There is a low place where people feel as if a fog has overtaken them, when the simplest efforts feel like “too much” and when the future seems distant and vast, holding little comfort.
This place of hopelessness, whether for your own struggle or situation or for a loved one’s, can feel paralyzing. I recall feeling this way myself when experiencing grief and loss as well as during difficult times in my life such as transitions and during break-ups.
This feeling is also intensely experienced during recovery from an eating disorder or any struggle with mental health, and also during recovery from physiological illness. This occurs not only in the individual but also in those trying to support the individual. Will these feelings go away? The feelings read as: Will I ever stop feeling this way? Is there even any point in trying? I feel as if the darkness surrounding me will never lighten.
It is all too easy to go from black to white, to think that if something is wrong it might always be wrong or that the future will hold nothing but more of the pain. And this can cause feelings of being misunderstood when others say things like “just give it time” or “but you have so much to be thankful for!” This feeling is isolating and lonely, and hearing the hope in others may at times be inspiring and supportive, but may at other times lead to further feelings of being misunderstood.
The following are some tips to help you when you feel like you’re in the depths of despair, whatever the cause, or to help those attempting to provide support to ones who are feeling this way.
- Feelings are not facts. The way you might feel right now does not dictate the realities of the world. Hopelessness is one of the hardest feeling states, and yet, this does not need to mean that things are, in fact, completely hopeless. All too often we ascribe our understanding of the world based on our feelings. For instance, if one feels heartbroken, this means that s/he’ll never find love again. Pause. Reflect. Listen. Your current feelings do not need to dictate your relationship with, or understanding of, the world around you. They are with you right now and it is important to recognize this; they need not be permanent.
- You’re correct in thinking that no one else knows how you feel. If we were to place 1,000 people who had all been through the same experience together in a room, these people would still not truly be able to understand with full comprehension how each other feels. This is because we are unique humans with a unique human experience. But this does not mean that you are unable to get support. First, identifying the type of support you might want and find helpful is essential. There is a great lack of understanding about how to provide support and how this can be person-specific. For instance, some people wish for others to simply listen and acknowledge or validate and perhaps provide personal touch. Others want prompting questions and curiosity. Some want to hear how loved ones can relate and what helped them when going through something similar. It is therefore important to figure out your preferred style and then inform those around you of what you might need. This can help prevent feeling misunderstood or feeling as if others are missing the mark on what you might need. I’ve often heard people say, “I don’t know what I need.” So try. Try and see and then try again if that fails. Try until you discover what it is that works for you.
- Identify your motivations for the future. Whether the current struggle is temporary (and you are able to identify it as such) or is ongoing, it is important to state your reasons for moving toward the future. This can help in remaining grounded in your goals even if hope feels out of reach. If you’re able to articulate your desire for a career or family or even liberation from your current feeling state, you are more likely to continue forward and move toward those goals, even if the steps to get there feel hollow or devoid of meaning.
- This will not last forever, unless you want it to. There’s the old adage of “time will heal.” In one’s darkest hour this phrase can feel far from helpful, as waiting can be one of the hardest aspects of healing. And yet, it is an old adage for a reason: its validity. Time can heal old wounds, though this does not mean that there won’t be scars or bruising. It also is not necessarily true if the individual does not want it to be: time can heal for those who are willing. For the individuals who are stuck in their suffering, little can heal their souls. It is, therefore, incredibly important to reflect on whether you want the suffering or struggling to pass. If any percentage of you wants this, you are in good shape. The number may rise and fall and your actions may not always reflect your desire for healing, but this is very different from having no interest in change.
- look to those who have overcome your current struggle and know that you are not alone. Whether or not you have a squad of friends to support you, it is essential to remember that you are not the first and, unfortunately, will not be the last to feel the way you currently feel. See if those who battle as you are battling can serve as an inspiration or reminder of the possibility of hope, recovery or healing.
For many individuals, hopelessness can be more painful than the experience itself. When feeling lonely or low, remember that others hold onto hope for you when you are not able, and that by combining a willingness to receive support and an understanding of self you can get through this and that hope does exist.
By Temimah Zucker, LMSW
Temimah Zucker, LMSW, is a psychotherapist at Monte Nido Manhattan and in private practice. Temimah speaks nationally and internationally on the subjects of mental health, eating-disorder awareness and body positivity. She runs weekly groups for Jewish women in recovery. To learn more, visit www.temimah.com.