A Little Hope A Long Way From Home

Last I posted, my cousin and I were headed to Spain for an eight day adventure through four cities.  I absolutely love to travel. In fact, my alter-ego is that of a travel planner – I’ve owned my own business for almost 12 years. So there was no doubt we’d have a great time, despite the taxi strike and the super cold temperatures and getting lost a thousand times and the fact that we nearly had to strip down in a waffle shop (there’s a longer story there, as you may imagine). But this trip was particularly timely.

my ronda selfie

On the balcony of our Parador in Ronda

You see, I’ve been feeling a bit lost lately. Not the same type of actual, “haven’t we passed that restaurant five times” lost that we were in Spain, but lost in life. I’ve been searching for how to turn my passion for helping people and inspiring hope into something thats… more than a passion. Because as much as I absolutely love doing these things, they don’t currently pay the bills. So I’ve been stuck in this grand “what do I do with my life” for the past few months or so. I mean, to be honest, I have that question often, but recently, due to certain circumstances in my life, it’s felt more pressing, more urgent. Like I need to figure it out now, and to start making the next steps.

ronda sunrise2

Sunrise as we hiked down the mountain in Ronda

And I am not going to say I had some sort of epiphany during a sunrise hike down the mountain inRonda, because I didn’t (I did do the sunrise hike, but I couldn’t feel my hands, let alone an epiphany). I wish I could say this truly. I wish I had a eureka moment where everything made sense, and I knew the path ahead. But I have too low self-confidence to have those. People who have these moments are sure of their ability to make that path work. I, on the other hand, continually question myself, even when I’m succeeding. But I did have some tiny little lightbulbs start to brighten. Something akin to dim path lighting on a dark sidewalk. Out there, in the fresh air overlooking the countryside in Andalucia, as I froze my way down the mountain, I gained some hope. Hope that, perhaps I might not be able to accomplish my goals in the way I originally wanted to, but that I would somehow get there. Ideas, small ones, began to pop into my brain. What if you did this? How about that? More like tiny directives, stepping stones. Which is what I need, because I’m a big picture person who can see the end goal, but not how to get there.

3C760D80-200E-4D36-AC86-C2966C29C8F4

At the Alcazar in Cordoba. View from one of the castle turrets.

And so there, in the hills of southern Spain, my perspective changed both literally and figuratively. It may have taken me traveling thousands of miles away to get to that point, but hope is hope, and sometimes, it comes in forms that you least expect. I guess I’ll just have to travel more often!

Ronda New Bridge

View of the Puente Nuevo as we hiked in Ronda.

The Great Outdoors

I hope some of my readers are old enough to get this blog title, so that I don’t feel too terribly old.

I am a person that, by nature, loves the fresh air and sunlight. I liken myself to a dog with it’s head out sticking out the car window. Sun on my face, wind in my hair, and copious amounts fresh air is my happy place. Add in exploring, and it’s basically my perfect day.

My mood has been particularly topsy turvy lately, and so I’m making a concerted effort to be outside as much as possible (when the weather cooperates).  The days are getting colder and darker, which I don’t love, but I’m trying to take as much advantage of the daylight hours as I can when I’m not working.

This past weekend, I decided to take a solo hike in nearby Wissahickon Park. The park is quite expansive, but parts of it are 15 to 20 minutes drive from my house, which makes it pretty convenient for an early morning hike. When I arrived, there were three other cars in the particular parking area I’d chosen, which meant that, unless people were just crammed into other parking areas, other hikers would be few and far between for the time being. Perfect. I spent about two hours hiking, all in all. I’ve hiked this area before, or at least some of it, so I experimented with trails I hadn’t taken before. I did know that there was a mini waterfall (I love waterfalls, and anything water-related!) that I hadn’t gotten to visit on prior trips, so I was determined to find it, and find it I did.

 

 

I arrived home before 11AM, several miles hiked, daily step goal for the already achieved, and renewed hope.  Being out in the peacefulness and relative solitude of nature, spending time among the changing leaves, with only the sound of running water, squirrels rustling through the trees, and the occasional fellow hiker is exactly what I needed.

 

Life with a mood disorder and chronic illnesses is never easy.  And sometimes, I’m not able to be as active as I’d like to be. But I’m vowing to spend as much time as I can in the great outdoors going forward. I may have to get creative in the colder months, because the cold and my body do not get along, but I will do what I can.

 

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.

 

gracie-e1509537822349.jpg

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

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.

logo-options

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

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