Dealing with Despair:
Dark Moments of the Soul…
I picked up the bottle of iodine, focusing on the skull and cross bones symbol. I did not have a cut that needed disinfecting. I was hurt on the inside. I had just returned to my room from a meeting. A long time friend had said something that cut deep. Holding the bottle, the thought that came to my mind was, “I could drink this!”
The thought was serious, but just for a moment. I was hurt, tired, and so discouraged that despair seemed to rush in. I’ve never forgotten that moment and have never told anyone until now. Maybe it is so vivid because my normal view of life is optimistic. I often tell people, “I don’t have problems, I have opportunities…”
Despair can have many sources and can be more profound combined with other factors. A friend’s 18 year old daughter attempted to take her life. The combination for her was the knee operation that took her out of her last year of high school sports, the friend who had criticized her harshly, a broken relationship, alcohol, and physical/emotional tiredness. Late one night, after everyone went to bed, she picked up her pain medication and downed the whole bottle. Fortunately for her and my friend, despair did not win. Others are not so fortunate.
Despair is dangerous and can be deadly. I remember reading once, “People can live weeks without food, days without water, minutes without oxygen, but not a moment without hope.” On a personal level I have found it helpful to identify factors that contribute to despair and also cling to the things that give me hope.
Some of these factors may seem insignificant. When I’m hungry and tired I’m more prone to lose perspective. The best thing I can do is eat and sleep.
I know that when I have emotional highs from lots of people contact or events, this can result in my emotional bank account being over extended. When that happens I can expect an emotional low to follow. When I know and anticipate this cycle I find I’m much more able to deal with it. Despair is held at bay.
Another warning signal of emotional tiredness can be emotions being closer to the surface. This can show up through angry “blow ups” or tears. You might even think, “Wow! Where did that come from?” These all give despair a foothold.
Another fertile soil for despair to take root in is the words of trusted friends. Words of close friends can be so powerful either for good or bad. I don’t care much about what people say who do not know me, but the words of my trusted friends carry significant weight. This is why divorce can be so profound. The person who knows you the best has just said, “I do not value or want you.” Wow! That is painful! Despair is swift and can be suffocating.
Hope becomes an antidote to despair. A variety of things can bring hope. Perspective can bring hope. The following story illustrates this point…
On a foggy morning in July 1952, Florence Chadwick waded into the chilly waters off Catalina Island. Her goal was to swim the Channel to the coast of California. The numbing cold of the water hit her right away, and she could barely see the boat that accompanied her in the dense fog. Several times during her swim, a rifle was fired to keep sharks away. She swam for 15 hours before she asked to be taken out of the water. Her trainer encouraged her to keep going, saying she was very close to land. Florence was no stranger to long distance swimming. She had been the first women to swim the English Channel in both directions. But this day, as she neared the coast of California, all she could see was the fog. She was exhausted, and began to feel discouraged, thinking she was not going to be able to make it… Florence gave up, just a half mile from her goal! In the interview after the swim, she was quoted as saying, “I’m not excusing myself, but if I had only been able to see the land, I might have been able to make it.”
What was it that caused Florence to give up that day? Was it the cold water, exhaustion or fear? No, the reason she failed to reach her goal was the fog. Two months later, she swam that same Catalina channel and set a new speed record in the process.
I need fog clearing moments, times when I take stock of my life and circumstances. Sometimes this comes through stopping activity and taking stock or it might involve finding an objective listener who can help you clear the fog. This might mean a trip or two to a councilor or a wise, trusted friend.
Faith can bring hope, ultimate hope. King David once stated, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Confidence that there is a God who loves me and has a good plan in the mist of pain, and hurt is a profound defense against despair. I was once removed from a position of leadership suddenly without warning. I was flooded with deep emotions at the unjustness of this decision. As my mind was reeling trying to make sense of this I remembered the words of a friend. In describing a similar set of circumstances she was buoyed by the understanding that God was not wringing his hands in heaven. He had a plan. Those words hit me. A significant sense of confidence settled in. Confidence that God loved me and even in this he had a plan for a way through. There was still pain, confusion and hurt but knowing God’s love and presence provided a foundation to handle the pain.
A person cannot live long with despair. Dealing with despair takes two forms, prevention and long term cure. Prevention is the strategy of dealing with conditions that lead to despair which can include simple things like enough rest or talking out discouragement with a trusted friend.
Prevention involves finding a foundation that gives hope; especially in the mist of circumstances that are despair producing. God can provide that foundation. His love can hold you in the midst of any storm. His wisdom can guide you through it and his strength can steady you as you move forward. Despair need not overtake you. Why not open the door of your despair and invite God into it. Ask him to walk with you. Don’t try to live independently from him. He invites you to share the journey with him. Why not choose God as your foundation today?
By Mike Woodard
If you would like to invite God into that place of despair today why not pray this prayer right now:
Dear God, My despair is overwhelming. I don’t know what to do. I need your strength to anchor me and your wisdom to guide me. I need you to give me a firm footing as I work through this. I invite you into my life right now. Forgive me for living independent from you. I need you. Come into my life and bring me hope today. Amen.
This link explains more about how much God loves you and why surrendering to Him can change your life:
More Articles written by Mike Woodard
When (fighting) Parents Break your Heart
Story of a Teen Suicide Attempt
Help for Parents to Prevent Teen Suicide
Creating Affection, Warmth and Encouragement – Marriage Tip by Mike Woodard
Love for a Lifetime by Karen Woodard