How to Stay Hopeful and Realistic

Lately, I tend to have two moods: “I’m going to bring about world peace!” and “I can’t get out of bed.”  This isn’t overly surprising, given that I have a mood cycling disorder, which flips me from hypomania to depression sometimes numerous times a day (thank you, rapid cycling). This can make hope tricky at times. When I’m in a depressive cycle, it’s hard to find any hope at all. When I’m hypomanic, my brain runs a mile a minute, full of plans and ideas, and I whole-heartedly feel every one of them is possible. To be clear, they aren’t “unrealistic” per se – I’m not actually trying to bring about world peace single-handedly. They’re career goals, life goals. They’re dreams. They’re possible, but not easy (because what is?), not nearly as close as they feel in those moments. Still, I plan and plan and plan.

The problem comes in the execution of these plans. I start out all gung ho, all excited. I have my brainstorming pages and my sticky notes of ideas and my notebook full of thoughts about this new opportunity. And then, at the tiniest falter, I crash. One thing doesn’t go exactly as I planned in my “take on the world” state, and it brings me back to a harsh reality, at times even cycling me back into depression.

So how do we stay hopeful, but also keep ourselves a bit realistic, to try to avoid this crash? Now, a note: I’m not saying not to be optimistic. Optimism is great. But how can we be optimistic without setting ourselves up for massive disappointment? I don’t have all of the answers, but here are a few things I learned.

  1. Don’t discourage the initial rush of ideas, dreams, “I can do this!” feelings. Write your notes, brainstorm, whatever you need to do.
  2. Then leave it, at least for the night. Sleep on it, and look at it again in the morning. See how it looks. Adjust as needed. Continue to do this periodically throughout the process. If anything gives you pause, sleep on it before changing it.
  3. Pick out the pieces that seem the most do-able to start with. For instance, when I was starting Spread Hope Project, the first thing I did was start a specific Instagram account just for the project (shameless plug!). That was doable. I know Instagram, I already have other accounts (let’s ignore the fact that one of those is for my dog), and all I needed was my cell phone. It didn’t mean I had to get a ton of followers right away, I just had to start it. That was a completely doable first step, and it helped me keep my momentum going.
  4. Flesh out some details – which actions can you take now, which can you do soon, which require other pieces (i.e. funding, the success of the first steps, help from others, etc) in order to happen. Organize them, including making note of any help you’ll need in order to make certain pieces work.
  5. Know that everything won’t go exactly as you hoped. Have a backup plan, or several. Creating these helps you to be realistic about glitches that will inevitably occur, and also helps to keep you from feeling defeated if you need to change course a bit.
  6. When in doubt, be optimistic, but don’t bet the farm. Focus on the little successes that move you forward, instead of only seeing the end goal. It helps keep you working on the day to day tasks that will get you there, and setbacks will be less crushing.
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What Is Hope?

Since starting Spread Hope Project, I’ve been asked this question several times. It’s a completely valid question, being that my goal is to spread hope.  And yet, it somehow trips me up. Hope has always been to me one of those things that just is.  It’s difficult to describe without using the word itself. And yet, to each of us, it most likely looks a little different.

In terms of spreading hope itself, my goal is to help people that are struggling to feel that something good, positive, or at least better than how they currently feel, is possible. When used in the context or mental health, it could mean that their depression can improve with proper treatment, or that they’ll find a way to work through their anxiety, able to manage it better, or simply that the anxiety attack or bout of depression won’t last forever.  For others, it could mean learning confidence and improving their self-esteem when depression knocks it so low. For some it could have a broader reach – it could be feeling less lost in life, or less alone in their illness. It could be feeling like they and their life matter. It could be connecting with others who understand, who can offer support when needed, or who can help motivate and inspire them.

Hope is surprisingly tricky to describe in and of itself, I’ve found upon trying. It isn’t even, at least to me, a determined belief or strongly held conviction. It’s a possibility. A possibility that things could improve, that there’s something to look forward to. It doesn’t have to be based in fact or knowledge.  It can come from a feeling, even a flicker of one.  It can come from knowing that there’s even one other person who may understand, or one instance of feeling like you matter. It doesn’t require evidence or proof.  You don’t have to know that something will happen to have hope. You just have to feel that their may be the possibility. At least that’s how it seems to me.

And so, in my efforts to spread hope, I try to work with both the details and the general feeling. At times, I speak specifically to mental health and chronic illness. Other times, I try to focus more on confidence or self esteem. Other times still, I try to simply let people know that, however they are feeling, they aren’t alone, and that they matter.

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