Turning suffering upside down
Having lived for over 20 years with chronic pain and persistent involuntary muscle contractions from dystonia, a neurological movement disorder, I have experienced a lot of suffering. If you have read my books and articles, you know that I am actually not a big fan of the word “suffering.” For the most part, I believe that suffering is a mindset based on how we perceive life events, but it gets much deeper than that which I don’t have the room for in this article. My books share much more on this subject (Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey and Beyond Pain and Suffering: Adapting to Adversity and Life Challenges).
So, while I do not like the word suffering all that much unless used in the proper context, almost half of my first 20 years with dystonia was intense suffering, and I was my worst enemy by feeding into it, rather than looking for opportunities to make the best life I could for myself. It wasn’t until the second 10 years of my ongoing journey did I realize that I had to experience all that I did to get to where I am now with a more positive attitude and approach to life…especially the tough stuff!! I had to learn to be kind and gentle with my emotional healing process as I worked to wrap my head around the dramatic life change that took place when dystonia entered my life in 2001.
For me, it is not so much about accepting hardship or resigning myself to it. Rather, it is a matter of agreeing to work with it. To decide to make the most of it. To see hardship as an opportunity, not an obstacle. This allows me to see options, and this remains my key to achieving and maintaining good health and joy in my life.
Happiness is not the absence of problems, but the ability to deal with them. If you are struggling with something, it doesn’t mean you’re failing. Almost every great success requires some kind of worthy struggle to get there. Be grateful when tough things happen because you plan to use the experience for good; for personal growth and/or teaching others, be it your children, family, or friends, sometimes just by modeling strong, positive, virtuous behaviors.
Tough things in life prepare us for greater things. They also help us much better appreciate all that we may take for granted in our lives. We gain greater perspective when the chips are down. When life is easy, we rarely learn or grow. We are not put in a position to adapt, so we can lose perspective about what is most important and what to appreciate about life.
Most suffering comes from expectation. Most of us have a blueprint for how life should be and when it isn’t how we planned, it can cause sadness and even depression. We must understand that things happen that we will not always understand, but maybe we’re not supposed to understand everything. Maybe we’re supposed to learn to let go, accept it, trust and have faith that everything will work out (which it almost always does), and let it happen without resistance. Resistance to any adverse circumstance increases its power over us.
Suffering also comes from wanting the world or people or things to be different than they are. It’s okay to want things, but to need something different than it is or can be creates pain and suffering. Instead, love people and things for who and what they are. Not for who and what you want them to be.
We often learn the hard way that our world is ruled by external factors. We don’t always get what we feel is rightfully ours, even if we’ve earned it. Not everything is as clean and straightforward as we plan for in our minds. Psychologically, we must prepare ourselves for this fact. It is far better to prepare for all the ups and downs rather than be blindsided or caught off guard. Realistically, a pleasant surprise is a lot better than an unpleasant one. We are always prepared when things go right. It is when things go wrong that we are usually not ready.
This being said, be careful about getting caught up in always preparing for the worst. This is not exactly what is meant by prepare. It means being honest that life is difficult and doesn’t always go our way. Be a realist and don’t look back in despair. Instead, look forward and prepare.
Life can unexpectedly bounce us around like a pinball machine. There is no way around this. Accepting this reality is the first step. If we resist, we do not adapt. When we flow with life, we can find peace and stillness. In this peace and stillness, we give ourselves a break from the blaring noise of the world around us, which gives us space to do some critical thinking; something very much needed by all of us. If we are filled with anxiety, stress, anger, or distraction, it is very hard to develop the insights required to solve difficult problems.
We may not be able to control all the things that happen in life or what people say and do to us, but we can decide not to be reduced by them. There is an incredible amount of inner freedom that comes with detaching from the things over which we have little to no control.
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.