- Solitude vs loneliness: I felt so happy. It was the the middle of a long weekend that I was spending by myself, except for a Sunday night birthday dinner with my daughter, my son, and his significant other. A few months ago, I was depressed during three weeks of traveling alone on my South America cruise. When I got home from that trip, I browsed through Anthony Storr’s book Solitude, because I remembered he had some good thoughts on solitude and loneliness. Here’s one of them: “Perpetual travel or frequent moves of home are often engaged in... by those who, for other reasons, find it difficult to create a place they can consider ‘home.'” I now have a home that's more comfortable and more happy than any I’ve ever had. I still enjoy travel, but it’s not what we in AA call an attempt at a “geographic cure” for inner emptiness.
- Why do I remain uncomfortable admitting to depression? I have no trouble discussing my physical ailments. In fact, as friends know, I’m often guilty of offering too much information. Intellectually, I know that mental illness is no different from physical illness -- both are a mix of factors we control and those beyond our reach. Still, the old stigma associated with depression and other mental illnesses is still there. I’ve gone through several bouts of depression. But if I discuss this topic at all, I pretend it has nothing to do with me, describing it as my “typical Parkinson’s depression.” Get over it, John!
- 5-HTP, levodopa, serotonin, and Parkinson’s: One of the things that made Sunday morning so remarkable was that I was taking notes in smooth, free-flowing handwriting, not the usual cramped and barely legible script that's a symptom of my Parkinson’s. I've had other similar experiences lately, as I explore new schedules and intervals for taking my levodopa and 5-HTP pills. The levodopa combats the disease’s assault on my brain’s dopamine production, and the 5-HTP boosts my serotonin. I recalled that on Friday a member of my Parkinson's support group reported on joining a trial to assess using 5-HTP along with amino acids to get a curative serotonin/dopamine balance. That program is described in a 2011 peer-reviewed article on an NIH study. Hope springs eternal.
- A common thread to my musings: Toward the end of these porch ruminations, I realized there was a theme I've encountered before: the importance of finding balance. Noise and quiet... temperature and humidity... solitude and loneliness... serotonin and dopamine. I've so often careened from one side of the road to the other. But today, my life is better balanced than ever before. And I’m happier than I’ve ever been.
If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.
The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.... Such men are not only in concentration camps. Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.
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We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. “Life” does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response. Sometimes the situation in which a man finds himself may require him to shape his own fate by action. At other times it is more advantageous for him to make use of an opportunity for contemplation and to realize assets in this way. Sometimes man may be required simply to accept fate, to bear his cross.