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My husband didn’t believe in hope. After his suicide, I don’t think I did, either. Now that time has passed and I’ve gained more knowledge and a whole lot of perspective, I wish I could go back and make Bill see the hope that is all around — the hope that is attainable.
Because there is hope.
Does that statement sound trite? Maybe. But let’s back up. What is hope?
Hope is an optimistic attitude based on expectations of positive outcomes in one’s life or the world at large.
A person who has a high level of hope has healthier habits, sleeps better, exercises more, eats healthier, gets sick less often, and is more likely to have less depression and to survive a life-threatening illness.
Students who have hope usually have higher grades. Hope, in fact, is a bigger predictor than SAT scores of who will finish college.
Hope sounds pretty great, right? Aside from all these physical and mental benefits, hope can save your life.
There is no better example of this than Gavin.
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During the darkest moment of my life I stood at the top of a parking structure thinking how easy it would be to jump and be free of the pain I felt every day. I was already sleeping as much as I could every day. Wasn’t the next step to sleep.. .forever?
It’s funny — or miraculous, really — that I chose that particular parking structure. As I stood at the top contemplating my death, I had the perfect view of Mission Hospital. I saw the large sign with the familiar cross logo I’d seen countless times. But this time, it seemed to call to me, telling me to come inside and get help.
Knowing what my alternative was, I listened. Before I could rethink my decision, I drove to the hospital and asked for help. I went into detox for five days to get the drugs out of my system. Detoxing felt like I was dying, but after the moment I had on the parking structure, I still knew I was safer within the walls of the hospital than outside.
Once clean, I had to face my life without the help of drugs. But I wasn’t alone. I spent the next six months in treatment for substance abuse and depression, then I continued therapy for one year.
Do you know what happened?
I began to realize that my life matters.
See, I didn’t know what depression looked like. I just thought something was wrong with me. My brain was crying for help and I didn’t know it. Once I got that help, life improved. A lot. Had I been taught the warning signs of depression, my high school experience may have been different. It might have been a lot happier and a lot less scary.
I still have depression. It’s a mental illness that isn’t going to just disappear. But now I have the coping skills to deal with it. When I feel down, I know tomorrow will be a better day. I make sure I’m doing what I love and that I’m surrounded by family and friends who love me, too.
Maybe you hurt like I did, or maybe you know someone who sounds like who I used to be. If you do, I promise, there is hope.
There is hope I didn’t know existed during my darkest of times. But now I know: Depression is a disease that can be treated.
Whether it’s you or a friend, there is treatment and hope. Things can turn around.
I know Gavin personally, and you know what? He is one of the most hopeful people I know. He’s a great example of how people who are hopeful don’t just have a goal, they have a strategy to achieve that goal and the motivation to carry it out. Hope is the belief that the future will be better than the present and that the power to make it better resides within you.
People often lose hope when they focus on obstacles instead of goals or on what excites and inspires them. Just thinking of happy things can remind us of what hope feels like. Doing what we enjoy can boost our confidence and mood, and spending time with hopeful people is also beneficial because — guess what? — hope is contagious.
Even when you feel completely hopeless, the great news is that it’s possible to develop hope. All it takes is reminding yourself of what’s good in your life. Right now, try this simple exercise. Write a list of all the people, things, and activities that make you feel happy, loved, comforted, motivated, and inspired. They don’t all need to be profound. Here are a few examples to get you started:
- Friends and family who love and believe in you
- Favorite activities, sports, and hobbies (whether you’re good at them or not)
- Times in your life when you felt whole, happy, and loved
- Favorite locations that are beautiful and relaxing (like the beach or your childhood backyard)
- Acts of kindness someone has done for you
- Acts of kindness you have performed for others
- Favorite songs, poems, and books
- Personal achievements or accomplishments you feel proud of (whether you won an award or not)
- Things you hope to achieve or do in the future
Now put this list somewhere you’ll see it every day. Why? Because it can be easy to forget all the things that make life worth living, especially when we’re struggling with difficulties and depression, so we develop hope in dark times by reminding ourselves to stay focused on what’s good.
DEPRESSION IS A THIEF AND A LIAR
The other reason to keep this list handy is because depression is a thief and a liar. It’s a thief because it robs you of hope — hope that you’ll feel better, hope that the darkness will lift, hope that the emptiness will fill up and you’ll feel motivated and excited again, hope that you’ll actually get through it.
Depression is a liar because it makes you feel like it will last forever. That is the nature of the disorder, and it’s important to remind yourself that depression is not a permanent state. It’s temporary, and it can be treated and overcome.
Depression has a way of distorting our outlook so that we only notice the bleakest parts of the world. The darkness distorts reality until we believe this distortion is reality. We may even start to think that we have always been depressed, as if nothing else has ever existed, and even our precious memories of joy and happiness feel distant or unreal.
Of course, no one wants to feel this way, which is why many people don’t want to admit they are depressed. Doing so would require admitting the very real and painful experiences that sparked the feelings of hopelessness. However, admitting “I feel hopeless and depressed” can actually be a positive first step. That doesn’t mean you believe life is hopeless; rather, it’s honestly recognizing and admitting how you feel.
Identifying a problem is necessary to fix it, and so the next question to ask is why. If negative emotions are suffocating joy and robbing you of hope, see if you can identify possible solutions to feel better. For instance, many people with depression feel alone. They feel no one understands what they’re going through and that they have no one to talk to.
If that’s true for you, then a good action to take would be to find someone to talk to, someone who understands, so you don’t feel alone. What do you do when hope feels unfamiliar or impossible? It is important to use a wide variety of coping strategies to help overcome depression. Keeping a list of good things and happy memories can help, and what follows are more techniques.
COPING STRATEGIES FOR DEPRESSION
To cope with depression, or any mental health issue, you need a support system. This includes therapists and doctors who handle any treatment as well as caring friends and family who provide love and understanding.
Don’t be afraid to request emotional support: Ask others to help you remember the good times when you feel down and to share your joy whenever you experience it. Then make a deal to do the same for them, since helping others is a great way to forget our own troubles.
Every day, participate in activities that you love. Do something that brings you pleasure, even if you don’t feel like doing it. Listen to a song you love, watch a favorite old movie, or play a sport that makes you feel good. Take a walk in nature. For me, sitting down with an inspirational book is a lifeline. It helps me tap into a private, personal world — even if it’s just for a few minutes.
Pleasurable activities raise dopamine levels in the brain, causing us to feel better — not to mention these activities are a welcome distraction from depression. They provide glimmers of hope that we can feel whole and healthy again. This is why the list of life’s good things and a support team of caring people are so important. They help us see through the big lie of depression and remember that no matter how hopeless we feel in any particular moment, that feeling won’t last. Hope and happiness will return, and we will feel much better in the future.
That said, don’t worry or feel overwhelmed if coping with depression is harder or takes longer than you wish. Don’t increase your frustration by expecting too much too quickly.
Another good coping strategy is to make a list every morning of small goals, and then strive to check off as many as you can by bedtime. This can include obligations like going to a therapy appointment and chores like washing the dishes. But focus on easy activities that foster joy and hope, things like “call a friend, take a walk, write in a journal, doodle for ten minutes, compliment a coworker.” Do things that help create a more positive outlook.
Finally, I suggest creating a meditation for hope that you repeat daily, or several times a day. This can be as simple as repeating an inspiring quote to yourself whenever you feel doubt creep in or listening to soothing background music while you meditate. Here are a few good quotes to consider:
- What you think or wish, do.
- Be your own person because no one can take that away from you.
- Why stop dreaming when you wake up? Expect only the best from life, and take action to get it.
- No matter the number of times you fail, keep trying to succeed.
- Don’t lose hope or faith. Faith and hope work hand in hand.
- To be without hope is like being without goals; what are you working toward?
See [this excerpt from] chapter 14 for more suggestions on how to create a healthy lifestyle and cope with depression. In order to change, we must act on our hope every day until we accomplish what we want. With good treatment, effective coping strategies, and compassionate support, we can feel better. Our heaviness will get lighter, and our world will become brighter.
Remember, no matter how hopeless you feel, hope and relief are around the corner. They are real, and they are possible.
Commit to yourself and your dreams, and take action. Discover, or rediscover, the amazing person you are — which is the same person you’ve always been!
Excerpted from the book Beneath the Surface.
©2019 by Kristi Hugstad. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New World Library. http://www.newworldlibrary.com
Beneath the Surface: A Teen's Guide to Reaching Out When You or Your Friend Is in Crisis
by Kristi Hugstad
Depression and mental illness don’t discriminate. Even in the most picture-perfect life, confusion and turmoil are often lurking beneath the surface. For a teenager in a world where anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses are commonplace, life can sometimes feel impossible. Whether or not you or someone you love is suffering from any of these issues, it’s important to be able to recognize the warning signs of mental illness and know where to turn for help. This comprehensive guide provides the information, encouragement, and tactical guidance you need to help yourself or others experiencing. (Also available as a Kindle edition and as an Audiobook.)
For more info and/or to order this book, click here.
Another book by this Author: What I Wish I’d Known: Finding Your Way Through the Tunnel of Grief
About the Author
Kristi Hugstad is a certified grief recovery specialist, speaker, credentialed health educator, and grief and loss facilitator for recovering addicts. She frequently speaks at high schools and is the host of The Grief Girl podcast and talk radio show. Visit her website at thegriefgirl.com/