Had Stephen Hawking given up on life when he was diagnosed with a motor neurone disease at 21, we would have perhaps never known about black holes and quantum gravity. Nor would our senses been bathed in the beauty of Für Elise, had it not been for Beethoven creating the symphonies and sonatas despite being deaf.
Illnesses and disabilities are part of being human. Adversity that emerges from a life-threatening illness can leave us feeling utterly defeated. Yet, extraordinary stories of indomitable resilience can arise from such predicaments. What brings about this resilience, you ask? It is the sheer unrelenting nature of the human spirit that empowers us to crush the challenges that stand in our way.
A world of infinite possibilities
Physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with the daunting Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) when he was pursuing his PhD at the University of Cambridge. For this unpromising doctoral student, future looked bleaker with this diagnosis as the doctors gave him just two years to live.
When we look at Hawking’s battle with ALS, his optimism and thirst for knowledge shine through. One significant incident strengthened his will to live. As he was undergoing tests at the hospital, Professor Hawking saw a young boy die of Leukaemia. Recalling this he once said, “Whenever I feel sorry and miserable, I make it a point to think of that little boy who died that day.”
Braving the odds
It is ironic that Sigmund Freud–the father of psychoanalysis–suffered from depression, anxiety attacks and fatigue. In an attempt to alleviate depression, he started snorting cocaine. In Ernest Jones’ The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, Freud says he took cocaine which induced euphoria. He then sought music and literature to match the feeling. However, after learning about the dangerous impact of cocaine on the human brain, he gave it up.
Eventually, he leaned towards self-analysis which proved to be effective, but the best antidote for Freud turned out to be the recognition he received. His work on dreams and sexuality was acknowledged and he was asked to lead an intellectual group.
Such stories of extraordinary inner strength have created history.