“The development of characteristic symptoms…”
This quote is from the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition) on PTSD. It applies to many things: depression, suicide, anxiety, despair, burn-out, you name it. They develop. Just like life develops.
Whenever you come to a moment in life where something has to change, hope is found by realizing that you are not trapped. Life is always changing and there is always an opportunity to find meaning in the change. One of my heroes, author, psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel, had an equation for life that I ascribe to, Despair equals Suffering without Meaning. It is common sense. We will suffer a lot for something that has meaning to us — bootcamp, higher education, child birth, fitness, marriage, etc., — but lose the meaning, and the shortest obstacle can become insurmountable. Our day becomes one big unsolvable complaint.
If your life loses meaning, the darker and more isolated you will become. It is here in isolation that the demons taunt us. To begin to step out of the darkness and into the light of life, it is necessary to understand that you are not alone. We live in a world of loneliness. Take a minute to read this great article on the damage loneliness is inflicting on our society. Loneliness is a destroyer. Wherever you are, look around and you’ll see an ocean of loneliness. What a shame we do not better understand this and love one another. That stranger is not strange. What binds us is far greater than what separates us.
Whatever the diagnosis — depression, PTSD, life sucks, job sucks — you name it, the key is realizing that the only sure cure for life is finding meaning. It need not be some big huge goal. It can be as simple as a daily walk, a donation to a shelter, volunteering as a mentor to a child, starting that book, picking up a guitar, moving to the place you’ve always wanted to live, asking forgiveness, you name it.
To stop the “development” we must begin to move in another direction. You must “develop” something else. It is like building a habit, in this case, a habit for life. The steps can be small, but if each day you look for something meaningful, you can begin to escape your present darkness and find the kind of hope that lasts, the hope of meaning. So do me a favor, grab a piece of paper and write down something meaningful you are going to do in the next 24 hours — clean the house, call that old friend, go for a walk, clean the junk food out of the kitchen, whatever it may be, commit to it and do it. That is a start, it is the beginning of the development of life and that is far better than the continued development of all the bad stuff.
The meaning of life? Live.