Spreading Hope One Cause at a Time

There’s been a ridiculous amount of negative occurrences going on in the world lately. At times, I think it’s easy to feel downright hopeless, or at least struggle to find much hope. I understand it. The number of times lately that the nightly news has had to expand to a multi-hour program to cover the unfolding of disastrous events – natural and otherwise – has been entirely too high. Not to mention the every day life situations we all have to deal with that can bring us down. And for those that battle anxiety and depression, who may already be wrestling with the trying to find hope, the struggle goes even deeper.

But I refuse to give up on hope. I watch the good in people – the people who protect others, complete strangers sometimes, at risk of their own lives. The people I personally know who have traveled to hurricane regions to help out, simply because they want to do something to ease the suffering of people who are losing so much. And then there’s the everyday actions that most people may never even know about – the kid who stands up for another classmate being bullied, the person who quietly helps out an important community cause without any fanfare or desire for recognition. I could go on all day listing examples. These are the people that tell me all is not lost. Good people exist in the world.  We have reason to have hope.

Spread Hope Project is not a huge organization. We don’t have money pouring in. We don’t have hundreds of participants and volunteers. In fact, we are quite far from that. But we can still help. We can still offer hope. So over the next few months, we will be regularly posting causes (via our super high-tech paper and marker hand-made signs), and asking for your suggestions for ways to help. It may be that we are looking to donate school supplies, for instance, and looking for a school that could benefit. It may be that we’re looking for program suggestions for specific causes (say, your suggestions for animal-related causes, for example). It may be a free-for-all cause/organization shout out – name any smaller cause that needs the help but doesn’t get the attention it deserves! We may not be able to help everyone, but we’ll choose at least one suggestion from each post to help. We don’t have a massive amount of funding, so we’re looking for ways to help that aren’t just monetary. It could be volunteering or organizing an event or drive. It could be something as helping in an awareness campaign.

So stay tuned, and make sure to follow our Instagram and Facebook pages for more updates!

 

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Offering Hope in the Wake of Natural Disasters – A Question

Hi all, it’s been a minute. We were doing the whole getting married thing! But we’re back, until our honeymoon at the end of next week. But while we’ve been merrily (marry-ly? sorry couldn’t help myself) celebrating our wedding with our closest family and friends, mother nature has been wrecking havoc on so many people’s lives. Houston, Florida, St. Martin, Puerto Rico, the earthquake in Mexico City area. The tiny island of Dominica, a place that stole my heart when I visited on a cruise 13 years ago, is said to basically be destroyed. People who had so little (besides copious amounts of natural beauty), and have now lost virtually all of it. The little island of Barbuda is said to have had it’s civilization wiped out. Such destruction and sadness.

I am lucky to have not had to deal with it first hand, and that those I know in these areas are safe and sound. Still, as a highly sensitive person who feels things especially deeply, it does affect me – not, of course to the degree of those physically affected or with loved ones struggling in these locations, I’d never compare it to that. Still, the sadness I feel at the destruction, the lives altered and lost, at times overwhelms me.  I look at the TV, I read the articles, I see the photos and think, “I have to help.” The fact that I don’t feel I am is crushing to me. And yet, I feel frozen. Other than monetarily, which I only have so much of, I don’t know how.  Or at least, I don’t know how I can realistically help.  I get emails asking for money for every destination, and yet I don’t have much to give. I receive the emails about fostering dogs that were abandoned and think, “I want to foster them all!” But I neither have the space or the resources to do so. (I realize dogs are not people, but still at least it would be a way to kind of help). I think, “I should just fly down and be there!”, but I also want to keep my jobby-job (i.e. day job that pays me), and I can’t just up and leave with every natural disaster that strikes, which seems to be happening almost daily. Nor do I have the resources (i.e. funds) to do so. One day, I hope that Spread Hope Project will be large enough to be able to do this regularly, but today is not the day.

So I’m wondering, how can I help? How can I offer these people hope, when they have lost so much. What can I, and the Spread Hope Project, reasonably do? I’m truly asking. Can I donate clothing, food, supplies? Are there things I can do from afar, that aren’t just donating money (I don’t mind donating, but after a while I just don’t have the funds)? I’d love to hear your suggestions – especially perhaps the lesser known opportunities that aren’t getting as much public attention, but would still help those affected.

Thank you, for any ideas you can offer!

 

50 States of Hope

Every day, I read about different community projects happening in my home city of Philadelphia and the surrounding areas. It truly inspires me, and I think of the hope that these people are bringing – to those that they’re helping specifically, to the community, and to each other (being surrounding by others wanting to make positive change is certainly hopeful). And hopefully, pun kind of intended, to themselves. I know that for me, the fact that there are good people in the world, nearby even, and that we can bring about positive changes together gives me hope.

And yet I realize how few of these projects I participate in. Not because I don’t want to, but because I learn about them and think, “Oh I should look into that”, and then life happens and I remember about it too late, or there’s a scheduling conflict, or I get overwhelmed and need to take a step back from involvement. Or perhaps, I don’t hear about these at all. Maybe it’s a small, local project that I’m unaware of until it’s too late to participate. Or I hear about it after the fact somehow.

So I decided I needed to do something about this. I want to be more involved in these efforts, to bring awareness to some that may not get as much notice, and to participate in more of those that I keep saying “next time” to.  With that, I’ve started the the 50 States of Hope goal. I would like to be involved in at least one project that helps at least one person in all 50 states. Now of course, I could pick one large event for a cause that affects people in every state. And I might well participate in this simply because I think it worthy. But I’d also like to participate in those that are more local. Perhaps it’s simply a locally organized event of a larger organization. Or maybe it’s writing an anonymous letter of hope to someone struggling. Or a toy or book drive for children who are in the hospital.  It could be participating in something to help local community arts. Maybe it’s a local community garden project, or something to help local school children. What I want is to really feel my contribution is helping people, and that perhaps I’m bringing awareness to a worthy project or cause that may not have enough awareness on it.

But I of course don’t regularly frequent all 50 states to know exactly what local events and projects are going on. So that’s where you all come in. I’m looking for suggestions. What’s going on in your area? Do you have a project, perhaps one that helps your community, or one nearby, that you’re passionate about? Do you know someone, or know of someone, who could use a letter of hope. Do you know someone who runs a local project or campaign for a cause?  I’d love to learn more about it.

Now please keep in mind that I have a day job and am not independently wealthy so, while I’d truly love to one day do so, I cannot currently travel the country full time offering hope, and may need to get a little creative with some. And I’d rather it not be strictly a monetary donation, not only because I’m not independently wealthy but because I’d like to get my hands dirty a bit. To feel more actively involved, even if it’s simply collecting toys or books or games or school supplies or food or whatever it is. So please, send your suggestions my way either here, on social media, or via email at thespreadhopeproject@gmail.com.  If I am able to participate in the project you suggest, I promise to give it a shout out on social media, the blog, wherever I can, and if you’d like, to give you one too for making the suggestion (this part isn’t mandatory if you’d prefer to stay anonymous).

Thanks in advance! I look forward to hearing your suggestions!

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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.

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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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.

 

 

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.

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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.