity to practice virtue, patience, courage, humility, resourcefulness, reason, justice, and creativity. When we recognize that something could not have been otherwise, and learn how to accept it with dignity, everything that was once dreadfully painful will lose its power.
If you have not seen the movie, Shawshank Redemption and want to, please do not read this paragraph because I am going to give the story away. The main character, Andy Dufresne, was wrongly accused of murdering his wife and incarcerated. He didn’t fight the incarceration. He embraced the life of a prisoner, without becoming a resigned victim, and in the end, found a way to escape his captives after 19 years of a life sentence. If he fought against the powers that be (which he did once and was put in solitary confinement for two and a half months) and tried to prove his innocence to people who refused to hear his side of the story, his incarceration would have lasted even longer and been riddled with far more painful suffering from the spiteful warden and guards. He chose to “play the game,” so to speak, and was better for it in the end. In a real-world scenario, consider the peaceful nature and perspective of Nelson Mandela who was incarcerated for 27 years. In his efforts to bring peace to his nation, he was quoted as saying, “if you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
I have no doubt that some people will think some or all of what I wrote is a negative perspective. On the contrary, if we do not acknowledge the difficult times in life and find ways to work through them, we deny their existence and don’t look for solutions, which will only increase our suffering. Too often, we resist allowing ourselves to feel things that hurt, which messes with our mind and our identity, and plunges us further into despair. If we want to transcend any state of suck, we have to feel it, own it, live it, and face up to it. Denial of it will worsen it and prolong it. We must embrace it to face it to erase it.Denial of suffering will worsen it and prolong it. We must embrace it to face it to erase it. Click To Tweet
I recognize that some people are not in a place to embrace the suck of life, and that’s okay! When ready, it is important we understand that the way to dig ourselves out of any hole is to first get in the hole. Not deny that we are in the hole, despite seeing darkness all around. We need to allow ourselves to see the darkness, feel it, touch it, and ultimately accept it, so we can grab a shovel and start digging… because it is only when we embrace the suck of life that the things that suck no longer matter. If we learn to use suffering and adversity correctly, it will buy us a ticket to a place that we could not have gotten any other way.
Excerpt from my new book, Beyond Pain and Suffering: Adapting to Adversity and Life Challenges
Tom Seaman is a Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness, and the author of 2 books: Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey (2015) and Beyond Pain and Suffering: Adapting to Adversity and Life Challenges (2021. He is also a motivational speaker, chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, health blogger, volunteer for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) as a support group leader, and is a member and writer for Chronic Illness Bloggers Network, The Mighty, and Patient Worthy. To learn more about Tom, get a copy of his books (also on Amazon), or schedule a free life coaching consult, visit www.tomseamancoaching.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram.