Writing stories about ordinary people who prevail over adversity is my stock-in-trade, and I write them to offer hope to others. But how do you help a friend who lives without hope?
I’m not talking about the throw-away and meaningless, “I’m so hopeless,” which we might say when we’ve blown a diet.
I’m talking about utter despair, the absence of hope. Emptiness. The feeling things won’t improve regardless of what you do. Life has no meaning or purpose, and you often ask, what’s the point?
Even in my darkest moments, hopelessness and its next-of-kin, helplessness, never entered my mind. Therefore, I didn’t understand how difficult it might be for someone who lives without hope every day.
I found out.
Wanda and My Bad Advice
I’ll call my friend Wanda. She’s intelligent, creative, a caring and thoughtful woman. Over the years, she’s suffered from the blues, and sometimes it seemed whatever could go wrong would go wrong. Weird things happened to her. House floods, uprooted trees, cars that would catch on fire.
She’d talk about her problems, complain about finances, crummy jobs. To my thinking, she was making excuses for not fixing her issues. Think differently, I’d offer. If you want something bad enough, just do it.
In retrospect, my unsolicited advice sounded like a platitude, a marketing slogan for a well-known sneaker company. I was ashamed. How could I have been so tone-deaf?
Understanding came after an hour-long conversation with her recently. I knew she’d struggled over the loss of a job and thought her insights might be helpful for a blog post on the topic. Due to Covid lockdowns and distance, we hadn’t talked in a while, and therefore, I didn’t appreciate how far she’d fallen.
“I was in shock,” she told me, remembering the day her boss let her go after completing year two in a three-year contract with the organization. “It affected my whole life, my self-confidence. I questioned myself and raked myself over the coals. I felt depleted.”
The conversation turned to subsequent efforts to find a job, and how she bombed telephone interviews. “I didn’t come across well. I am my own worst enemy.” The negative talk continued. “I don’t have a lot of enthusiasm for (her chosen profession). I don’t think I’m that good at it, but where else can I go?”
Her part-time retail job is her “happy place,” she conceded, but minimum wage doesn’t pay the bills. “Everyone always tells me to do what I love. I love teaching, learning new techniques (in her hobby). But you can’t survive doing what I love.”
Frustration overwhelmed me. This was an interview for a possible blog post, and my opinions didn’t matter, but I wanted to tell her to “buck up.” Instead, I asked, “which internal voice do you listen to—the devil or the angel?”
Her answer destroyed me.
“I don’t put it in Christian terms, this positive or negative voice. I’ve pretty much always had a stronger negative voice. I don’t hear the positive voice. It doesn’t say anything.”
Since tragedy befell my family a few years ago, I’ve come to believe all lives have meaning and value. We aren’t random and everyone has a job to do. Failing to do that job could prevent others from doing theirs. I’d never asked about the principles guiding her life, but this time I did.
“Life is something to get through,” she answered.
And then I understood.
A Plea to Wanda and Others
Wanda isn’t a Debbie Downer. She lives her life without hope, and her perennially negative outlook could be a byproduct of clinical depression caused by the job loss and perhaps other traumas unknown to me. So shaken by this realization, I called a mutual friend, who helped articulate our desire for her and others who live without hope:
- Find a mental-health professional. If one therapist stinks, find another. The reasons for your hopelessness can be managed and treated. You can and must find hope because you can’t live fully without it.
- Being grateful may be difficult now, but identifying slivers of good will seed gratitude, a natural enemy of hopelessness.
- Don’t push your friends aside in your journey. Reach out for help. They only want the best for you.
- Consider spirituality. Higher levels of faith are directly and indirectly associated with higher levels of hope.
How Wanda Helped Me
“I’m not sure I offered much for your blog post,” Wanda said when our conversation came to an end.
Are you kidding?
Wanda may not currently believe her life has value, but she gave me the greatest gift anyone could give.
She gave me a long-overdue dose of empathy. For the first time ever, I’d put myself in her shoes, and saw just how one-dimensional and naïve my thinking had been on the topic of overcoming adversity. We all face hardship, but for those who live without hope, getting to the other side seems like an insurmountable task.
Thank you, Wanda. Because of your raw honesty, the scales dropped from my eyes. But please promise to consider the thoughts expressed in this blog post. Hopelessness is the thief in the night. It comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.
I hope Wanda finds a better state of mind and sees her worth.
Me too. Thank you.
How can you hope for me anything in f I don’t have any to Carry I hope you have a great day does that hope find it’s way back to me I’m still hoping !
This is a great blog post. Thank you! I know many who suffer with depression – even in my own family. In one case it took me 14 years to convince someone to let me help him and now he has medication that has changed his life. He now wakes up content, pays more attention to the family and his loving dogs, and has found peace of mind. He told me he wished he got help sooner. I hope Wanda can get that same feeling. People who suffer from clinical depression can’t see the gift of each day because of a chemical imbalance – but they can get help to change their view, and they all deserve it. – As an optimist, I always thought we could change our mindset and look at things differently, but it’s not that easy with a chemical imbalance. I’ve learned a lot, and we’re all wired differently. Love and patience is what helped me help.
Rob, our experiences couldn’t be more similar. Like you, I always thought we could change our mindset. But then, like you, I don’t suffer from clinical depression. I can’t imagine going through life never seeing my own worth and value. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Miss you bunches :).
There was one day in my life when I felt no hope — only negativity. It was a dark place I haven’t seen since and likely won’t again. Can’t imagine a lifetime of that darkness. So I feel for Wanda and hope she and others like her find the treasure trove of hope! Thanks for sharing this piece. Well done as usual.
So glad you haven’t been there in a long, long time. The world would miss your smile! Thanks for sharing.
If you have enough hope to hope anyone is as anything then that’s when you pray for love of love to go to your heart make that heart want to beat not nourish and grow it. Without love where does hope evenn come from we all gott to hope god even heard ups before faith comes love is the answer an to he belief it will come then have to ait it is and get up can’t have 1 withe o don’t work that way wh as y makea one stay better together you can’t fix us alone
Well done Lori. Gives us all a bit to think about. Strong believer in a reboot with managed medication and therapy No shame in that game!!
Don’t ever underestimate the power of a kind word or quick phone call to check in with your people. Your friend might go AWOL for a while and not return calls but keep trying. Sometimes we get by with a little help from our friends.
We do get by with a little help from our friends. We need each other. Thanks for offering your insights. Best to you!
If you don’t have any friends really to care and that sometimes is a given close your eyes think of a warm fire and song a song use your own smile you’ll appreciate it more and goes dirett steam strait to heart
Thanks for writing Wanda’s story. Praying she can start to see some light. The darkness of depression is tough to climb out of.
Thanks, Debbie. I never understood just how difficult it could be. A good lesson for me.
Light comes from with in a bright smile not by bright lights that’s taking it to heart
No I need myself I was the it coming up what happened to me where did I go I can feel my heart gone that’s when hope of Ii na faith comes from biggest is not hope the belief to have faith is zon you who can love without a heart how an anyone hear the drums pounding with the beat of them ls sound travels to the ends.of the earth to find the us fire it up let them lights guide you to your sound you beat to your own unlesss it’s broken scream and shout holar kick bitch and moan until someone listens the only one is the one you love theost hope Hope it’s yourself that answers first that’s a hope and a grateful be grateful you woke up yeah hope ya stay up and the rest of the day believe love is coming home! Take your heart back home and you’ll live forever together and you will have u in heart and soul all your heart of hearts housed to happy that’s how it’s supposed to be