Hopelessness can’t flourish if we work alongside our medication to redirect our thinking towards hope instead.
By Brad Hoefs
For the last year or so, I’ve been going through what I would say has been the second-most challenging situation in my work life that I’ve ever been through in the church that I pastor. As some of you might know, conflict in a church is really messy and can be extremely painful.
I’ve come to the conclusion that why it is so messy and painful is because the wounding is coming from people that you love and care about and have been in relationship with and in my case some cases for many years.
Without going into the details, I’ve gone through an extremely challenging, hellish last year or so. I don’t tell you this so I can complain some more about it but so that you know that the insights I’m about to share with have been genuine insights that have come from what I’ve been through these past months. See, I’ve been living teetering on the edge of hopelessness. I have had to struggle and hold onto hope through all of it while hopelessness and giving up kept knocking at the door.
Early on as the hopelessness began to creep into my thinking and my feelings I knew I had to fight against it. So, I actually sat down and made a list of ways that I was feeding the hopelessness or that I needed to stay away from doing lest I feed the hopelessness.
I truly believe from my experiences of managing bipolar disorder that more times than not, I have not worked with my medicine. In other words, while taking the antidepressant I many times have not changed my thinking (feeding my hopelessness) and just waited for the medication to be some sort of magic bullet in getting better.
I knew from having fed my hopelessness in the past, that I better be proactive in working alongside my medicine or I would simply end up in a deep dark hole of depression and despair.
Hopelessness can’t flourish if we work alongside our medicine and don’t feed it and feed hope instead. Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel the feelings and work through the pain, but don’t feed it. What we don’t “feed” can’t flourish.
So, here are a few of the items I listed that I needed to stay away from as to not feed the hopelessness and instead actively process the pain and feelings and to instead feed hope:
#1) Isolating & wanting to be alone
So, I committed myself to be around people no matter how much I wanted to be alone!
Nothing feeds hopelessness more calories than isolating yourself. After all, usually when I’m going through something emotionally hurtful, I want to be alone. And in the aloneness, I begin to ruminate about the situation, and the hopelessness starts to grow. Isolating along with the ruminating are like yeast to bread dough.
We were not created to do life alone. Brene Brown says, “Connection is why we are here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.”
When you are feeling hopeless, one of the most important things you can do is get around people that you love, trust and care about you. Process your hurt and pain with them. Don’t isolate. Doing life with others is what we were created for!
By the way, for me, lots of sleeping can quickly provide a way to isolate. So, I knew that I had to be careful to not escape the emotional pain by sleeping a lot.
So, I committed to not shaming myself even as I had made mistakes in the situation of conflict that I was going through.
Shame makes you feel like you have to cover up what is “wrong” with you, you can’t have this problem. Shame makes you feel like you should not make mistakes and should handle yourself correctly at all times. Shame doesn’t allow you to have personal grace. Shame demands perfection.
Shedding one’s shame is a must! And keeping shame at bay is a constant commitment I have to make to myself.
Thinking the same negative thoughts over and over merely burn into our brains a deepening “groove” that makes getting ourselves unstuck or out of that groove nearly impossible.
#4) Shutting down emotionally
In other words, zoning out emotionally would do nothing but feed my hopelessness. So, I committed to keep moving, to keep my schedule, not to merely zone-out, shutting down emotionally. I was not about to let what I was going through become such a crisis that I couldn’t function with everyday tasks and the rest of my job.
#5) Bad Habits
Bad habits like eating to cover up the painful emotional feelings. So, I knew I had to process my feelings and not stuff them, or eat them.
Bad habits like not going to bed at a decent time, job or not! Not being in sync with your routine like the rest of the world is going to cause you to feel even more alone and feed hopelessness.
Bad habits like not having a schedule, eating lots of sugar would only going to stir up my mood challenges even more.
#6) Believing lies
You know, the lies that make you feel as though the tough time you’re going through will go on forever. Or lies that tell you “you can’t endure this, so give up” just cause hopelessness to flourish. So, I committed myself to believe the truth, speaking out the truth and holding to the truth.
#7) Not processing and working through your emotions and feelings in healthy ways
So, I committed myself to process and work through my feelings and emotions. I knew that I had to be in charge of them versus them having charge over me.
Well, these are the main things I knew would allow hopelessness to grow in my situation these past months. No doubt committing myself to hold the hopelessness at bay helped me go through the last year. However, it does not mean that I didn’t feel sad and alone at times. It doesn’t mean that there weren’t some sleepless nights. It hurt emotionally. I had to “go through it.” As they say, when you are going through hell, keep going! And that is what I’ve been doing.
I’m hopeful that I’m on the other side of things now. But, there are still some tougher days. Every now and then I have some enormous waves of grief. But, I refuse to yield to hopelessness. I’m fighting back. And I won’t let up. And I’m not doing it alone. It is what it is. It’s lasting longer than I want it to, but it will pass sooner or later. And I’ve committed myself to learn from it and grow because of it.
Recently my wife and I had lunch with a very dear friend. As we talked, we talked about the sadness and heaviness we are still feeling at times. We talked about what we can do to process it, to help it “move along.” And as we got in the car to go back to the office, I said, “You know, I think I’ve gone through all of this rather well. After all, I’ve gone through in spite of having bipolar disorder. In other words, the bipolar disorder has stayed in check throughout this. Yes, the struggle with hopelessness continually knocking on the door may indeed be due to the bipolar disorder, I haven’t caved into it. After all any time you have bipolar disorder, and you go through a significantly painful situation, and you are still managing it, that’s a good thing! Years ago, this situation would have wiped me out. It would have ended with a hospital stay and not working nor functioning with the daily routines of life for months.
Did I handle everything correctly? Of course I didn’t. You can’t get perfection from an imperfect person, whether they have bipolar or not! But, by the grace of God and a whole lot of work, hopelessness has not won. Hope is prevailing. And I’m getting through it one piece with peace of mind in spite of having bipolar disorder.
How about you? Are you like me and too easily go to the door when hopelessness is knocking? Do you feed hopelessness? If so, how? And if you do, how might you better starve hopelessness and instead feed hope?
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