Looking Backward but Living Life Forward With MD
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards,” said philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. He came up with an existential masterpiece. In a dozen words, Kierkegaard captured what we all struggle with in finding meaning in our lives.
I find it much easier to look backward to understand why certain events happened as they did. There is a sense of consistency and progression that gives me confidence. Even moments that were difficult to live through give me some peace of mind after the fact. I know that I successfully traversed the bumps in the road. I survived.
I’ve also thought about this from my perspective as a psychotherapist. I have done thousands of hours of counseling with a variety of clients. We have all heard sayings like “when opportunity knocks” or “when a door closes, another will open.” Identifying these opportunities in life was not always easy for individuals I worked with. By living life in this forward mode, options often look filled with risks. Choosing your next step often feels precarious.
That’s why looking backward adds clarity, whether the event was positive or negative. I can point at many particularly sore memories in my muscular dystrophy (MD) journey from the past 15 years: memories of the day when I finally felt sure that something was wrong, or of the day that confirmation came through from the genetic test. There are days when I recall falling — whether it was my first fall or a particularly bad one. However, looking backward helps me realize that these events led to decisions or life adaptations that gave me a boost to the creative living needed at the next level.
That is the big takeaway for me. It is often hard to see the doors opening ahead of me. Let’s face it, after a devastating fall that damages shoulder ligaments, it’s hard to see the bright side. But knowing that the adaptations I made ultimately made my life better is as positive as it gets. It has been about a year since my shoulder injury. I am not yet 100 percent, and I may never get there, but my changes and adaptations led me to a more positive next step.
Going back to the Kierkegaard quote, I can now begin to understand what he was trying to say. So many of us think that events in our life happen for a reason — this type of thinking is actually considered positive. It can help people cope. The road in life that led us to where we are today was paved for a reason. It is up to us to find that reason and make the most of it.
This leads me to the second half of the Kierkegaard equation. Positive thinking is so important to success. I have written about this in various columns, and it has been the focus of so many great thinkers, philosophers, psychologists, and motivational speakers over the past century. The reason, of course, is that it has value. It has even achieved “scientific credibility.”
My interpretation of the Kierkegaard saying is that positive thinking is inherent in looking forward and backward. This is my own interpretation, but I compare it to walking through a forest and having to stop to look back so that you can ensure finding your way. By looking back and then refocusing, you can base decisions on your goals and ultimate destiny.
This has worked for me as I have done that quick look back and refocus forward. I can see a trajectory in my life that has led me to working on social good. Before my diagnosis of LGMD2L, this work was in the areas of mental health and aging. It became a natural decision to look at my diagnosis and say, “I need to find a way to help the MD/disability cause.” That positive thinking helped propel me forward. I was living it forward, not understanding all the ramifications. But as I continue to look backward it has meaning. It fits for me.
In some ways I also equate this to the mindfulness movement. It is like a GPS system that allows you to see where you are in your life trajectory. You become more aware of the connection between past and future, while always living in the present.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this and any techniques you use that you believe are similar. The tendrils connecting human thought on a meaningful life are often mutually empowering and we can help each other by sharing!
Note: Muscular Dystrophy News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Muscular Dystrophy News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to muscular dystrophy.