Tiny Hopes Every Day

I’ve not blogged in awhile. I’ve been going through a particularly rough patch, and quite frankly, been struggling with my own hope. It happens to all of us, it seems. So I’ve been focusing on trying to get myself healthy and hopeful, because if I’m not, I’m unable to truly help others.

Sometimes, in the bleakest moments, hope seems dim indeed. In these moments, I’m forced to look for hopes in the tiniest things. The way my dog greets me when I arrive home. Every day. Like it’s the best moment she’s ever experienced.  She has infallible hope, and I think, “Man, I wish I could be like her. She’s literally always convinced something great is about to happen.  I can’t unfortunately. I say can’t, because I really mean I can’t. I battle depression, and when it flares badly, I physically, mentally cannot think life is roses, no matter how badly I want to.

So lately, I’ve had to get back to basics. I’ve had to focus on those tiny moments in life that bring some brightness – the smell of rain, a colorful sunrise, a much needed hug, an unexpected moment of laughter, spending time in the fresh air. These brief moments of brightness tell me that I can, after all, be hopeful. It might not be earth shattering hope, but there is a brightness. The world, and I, am not full of darkness.

So I resolve to live these moments more completely. To enjoy the fresh air more. To see more sunrises (morning insomnia makes this pretty easy). To hug more, when my physical closeness meters allow it. To spend more time, in person or virtually, with people who make me laugh. To focus more on living, and less on the “have to”s. And somewhere in there, I aim to offer hope, to myself and to others. Because sometimes, it’s in offering to others that we find the greatest hope in ourselves.

 

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My dog Grace finding complete delight in a paper towel roll.

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!

 

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.