“So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lives or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?”
When Breath Becomes Air; What Makes Life Worth Living in the Face of Death by Paul Kalanithi is a beautiful and inspirational read that I would recommend to everyone. It can powerfully change one’s perception and approach to one’s mortality, being diagnosed with or being surrounded by anothers’ terminal illness. It courageously looks at what you do when life is suddenly turned upside down and how your whole identity has to shift. It explores what it means to have a child as your own life fades away and what makes life worth living in the face of death.
“Although these last few years have been wrenching and difficult – sometimes almost impossible – they have also been the most beautiful and profound of my life, requiring the daily act of holding life and death, joy and pain in balance and exploring new depths of gratitude and love…Paul faced each stage of his illness with grace-not with bravado or misguided faith that he would “overcome” or “beat” cancer but with an authenticity that allowed him to grieve the loss of the future he had planned and forge a new one…He let himself be open and vulnerable, let himself be comforted. Even when terminally ill, Paul was fully alive; despite physical collapse he remained vigorous, open, full of hope not for an unlikely cure but for days that were full of purpose and meaning” (p.219).
“I’m still taking part in the life we created together. “Bereavement is not the truncation of married love” C.S. Lewis wrote, “but one of its regular phases-like the honeymoon. What we want is to live our marriage well and faithfully through that phase too.” Caring for our daughter, nurturing relationships with family, publishing this book, pursuing meaningful work, visiting Paul’s grave, grieving and honouring him, persisting…my love goes on-lives on-in a way I’d never expected” (p.224 – Lucy Kalanithi)
“You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving” (p.115)
A great article on learning how to live alongside depression, which I think can be generalised to mental health issues more generally, as well as psychosomatic illnesses. It demonstrates the small choices in ones lifestyle that can be pivotal in preventing a spiral into depression for example – something that so often is seen to arrive completely out of the blue, which one has little control over. It requires someone to be highly attuned to their body, signals that things are slipping, their triggers, as well as what makes them better. They have to be determined to counteract the beginnings of depression, anxiety, ME, chronic pain for example, to stop it escalating into something more severe and harder to manage and pull oneself back from. This is done by finding ways that keep you calm, lift your mood and give you the best chance of riding it out. I like the jam jar conceptualisation of this and think it’s a useful tool for anyone to do to ensure that they are balancing their days.
“Man is always something more than what he knows of himself. He is not what he is simply once and for all, but is a process (Jaspers, 2009, p116).
We are not fixed and sedimented, but are in a continuous process of becoming. Statements like “that is the way I am” need to be challenged if they are keeping you stuck, as we can choose to do something differently everyday.
To reveal and begin to accept one’s vulnerabilities, is not a sign of weakness as so often we are conditioned to believe. Instead, it is a courageous way of being, within which great strength can be found and genuine relationships can follow.