Friday, April 4, 2008

The Search for Meaning (Part 2)

I first read Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning, more than 38 years ago when I was suffering a depression in college. I felt that someone who had survived the Holocaust, and could develop a school of psychotherapy dealing with finding meaning in one's life, must have something to say that would help me.

At the time, what impressed me was that Frankl was able to live such a fruitful life, and help so many people--despite losing his entire family (only his sister survived) in concentration camps. But I didn't really see what logotherapy could teach me.

According to Frankl's book, we can discover meaning in three ways: 1. by creating a work or doing a deed; 2. by experiencing something or encountering someone; and 3. by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

He writes that the first point, which is about accomplishment or achievement is obvious. The second, whether it is experiencing goodness, truth, beauty, nature (or something else)--or loving another human being, enables a person to actualize his own potentialities.

The third, which was the most confusing years ago, is explained this way: "We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a human achievement."

Although I have read this book at least three or four other times during various stages of my life, it wasn't until today that I suddenly thought, "Viktor Frankl is right about this, and it applies to everyone who's bipolar."

While I'm not suggesting that being bipolar is hopeless, what I am saying is that our ability to speak out about this condition (bear witness to it), and to transform our illness by writing about it and helping others, is truly an achievement. And when I look at the passage I quoted yesterday, it makes even more sense to me.
"One should not search for an abstract mission in life. Everyone has his (or her) own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone's task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it."
As I read that quote, again and again, I realized that I needn't feel bad about all my suffering. I needn't feel that if only things had been different--if the medication had been better or the doctors more competent--I would have lived a more productive life.

Rather, I can say that suffering from bipolar depression and surviving more than 120 depressive episodes is my unique mission. For whatever the reason, I had to spend 40 years of my life "struggling" with this illness. But, as I approach my 58th birthday on Sunday, perhaps I don't have to "struggle" any longer.

Despite how "lost" I sometimes feel during a depressive episode, the truth is that I know a lot about coping with depression. In the last ten years, I've learned a lot about wellness. It's finally time to implement what I've learned as a cohesive plan and practice it on a daily basis. If anyone has the self-discipline and will to "overcome" bipolar depression, it's me.

And perhaps it's time to feel proud of what I've accomplished rather than sad because of my losses, or angry because of a litany of things (many of which I've expressed in this blog). First and foremost, I am a Survivor, and always have been. As I approach this birthday, it truly is time to let go of the past and delight in the future.

To my friends and long-term readers, I want to thank you for spending the last year with me. Since February 2007, I written 315 posts. I feel blessed to have received so much support from so many. As we move forward, I hope that we'll all begin feeling a renewed sense of hope and purpose!


Marissa said...

"And perhaps it's time to feel proud of what I've accomplished rather than sad because of my losses, or angry because of a litany of things (many of which I've expressed in this blog)."

That's an outlook I need to draw upon. Happy Birthday!

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

It's probably a good idea for all of us. Maybe you'll figure this out sooner than I have.


Paula Joy said...

I've been reading your blog and you have such a wealth of information that it almost overwelms me!!! I was just diagnosed in Dec, so I have SO much to learn and I am just at the beginning stages of working through the feelings of such a diagnosis. I take comfort in your blog, knowing there are people, like you, who do know a lot, and who have a lot more answers than I do. So, thank you for sharing what you do. I wish I had time to just sit down and read it all, but that would take a year, I'm sure!! Although, I'm sure I could find some answers to my messed up mind right now!!!
I hope you have a great birthday weekend. Thanks for sharing your knowledge so people like me can find comfort hope in your wise words.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Paula,
Welcome. If you have specific questions that I (or other readers might answer), let me know. You can add them to any post, and I'll try and address them if I know the answer. If not, I might be able to recommend other resources.


my life with bipolar disorder said...

Susan, you are surely a survivor and an inspiration to many of us! I am so encouraged when I first found your blog as I struggled so much over the years, and to know that you have been through even more and yet surviving, gives me much hope and encouragement!

Keep up your good work of sharing your knowledge, experiences and encouragements with us. This is a special calling ;)

And have a most Happy Birthday!

Gianna said...

thanks for this post. Man's Search for Meaning meant a lot to me when I read it but even so I can't say I deeply digested it.

I feel like I'm on the verge of "getting" something about suffering and it's value or at least it's inevitability myself.

I really like the quote about our mission or "concrete assignment." It really made me feel good about some of the stuff brewing in my brain today about where I go next with my withdrawal...I hope to write about it soon and I imagine you will have participated in it's articulation once it comes to that...(I'm hoping tonights sleep will bring it on...and that by days end tomorrow it will be done)

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Nanci,
Thanks so much for your kind words of encouragement. What I believe is unique about this illness is that we spend years trying to figure things out--and in my case, it was mostly by myself--and then, bam, a depression hits, and we feel we are back to zero. We wonder if we have any insight or wisdom to share. But, it certainly makes me feel good to receive comments like yours!


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Gianna,
Given the tough time you're going through, I'm glad that anything I write can provide value. And yet I know that sometimes when I feel I'm learning nothing from the pain and suffering, I'm struck by a life-changing thought or realization!

You certainly deserve a wealth of those types of thoughts, or at least some relief.


marja said...

Hi Susan. I've been away from the blogs so long but am glad to come back and read this inspiring post. I've read Frankl's book as well - also a long time ago. I can see now that some of the stuff he talks about I've learned through my experiences in the past ten years or so.

Your quote from him: "everyone's task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it" makes me realize how important it is to truly do what I feel God made me to do and not give up. That in doing the specific tasks I'm doing I can't be replaced - I'm unique. That's different from the common statement that "everyone can be replaced." isn't it?

And yes, what a great opportunity we have to transform our weaknesses into strengths when we suffer with a disorder like we do, "to transform a personal tragedy into a human achievement."

Glad I came back to visit today, Susan. Sorry I've been away for so long.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Thanks Marja,
I, too, haven't been reading many other blogs these days. And now my desktop and laptop computers both crashed in one day. I still have my husband's computer to use, but it's definitely a handicap. I'll try to have both fixed next week.


JayPeeFreely said...

Happy Birthday Susan! (I knew there was a are an Aries...and that has been a very good sign for me and friendships! (My mother's b-day was march 27th...)

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear JayPeeFreely,
Thanks so much! I guess it's all in the stars!


bart said...

hallo susan, i arrived here via my life with bipolar disorder and i'm impressed by what i read here... i've been doing battle with various disorders since childhood, have been treated for addiction issues recently and now, after 48 years begin to understand the basis of my "problems" and how i should be dealing with them through therapy, improved social interaction, introspection and meditation

thank you for an inspiring, motivational post... i'm impressed by the quality of your blog and will be returning more often...

keep well...

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it. And welcome!