Finding Hope When We Despair

Despair Develops

Despair, like all of life, develops. If we allow it to isolate us, we will be broken or worse.

“The development of characteristic symptoms…”

This quote is from the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition) on PTSD. It applies to many things: depression, suicide, anxiety, despair, burn-out, you name it. They develop. Just like life develops.

Whenever you come to a moment in life where something has to change, hope is found by realizing that you are not trapped. Life is always changing and there is always an opportunity to find meaning in the change. One of my heroes, author, psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel, had an equation for life that I ascribe to, Despair equals Suffering without Meaning. It is common sense. We will suffer a lot for something that has meaning to us — bootcamp, higher education, child birth, fitness, marriage, etc., — but lose the meaning, and the shortest obstacle can become insurmountable. Our day becomes one big unsolvable complaint.

Isolation Kills

If your life loses meaning, the darker and more isolated you will become. It is here in isolation that the demons taunt us. To begin to step out of the darkness and into the light of life, it is necessary to understand that you are not alone. We live in a world of loneliness. Take a minute to read this great article on the damage loneliness is inflicting on our society. Loneliness is a destroyer. Wherever you are, look around and you’ll see an ocean of loneliness. What a shame we do not better understand this and love one another. That stranger is not strange. What binds us is far greater than what separates us.

Meaning Heals

Whatever the diagnosis — depression, PTSD, life sucks, job sucks — you name it, the key is realizing that the only sure cure for life is finding meaning. It need not be some big huge goal. It can be as simple as a daily walk, a donation to a shelter, volunteering as a mentor to a child, starting that book, picking up a guitar, moving to the place you’ve always wanted to live, asking forgiveness, you name it.

Move Forward

To stop the “development” we must begin to move in another direction. You must “develop” something else. It is like building a habit, in this case, a habit for life. The steps can be small, but if each day you look for something meaningful, you can begin to escape your present darkness and find the kind of hope that lasts, the hope of meaning. So do me a favor, grab a piece of paper and write down something meaningful you are going to do in the next 24 hours — clean the house, call that old friend, go for a walk, clean the junk food out of the kitchen, whatever it may be, commit to it and do it. That is a start, it is the beginning of the development of life and that is far better than the continued development of all the bad stuff.

The meaning of life? Live.

3 keys to effective Peer Support

Peer support is about building relationships and using these relationships as proactive tools to help us become stronger and more resilient.

Peer Support is an important, but often misunderstood and executed concept.

Be Proactive:

We live in a reactive world – wait till there is a problem, then do something about it. This of course means problems tend to never really get solved as new problems arise in the middle of addressing old ones. This is without a doubt how most mental health and life related issues are dealt with. We do our best to keep problems in the dark until they manifest themselves publicly and we can’t hide them any longer. We lose our greatest opportunity to deal with them, as they developed.

Problems Develop:

Most mental health issues as most life issues, develop over time due to a whole host of reasons. The key to healthy living, to resiliency, to truly supporting others is by being PROACTIVE, not REACTIVE. You see, peer support is more about relationship development than crisis intervention. You want to help make someone stronger at work and at home. Make an investment in their lives and learn about their family, hobbies, health, faith, dreams, and everything else important to them. Your mission is to encourage healthy living, knowing your peer well enough to call them out on developing problems while building the trust that is needed to stop the development of issues before they impact work and personal life in irreversible ways.

Defeat Isolation:

We live in an increasingly isolated world. Social media increases loneliness and isolation as the quality of human interaction is replaced with an enormous quantity of screen time. This vulnerability is exacerbated by families and communities that continually break apart and move away. It is here in isolation, with no real social support, that the darkness grows and mental health and life issues overwhelm and expose our deepest fears and insecurities.

Regular, Mandatory, Accountable:

If your peer support program is not proactive you are just plugging holes in a dike. You are not changing lives and increasing resiliency. You must meet regularly, make it mandatory, and create accountability. These are the principles of peer support I teach to communities and organizations from education to law enforcement, from churches to recovery groups. It is the basis of my Ladder UPP life skills program.

Get outside, look forward to moving each other toward a balanced life. Balance is the key to weathering life’s storms.

Meet regularly, once a week to once a month, or more when needed. It can be more formal in a small group, or even better, informally at lunch, for coffee, running, etc. one on one with someone you build trust with over time.

Make it mandatory. Ideally, all organizations that utilize peer support make it mandatory. You can count on the fact that most of your people are isolated in some way. We must help them build trustworthy relationships before life begins to weaken them or worse. This is especially important in law enforcement, emergency medial services, the military, and other fields where exposure to trauma is a common occurrence.

Create accountability. Peer support should move people forward toward healthier lives – mentally, physically, and spiritually. To do this, there must be accountability. In addition to personal accountability, we need someone to help us create a life plan and then follow it. Whether it is working out, going to counseling, or getting back involved with church, you need someone to hold your feet to the fire as starting anything worthwhile means facing a little pain.

Start today by making a commitment to walk with someone else. Build a relationship. Focus on moving forward. It is by example that we lead others toward deep resiliency and effective peer support.

For more reading, here is a report from Science Daily on a study that showed peer support was more effective in treating depression than traditional care and just as effective as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).

A Poem For My Child – Georgia can fly!

A poem for my child? I don’t do that enough. Thankfully, Georgia and I spent some time outside yesterday before I hit the road for a few days of speaking. It was more than I could have expected, she took flight. Over and over she ran down the driveway as fast as she could. She wanted to fly. Her hair in motion, her little legs pumping, I swear she flew. I know my heart did.

A moment like this of course makes your heart leap, and with that joy came the urge to write a poem for my child, Georgia. A poem, something that used to consume me for days on end. Unfortunately, it had been some time since the fire to create a poem had consumed me and my notebook was just another book on the shelf covered in dust.

So for Georgia, and myself, I wrote a short little poem. To help me remember this day, and the moment she took flight.

She decided to fly for her daddy.

She decided to fly for her daddy.

Flight, a poem for my child

Like a storm of joy
She took flight

A blur of gold locks and pattering feet
Her daddy smiles

Forgetting where he was

They were both flying

Hesychios of Mount Sinai On Creating A Humble Spirit

A humble spirit and a simple life leads to wonder.

A humble spirit and a simple life leads to wonder.

“Nothing distinguishes more clearly the disciples of Christ than a humble spirit and a simple way of life.”
Hesychios of Mount Sinai who lived in the eight or ninth century, from Volume 1 of the Philokalia.

Hesychios wrote this living in the desert of Mount Sinai. What would he say about the lives of people today?

How much of our day is taken up with busy work that does nothing more than keep pace with the rat race? How many texts, e-mails, and glances at Facebook are really meaningful?

There is a huge simplify movement afoot, zenhabits.net is one of my favorite websites to visit and is devoted to living the “simple life”. There are many others and the millions of people who visit them are a testimony to the backlash against the constant “business” and lack of stillness in modern life.

Simple does not mean less of a life. It means a deeper life. You can focus on your family, on your dreams and passions, you can focus on purpose, you can can focus on God. All are things that seem to get pushed to the back of the closet by the static of the modern world.

I’m sure there is a beautiful park near you. Go for a walk and take a silent minute to ask yourself what life would be like if you could discover the humility to simplify your life.

How much time do you spend alone, without noise, without technology? Take 5 minutes today and find a place of complete silence. Just listen. When was the last time you could just be?

Ask yourself, “do people see a humble spirit and simple life when they think about my life?”

Stillness is truly where we find God.