Everything Doesn’t Always Happen for a Reason, but There’s Always Hope

Matthew Lafleur avatar

by Matthew Lafleur |

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In a conversation with a friend, she said, “I guess everything happens for a reason.” Hearing this really bothered me, even though that phrase is pretty ubiquitous; I’ve heard it repeatedly. Behind the phrase is the message that everything will be all right.

Sometimes, we desperately need to hear this message. But lately, I’ve questioned how true it is.

Does everything happen for a reason? How about Friedreich’s ataxia (FA)? Is there a divine reason that I sit in a wheelchair and identify as disabled?

Or does FA sometimes just happen?

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I’ve become familiar with the randomness of my disorder. From the age of diagnosis, to which symptoms you acquire, to what kind of walking aid you need, to whether you develop cardiomyopathy, blindness, or extreme fatigue, FA is a mixed bag. Scariest of all, no one knows when FA will kill those diagnosed. Some live to old age, while many die in childhood or as early adults.

In light of this, it seems insulting to imply that everything happens for a reason.

Did Fate deem that I wasn’t good enough to be able-bodied, so it saddled me with a degenerative death sentence, like an unlucky jackass?

That seems absurd. So is the opposite true, and there is nothing to hope for in this chaotic world? To quote our friend the jackass, “Nay” (or rather, “Heehaw”). Regardless if events are all part of a grand plan or if sometimes FA just happens, it’s up to us to either wallow in whatever has happened or to see what’s happened as motivation to make the world a bit better.

As for me, I hope to be bumbling my way to making the world a tiny bit better — even though I have FA. Maybe even because I have FA.

Growing into a disabled man is challenging every day, but I’d be dishonest if I said that my diagnosis with FA has only had negative consequences. The people both within the FA community and the broader rare disease community are incredible, encouraging, and insightful. Almost all of these people do an incredible job of supporting one another and giving each of us a reason to smile, which is unspeakably important.

People within rare disease communities can often trace their positivity back to how our rare diseases affect us individually. Ironic, huh? Patients can develop resilience to the unexpected symptoms and side effects. This resilience can spill over beyond application to our rare disease.

We in the rare disease community may give off the impression that we’re strong, wise, and noble. Hopefully, some of that is true. But we’re not trying to inspire anyone. We’re just trying to survive.

So if this diagnosis introduced me to wonderful people and even cultivated such positive traits in me, everything seems to happen for a reason, right?

Nay. Also, heehaw.

The main reason I was disgruntled hearing my friend say “everything happens for a reason” is it places the locus of our lives outside of ourselves, so everything that happens to us is designed by Fate or Nature or Nothingness or God.

And it’s not that I don’t believe in any of those things. Rather, I think crafting a meaningful existence is entirely achievable by us.

Through my own story, I’ve denied FA and the reality of my diagnosis for a long time. The only way to move beyond being held captive is to acknowledge what’s in your way. So even though awful things may happen for no reason, I’ve seen firsthand that there is always hope.

In a recent episode of the “Hidden Brain” podcast, host Shankar Vedantam points out that it’s a very American notion that all negative events have something positive to teach us. In other words, Vedantam doesn’t agree that “everything happens for a reason,” or what he calls “the superhero trope.”

In this trope, “the protagonist goes through some type of trauma, adverse event,” says the podcast guest, psychologist Eranda Jayawickreme, “and somehow that event becomes a catalyst.”

The episode questions whether negative circumstances innately come with positive outcomes: Perhaps challenges can provide opportunities for growth, and it’s up to us to take them.

So maybe FA just happens, without rhyme or reason.

But maybe we can take a traumatic situation and make a victory out of it, whether it’s destined or not.

In my next column, I’ll dive more into my personal tale: how acknowledging FA could’ve easily led to hopelessness, but instead led to the “Little Victories” column.

Note: Friedreich’s Ataxia 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 Friedreich’s Ataxia News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Friedreich’s ataxia.


Karina Jeronimides avatar

Karina Jeronimides

The existentialists say that it's really just a Christian notion that meaning lies in everything that happens, like getting FA. Like the existentialists, I think that life is just full of obstacles, FA or no FA, and that what matters is how we react. I feel quite isolated though, and the community you speak of has not touched me or my brother or my 82 year old mom who takes care of my brother. We both have FA.

Matthew Lafleur avatar

Matthew Lafleur

Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Karina. The battle between existential views and Christian views is a constant battle, which is why Soren Kierkegaard intrigues me so much. I didn't get involved with the FA community myself until I was in my thirties. I'd love to help you and your brother get connected. Please email me at [email protected]


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