I love this time of year. The holiday season brings out a lot of feelings and emotions. For some, it’s an enchanting time of year, but for others it’s a struggle. The joys of life seem amplified during Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and ringing in the New Year, but the challenges in life can also seem overwhelming in this season. For those who are struggling, the Holidays can sometimes bring about the ultimate feeling of distress.
When people reach bottom and consider taking their own lives, they feel an inescapable desperation. I know because I was there when I broke my neck and the doctors told me I’d be paralyzed for the rest of my life. I don’t like to admit it, but I felt so desperate that I didn’t want to go on living. Though I’m ashamed to divulge that I was ready to end it all, I’m willing to share some thoughts here in case someone might share this post and provide a glimmer of hope to anyone battling thoughts of calling it quits, or just feeling incredibly downhearted while everyone else seems so happy.
First of all, things are not as bad as they seem. The eventual results are almost never as bad as we expect they will be. Somehow, we humans tend to make things out to be worse than they really are, and worse than they are likely to be. It’s fear of the unknown that builds the expectations of future happenings to be more daunting than reality. But when we’re overcome with sadness, anxiety, disappointment, or despair, we can’t see that our minds are playing tricks on us by making things out to be worse. We feel like there’s no way out or it will never get better.
Second, we are social animals so we tend to compare our lives with others.’ But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Most people put their best foot forward and won’t “air their dirty laundry” or share their sadness and struggles. While that’s a good thing for interpersonal relationships (no one likes to be around negativity), we need to remember that people’s lives are not as perfect as what we see shared in public, on social media, or in Christmas cards and the accompanying photos or letters. Everyone struggles, everyone has some adversity. Most of us just don’t broadcast our troubles, so it’s easy to get the false impression that “everyone” else’s life is better (especially when we give into envy and compare only with those who have more instead of seeking out those who have far less for our comparisons).
Third, we have to be aware that many around us benefit from making things seem a whole lot worse than they really are – and that the path of least resistance is to believe the excuses that they provide. Media, politicians, and special-interest advocates are very good at spin, to make others believe that those doing the spinning are needed.
Media hype is created with the intent of making viewers, listeners, and readers believe that they need to be vigilant audience members in order to stay apprised of “important” matters (it’s especially effective when they can create division and the perception that the “other side” is evil). Politicians pander to different constituencies by making people believe that the other candidate or party represents hatred or unfairness that will bring about all kinds of ruin unless the panderer is elected. And advocates for special-interest groups instill fear that other groups are out to get them and intent upon oppressing or exploiting their members, so they need to stand in “solidarity” opposing the forces hell-bent on their demise (this not only feeds divisive identity politics but also provides incentive for the advocates to ensure that little progress is made so that their “community” continues to rely on them).
With all of the skewed representations that life is “unfair” if it’s not perfect or our lives are devastatingly impacted by the “evil,” it’s no wonder people can begin to feel helpless and desperate. But if we stop and think about things from a slightly different perspective, things begin to look a whole lot brighter.
If we realize that our outlook is the product of choosing which thoughts we entertain – a choice that’s entirely up to us and no one else – we take the initial step in overcoming despondence or desperation. Then if we resist the destructive feelings of envy or jealousy and take a moment to count and be grateful for our many blessings that literally millions or billions of people could only dream of, we realize that life is not as unfair or as bad as it seems when our emotions run high. And when we acknowledge that the number one cause of disappointment is expectations, and accept that life will never be that perfect picture we have in our heads, we can focus on the abundance of wonderful things this imperfect world has to offer. Finally, if we reject the hype, the doomsday narratives, and the divisive rhetoric spewed from others who want us to believe things are a lot worse than they really are, we see that despite its inevitable sadness and loss, life offers so much more happiness and fulfillment if we choose to approach it with love and gratitude in our hearts.
Yeah, that sounds sappy, but it’s 100 percent true. I know because I was on the other side. Happy Holidays!