Have you ever found yourself in the spiral of hopelessness?
Earlier this week I revisited a piece of writing by Viktor Frankl, Experiences in a Concentration Camp. Frankl writes honestly of his time in what most of us of would consider a living hell — and how he walked through with his sanity intact.
I love his writing for several reasons. One, I have first-hand experience of postpartum depression and situational resentment/distress and I need the reminders that there is hope. Two, Frankl writes with practical roadmarkers that anyone can apply to their life!
Here you have it, then, practical, applicable ways to step out of the cycle of hopelessness* and regain your zest for life:
1. Take your thoughts captive. Frankl writes of his obsession with what to do to make his daily life better, should he trade a cigarette for a bowl of soup, how could he get a piece of wire to replace a broken shoestring? “I became disgusted with the state of affairs which compelled me, daily and hourly, to think of only such trivial things. I forced my thoughts to turn to another subject.”
Our thoughts on the spiral of hopelessness may not be so survival-oriented as Frankl’s, but they can be obsessive and unproductive. Intervene in the obsession. Try addiction breakers, like wearing a rubber band on your wrist and snapping it whenever you catch yourself in the thought mode.
A key component is to go a step farther than simply stopping the thought – replace it with something. Repeat a phrase/verse that has significance to you. When my mom was in emergency surgery I found myself repeating the words to a child’s song over, and over, and over again. (“My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do!”)
2. Give thanks. Being thankful in circumstances no one would choose is crazy, right? It is. But is also works. This spring I’ve read Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts. It’s changed my entire philosophy of thankfulness to list the gifts I have in my life — especially what she terms the “Ugly/Beautiful.”
Similar to the lyrics in Laura Story’s song, Blessings, Voskamp writes, “That which tears open our souls… may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond.”
Start a list of the grand and practically invisible good things in your life – don’t stop until you’ve found 1,000. See where your thought process is at that point.
3. Recognize there are tasks only you can do. The spiral of hopelessness causes people to feel alone and insignificant. That’s simply not true. Yes, other people can probably do your job. No one can replace your personality and your ability.
Frankl goes all JFK, (“ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”) on us for awhile by writing, “We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and mediation, but in right action and right conduct.”
You have something you were specifically designed to do. Period. It may be great, it may be small, it may be pleasurable, it may be distasteful. You and only YOU, were created to do it well and with dignity.
Frankl acknowledges something I absolutely hate, our distinct duty may be ugly: “When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.”
This attitude flies in the face of everything we believe in America about expectations and a take-charge attitude and the prosperity gospel. But it rings true, doesn’t it? (And, FYI, bearing your burden of suffering by committing suicide is NOT admirable. It’s selfish.) Frankl continues by suggesting “getting through suffering” in the same way you might “get through work” at an unpleasant task.
4. Get out of yourself. We are, by nature, selfish little clods of humanity. When left to our own devices we revert to a “me, first!” mentality instead of one of sacrifice. If you’re caught in the spiral of hopelessness, get out of yourself. Donate your time to a literacy program. Volunteer in a food bank. Walk up and down the streets picking up trash. Just Do Something. Do it for no reason other than you’re not doing it for yourself and you receive no physical benefit from the act. Your spirit will change.
5. Figure out your Why. I’m going to get all churchy on you with this one. Guess what? There is a God. There just Is. You’re surrounded by the evidence all around you, and God doesn’t just live in churches or synagogues or anyplace we’ve created to seek Him. There’s no right way to find God, except to admit you need help:
“Help is a prayer that is always answered. It doesn’t matter how you pray — with your head bowed in silence , or crying out in grief, or dancing. Churches are good for prayer, but so are garages and cars and mountains and showers and dance floors… some people think God is in the details but I have come to believe that God is in the bathroom.” Anne Lamott, Plan B
Have you considered making God your why? Even in the face of spiritual silence, have you made a choice to be crazy and simply persevere? In the midst of the crisis it’s easy to give up on God, assuming God has given up on us. The opposite is true. We need to cling to the beliefs we had in times of spiritual joy, accept the doubts, and hold on to our Why.
Find your Why for life. Commit to it with frantic energy, don’t allow the apathy that has infected the culture to apply to you! Discover, pursue, cultivate passion. “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,” Nietzsche.
If you’re in the spiral, I’m so sorry. I can’t possibly know the details of your situation, but I do care!
Do you have any tips that have helped demolish despair?
*If you like this post, would you please share it with your “tribe” via email, facebook, twitter, pinterest, etc.?*
*There are authentic chemical imbalances that happen in our bodies that medical intervention can help. There is no shame in receiving treatment for these, in the same way refusing insulin if you were diabetic would be foolish! Talk to your doctor, if needed, and remember — you’re not alone!*
This post was originally published May 16, 2012 and is being recycled as part of the “I’ve Been Around” summer! Hope you enjoyed it and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!