Lowest points in life = greatest learning opportunities

This Free to Spiel guest feature has been written by Renee, one of the founders of The Mindful Hour (@mindfulhourtherapy). In it, Renee opens up about how her undergraduate degree experiences (both personal and academic) led to a greater understanding of human suffering, and how we can start perceiving it in a different light.

Once you finish reading Renee’s story, make sure to check out Emily’s (fellow co-founder of The Mindful Hour) story here

A big part of my enjoyment […] was hearing patients’ stories and being in absolute awe of their resilience

I’m currently finishing my last term in my Counselling Psychology Masters program at the University of Toronto. 

My journey of pursuing a career in psychotherapy began when I was enrolled in a Bachelor of Science program majoring in kinesiology (the study of human movement) at the University of Waterloo. In the program, one of my prerequisite classes was ‘Introduction to Psychology’, which sparked my initial interest in the field.

As I progressed and learned more psychological theories in that class, I quickly decided to pursue a minor in psychology. I credit much of this change to having an incredibly passionate professor, who helped me discover my own passion in psychology. 

Throughout my second to fourth year, my job as a kinesiologist student at a physical therapy clinic greatly contributed to my switch to majoring in psychology and committing to a career as a psychotherapist. A big part of my enjoyment in this position during these two years was hearing patients’ stories and being in absolute awe of their resilience – despite the mental and physical suffering they endured.

Midway through these two years – and after many “Therapist Renee” jokes being exchanged between my patients, supervisors and friends – I started to truly consider embarking on a career as a therapist.

The people around me supported this pursuit; however, what really pushed me was my patients’ full, authentic encouragement. This ultimately led me to where I am today, at the final steps of completing my masters and getting ready to open a psychotherapy clinic with one of my dear friends.

Naturally, as I progressed through my studies I reflected upon the theories I had been learning. This process helped me understand my behaviours and perception of the world, as well as of those around me.

I realized that the lowest points in my life had also been my greatest learning opportunities

I faced tremendous difficulties during the first three years of my undergraduate degree.

I found that the toll of living on my own, being ostracized by friends and roommates, and managing a long distance relationship had become overwhelming. With these many different emotions, I found myself feeling what I imagine many others around me felt: unbearable loneliness.

This was not to mention the fact that pursuing a major in kinesiology and a minor in psychology really forced me to revisit painful memories from my younger brother’s illness and death, which occurred in my early adolescent years.

During many of these difficult moments, I found myself constantly asking: “I want to understand why he/she/I am acting like this, or thinking like this, or just generally, what was the greater reasoning behind all of this?”.

At the same time, I was becoming more curious and interested in learning more about the driving forces behind the behaviors of myself and those around me. I also found myself in awe of how resilient we as human beings are in the face of suffering.

When looking back on my past experiences, I realized that the lowest points in my life had also been my greatest learning opportunities; they pushed me to reflect on my own life, re-evaluate what my needs were, and learn to live a more gratifying life. 

Negative emotions […] tell us important information about ourselves, the things we need and the actions we must take”

I want it to be known that throughout our lifetimes, there will inevitably be moments of difficulty and suffering. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s okay: these are all natural human experiences.

Negative emotions like sadness, anger, guilt and even shame are natural – they tell us important information about ourselves, the things we need and the actions we must take in order to create positive changes in our lives.

While the rational side of our brain is important, the emotional part is just as important; emotions help create meaning and better understand ourselves. We can lead richer and fuller lives that are filled with contentment, with gratifying experiences that promote positivity, resilience and acceptance of difficult experiences.

It is as Aristotle once said: the whole is greater than the sum of its partsIf we are able to understand that suffering is natural in human experience and see the greater meaning behind it, then we can build a more meaningful and gratifying life. In turn, the suffering we encounter may begin to stay for a shorter period of time, with faster goodbyes. We may even learn to build a friendship with it, be less afraid of it, and greet it as an old friend when it stops by next time.

Thank you Renee, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@mindfulhourtherapy).

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