We all despair sometimes. That dark night of the soul is an integral part of a fully lived life. Sometimes we can't see the gold at the end of the rainbow, the light at the end of the tunnel, the sunrise at the end of a dark, dark, night.
I've reached that point many times in my well worn life. I've lost jobs, relationships have ended, financial situations have overwhelmed me, people I have loved have died, and things that I've thought were fantastic have been big, fat, ugly lies. And it has sucked. And I have survived and thrived.
Each time despair hits, we have a choice. We can wallow in it, or wade through it until we can see that distant end to the problem. Sometimes we find we wallow for a bit and then we wade. But inevitably, those of us who live through despair find our way out of the swamp and on to dry land. We catch our breath, and we take a risk on life.
Despair can be overwhelming. Even moments of despair that are blown away in moments feel like they can crush you with their weight. Those moments in my eighteen years with Husband where an argument reached that point of “is this the end, this time” have almost done me in more than once. And that is in a good marriage.
Poverty can be a special kind of despair. I love the show Shameless (the American version plays on Showtime, starring William H. Macy) because it so clearly captures the idea that when your choices are between immediate survival and making life better, there are often no clean choices. The show is played for laughs, and is definitely not for the kiddos, but if you can handle coarseness, sexual content, really disturbing moral situations sometimes involving raising children, drugs, and alcohol, it is a fantastic show.
As a therapist, I deal in helping people find their way out of the swamp. You would think that means that I would hand you a bunch of answers when you come in facing a situation that has you wallowing in the swamp, but you would be wrong. I hand you a bunch of questions, instead. I don't have the answers to helping you get out of your particular swamp, but I do have questions that can serve as guiding lights.
In light of this, today's dance is beginning to feel an awful lot like Michael Jackson's Thriller:
- When was the last time you despaired of something? Of life? Are you in despair now?
- Last time you despaired, what did you do to get out of it? Did someone else help? Is that help available to you now?
- Sometimes there's no clear way out of the swamp, but there are ways to survive in the swamp, and start clearing a path. What can you do to survive until things change? How can you begin clearing a way to a new place of happiness?
- How much of your despair is outside your control? Sometimes you have to let go of the things you can't control and focus on what you can change. What can you change right now? What do you need to put aside for now?
- Is there something life or health threatening in your swamp? Can you handle it yourself or do you need to call for help? Who is available for help? If the help from friends and family won't be enough, what organizations in your area are able to help? If in the United States, have you tried United Way 2-1-1?
- When you look back on periods of despair you've gone through in the past, are there lessons you have learned to reduce despair in the future?
- What can you do for a moment of respite? A moment of happiness? A bit of hope? How can you start building hope?
As always, conversations are best shared. Pass this around to those you think need to see it, and help them climb out of the swamp, too.
One final note: If you are seriously thinking of suicide, please call your local emergency number (911) or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for help right now.