Finding meaning in difficult times

 There have been multiple periods in my life during which I felt overwhelmed by many negative emotions. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that during these periods I could easily find positivity or a 'silver lining' for what I was experiencing. If anything, trying to 'think positive' about the situation more often than not left me feeling no less distressed. However (after taking the time to sit with and process heavy emotions), what I felt I could always do was explore how these experiences were bringing meaning to my life.

As an example, during a particularly difficult period I remember noticing that with these new and intensely distressing emotions also came a new, deeper empathy for other people and their experiences. It felt easier to be with others painful emotions, and to genuinely connect with them in these moments. In more general, day to day interactions I also caught myself taking more time to connect with strangers. Whether this was to simply smile at a stranger on the bus or take a couple extra minutes to chat to my barista when grabbing a morning coffee. While it may have been a difficult and turbulent space to be in, having these experiences, initiated a deeper appreciation for the importance of connecting with one another – something which has since stayed with me through both the good and bad times.

This period also forced me to explore what was truly important to me. Whether I liked it at the time or not I had to have a look into what my values were and how I could actively incorporate them into my life. It almost felt as though, these intense and distressing emotions, filtered out any small or insignificant worries that I would previously spend a great deal of time and energy thinking about or trying to distract myself from. While this did seem to give rise to bigger and scarier fears, fears that I couldn't distract myself from, it forced me to acknowledged, learn from and make space for them. In other words, experiencing these fears forced me to evaluate why I was experiencing them and what they were saying about what's important to me. It allowed me to more deeply explore what old values I may have forgotten about, and what new values I could incorporate into my life – and again, these values seem to have stuck with me years down the track.

Before I wrap it up I want to be clear in saying that summarizing an entire experience in a couple or paragraphs (as I've just done), where I highlight the meaningful aspects of it, might make it seem as though it was a smooth and easy process. It wasn't, nor am I saying it should be. Over this period, there were times where things felt intensely bleak and meaningless. Where I refused and was unable to think of how this experience could possibly being value to my life. It was only with time and space that I could genuinely appreciate and learn from everything these intense feelings had taught me. What I'm trying to say is, if you're currently in the midst of a distressing time and trying to find meaning in your experience seems entirely foreign and unhelpful– that's okay. Give yourself the time and space to feel what you need to feel.

I also want to highlight that this was just my personal experience with finding meaning in a distressing times. Yours might be entirely different. However, if you do feel you're in a space to explore this I'd definitely encourage you to do so. If you're looking for a place to start feel free to check out the 'self-help' section of our website where we've come up with a worksheet called 'finding meaning in challenging situations'. 

Image from Unsplash by Diego PH

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