We have always been committed on this blog to living honestly and well in the midst of the worst of circumstances.
Today we are going to take this challenge to a whole new level.
Not that I wanted to.
A friend and fellow reader has challenged me to get down and dirty this week and talk about not just being sad, or depressed, but about being in a place of deep and utter despair.
It’s where your emotions are taken hostage and you end up in a dark place you never thought you would be.
It’s the place where all hope is lost because the longevity of your suffering has worn you to the nub.
It’s where death seems more attractive than life.
Over time, despair can feel like our final destination.
We expect to die in its arms.
Do you remember about a physician telling me after a diagnosis like mine that the majority of men “Go home, turn on ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and sit in front of the TV until they die”?
Even a righteous man like Job came to a place in his suffering where he had lost all hope.
“If only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed on the scales!
It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas…” – Job 6:2-3
I’ve noticed something interesting about the narcotics I’m on for my physical pain.
As the time approaches for me to “re-dose” myself (every 6 hours), I find myself wanting a “fresh hit.”
It’s more than just relief from pain.
It’s also the mental freedom that the drug provides me.
It’s an escape, as is despair.
- Despair numbs me to my emotional and spiritual pain, just like Oxycodone blocks my physical pain.
- The longer I battle my cancer, the more appealing this numbness is to me.
- This last week, the pull towards shutting down has been intense and strong due to cascading physical problems:
- pain in my neck/shoulder that alarmed enough of my medical team I had to have a scan to make sure I didn’t have a blood clot (I didn’t).
- loss of muscle function to the extent I have struggled to walk and get up and down for a couple of days (bless you, Betsy – I know I have worn you out!).
- my treatment protocol of Estrogen making my nipples incredibly sore (to all the woman I have heard say something like this and I have laughed at you, I beg your forgiveness).
- a concern about having an infection (bad news for a guy in my shape) so that I am now on 500mg of an antibiotic.
- random bouts of nausea and vomiting.
- the need for another double blood transfusion last Friday.
- a platelet count that has now dropped to a new low of 24 – low normal is 140 (a nose bleed can now officially kill me).
- two different types of plumbing problems (what goes in, must come out? Apparently not).
- continued debilitating long-term fatigue.
- bone pain that is increasingly breaking through my narcotic painkillers.
I tell you about these things not so we can collectively say, “Aw, Ed. You poor thing.”
Instead, I want to give you a picture as to why despair is so attractive as an escape.
As attractive as despair as a place to hide can be, we also can try to deny it because it can be so humiliating. After all:
- Strong people don’t battle with despair.
- Spiritual people are brought above it by their faith.
- Stoic people avoid it by their ability to endure pain without showing their feelings.
I sure wish I was one of these types of people.
In actuality, if I were, I would miss a great opportunity – the opportunity to face the true condition of my own soul.
You see, despair is a teacher.
When you gather up your bravery and slog through it to the other side (time and time again), you will be slowly shaped into a different person.
So how do we keep moving through these terribly hard times when we lose hope in life?
- Give yourself permission to crash and burn; to rest, hurt, and heal. So often our stress comes from not allowing ourselves to be feeble and frail humans.
- Never travel alone through despair. Find some traveling companions who would show up at 3am at your house if you asked them to. Then ask them to.
- Ask questions of your despair. Have conversations with it. Learn from it. Disagree with it. Tell it where to go!
“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.” – Psalm 42:5
- Despair is rooted in arrogance (and fear) – because there is always hope. That’s worth saying to yourself everyday. Otherwise you will hear other voices – darker voices.
- If embracing despair really doesn’t make any sense, in that none of us knows what the future holds, what could we do that does make sense?
“Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.”
“The road to enlightenment is long and difficult,
and you should try not to forget snacks and magazines along the way.”
― Anne Lamott,
That’s all I got and I feel like crap.
Share your thoughts about despair and how to address it in the “Remarks” section below.
As always, let’s learn from each other,
© Ed Hague. All rights reserved.