Getting Through Less Hopeful Days

Even here at Spread Hope Project, not all days are filled with hope. Like anyone else dealing with mental health conditions or chronic illness, we have difficult days, where it seems there is so little. And on those days, even those of us whose mission it is to spread hope may have trouble finding some ourselves. I wish I had some greater words of wisdom here, some sure-fire tricks. But I don’t. Here are two simple pieces of advice I can offer.

  • It is OK to not feel OK.  You deserve to be able to be yourself.  Depression, anxiety, and all.  So in these times, give yourself time and space to take off the “mask”.  Do whatever you need to do to allow yourself to heal. For me, I’m trying to unplug a bit where I can, and I’m saying no to a lot of gatherings that aren’t mandatory.  I know that I’m physically becoming unable to keep up the happy, cheerful face more than absolutely necessary, and that tells me it’s time to take a step back until I’m feeling better.

 

  • You don’t have to believe everything your brain tells you. Depression and anxiety have mastered the skill of making you think that everything they tell you is indisputable fact. It is not. You have every right to question it. I know that people are full of positive cliches and platitudes, and those don’t help either. But focus on those truths that you know deep down, and those thoughts of people you truly trust to be honest with you, when your brain tries to pull you down into the depths of depression. Even planting one seed of doubt in what your brain is telling you can help.

 

 

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Spreading A Little Hope By Mail

So far, we’ve been mostly photo based. Which I love – visual representations of hope are quick, eye-catching (we hope!, no pun intended even though we love puns), and can reach a broad audience on a variety of media. Recently, though, I “won” a set of blank cards (the kind you write in, not the kind you play poker with). When I say won, I was given them for being the first person to raise my hand and volunteer something about myself at a group event. Which is a rarity – I particularly dislike being in front of a group, even if it’s sitting in my chair at a table with others that I know.

I love writing. It brings me solace in my worst times, helps me work out the jumble of thoughts and ideas and anxieties in my brain. I’m often able to bring to life things in writing that I would not be in speech. I also love sending and receiving cards.  Not e-cards or Facebook messages or a long typed out once-a-year update that’s sent to everyone at the holidays, but the good old fashion pen and paper individualized cards.  It felt serendipitous that I decided to raise my hand when I normally wouldn’t, and that the reward was writing cards, so I want to use them to pay it forward.

My mission is this:  I’m looking for people who you know who you feel could use some hope, and would appreciate a hand-written card. I don’t need to know them – in fact, it’s better if I do not. There’s something wonderful in reaching beyond your circle to spread hope to people simply because you feel they deserve it.  The cards will each be personalized as much as I can, without knowing the person, to explain why I’ve written from the Spread Hope Project to them. While we are generally chronic illness and mental health based, it does not have to be along these lines – it can be anyone who you feel could use some hope (and wouldn’t be super creeped out by receiving a card from a stranger at the Spread Hope Project).

Feel free to email us if you’d like to offer someone’s name and address (so that we can send the card – I promise we won’t spam them or send them promo material. We don’t even have printed promo material!). I believe there are 8 cards, so we are looking for 8 people.  I’m excited to use these, given to me, to give to someone else who could use them more than I.

Thank you! With love and hope,

Maya

Follow Me As I Walk Overnight

As I write this, I realize that title might sound like a creepy stalker invitation. To clarify, follow me on social media, as I walk the AFSP Out of Darkness Overnight Walk for Suicide Prevention this weekend.  Saturday night will mark the fourth year that I’ve walked 16-18 miles overnight to raise funds and awareness for Suicide Prevention. We begin the walk at dusk, usually around 7:30PM, and walk through the night until we finish the miles, with the course generally closing around 4:30AM.

It was an event I’d long wanted to do, given my own struggles, those of friends and loved ones, and the loss of a second-cousin to suicide about 6 years ago. When the event came to my home city of Philadelphia for the first time in 2014 (it’s held in only two cities each year), I felt it was a sign. Knowing nobody else walking, I signed up. I raised the $1000 required to walk and trained hard. (Yes, you have to train for a walk. Have you ever walked 18 miles nonstop, only sitting down to pee – or not, because the only bathrooms are port-o-potties? The loss of toenails and other foot injuries are very real threats). The night of the event, I was lucky – weather was beautiful, not a cloud in the sky, and I connected with a group of other solo walkers who walked at my speed, which can be tricky as I like to walk fast – I’m not a night person, and the staying up that late is tougher for me than the walk.

The next year, I walked in Boston. It poured. I mean poured. Thunderstorms forecasted and 40mph winds actually caused them to shorten the route slightly, as apparently it’s ill- advised to be walking on a metal bridge over the water in lightening, and they removed that portion from the walk.  I was lucky enough to connect with one of the men I’d walked with the year before, and had a walking buddy for my second time around.  Last year in New York City, it again monsooned, but luckily only for under an hour at the beginning. While it’s not fun to begin 17+ miles in wet socks and underwear (it really, really poured), I again met a group of solo individuals who became my team for the year. Plus, my amazing fiance (the other half of Spread Hope Project), chased me around the city on the transit system and met me at every cheering station.

This year, I’m headed to Washington, D.C. We will be starting at the Lincoln Memorial, and walking past sites such as the Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, U.S. Capital, National Archives, U.S. Treasury, Embassy Row, and through the heart of Georgetown. Our “Midnight Snack”, a.k.a lunch in the middle of the night, which we all know never to sit down for or you’ll never get up, is in Farragut Square Park. We finish back at the Lincoln Memorial.

Usually I finish the walk some time between 12:30AM and 2AM. It depends on how quickly I walk, how many “pit stops” I make (bathroom breaks, along with little snacks to take on the go and water/Gatorade refills), and a few other factors.  We shall see this year. I haven’t gotten to train as much as I’d like, due to the rainy spring and recent 95 degree heat, along with longer work hours. I’m crossing my fingers for no rain, though there’s a 60% chance of storms so I doubt a dry walk is likely. I’ve walked in rain before, though, and I’ll do it again if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

For those who want to follow along, I will be posting pictures on both the Spread Hope Project Instagram and my own personal Instagram, as well as tweeting.  For anyone in the DC area who may want to actually follow along and support those walking for this incredible cause, here are a list of cheering stations, along with “peak viewing times” (which kind of makes us sound like we’re safari animals, but is when they estimate the most people will be going through). If you plan to stop by a cheering station, I’d love to hear from you! And if you’d like to support the Spread Hope Project, feel free to get creative with cheering signage and/or to hashtag #spreadhopeproject in any photos you post.

And finally, if, by any chance any of my readers are also walking this Saturday, please let me know! I’d love a walking buddy if you like a quick pace, or to at least be able to connect and say hi. To all who are walking, who have donated, and who come out to support the cause, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

philly overnight steps

At the finish line in my first Overnight Walk in Philadelphia in 2014. Each luminary lit is for someone lost to suicide.

 

Finding Little Glimpses of Hope

It’s been a tough couple of days. Even those of us who make it our mission to spread hope have down times – after all, it’s why we know the value of offering hope to others. The dreary weather today, and lack of sleep, doesn’t help. During these times, finding hope can be a challenge. The world looks bleak and dark  – both literally, with the storms we’re having today, and emotionally.  It’s these times, though, in which hope is particularly essential. So how does one go about finding, and even spreading, hope when depression or anxiety takes a turn for the worse, giving the feeling that there is little of it to be found?

There is, of course, no concrete answer that would work for everyone. We’re all individuals with our own set of ideas of what we find hopeful. But here are a few tips I’ve found that can help me in darker times, and I hope they help you as well.

Ask others. Reach out to family, friends, loved ones and ask them to name a few little, day to day things, that give them hope. Not all of their answers, of course, may apply. But they may help you look at certain experiences or situations slightly differently. Or it may help you seek out their suggestions. One thing I have found in doing the 365 Days of Hope project is that there is a vast array of items, activities, and experiences that represent hope to others, and while I connect with so many of them once suggested, I never would have thought of them as “hopeful” on my own.

Help others. One of the most consistent truths I’ve found is that doing for others, even in tiny ways, makes me feel better. To clarify, I don’t mean doing for others at the expense of yourself. Taking on a coworker’s project when you’re already struggling with anxiety and depression most likely will not have a positive effect. But holding a door, buying a coffee for the person in line in front of you, complimenting someone, or stopping to see if someone who looks to be having trouble is OK, are all simple and free or inexpensive ways to help others without having to give up much of yourself.

Allow yourself to feel how you feel. That’s right – you have every right to experience what you’re experiencing. You have an illness that affects how you feel, and while it sucks, to be totally blunt about it, it’s not your fault and there’s often little you can in the acute stages. So give yourself permission to feel this way. Fighting it often only makes it worse. You then feel bad about not being able to change how you feel, on top of struggling with your illness. That can really destroy hope. So let yourself feel this way, and try to remember that at some point, it will end. There is the simplest of hopes in knowing that you can, eventually, get through this.

Pay attention to your senses. Is there anything at all that helps lift the struggle momentarily? Anything you see that is pleasant or hear that you enjoy? It may even be a smell that evokes a positive memory, or the feel of something soft and comforting. Make note of it. If you can, keep a list that’s easy to reference if needed. These will show you that, even in dark times, there are things that can ease it ever so slightly, if only for a minute. That offers a glimpse of hope. Hang on to those things. Surround yourself with them if at all possible. But at least just know they exist.

You Are Stronger Than You Imagine

 

 

 

What Makes Us Hopeful?

We’re almost a week into our 365 Days of Hope campaign, and while we clearly have a long way to go still, there seem to be a few trends based on the suggestions we’ve received so far. It got me wondering – what makes us hopeful, and why?

Now of course, we’re all different and everyone has their own reasons for suggesting the photos they did. Maybe it was to feed their (and our) inner child. Maybe they love the item or activity suggested. Maybe it’s what comes to their mind when they specifically think of hope, based on their life and experiences. So far, here’s what I’ve found.

  • Flowers. There were numerous suggestions for flowers, gardens, and things of the like. Flowers and gardens make me think of growth – blooms, or buds that will soon become a bloom. They also make me think of warmer weather, and along with it, sunshine. Anyone who’s struggled with SAD can attest to how warm weather, longer days, and sunshine can feel hopeful.

 

  • Nature. Nature has a way of taking us briefly, out of that finite moment, and helps us soak in the broader aspects of life. It refreshes and rejuvenates me. Which offers hope.

 

  • Childhood fun . From rolling down hills to swinging on swing sets to indulging in treats of our youth, kid-like fun is well represented on our list.  My guess is that childhood makes many of us think of a simpler time – without mortgages and busy work schedules and just general responsibility. It was probably the last time many of us felt carefree, or as close to it as we can come. I also had numerous requests from places and items from my childhood, which I think bring up the same feelings.

 

  • Family. There were a lot of suggestions based on doing things with family and close friends. To me, this highlights our support systems, which can help us keep hope, or in some instances have hope for us, even when we struggle with it ourselves.

 

  • The beach. Let me caveat here that we’re based in the Philadelphia area, with the beach about an hour away. If I lived further inland, it may not be the case. Again, though, I think the beach, and everything surrounding it, reminds people of childhood, family, and vacation (aka a feeling of freedom), all of which, can represent hope.

 

  • Pre-technology/pre-internet times. This one is incredibly interesting. There were numerous suggestions for things like reading an actual newspaper, writing in a journal (not a blog), reading a book (not on an app or kindle), mailing a letter in a mailbox, turning off all electronics. Perhaps it’s that, like some of the above, this seems to transport us to a “simpler” time. Maybe it’s that the constant barrage of posts, alerts, emails, and the like make us feel overwhelmed, and pausing from them helps alleviate that.

 

  • Doing for others. We have suggestions such as donating to charity and to the food bank, saying hello to a stranger, complimenting someone. These truly hit home. I think many of us feel best when helping others. Whether it’s listening to a friend in need, to a random act of kindness, to just being friendly and interacting with those we’d normally pass by staring straight ahead, there’s a feeling of purpose when we feel we’re positively affecting another human, or even animal.

There were plenty of other suggestions that fall outside of, or in between, these trends. Still, these were rather revealing. As adults, we often feel overwhelmed. We’re in a constant routine of work and life and bills, spending our days with electronics and modern technology constantly at us. We have to always be “on”. If we’re battling a mental health condition or chronic illness, we add to that the anxiety or depression or pain or physical difficulties or exhaustion (and so much else) that come with these. And because of this, feeling loved and safe with our support systems, being reminded of times when things were simpler, where our goal seemed to be to have fun and enjoy life to the fullest, and where hope was as easy as saying hi to someone we didn’t know. Of course, there are exceptions as there are to everything. But these suggestions, and the fun we’re having doing these activities and taking these photos, are a valuable lesson. It’s possible to find hope in the tiniest thing, the smallest moment. And they give me something to go back to when my illness is rearing it’s head (literally, in my case), and I feel so hopeless. Perhaps I can look at these photos, remember these moments, and be reminded of that there is hope, after all.