Despair or Hope? It’s Your Choice

As I’ve been working on a mentoring program for teens and parents, I’ve had a number of meaningful conversations with people that have attempted suicide, and there seems to be a common thread; hope or despair. That’s the difference between staying alive or attempting suicide. There have been many suicides lately. Too many amazing people choosing to transition too early.

What’s interesting is that hope and despair are focused on the past and/or the future, both of which are really illusions. Our past is just a record of present moments that we remember. Our future is just a prediction of present moments that we may or may not have. Each present moment is all we really have.

Victor Frankl wrote that it doesn’t matter what happens to us, it is our response to what happens that gives us power. How often do we choose our response, instead of reacting to something that we could let go of?

What we focus on expands. If we choose to focus on hope, it pulls us forward. If we choose to focus on despair, we fall into the abyss. Our emotions of hope and despair come from our sponsoring thoughts. Most people don’t realize that we can choose which thoughts to entertain. Whichever thought comes up, we tend to attach to them like some precious treasure, whether they are empowering or disempowering. When we realize that we can let go of thoughts that do not serve us, we become free of their power.

There have been times I’ve felt like giving up. Some were years ago, some were recently. As I reflect on each of those times, I realize the amazing life experiences I would have missed out on if I had chosen to take my life at those times. I’m glad I didn’t. I would have missed watching my five-year-old daughter play in the water yesterday. I would have missed an amazing ride on my motorcycle. I would have missed the example of my children creating a non-profit for cancer.

Natural Antidepressants

  • Gratitude list- Every day, I write down at least five things that I’m grateful for. This helps me change my perspective from lack to abundance, and helps me focus on on all that I do have right now.
  • Act of service- Each day, I look for some act of service. “When I focus on you, I can’t focus on me.” If I look for it, I’ll find it. It may be something big or small, but if I look for ways that I can make somebody else’s world just a bit brighter, it makes my world brighter as well.
  • Exercise- I’m not the kind of guy that is focused on having big muscles or competing in a triathlon, but I do see the value in exercise. I feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally. While I’m not a huge fan of exercise, I’ve never regretted going to the gym. There’s magic there in making me feel better.
  • Meditation- For me, meditation is the practice of being a non-judgmental observer of the present moment. When I sit in the present moment, I realize that everything here and now is okay. If I’m feeling regret, I’m focused on the past. If I’m feeling anxiety or stress, I’m focused on the future. Here and now, I’m okay, and that’s enough.
  • Journaling- I’ve been doing what Julia Cameron calls morning pages journaling for the past eight years, and they have been miraculous. It took me a while to stop editing myself, but when I learned to write down whatever came to mind, I started realizing what was really going on inside of me. A friend of mine told me a quote, “you don’t know what you think until you hear what you say or read what your wrote”. Through journaling, I’m able to work through my thoughts and emotions in a healthy, productive way. It’s become my best therapist.

For me, meditation and journaling are the tools that have helped me the most. When I want to escape, I open up my journal and ask questions like:

  • What is it that I’m wanting to escape from?
  • Why am I feeling this way?
  • Is this feeling empowering or disempowering?
  • Can I choose another way?

When I spend time in meditation and journaling, it allows me to take time to sort through what’s really going on. Our thoughts and emotions are temporary. They will pass.

Creating separation from thoughts and emotions

1. Am I coming from a place of love or fear? — Most of our programming is fear-based. When I ask myself if I’m coming from love or fear, I can understand my motivation. Love is always the correct response.

2. Is this empowering or disempowering? — Since we are solely responsible for our lives, we can choose to empower ourselves. If it’s not empowering, let it go.

3. Does this feel light or heavy? — This is where I listen to my heart and gut instead of my head. They provide me greater insight than my brain does. My brain can talk me into anything.

If I am coming from a place of love, making an empowering decision, and it feels light, I am confident I am moving in a good direction.

When we realize that we HAVE thoughts and emotions, but we are NOT them, then we can choose what to do with them. With our thoughts and emotions, we can choose to do one of three things:

1. Attach to them- When we attach to them and focus on them, they grow.

2. Act on them- If there is power in acting on them, go for it. If acting on them creates disempowerment or regret, it’s best to let them go.

3. Let them go- Just because a thought or emotion shows up doesn’t mean we have to do anything with it. We can choose to let them go.

I’m no expert on suicide, but I can speak from my own experience. We all have down days. We all have times when we want to escape, We want to hide from emotions. What if, instead of hiding from them, we chose to face them head-on to see what they are telling us? What is the sponsoring thought from the emotion? Is it real? Is it serving? Can I just let it go and focus on something else?

I’m not sure if these suggestions will work for everyone that is dealing with depression or contemplating suicide, but they have worked for me. I’m still here. If sharing what I’ve learned helps one person besides me, then it’s worth sharing.

For Professional Help

If you’ve not been affected by suicide, it’s only a matter of time. If you’ve been there, find an opportunity to reach out. We’re all doing our best, and sometimes, we also need a helping hand or listening ear.

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