Saturday, December 30, 2017

48. (Wo)Man's Search for Meaning

I recently read Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning. In the book, Frankl shares his experience in a WWII concentration camp and how he was able to find meaning in that horrifying time. Approaching his days as a psychiatrist observing behavior in the camps, Frankl survived by focusing on his future, and picturing himself giving lectures on logotherapy.

Logotherapy is a line of psychotherapy developed by Frankl that seeks to uncover the meaning of challenging circumstances. Frankl draws on his experience in the camps to illustrate this and he also shares stories from his mental health practice. He gives the example of a man whose wife died. The man is upset about losing his wife but Frankl helps him re-frame the tragedy: his wife dying saved her the pain of experiencing her husband's death since she died first. This helped the man see purpose in his suffering and made his grief easier to bear.

This encouraged me to really assess my own challenges and re-frame them. So much of my life has been spent "pushing through" challenges in ways that fail to recognize the potential meaningful experience it could be to accept and work within challenges rather than trying to negate them. This fighting against has been such a weight on my shoulders. I've felt that unless I can "overcome" challenges, the challenge is meaningless. Frankl has made me think about how the challenge doesn't define the meaning but what does definite it is how I respond--how I create and find meaning working with the challenges rather than against. I hope this is making sense.

This mostly applies to accepting circumstances outside my control and figuring out how to work within that space. I've had so many "light bulb" moments and I truly feel like this book has changed my life. The most challenging circumstance outside of my control that I've faced my entire life is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). So, while reading Man's Search for Meaning, I tried to think of ways I could learn to work with EDS, rather than constantly trying to do things "in spite of" EDS (working against).

Thoughts on Travel
Because of EDS, I'm not able to do much traveling without putting my health at risk. I have wanted to do international social work most of my life and my PhD program focused on that--responding to international trauma (the PhD is a post for another day). I've been fighting for this so hard, not wanting to let it go, but I realized after Frankl's book that I don't have to travel internationally to help others. I can help others in my local community and that is just as important.

This was huge for me. I had so deeply ingrained this idea that to really make a difference and "live life" I had to be "international". When I finally gave myself the space to accept my limitations and let go of this desire that had started to define my self worth, a huge weight lifted. My body won't let me be international and that's ok because I can make a meaningful impact in other ways, here in Iowa. I'm still working on find out out how and I have some leads but, honestly, I'm ok with the not knowing for now.

Thoughts on Home Ownership and Animal Rescue
I am unable to get out on the town much as I'm often left extremely tired or in pain at the end of my workday. The meaning I'm finding in this is that I'm meant to stay in more often than not and work on creating a warm, nurturing environment in my home that becomes my favorite place to be.

One of the most important ways I make a house a home is by filling it with animals. Since I was a child, I've been involved with animal rescue and in November, I stepped up my rescue game by taking in Dinah, an 11 year old puppy mill rescue. Orlando (my first dog) was also a rescue, but he was much younger and came with far fewer challenges. Dinah has run out of options, so she's joining my family and my home full of love to live out her last years in comfort and care.

Another thought regarding dogs is that EDS makes it dangerous for me to participate in most forms of exercise except for walking, swimming, and physical therapy. Having dogs keeps me walking which is so important. It need to get exercise but being in pain so often makes it very difficult to get up move. Having animals means that I will always take them out, regardless of how I'm feeling, and this will basically force me to get my daily exercise.

Thoughts on Children
Because of EDS, I can't have children of my own. I'm re-framing this to mean that I'm meant to help children in other ways. Right now I'm focused on helping kids in my community by serving on the Board of Directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Iowa. My term of service will last three years at which point I will figure out my next form of service.

Thoughts on Limited Physical Activity

Any job that I have must be one at a desk that does not require standing for long hours or heavy lifting of any kind. This makes teaching online, and freelance writing the perfect work for me. Photography works well too because a photoshoot gets me walking and then the edits can be done at home.

I've always been a writer. I've kept a diary since I was seven years old. I've also known I wanted to be a teacher as young as second grade. I picked up photography when I was 11 and didn't have any livestock to show at 4H (so I did baking and photography--both activities I still love and engage in regularly).

It seems that when it comes to making money, I've already found the work that is meaningful and realistic to me.

In closing, it's fascinating to me how much I knew about myself when I was a child, before layers of societal expectations, and insecurities, piled up. I've spent much of my early adulthood peeling back those layers and remembering who I am at my core, when I'm most honest. Stephen Covey calls this a paradigm shift.

I've spent so much time striving to"overcome" my illness in ways that weren't realistic to me. This caused a lot of grief when I didn't succeed. EDS is called chronic for a reason--there is no overcoming. There is no cure. There is no getting better. There is only preventing further decline.

I no longer feel like my life will be a waste if I can't do the things my illness prevents me from doing. There is still so much I can offer the world in my own way, and as Frankl notes

"It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual."

I'll happily chronicle these small adventures here on the blog.

Until next time,