Two years ago, my parents gave my a copy of Ryan Holiday’s The Daily Stoic for the holidays. During 2017, I read the 365 daily musings religiously, and lately I’ve been picking the book up again. The stoic philosophies of Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus have been hitting home especially hard this year, as everything I thought that I was, has been slowly mutating before my eyes.
The last ten months have been filled with trial and tribulation, and the last four months have been everything I imagine hell to be, and more.
Over the weekend, my boyfriend (who towers a foot above me) pointed out that I’m developing some nickel-sized bald spots. I commented that it must empathetic alopecia, but I couldn’t bring myself to laugh at the joke.
Over the last year, I’ve lost my health, physical strength, friends, and self-esteem. In exchange, I’ve gained weight, joint pain, and an extreme sense of misalignment between my life as-is and how I imagined it would be.
A visit with my infectious disease doctor tomorrow will determine whether I switch to a different oral anti-fungal or am admitted to the hospital for a long-term intravenous treatment akin to chemotherapy. After 29 years of clean eating and regular exercise, I never imagined I would be in this position.
As much as I try to stay positive, if I’m being fully honest, most of the time I feel fat, weak, ugly, sick, lonely, and scared–the complete opposite of everything I previously believed myself to be. It has been incredibly hard for me to accept that I’m not currently in unison with the identity I had established for myself: healthy, fit, and happy.
“I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent—no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.” – Seneca
The September 4th entry in The Daily Stoic is a reflection on the above quote. Author Ryan Holiday comments that those who have gone through difficult periods in life come to later wear those experiences as badges of honor. These tough periods are ultimately formative experiences. The challenges make us who we are.
Enduring so-called misfortune allows us to walk away with a better understanding of our own capacity and inner strength. Surviving a trial by fire is empowering because you know that in the future you can survive similar adversity. As Nietzsche said, “what does not kill me makes me stronger.”
Holiday encourages the reader to ask themselves: if thing look like they might take a bad turn or your luck might change, why worry? Perhaps this current challenge may be one of those formative experiences that you will be grateful for later.
At the moment, it is difficult to see the future shoots of life emerging from this ashen landscape. And yet, I do have hope–though a small and fleeting glimmer, it is here with me.
All of the people whom I most admire have faced excruciating misfortune, whether a near-death experience, the loss of a loved one, or leaving a dream job that didn’t live up to expectations. Each of these individuals is stronger and more resilient in spite of the adversity that once paralyzed them with fear.
Though, at the moment, I feel the weakest I ever have–physically, mentally, and emotionally–I believe, without a doubt, that a strength greater than anything I’ve previously know lies just around the corner.
Perhaps I am fortunate to have been met with this seeming misfortune, this opportunity to know just what it is I am truly capable of. I do believe that I can overcome this, and I do believe that I will.
And, if you’re suffering, I believe wholeheartedly in you too. You will overcome whatever challenges plague you, and you will come out stronger.
Here’s to continually asking and answering the question: What am I capable of? And here’s to the kind of chaos and darkness that will lead us to our brightest constellations.