Hopelessness can’t flourish if we work alongside our medication to redirect our thinking towards hope instead.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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?
Brad Hoefs is the founder of Fresh Hope, a national network of faith-based peer support groups for those who have mental health challenges and also for their loved ones, with resources such as his podcast, "Fresh Hope for Mental Health." He is a certified Intentional Peer Specialist, and also serves on the State of Nebraska Advisory Committee on Mental Health. Brad was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder in 1995. One of Brad’s passions is to empower peers to live a full and rich life in spite of a mental health challenge. Brad’s blog is “Living Well!” He is the author of Fresh Hope: Living Well in Spite of a Mental Health Diagnosis. He has a BA in communications and a master of divinity degree. Brad has been married to his wife, Donna, since 1979. They have two adult married children and love being grandparents to the grandkids! He is the pastor of Community of Grace in Elkhorn, Nebraska. He also helped start a website called What I Did to Recover that encourages and empowers those who have a mental health diagnosis to live well in spite of their mental health struggles.
Selena Gomez is no stranger to navigating mental health challenges, from dealing with the emotional burden of lupus to her kidney transplant to bipolar’s depression and anxiety. She’s learned the power of self-care and having the right connections—and how to say “no.” On April 3, 2020, singer and actor Selena Gomez candidly revealed that she...
Mood symptoms such as overspending, hypersexuality, anger attacks, and self-isolation hurt those around us. A simple apology is just the starting point of making things right. When Our Actions during Bipolar Mood Episodes Harm Others Olivia S. of Colorado got up one morning to unexpectedly find two of her four grown children in her living...
I’m an expert in bipolar management, yet I still have frequent mood swings and deal with symptoms regularly. Shouldn’t I have “solved” this by now? Shouldn’t I have “recovered”? Bipolar Disorder, Expertise, & Mood Management I’ve been writing books about bipolar disorder management since 1998, and my webpage started in 2002. How is it possible...
On the one hand, characters with bipolar can demonstrate that treatment leads to stability. On the other, manic extremes make for better drama. “Surely there is someone out there who will take me for who I am: the good, the bad, the full story of love.” That’s award-winning actor Anne Hathaway as Lexi, prognosticating optimistically...