Surviving vs Thriving : Hope and Hopelessness


Welcome! Today is a beautiful day. I hope you are doing very well.

This post was inspired by a post I read by a blogger I’m just starting to follow as well as a bunch of conversations, observations, etc.

The blog I started following is Big Red Carpet Nursing

The post is Robin Williams and Me: The Killer Among Us

I’ve been paying some attention to the conversations going on around me about Robin Williams’ death. As I read some blog posts, like the one above, and listened to friends talk about the death, I got the feeling that Robin Williams’ death was at least in part being perceived as an attack on the hope of recovery. If someone as visible, supported, and talented as Robin can’t win against the disease, who can? It also seemed to be used as a wake-up call that the struggle with depression can strike any one of us, and that healing is needed everywhere.

I started thinking about the death as being an attack on hope. I’ve watched and listened to others dealing with depression and other chronic illnesses express hopelessness around them, and experienced this myself.

On the flip side, when we have hope, it’s often only a matter of time before something happens to unsettle us. The result of the roller coaster of hope and hopelessness is that eventually we end up feeling either hopeless or anxious about a pending return to hopelessness. The longer the cycle goes on, the more and more aggressive we have to be in re-establishing the hope.

My thinking about this cycle got me remembering my own history with mental illness and my relationship with hope for change. I realized that for a long time, I haven’t used the terms hope and faith when thinking about these issues. Naturally my curiosity was piqued.  Why is it that I don’t think about my PTSD this way?

As I started to organize my thoughts I documented the model of hope and hopelessness that I have grown up with. This model of hope has the following characteristics:

  1. Hope is my attempt to convince myself that a current or past situation is not a permanent outcome. It helps me set aside fear that the past will continue on.
  2. Hopelessness is a projection that the future will continue with past and current situations that I find unacceptable, difficult, aggravating, frightening, or disappointing.

A few key elements of this mental model that drew my further curiosity and interest:

  1. The use of the word “disappointment”.
  2. The fact that it was a two-stage model (i.e. black and white).

For me, disappointment is a habitual mental game that leads me to increased levels of anxiety and victim consciousness. When I start feeling or worrying about being disappointed, or disappointing someone else, I know I’m on the Drama Triangle.

I have learned that whenever I experience something as black and white, it’s another indication of victim, dramatic, or regressed thinking. Since I know that the world and situations are not black and white, when I start experiencing them as such, it means that I’m scared, and my sub-conscious mind is reacting to the fear.

Here is how my mind works when caught in fear:

Since control is my knee-jerk reaction to fear, I try to simplify the problem so I can feel more in control. If I’m feeling hopeless, I can get away from that by convincing myself to have hope. Even if I can’t in the moment get to a place of hope, I can distract myself with the analysis and projections while I’m trying to “fix” the problem. I will continue to work on the problem until either I can find a sense of hope, or resolve the situation to eliminate the immediate cause of my distress. When I’ve been caught in this, it comes out in my behaviors as:

  1. Agitation: bouncing my legs
  2. Singing: usually a wordless tune
  3. Asthma: having an asthma attack
  4. Talking: engaging in lengthy conversations about the situations
  5. Proving: writing long emails or other communications
  6. Building a case: listing things, keeping track of wrongs, or documenting my case

Once I realized that my working model of hope was actually a way of coping with anxiety, I could look at the use of hope from that perspective.  I started thinking about where in my life I was feeling hopeful and hopeless. Once I identified a few things that I would label as being something I’m hopeful or hopeless about, I started to see a pattern and realized that these, while maybe minor issues, were nonetheless places of stress in my life.

From there I could conclude that hope is a mental state I use to help me cope with feelings of anxiety or fear. Anything that happens that triggers me to return to anxiety or fear seems to attack that hope. Robin Williams’ death could bring up issues that can trigger us. This is especially true since he represented such a wonderful, talented, and powerful person in the world.

However, since my decision to have hope is one I make or don’t make on my own, then any events that I allow to have an effect on my sense of hope do so only by me allowing them to do so. This is perhaps, for most of us, a subconscious. For me, these unconscious allowances are made because of deep-seated beliefs about myself, my situation, or the nature of things that convince me to react without making a conscious decision. This allowance, through my perception which is controlled by my beliefs, connects the dots for me. Through the nature of my beliefs and fears, I am allowing these external events to define my inner peace of mind.

I’ve found in dealing with my own mental health that when I have a disruption of my inner peace of mind, the events I have associated with the disruption really have nothing to do with it. Instead, it’s caused by fear or anxiety brought about by false beliefs, attitudes, or projections of further consequences of my own inadequacies. So, when I am feeling hopeful or hopeless about something, I am in part covering for a belief that I am insufficient in dealing with my situation. For me, that’s time to seek out my therapist and work on the core belief, attitude, or projection.

So, after thinking through this whole tapestry of events, hope, beliefs, and mental models, it all started to come together for me.

My fear and anxiety are based on a fear of inadequacy in myself or a projection onto the physical world that my mind and soul are in jeopardy somehow. Hope is an answer conjured by my mind in an attempt to fight against the fear. Hope is the light that I can shine onto my dark thoughts.

The problem is that the light is not the light of love. It’s not the light of my higher self, nor God. It’s an attempt by my ego to demonstrate that it can make me safe — safe from the very fear it has self-created by the belief of my own inadequacy. The thing I think is a light shining actually comes from the same source as the darkness, it’s a mental model I’m creating to fight with my own inner self-loathing. However, with simple abandonment of the mental model, I can turn off the whole game.

If instead of seeking hope, I work to build an inner sense of love, I can change the entire game. First, however, I must find that source of love in my own mind, such that when I shine its light, all fear of inadequacy is clearly, False Evidence Appearing as Real. My anxiety and depression are not reflections of who I truly am, nor who I will become, but instead a condition of my current mind and body, a condition created by my belief that I am not lovable or loving.

I got all the way through this analysis and searching, I concluded this:  Hope is my mind working to keep me sane when I cannot find a more solid sense of love or safety to adopt. When I am not able to believe in my own inherent value, and I’m afraid of the consequences of my own projected inadequacy, I will use hope to hold onto sanity, at least for a while.

In this state of survival however, I can only hold onto hope for so long. I must find that greater sense of value. I must get support, help, encouragement, and, above all else, love.

When I find myself in a place of hope or hopelessness, I am learning to not pray for a cure, but instead to pray to see love — to accept the love that God and my higher self will provide — love to fuel my life.

Love is my strength to forgive, show compassion for, and accept every perceived wrong that anyone has performed. Today, when I feel fear, or see someone hurting, I will ask “what would love do?” and do my best to do just that.

I seek to replace hope with love as my source of joy and happiness. For me it’s the difference between surviving and thriving.

You are Love! I am Love! We are Loved!

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5 thoughts on “Surviving vs Thriving : Hope and Hopelessness

  1. Thank you!. In myprocess I often want to understand the mechanisms at work. 🙂 Likely i could just be more accepting of things but for me that doesn’t work so well.

  2. Thanks for your kind link and toughtful analysis. I look at hope somewhat differently: as recognition that given the resources available or yet to be discovered or created, I can find a way to adapt and cope with just about anything, even when such seems quite impossible at the time. I base my hope on past experience and everything I’ve learned so far. Further, my hope extends to humanity as well, for the same reasons. Hope versus hopelessness both have substantial practical impact. Hopelessness largely precludes motivation and dampens concentration, problem solving, and creativity, making progress far less likely. Hope, by itself, brightens the future by substantially increasing the odds of good things happening, simply through its impact on creativity, motivation, stamina, persistence, people skills, energy, etc. Expectations, when it comes to people, have a powerfully self-fulfilling quality most of us don’t sufficiently realize.
    Again, thanks for your nice post.

  3. Dave, your thoughts in this post mesh nicely with my belief that the good we do in the world, the love we share with others, IS God. To me, the more compassionate we are towards ourselves and one another, the closer we are to heaven. God/heaven/love is one, and we hold the power to create it on Earth.

  4. I really appreciate your analysis based on your experience. Linking both hope hope and hopelessness to fear is very interesting, and in general I think I agree with you. As I was pondering it as I read, what came to my mind is how much hope and hopelessness is also tied to where you put your attention.

    I recognize in myself most of the behaviors you do when you are agitated and trying to fix a problem. For my list, I would add eat sweets!

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