Hopes, Goals, Dreams, & Delusions: Navigating Life With Depression and Anxiety (Chapter 4)

Keep Hope Alive

Hope is looking past the present with some level of belief that things can be better, either through sheer luck or some measure of effort. A more realistic outlook would be a combination of the two. Hope is looking beyond oneself and seeing the possibilities of the future in a positive light, even for a moment. It’s a glance upward and forward and seeing something glisten and shimmer among the dingy grey that seems to be on all sides. It requires courage to look for it instead of focusing on all the overwhelming negatives, and strength to keep looking for it when life seems overwhelming. No matter how difficult it may be I am convinced it is possible for everyone to achieve. It takes focus and practice but I believe it is possible. Sadly, so many people lose this hope, or even the desire to look for it.

When life is a bit more on the “normal” scale it becomes easier to balance hope against the delusions, using the hope to cancel out the negative thoughts. I tend to look at it like this. Hope (for me at least) tends to be based in reality. On facts. On truth. On the other hand, the delusions and lies that depression and anxiety tend to spread are usually overstated or exaggerated statements spun into a all-or-nothing falsehood. Examples that seem to be common are “I always ___________ (make that mistake, hurt people, screw up, etc)” or “I never _____________ (finish my work, pay my bills on time, am organised, etc)”. These statements, while black and white, are t so focused on the negative that there’s little chance of seeing the fallacy of that pattern of thought. Chances are very high that someone does not always perform in that pattern and it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to uncover just how untrue those statements are. Lately I’ve been fairly stable, and while I’m learning to recognise this sort of thought pattern —  it’s shocking how much it’s ingrained into my psyche. What’s even more shocking is how easy it is to allow those patterns to suck me down in a negative feedback loop. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of the absolutely worst kind! Negative thoughts breed negative thoughts, which lead to poor self esteem or poor performance (at work, at home, at life skills in general). This only breeds more negative thoughts and even lower self esteem. This cycle very quickly becomes self-perpetuating. If it’s that easy to fall into that “negative feedback loop’ where things can so easily spiral out of control, what’s the point? My answer is hope.

Earlier I had mentioned how hope can often be an anchor when things get hard. I had asked the following question on Twitter: Coping with mental illness has a lot to do with hope or lack of it. Agree/disagree? The responses are what cracked this thing wide open. I was expecting a few responses; what I wasn’t expecting was the depth and honesty people responded with. It got me thinking that there is way more than just hope. I’ve included what I found were the most interesting or the most eye-opening responses:

  • “Hope can be such a powerful thing when we have it, and debilitating when we don’t”
  • “Agree. When little to no hope is present, symptoms seriously worsen. Hope brings encouragement to keep going.”
  • “I think hope coupled with realism perhaps, if we prepare I always like to think we can head it off and not be so winded by it”
  • “I think positivity helps but can also sometimes be a hindrance, because it makes depressed people feel more helpless when they fail.  So hope or positivity is good, but you mustn’t  expect depression not to recur or become disillusioned when things do not work out. At the same time, it is hard to be prepared for it when we are succeeding because it takes so much eradication of negative thinking.”
  • “I’d caveat that a lack of hope isn’t a weakness reflective of the person, rather, it’s a reflection of the mental health condition’s cruel impact.”
    “For me it is the lack of hope, the lack of dreams, & seemingly days upon days of looking at a boring future. Losing a piece of my soul everyday”
  • “Goals give you a reason to step forward. Hope keeps you from stopping”
  • “Sometimes when you’re in a very dark place in your life all you have is hope”
  • “Everyone’s different. Some are completely void of hope, can’t get out of bed. Others hang onto a shred of hope on better days”
  • “In my darkest days, I kind of had hope about having hope”

Stop for a few moments and contemplate that last response. If you’ve struggled with deep depression or if  you’ve battled suicidal thoughts you understand that line with absolute clarity. If you haven’t been there and are just trying to understand those of us who face mental illness, read it again. Imagine a life that you feel is so meaningless that you don’t even have hope left. You’re left with a cheap, vague imitation of hope; you cling to that, praying (literally or figuratively) that you’ll eventually stumble across real hope again.

The thing I’m learning about hope is it needs to be fed. It needs something for it to grow. It doesn’t just suddenly spring into your life with candles and fireworks and confetti. It takes people who care about you to speak positive truth into your life. It takes people who genuinely care about you to willingly wade into the mud and darkness, to walk alongside you. It takes a focused effort to see the positivity for yourself and to feed it, and allow it to feed into you. It takes cutting out all sorts of negativity. It takes effort and energy to develop it; energy that when you’re struggling with any one of the many mental illnesses is in critically low supply.

(to be continued…)

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