What Are You Capable Of?

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.

8 thoughts on “What Are You Capable Of?

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  1. I am 44 today. From I was about 25-32 I suffered from severe bouts of depression and anxiety and was eventually hospitalized and medicated for it for over a year. It was a huge shock to put it mildly that I was no longer ‘capable’. Before I was studying at the university and doing all sorts of creative things. Then I became just a patient in a sterile system and with no future.

    But eventually I overcame the anxiety, threw away the meds and recovered fully. Today I have my own webdesign business and various jobs on the side. I can definitely subscribe to “what doesn’t kill you … ” Although I seldom like to reduce solutions to life crises to quotes this one is apt. Another one – a favorite one of mine – is reportedly from Winston Churchill: “If you are going through hell – keep going.”

    I wish you well, and I look forward to following your blog.

    P.S. If you would like to read a blog from a guy who is really into stoicism and has some great posts about courage and endurance, I heartily recommend https://qcurtius.com/

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    1. I can completely empathize with the story you’ve related, as I went through similar bouts of depression and anxiety on-and-off between 20-25, repeatedly feeling that I “wasn’t good enough” across all domains of my life. I was briefly medicated, but after two months decided that there had to be a better way and committed to self-healing. In the five years since, the negative emotions have been few and far-between…I allow myself to feel, but not to linger.
      I personally believe that those periods of darkness can be quite a wonderful teacher, and I’m grateful looking back on some of those “terrible” and “traumatic” expereince. As you share, going through hell will lead you to a better place, even if it’s hard to believe at the current time.
      Thank you for sharing your story, well-wishes, and the new stoic blog to check out!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your welcome! Your own blog is pretty good itself – I should recommend it to the other guy 🙂 May I ask what kind of actions you took to heal, it seems reminiscent of what I did. They gave me meds which did not work, so I began practicing my own program of cognitive behavioral therapy, quite intensely for many months and that was the turning point for me. It is hard for others to understand that you can actually do that, when you have been a psychiatric patient with a moderately-severe diagnosis, as in my case. But as I wrote in my notes from that time: ‘It is not a method one has to employ to get better, it is a change of life’. In this case … the inner life. (And a Big Subject, so I will leave it here for now. But it was very interesting to hear that you had gone through something similar.)

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      2. In short, I went through a period of extreme emotional overwhelm and inability to regulate those emotions. I was sent to a psychiatrist (who was not a good listener), labeled with a moderately-severe diagnosis, and prescribed a series of medications to which I had really bad reactions without a resolution to the initial issue. After perhaps three months, I decided that I did not want to be labeled “sick” and I did not want to struggle with negative emotions anymore. I stopped my medication without consulting with or telling anyone and, similarly, crafted my own behavioral therapy. Quite frankly, I think the big change was allowing myself to briefly experience emotions and then let them go. I am sensitive and empathetic by nature, so it’s natural for me to feel sad for others and to to try to make those around me happy. After the recent deaths of a cousins and friend, the start of a new job with an inappropriately flirtatious boss, exiting the honeymoon stage of a relatively new relationship, and a questioning of my self-worth, I was deep in the pit of emotional overwhelm, and doing everything in my power to push the emotions away and not feel anything. No sadness, no fear, no anger…I wouldn’t allow myself to dip my toes in because I was worried that I would be sucked into the riptide and drown. In short, I embraced the “change of life” idea and redefined myself as someone who feels deeply, but knows when to let go and move one; this involved finding ways to move through difficult emotions, which has been an ongoing experiment ever since. I’ve found that a unprocessed, low-sugar, plant-based diet helps regulate my emotions, and that honest writing and physical fitness have helped me foster the strength to move gracefully though trying times. Though it was a rough patch, I sure learned a lot about myself and my capabilities…and I suppose that’s the purpose of life’s challenges: to make us stronger and better-equipped to continually move forward in life.

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      3. That’s a very powerful story, as is my own. I’m really glad to know that someone else has that kind of story to tell. It is a shame, though, for so many reasons that there is this systemic bias towards meds in psychiatry when it is obviously not always the answer. I suppose every experience of being a psychiatric patient in principle is an existential crisis, whether you have a rampant psychosis and hear voices or you ‘just’ are depressed on some level. However, not every existential crisis merits psychiatric treatment …

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      4. Yes, I fully agree! I personally feel that I had a lot of “stuff” that I needed to work through and process, yet lacked a “safe place” where I could pick apart and explore those ideas. I think every human being, at any given point in time, lies somewhere on the spectrum between existential crisis and complete apathy. One’s placement may be based on a genetic predisposition, may be triggered by lifestyle choices, may be influenced by life circumstances, or may be exaggerated by a particular personality trait (e.g., sensitive, aggressive, etc.) I’m no doctor, but I’ve read that over 50% of people (adults and children) are on psychiatric drugs and I would venture to guess that most do not need to be. I suppose the tricky part is that many people are looking for shortcuts, and figuring out to slam on the brakes and then climb out of downward spiral is no simple feat.

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      5. Agreed. I would dare to venture the argument that the reason most people get ill – mentally or otherwise – is to a large degree determined by their willingness to let go of attachments to whatever busi-ness they are so attached to that they are willing to ignore signs of dis-ease and just continue. In that regard, I’m afraid the statistics are against us guys – or so I’ve read. I have often wondered, in an alternate reality, if I had not been hospitalized and survived it in 2005 – would I have been in 2015 or in 2025 and, well, not survived it. Hypothetical, of course, but if whatever was broken inside me had been allowed to just stay there, under the radar, perhaps suppressed by alcohol or other such things, then for sure there would not have been a better outcome later on … than what actually happened. (I hope that made sense.)

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      6. That absolutely makes sense. My basic belief is that “everything is connected”–people to one another, humans to nature, mind to body, calculus to anthropology, etc. Just last night, I attended a first aid seminar in which the speaker talked about if you got a blister in the military, you were considered a “causality”… though someone (especially men!) feel the initial discomfort, they push through and ultimately cause more damage than the ego-hit on kneeling down to apply moleskin. I think that busyness and the strive for productivity are slowly (or not so slowly) manifesting as dis-ease and our choosing to ignore the signs is killing us. So, perhaps the seemingly overly-dramatic manifestations are, in fact, a gift, as they shake us violently until we have no choice to listen. It’s so hard to know how things could have played out under different circumstances, but it sounds like your journey and your outcome is one you can embrace with gratitude now, which is certainly a good thing.

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