What is the meaning of life? It may come-off like a cliche question, Bill, but I’m living with depression and anxiety – and having a tough time making sense of it all.
Frankl goes on to declare that the search for meaning was absolutely the primary motivation in his life, not a ‘secondary rationalization of instinctual drives.’
Okay, we’re getting close to Christmas and my mind’s all over the place with the “gettin’-ready’s.” So instead of bringing you a brand-spankin’-new article, I decided to tidy-up a piece I wrote two years ago. I’m confident you’ll find it timely (’tis the season) and meaningful. Let’s do it…
Have you ever wondered why you get out of bed to take on another day? I sure have. Think about it for a moment. I mean, we motivate ourselves to “rise and shine” – but why?
Oh, you might say, “To go to work.” To which I’d again ask, “Why?” “So I can eat, keep a roof over my head, and pay the bills.” To which I’d reply, “Well that’s great, but what else can you come up with?”
And then, there may be silence.
Fact is, I believe most people do what they do because, well, that’s what they do. But for many (including moi), that doesn’t cut it. If we can’t manage to come up with even a morsel of meaning in life, living it becomes a dicey proposition.
In the midst of a horribly callin’-it-in “life” several years ago I turned to a book I’d blown-off in the past: Man’s Search For Meaning, by the great 20th Century psychiatrist, theorist, and professor Viktor E. Frankl.
If you haven’t read it, I’d encourage you to do so. Based upon his imprisonment at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, Frankl shares his amazing take on life’s purpose and meaning.
Citing numerous philosophers and writers throughout, this quotation from 19th Century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wonderfully summarizes Frankl’s position…
He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.
As he goes on to discuss the meaning of life Frankl notes, day to day/hour to hour, it differs from person to person. See, he believed it isn’t so much the meaning of life that matters. Rather, it’s about the meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. That said, Frankl proposes that though the meaning of life is always changing, it never ceases to exist.
So how do we find this elusive meaning? Frankl directs us to focus our energy thusly…
- Create a work or do a deed.
- Experience something or encounter someone: He’s referring to things that involve goodness, truth, and beauty within the context of culture and nature. And he suggests this can also be accomplished by experiencing another human being in his or her “very uniqueness – by loving him (her).”
- Gain insight into our attitude toward unavoidable suffering: Frankl writes “In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end. In other words, life’s meaning is an unconditional one, for it even includes the potential meaning of unavoidable suffering.”
Frankl goes on to declare that the search for meaning was absolutely the primary motivation in his life, not a “secondary rationalization of instinctual drives.” I love the way he expressed that.
This is one great read, written by a marvelous human being – one with whom I’d love to be stuck on a desert island. Man’s Search for Meaning spoke so much truth to me – and still does. If ever I’m in the midst of what Frankl calls “The Existential Vacuum,” characterized by chronic emptiness and boredom, his insight and perspective bring me sparks of hope that most always grow into flames.
As we close, consider this observation from Viktor E. Frankl as he reflected upon his Auschwitz imprisonment…
…it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.
“What is the meaning of life?” If you’re living with depression and/or anxiety I’m thinking you frequently inquire. Perhaps especially so at this time of the year.
I encourage you to continue posing the question – and to continue your quest for answers. How much more hopeful and worthwhile life will become.
Many, many, many more Chipur Feelin’ Better articles for the reading.
Bill, this is a WONDERFUL article. You are totally on the mark. Life is all about finding meaning beyond ourselves. Thank you for reiterating this and for point me back to this book. It has been a long time since I’ve read it and I’m pulling it back off the shelf since I KNOW there is so much I loved about it the first time. You always inspire and encourage. Thank you, and Merry Christmas. Patricia
Well, thank you, Patricia. Your contributions are always appreciated. You know, it’s funny – when I read the book the first time I felt an immediate attachment to Frankl. It was – and is – as though he’s a close friend. Hmmm. Hey! Merry Christmas to you, as well.
I just stumbled across this.. I have agoraphobia, or experience it. Have done for years now. I have trouble in highways, across bridges and I’ve never been on an international holiday. Too many people, too much stimulus, too much expectation, lack of control. Bill, you said you suffered with the same condition. Please respond here with some resources for me? I am exposing myself to the fears but they don’t seem to become comfortable or like, “yay, I don’t care about this anymore”. It’s always dread facing it every time.
I have experienced the vestibular feelings you have discussed. Feeling unsteady, or overwhelmed by space, BIG buildings, bridges, vastness etc.
I’d love to gain some of your insights.
Hi Dave! Welcome to Chipur, and I appreciate your participation…
Yeah, this is one tough issue to wrestle with. Over the years, I have had all sorts of difficulty with everything you mentioned. Things were especially hard in my 20s and 30s. I’m 60 now and I don’t endure near the difficulty I once did. I would attribute my improvement to long-term exposure, as you mention. However, my “exposure” was never really implemented within the context of a behavioral therapy model. Actually, my exposure came from continuing to place one foot in front of the other, performing life-necessary tasks, because I knew if I didn’t I wouldn’t stand much of a chance of enjoying any portion of my time on the planet.
You know, it’s curious, Dave. I’ve learned to choose my battles. For example – I no longer have issues with highway travel – again, long-term exposure, whether I knew it or not, connected dots within my skull, convincing me there was no danger. However, medium to large bridges continue to frighten the heck out of me. And I am okay with not (ever) being able to say, “Yay, I don’t care about this anymore.” Fortunately, I don’t reside/commute in an area where I have to deal with them. Now, would I forego a trip because a significant bridge would have to be crossed? No. Would I be cool with crossing said bridge? Uh, no. But that’s just the way it goes.
So, I guess I’m talking acceptance here – in terms of what appear to be realities. In my world, one can’t do everything flawlessly. I’ve learned to live within my emotional/mental limitations – that with which I was endowed when I dropped-in to the world, and the nicks I picked-up along the way. For me, it’s acceptance and management. And it’s amazing how much growth comes along for the ride.
Chipur readers – here’s the piece on the vestibular and spatial orientation Dave may have been referring to: https://chipur.com/agoraphobia-panic-attacks-spatial-orientation-perception-is-everything/
Appreciate your visit and comment…
Finding a sense of purpose when I’m depressed is very difficult. It’s hard to rub two neurons together to even think about what I want to do with my endless day, much less get the energy together to do anything. I can barely find my shoes, and then pick up some clothes from the pile on the floor that I just can’t organize and then try to ‘get some exercise’ out in a wold that’s cold and dangerous and it just feels futile. But if I don’t do it, I know I’ll feel worse. I end up feeling so blocked because I can’t express my creativity, my energy is a bundle of exhaustion and anxiety, I’m in actual pain in my gut and there’s just an icky dreadful feeling that makes it so hard to relax and trust that things will ever get better. I get attacked in my mind by thoughts of failure and despair. I’m constantly asking ‘what’s it all about and what’s the meaning and cause of this dis-ease’. What will help me? I can’t take antidepressants and anti-psychotics make me fat and sickly. I turn to alcohol when it gets too much, when I want to go numb, but I can’t even get a buzz from it and end up feeling even sicker. There is no relief.
I’m going through one of my ‘spells’ now. It gets better as the day wears on, but mornings are horrible. Just ghastly. I just don’t know what to do with myself and everything seems pointless anyway and my energy is so discordant and disorganized and anxious. Why get out of bed just to face a pain-filled existence that I might escape for a while if I can fall asleep, but I know I’ll just have to do it again tomorrow and the day after and on and on. Oh, I feel so much pain for all of us in this empty place. I’m learning to force myself to walk a path of faith, that there’s meaning in this suffering. I’m forcing myself to pull back from that road that leads to hopelessness and defeatism and what’s the use of anything. I have to force myself to acknowledge and let go of thoughts that I don’t want to die, but I can’t live like this. I understand suicide and have attempted it twice when I had non-stop panic attacks and could simply find no relief, no peace except the sweet thought of oblivion from the pain.
I wish I had a hobby I could enjoy and sustain that could take my mind away from these negative thoughts, but I simply can’t produce anything when my mind is so jangled and afraid. I can play the piano when I’m well, but right now I just don’t wanna. I feel I stink at it and I just don’t wanna and I get afraid that that’s my endless fate. Somehow, I’m paying some karma and this is my godawful existence and it makes me PISSED! But it’s the fear that I’ll never really ever get better that does me in. Getting older, getting weaker, more prone to increasing mental disorder, decrepitude. NO! STOP! I’m trying so hard to not walk that path of fear but to MAKE myself allow the possibility of hope and maybe even healing. I know this will change my biology. It’s science. I’m praying for a shift in my dark thinking towards clarity and feeling that the universe and God really does love me and I hope there actually is a God because I get to feeling so cut off from the Light. Because this kind of dark bleak depression is so isolating, so lonely, so useless, so toxic. I pray for a miracle and I have to walk the road that allows the inkling, the possibility that miracles do exist.
As a part of the universe, I love you. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for sharing the depths of your “spell.” I know others will stop by and read what you had to say – and know they aren’t alone in their darkness.
I’d like to steer you to a web community established by Therese Borchard – she suffers in a similar manner as you, and does such fine work – Project Beyond Blue http://community.projectbeyondblue.com/
Come on back anytime!
Thanks for the reply, Bill and the link to Therese’s site. Yep, I have bipolar depression, mainly mixed states. That’s the name for it, but I’m honing in on the reasons for it. Yesterday was a very bad day, but got remarkably better after having a blow-out discussion with my beloved husband about my realization that I have become the indentured Trouble Maker on both sides of my family – my denying repressed Mom’s side and my denying flamboyantly psychotic Dad’s side. Mainly because I cannot, no matter how hard I try to not be the nail that sticks up, stop pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. Folks who are in denial that they are majorly screwed up do not appreciate feeling distressed about things they’d rather not or cannot deal with.
I ranted and raved and wept, and with the help of my husband’s loving witness, came to the conclusion that I have no reason to feel ashamed and guilty, that I’ve done the work and it’s pretty lonely out on the bleeding edge. The ah-ha dawned on my and my biology changed because of it.
That brings me to the crux of it. On my good days, I spend most of my time in the study of molecular biology, especially the new, exiting and very hopeful field of epigenetics.
Epigenetics is basically the study of how outside environmental influences, such environmental toxins and physical and emotional trauma, as well as happiness, affects the gene transcription into the proteins that control every aspect of our biological/chemical life without affecting the underlying DNA.
Especially the work of Dr. William Walsh – http://www.walshinstitute.org, who has been researching the epigenetics of mental disorders for the past 35 years before epigenetics ever had a name. His theories revolve around how our innate genetic tendencies and mutations and outside environmental insults impact the cofactors, enzymes and proteins that convert our nutrients into the proper expression of our neurochemistry.
For example, Vitamin B6 is needed to convert the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin, but it needs an intermediary enzyme to do the conversion, and many people have a genetic/epigenetic mutation in this enzyme. Or maybe that system is working fine, but there’s a mutation in the proteins/enzymes that turn on or off the process that controls the reuptake of serotonin at the synapse.
Another one, most important to me, is the copper/zinc ratio and how it affects the dopamine to norepinephrine conversion. Zinc controls copper and vice versa and many of us are deficient in zinc, whether through diet or innate problems. Copper is needed for the amino acid conversion to dopamine and dopamine converts to norepinephrine, the chemical responsible for fight/flight. A copper imbalance or mutation at the enzyme level can continuously promote dopamine to norepinephrine and never shut up and that leaves us with low levels of dopamine and high levels of stress. hormones. That’s me – high anxiety with very little endorphans. Dr, Walsh has identified the five major classes of mental disorders, autism, adhd, depression, schizophrenia and Tourette’s and their many biotypes, that include bipolar and anxiety disorders.
Another researcher, Bruce Lipton, is a cellular biologist, and a crusader about how thoughts influence biology and biology influences thought. https://www.brucelipton.com/. It totally expains the nature/nuture question forever and ever. What happened to me last night is a clear example of how my thoughts changed my biology.
I’m about to become a patient of Albert Mensah – mensahmedical.com – the main protogey of Bill Walsh. I’ll get very specialized labwork that will hopefully identify where I’m going wrong and work up a protocol to correct things with the intention of reducing medications and promoting nutrients. I’ll let you know what fruit it bears.
I hope anyone who has stayed with me thus far will be encouraged to check out the many videos and documents on these sites and to come away with real hope that there are reasons and results that help and maybe even cure our poor body/brains.
Great info, BC. Sure appreciate it – this stuff is huge. Nancy, who comments here frequently, is very much into the science you’ve detailed. She often shares she has a MTHFR mutation, as well as other genetic goodies that pose barriers. Both of you are invited to draft a guest post on the subject matter, ’cause it’s well above my intellectual pay grade.
Hey, Bill. If you can point me to Nancy, I’d sure appreciate it. Also, I would like to post a guest post but will have to get my mental ducks in a row first. I think it will be very interesting to get some hard data on what the issues are for me and provide updates on how the nutrient protocol is going.
Yesterday, I had a very good day, especially after the cathartic ah-ha’s I came to with my husband’s help. Today, not so good. Woke up with that ‘uh-oh’ feeling and felt my mind and body slipping into anxiety. Breathing gets all disordered too, no matter what yoga techniques I can remember to use. I use Xanax when I really need it as well as gabapentin. Those are the ONLY meds I can take and sometimes I wonder if they do any good and may even harm. It’s so frustrating but at least I’m very aware that it’s definitely chemical and so don’t beat myself up for it, which just makes everything worse.
Your intellectual paygrade is in the seven figures, Bill.
Aw, how sweet of you, BC. Let me work on the Nancy connection…