This week has been rough on me. Emotionally draining, full of waves, and I’ve been unable to find a way to work through what’s been going on inside my head. While things haven’t gotten bad enough to do anything self-destructive, I will admit to spending a significant amount of time fantasizing about running away. Stuff like smuggling myself to Europe and joining a monastery of monks who swear vows of silence, or making my way to the wilder parts of the US, somewhere with mountains, and living off the land is a shabby cabin until I’m ousted by the land’s original owners or I go completely feral. Pretty much anything that’d mean changing every aspect of my life.
These kind of fantasies have always been an outlet for me. Ever since I was a child and planned my first attempt to run away from home (I was going to live in the forest preserves near the business district of my home town, eating nothing but McDonald’s because it was cheap and no one would question why a child showed up there every day), I’ve used fantasies about literally escaping my current situation to help me cope with it. I’ve used stories to escape as well, but these mental exercises are always readily available and have the bonus of being entirely plausible. Well, mostly plausible. Smuggling myself to Europe would be a bit difficult, but living on my own wouldn’t be. I’d figure it out eventually, I’m sure, and I’ve got a car and all sorts of modern camping gear to help me get through the rough patches until I’ve gotten it down. And a Costco membership so I can spend a paycheck on buying all the cliff bars they have so I’ve got food until I figure out the whole hunter/gatherer thing.
Thoughts of literal escape always beat out thought of self-destructive behaviors, thankfully. A lot of my self-destructive thoughts are a product of my OCD, an unfortunate obsession that brings things to mind that I’d otherwise never consider longer than it took me to realize what I was thinking. Self-destructive options are so final. There’s no undoing them. If I decide to leave, I can always come back. Sure, I’d need to accept the consequences of coming back, which would be pretty severe if I left suddenly and without warning like I also imagine I would, but I would have the option.
I like these fantasies because they are about hope. They embody the hope that tomorrow could be a better day if I do the right thing. They’re somewhat extreme, compared to what I usually wind up doing or what would actually help in any given situation, but they’re fun to plan and they play into my desire for a simpler life. The hope they give me, while entirely impractical, is still usually enough to get me through whatever is going on. I know that things aren’t going to drastically change for the better or become simpler. I know running away from my life and its problems isn’t actually going to help me at all. I know that all I really need to do is just be patient and wait until enough time has passed for the waves of my depression to still. Yet the simple hope that they could be, strengthened by the imagined scenario in which they are, is enough to make it easier to bear.
Hope for a better tomorrow is important to me. In some shape or another, it has kept me going through the worst moments of my life. The simple mantra that “maybe things will be better tomorrow” is often the focus of meditations I use to calm myself down after a horrible day. It is also probably my most repeated thought. It can be exhausting and incredibly disappointing to be constantly looking for a better tomorrow that is often delayed by just-as-awful-if-not-worse days, but it is what I’ve hung onto for years.
There’s a saying often repeated on the internet that bravery or strength is the quiet voice that, at the end of the day, says “I’ll try again tomorrow.” A lot of the people I know who struggle with mental illness or other chronic illnesses have shared that one at some point or another. It does a good job of reaffirming people who don’t give up and continue to work toward their goals or toward having a better day. The problem is that it is most-often shared by people encountering temporary setbacks. As anyone with a chronic illness can tell you, “trying again tomorrow” gets old eventually. You don’t stop trying because you’re not ready to give up and all of what that entails, but seeing the desire to try again as “true strength” or “true bravery” starts to feel hollow when all you have is a lot of trying without a lot of success. The quo
I still prefer my version over that one because it suggests the little spark of hope that maybe I won’t have to try so hard tomorrow. Not because I’m lazy (though I am incredibly lazy if I can get away with it), but because I need to be able to think that I won’t have to struggle as much as I do. I have a lot going on most weeks, and the added complication of emotional turmoil in any of its forms can create a feedback loop that leaves me exhausted and wanting nothing more than to just cease existing for a few days so I can rest and recuperate before I have to exist again. Without the hope that, someday, I won’t have to struggle as much, I’d have a hard time justifying each day’s struggle. I don’t think I’d do anything self-destructive, I’d just be a lot mopier. A gigantic sack of sadness and sorrow.
The downside is that hope can set you up for some pretty nasty falls. If I’m struggling for a long time without things improving at all, I start to feel like all my hope was wasted energy that would have been better spent blanking my mind or losing myself in some other form of escape. I usually wind up crashing even lower. If it’s a bigger hope, like a change in my personal situation or visible progress on a tough issue in my life, losing it can create tidal waves.
In a way, that’s what I’m dealing with today. I had a very strong, very important hope that fell apart today. I crashed, a new wave showed up, and I’m feeling even more worn out and beaten down that I felt earlier this week, during the first tidal wave. It took a lot more than I expected to get from that point to where I am now, but thankfully my friends were up to the task of helping me. I’d have managed it on my own eventually, but they made it a lot easier. Despite this danger, and even today’s example hasn’t changed my mind, I prefer finding and holding on to hope over trying to slog on without it.
The crash sucks, but it is important to let myself feel beaten and down sometimes. To do otherwise is to deny the reality of my situation and such denials are far more dangerous than any hope-related crash I’ve ever experienced. Denial crashes are far worse. They’re earth shattering. Hope crashes are bad, but all you have to deal with is the impact. With a denial crash, you have to reconcile your view with how the world really is and that’s like crashing all over again.
I am willing to bet that it doesn’t work like this for everyone, but trying to get along without hope sets me up for denial. I need something to help me through the bad days, even if it is only because I’m afraid of what might happen if I don’t have something inside myself to hold onto, and I’d rather it was hope than grim acceptance that almost always leads me to denial. A hope that comes to fruition is much more rewarding than being able to drop the “grim” part of grim acceptance.