…to hold on to …I am struggling at the moment and yet I am aware that I should be feeling good. I am drawing to the end of a course of cbt, and I have benefited a great deal from this – my therapist was great, but not enough. I think my hopes and expectations at the outset were wrong – I really hoped that I would come out and things would be sorted, but of course they are not.

The problems that were there before are still there now, although I do have a few more strategies for dealing with them and I have a better understanding of where they came from. Work and work-associated stress are major issues, but in the current job climate there is not chance of changing that. Loneliness and a need to be loved is another issue, and whilst I am going out a little more than I was a year ago this is never easy – my teaching job seems to take over all of my life (not just at school) and I am constantly exhausted. I have only two relationships behind me – both significant, but no marriage and only ever at a distance – I keep my distance from men on the whole (even people), so where other people may have as many failed marriages that is the sum total of my relationships. I have explored fertility treatment because I was so desperate to have a child of my own, but so far treatments have both failed and been interspersed with the need for various gynaecological operations.

I am currently on another waiting list for a further round of treatment, but I am trying to come to terms with the fact that at 46 it is highly unlikely that it will be successful. I do have a history of depression, hence the cbt, but since I have been pursuing fertility treatment I have not had anti-depressants. Right now I am at another low. The thought that this is as good as it gets (and it isn’t good) is taking over. Work will not improve. Fertility treatment will not be successful. As of 3 weeks time there will be no further counsellor support. My diabetes is throwing up more and more issues and though pretty well controlled for the past 30+ years has me increasingly concerned about kidney malfunction, eye-sight, neuropathy and issues such as gangrene. I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to get old. I don’t want my family to die although we are not terribly close. I don’t want to be on my own. I don’t want to have to keep struggling with this life I hate. So where do I look? How can I find something to hang onto that will help me through this?

A. Thus far it seems as though you have been unhappy with your life. On one hand, you are unhappy with the course your life has taken. On the other hand, you are very fortunate. It is important not to take your blessings for granted. The humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow says that:

“getting used to our blessings is one of the most important nonevil generators of human evil, tragedy and suffering.”

Are you overlooking the basic goods of your life? You have a job, you have a career. You have a warm place to sleep at night. You have heat in your home. You have food to eat. You have clean water to drink. Many people in the world do not have these luxuries. It is important not to overlook the many blessings in your life. Unfortunately, for many people, they do not recognize their blessings until they lose them. Don’t make that mistake. Recognize the good things that really do fill your life.

I would characterize your questions to be philosophic in nature. They are not unusual. They are the questions that many ask during the course of their lives. What is life about? What is important in life? More specifically, your questions are the subject of existential philosophy, in particular, the existential concepts of facticity or thrownness. This means that you are not in this world of your own making. You have been put here on this Earth with perhaps a body you may not have chosen, the eye color you would not have chosen, the height or the weight that you would not have preferred, with a certain level of intelligence or talents, rich or poor, tall or short, living in a large city, or living in a third world country, none of your own choosing. None of these things are by choice. You would choose to have a good relationship and to have children but you were not given that choice. Perhaps you would have also chosen to be taller if given that choice but again you were not offered a choice.

We are all similar in that there are things in life that we would have chosen to be different, or that we would have chosen for our life but we were not given those choices. Those are the facts of life and thus the term “facticity.” The question becomes, can you still live a good, meaningful life under those less than ideal conditions? The answer, according to the existentialists, is yes.

You must play with the cards that have been dealt you. It is easy to focus on the negatives of life and ignore or greatly underplay the many goods with which you are blessed.

You can focus on the negatives and all the things that you have desired but not received or you can choose a different tactic. The best example of this is the life of Dr. Viktor Frankl. Dr. Frankl’s story is one about surviving in the most horrific life circumstances and still being able to find great meaning, joy and happiness. He wrote about how we can choose to see and to experience joy and happiness even in the midst of horrific circumstances. You may be underestimating the goodness and the goods in your life and not thoroughly enjoying them. It’s a matter of choice; it’s a matter of deciding to be happy even though your life didn’t go as planned.

I would recommend reading several important books, including Man’s Search for Meaning by Dr. Frankl; Messages From the Masters by Dr. Brian Weiss and to consider studying the basics of existential philosophy. You may also greatly benefit by getting involved in charity work. Perhaps you could become a Big Sister to a child needing love, compassion or guidance. It may be one way to express your love for children and to receive the love from a child that you strongly desire. Another consideration is to become a foster parent.

I am unaware of your religious beliefs but the majority of the world population believes in God. Some people believe in God very strongly. For those religious people, they believe both that God helps those who help themselves and they believe that God has a plan for them. They have to work their best to help themselves and they also have to trust in whatever destiny or plan that God has for them. Perhaps we should all have humility. So much of what happens in the universe is beyond human comprehension and understanding.

I want to end this answer with a piece of advice from Dr. Brian Weiss.

“Instead of worrying about specific outcomes and results just do the right thing. Reach out unselfishly. Hope for the best. Hope is fine. Expectation is not, because when expectation is present, disappointment is always lurking nearby.”

As described above, you have plans and expectations for your life that were not fulfilled. Those unfulfilled expectations have led to feelings of significant disappointment and unhappiness. Try to cherish what you have. Enjoy the daily pleasures and the basic goods of life. Become mindful of your everyday blessings. Make the best of the moment and try not to perseverate on the past or worry about the future. It may be best to “just do the right thing” and to “hope for the best.”

Good luck. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle