Finding meaning and purpose in our pain and suffering
Life is ever evolving so it is important to remember that the storms in our lives do not always last forever. When I developed dystonia in 2001, I lost everything I was doing with my life. I could barely function from the pain and severe involuntary muscle contractions, not to mention years of anxiety and depression leading to morbid obesity, and well, pretty close to wanting to end it all.
After about 5 years, I couldn’t take it anymore so instead of giving up, I learned as much as I could about my health condition and devoted my life to being as healthy as possible. I still have pain issues and other problems associated with dystonia, but I am far better than I once was.
Since then, I have lost 150 pounds, became a certified professional life coach, and authored a book that was recognized all over the world, and now writing a second book that will be published by the end of the year. I have been on international radio shows and podcasts and featured in various pain magazines. I have also been asked to speak at national conventions. I have achieved other things as well, but the point is that I went from literally living on the floor rolling around in pain for years wanting to die, to someone who has made a new life for himself. It is far from the same life I had before dystonia, but it is still a life filled with meaning and purpose.
It is very rare for me to talk about myself like this because it makes me uncomfortable. I am only sharing these accomplishments to illustrate the point that it doesn’t matter how deep our despair. We can always find a way out if we look for opportunities to turn our mess into a message, for ourselves and for others.
I believe the greatest opportunities in life are available to us when we are going through our darkest hours. We experience a wide range of emotions and feel at a crossroads. We feel lost. We can choose to let it take us down or we can look at this “in limbo” state as the starting point to find new direction.
Opportunities exist in everything if you we choose to look for it. Granted, the opportunities, or silver lining, can often be hard to find when we are going through tough times, but it exists. If we change our thinking around a little, the good fortune will reveal itself.
I had to get lost before I could find myself. I had to lose all purpose in life to find my purpose, which I now know is to continue my personal growth and to teach and help others the best I can. I believe this is the purpose for all of us and we all do it in our own unique ways. I just needed the gift of substantial adversity to show me my way.
As Napoleon Hill wrote in Think and Grow Rich, “one of the tricks of opportunity is that it has a sly habit of slipping in by the back door, and often it comes disguised in the form of misfortune or temporary defeat. Perhaps this is why so many fail to recognize opportunity.”
As much as your challenges in life have taken away parts of you, how often do you acknowledge how it has helped you grow as a person? How about the things it has taught you about yourself and others; how you have had doors close and others open that would have never otherwise been opened; met people and grown in ways you never would have otherwise? Instead of focusing on all the things you can no longer do or what has been lost, how often do you take time to appreciate all you have and can do?
While we most certainly need to vent at times (and I do and it feels good when I need to), we need to spend more time answering these questions and think more about how adversity has changed, or can change, our lives in positive ways. I am not at all saying, “oh, just be positive” in a passing, matter of fact kind of way. I am saying it with first-hand experience and knowledge about how damn hard it is to be in the pits of hell and how changing our thinking can make life much easier on ourselves, even if we are in that mindset for just one minute a day. Just one minute a day of being open to the possibility that there is meaning in our pain and suffering.
We can all spend one minute a day in this place, and I promise you that the time will increase the more you practice. I am not saying it is easy. It requires us to truly look deep inside to find those things. This is one of the gifts of adversity. It forces us to become mentally and physically tough. It forces us to look within and grow.
Some people are not at this point yet where they can look at adversity from this perspective, and that is okay! There was a time I would never have been able to even conceive of anything positive about my struggles in life. In time, my mindset has changed. While I have lost certain things in my life, as we all have, I have also gained many things.
I believe we are far luckier in so many ways than people who never lived with great adversity. The things we endure make us stronger and help us gain new appreciation and wiser perspectives about things. BUT, we have to be open to learning during these tough situations. Focusing on how to peacefully cohabitate with your challenge/adversity versus angrily listing all the ways it has ruined your life, is the way to find peace and joy.
We can always rebuild no matter how much things have fallen apart. The pieces may not go where they once did, but that is okay. We have to trust that it is okay. Things may not be how you want them to be, but maybe this is where the pieces are supposed to be. To be happy, we must make adjustments and find new things in our lives that fit in with the new us. This is how we effectively adapt to anything in life. Everything in life is determined by how we think about things so if we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change. Lastly, we have to stop saying life shouldn’t be this way or that way; it should be this way, because it is this way! We have to stop resisting what is, move forward, and make great things happen.
Don’t start your day with broken pieces of yesterday. Today is a new day to start fresh. Every day is another chance to change your life. Wake up, say thank you for the opportunities of the day, and take that first step out of bed. Then let the rest of your day fall into place.
What seems nasty, painful, or evil can become a source of beauty, joy, and strength if faced with an open mind.
Every moment is golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.
– Henry Miller –
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, Patient Worthy, and The Wellness Universe. 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.