Frankl recounts the situation of a man that came to him after spending years spent years in analysis. At the root of this man’s issue was the fact that he felt discontented with his work, even though he was successful. A new profession was actually what he needed:
“Existential frustration is in itself neither pathological nor pathogenic. A man’s concern, even his despair, over the worthwhileness of life is an existential distress but by no means a mental disease. It may well be that interpreting the first in terms of the latter motivates a doctor to bury his patient’s existential despair under a heap of tranquilizing drugs. It is his task, rather, to pilot the patient through his existential crises of growth and development.”
In all fairness, the doctor my husband saw was not equipped to do more than write prescriptions. However, one would have to assume that she saw the onset of his depression as pathological or else a prescription would have been unwarranted, if not unethical. She, as the author puts it, attempted to “bury [her] patient’s existential despair.”
My husband had a close-knit family circle that encouraged him — “pilot the patient through his existential crises of growth and development.” He did, once again find purpose and meaning in his life’s work in another profession.
While this may often be more obvious in men, the thought occurred to me that many young mothers have a hard time finding the meaning amidst dirty diapers and runny noses. Motherhood, while extremely fulfilling, is also just as sacrificial. This is a hard concept to grasp in a culture that values pleasure and ease more than self-sacrifice.
“To be sure, man’s search for meaning may arouse inner tension rather than inner equilibrium. However, precisely such tension is an indispensable prerequisite of mental health.”
How much of our unhappiness is rooted in temporary circumstances? How much of our depression is not pathological or mental illness but a healthy response to a need to find purpose and meaning?
What if the onset of deep dissatisfaction is a natural mechanism that signals the human need for meaning, growth or change? How differently would we approach our troubles, or encourage others?