3 Lessons About Suffering, From Quadruple Amputee, Alex Lewis
Alex Lewis’s remarkable journey began with contracting a Strep A infection, which ultimately led to toxic shock syndrome and septicemia (blood poisoning). Tragically, within a few months, he had lost his legs, arms, and lips, leaving him a quadruple amputee.
Yet, despite facing this great adversity and living through hell, Alex has undergone a profound transformation over the years.
He consistently challenges himself both physically and mentally, surpassing his limits with each step forward. From skydiving and kayaking in Greenland to scaling Ethiopia’s Ras Dashen and countless other remarkable feats, Alex aims to demonstrate to himself, to the world, and, most importantly, to his son Sam, that far more is possible than one often realizes, even in the face of limitations.
In a recent episode of The IPS Podcast, where I engage in conversations with experts in various fields such as mental health, relationships, the mind, the body and brain, and money—topics that impact us all—I had the privilege of sitting down with Alex to discuss his extraordinary story.
Within this article, I share Alex’s answers to three profound questions I asked during our conversation, along with the lessons I gleaned from his experiences.
If you find yourself captivated by Alex’s incredible story and wish to delve deeper into his mindset, I highly recommend checking out Episode 032 – “Quadruple Amputee Alex Lewis: Finding Your Way Out of Hell—and Thriving.” This episode provides further insights into Alex’s journey and serves as a source of inspiration for overcoming life’s greatest challenges.
1. He Who Has a Why to Live for Can Bear Almost Any How
Alex Lewis: Yeah, absolutely. So, I randomly got a check through the post. A letter came to our door, Lucy opened it, and there was a check in there. She read it and she goes, “You’ve got a check here from Coldplay.”
I said, “Don’t be ridiculous.” And she goes, “No, there’s a check here from Coldplay.”
And I looked at it, and it was actually a check from Coldplay and a little note from Chris Martin saying, “I heard about what you’re going through. I think it’s amazing how you’re dealing with it. Your capacity for what you’re doing, how you feel about it’s just unbelievable.”
And in this note, he said, “Look, you know, if there’s one thing I recommend to you, it is to read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. It’s a really hard read, but I think there’ll be a lot in there that will resonate with you.”
I’m a terrible reader. But I thought, well, if Chris Martin said for me to do it, it will likely be alright.
So, I downloaded it onto my iPad, and I had all the surgery coming out, so I had loads of time in the hospital while recovering to read the book. And I remember one night I was reading through it and, once I started, that was it. I motored through it. I just found it absolutely fascinating.
There was this quote in the book, not from Frankl, but it was a quote in the text from someone else that said:
And it was like a lightning bolt moment. It made me realize that my “why’s” are Lucy and Sam.
It was Lucy, Sam, and my dog right at the top. They were the “why” to begin with.
And at that point, we were starting to do more with other amputees that were coming into it, and we were helping them and they then were part of the “why.”
The “how” was always going to be my quadruple amputation and living with facial disfigurement. But through time, doing this work for other amputees, having Sam and Lucy, and challenging myself, I realized that the “why” was far outweighing the “how” by a mile. And down the line, the “why” just got bigger and bigger and bigger and the “how” got easier and easier and easier.
Lesson: The quote “Once you work out the why, you will endure any how” has other variants, but it is a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, a famous German philosopher.
What Nietzsche meant with that quote was that a person with nothing to live for subconsciously prefers death, but someone who has something to live for (the reason WHY he continues to live) can endure almost anything (HOW to survive almost anything).
Therefore, I ask you: What is your “why”? Regardless of the struggles you may be facing, or even if you’re simply navigating through life without major crises, what drives you? Why do you wake up each morning and keep going?
Often, the answer lies in helping others, animals, or nature. Finding purpose and contributing to life is where the “why” is often discovered.
It is indeed true that once you truly understand your reason for living, why you get up in the morning, you become capable of enduring almost any hardships.
Personally, for me, The IPS Project was born from the essence of this quote. Having experienced suicidal thoughts in the past and realizing the depth of the despair I was trapped in, I embarked on a journey of self-discovery and self-understanding.
Through this journey, I recognized the lack of education we receive about life while growing up, and how it contributed significantly to the profound darkness of my soul.
Motivated by this realization, I decided to make a difference by creating The IPS Project. It has given me purpose and made the part of my life affected by past traumas—such as losing my father at a young age, battling a life-threatening heart disease, and dealing with suicidal thoughts—more bearable and meaningful, all because of my “why.”
If you’re struggling to find your “how” and “why,” I highly recommend reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, as endorsed by Chris Martin and Alex Lewis. This book can provide valuable insights and guidance on the quest for purpose and finding meaning in life.
2. You Have Got to Believe That It’s Possible
Question: If there’s someone reading this right now who is suffering or dealing maybe with a mental illness or a disease like heart disease or cancer or something, what would you like to tell that person?
Alex Lewis: If someone told me right at the beginning that there was a life outside of this, and that I was going to be skydiving and doing all the stuff I’ve done (since my amputation), I would never have believed it, but I would have dreamt about it. I would have thought about it. I would have it in my mind.
When I was starting to believe in myself and what I could do, then it all started to happen.
So, I think you’ve got to believe that all the things that you haven’t done that you want to do are still attainable. You’ve just got to believe that they are. That’s going to keep you going. In those darkest hours of the nights that you can’t sleep, think about all that stuff that you want to do.
We’ve all got things that we want to do, boxes to tick. That list has to be at the forefront of your mind when you’re going through something—whether it’s battling a mental health problem, whether it’s cancer, whether it’s motor neurons like Parkinson’s, amputation—you name it.
You still have to believe that you are going to do some of the things on that list. It doesn’t have to be all of it. But just to think that you could take one or two of those off that bucket list, it’ll keep that momentum.
We’ve all got a team around us. Some of us don’t even know it, but there are people out there for all of us. And if you find the right team, then anything is possible in any condition.
Lesson: As someone grappling with a life-threatening heart disease, I find solace in embracing the perspective shared by Alex.
Over the years, my condition has deteriorated, robbing me of the ease with which I once carried out simple tasks. It is disheartening to be unable to visit a nearby supermarket without feeling overwhelming nausea and dizziness, among other challenges I face.
Nevertheless, amidst these difficulties, I still cling to the belief that there are aspects of life, albeit not all, that remain within my reach. It is undeniably frustrating when life undergoes unforeseen changes beyond our control, especially in drastic ways.
Regardless of the adversities we currently endure, whether they manifest as physical or emotional challenges, or even both, there is potential for more than we may realize today. By exerting effort, seeking support from loved ones, relying on medical professionals, and allowing time and patience to weave their influence, we can expand the realm of possibilities.
Personally, it is challenging for me to internalize this notion, as I often find myself questioning how my heart condition and its associated health issues can ever improve. Nevertheless, I strive to maintain faith, mirroring Alex’s mindset.
3. Love Does Conquer All
Question: From everything that you have seen, experienced, lived, and learned in your life, what is the one thing you know to be true?
Alex Lewis: This will sound corny… But love does conquer all. Without the love of Lucy and Sam, this conversation would not be happening.
They’re my constant.
They’re everything in my world. They are my world, and I do all the stuff that I do not for Lucy because she thinks most of it is ridiculous, but for Sam to see that at no point did one tragedy or disability ever get in the way of me having a good time and doing some really cool stuff and helping some amazing charities.
I think as long as he sees that, then I just keep doing what I’m doing. But it all stems from love.
Lesson: Throughout the years, I have posed the same question to all my guests on the show, and remarkably, their answers often echo Alex’s response. Love does conquer all.
It may indeed sound cliché, but the prevalence of this sentiment suggests a profound truth behind it.
Interestingly, the expression “love conquers all” can be traced back to the Roman poet Virgil. In his “Eclogues,” published around 37 BC, Virgil wrote in Latin, “Amor vincit omnia, et nos cedamus amori,” which when translated to English means “Love conquers all things, so we too shall yield to love.”
This ancient verse implies that there is no force in the world that cannot be overcome by love. Even back then, they already understood that choosing to live a life guided by love not only feels right but resonates as a profound truth to be experienced.
However, let’s not misconstrue this notion to mean that love will effortlessly eliminate all hardships. It doesn’t. Yet, it is through the love of others that our wounds can heal. Likewise, it is through our love that we can contribute to the healing of others’ wounds.
Love has the power to touch the depths of our wounds and facilitate healing. In that sense, love does conquer all.
These three invaluable lessons, discovered through the harrowing journey of Alex Lewis, possess profound truths. When combined, they have the power to transform your life, regardless of the magnitude or nature of the hardships, struggles, or challenges you face.
I strongly urge you to apply these lessons in your own life, no matter how big or small your adversities may be. Embracing them could potentially bring about remarkable changes and outcomes for you.
Again, for a deeper understanding of Alex’s experiences and to glean even more wisdom from his remarkable journey, I recommend checking out the interview I conducted with him in Episode 032 – “Quadruple Amputee Alex Lewis: Finding Your Way Out of Hell—and Thriving.” You will discover a treasure trove of additional lessons and invaluable insights that I sincerely hope can aid you even more through your journey in life.
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