The rut of despair and getting out

Probably the worst thing I had to deal with was the depression that could come with my fear. There were times when I just couldn’t be bothered to do anything; I felt a listlessness with my circumstances that could lead to all-pervasive apathy.

It’s a negative spiral of loneliness, worthlessness, powerlessness, and meaninglessness (what I call the Four Horsemen of the Modern Apocalypse).

It’s a dangerous place to go because it can lead to suicideā€”such poisonous ideas and feelings feed on each other. Despair leads to us not making any effort, leading to more loneliness and worthlessness: the spiral of suffering.

Despair is the real enemy. To succumb to it is a sign you think life is no longer worth living. To you succumb to this truly and utterly, it’s hard to turn back; I was trapped for years. It’s linked to ‘Learned Helplessness’: when animals and people believe or have learned there’s nothing they can do to make a difference to their situation. You accept that you have no control over the situation or your life.

To get out, you have to cling to hope; this may sound trite, even offensive. Because I know many feel stuck and have no hope. From my experience, as long as you think something is wrong, that gives hope. There’s always a reason, a desire to find the answers to your suffering. It’s the courage and conviction to move forward. You are not giving up on yourself or your efforts. Claw your way out of the pit.

Like the lottery, you can only win if you take part. If you are here reading this, then you are not failing. You’re on the right path if you are talking, reading books, connecting to others on forums, and searching.

You are making an effort; that’s what counts.

Despair comes from ignorance because it’s a feeling of certainty. You know without a doubt what the future holds, and you see nothing to look forward to. But this certainty is a mistake because no one can be sure about the future. So despair is a feeling based upon flawed thinking or perception, our ignorance.

The problem is that to get out of this rut, we have to do the very thing that scares us, to face the unknown, the feelings, the uncertainty and learn by facing reality, not running from it into addiction. The feeling of despair creates the paralysis that stops us from trying new things, making connections, and learning the truth. Such insular withdrawal from life creates more ignorance.

There’s a mismatch between what we believe and what is the case, what is true about ourselves and how the world works.

The big first step is to realise, as the Buddhists say, the reality we see and feel is a web of illusions we create ourselves. The negative beliefs we hold, our worthlessness, and how badly we make connections are stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. To be sceptical of what your mind is saying.

One way is with CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) style analysis. As the Stoics advocated, we ask about the evidence and check our reasoning.

Another thing from Buddhism is to be in the present momentā€”looking at our minds and watching them as Birdwatchers observe the birdsā€”learning how our minds work and what they do.

Another way is to be more active and involve risk. Go out and take action, experiment, and see if your beliefs are true.

We fall into these pits of despair because we lack the coping skills when life gets tough. Stress creates anxiety and depression. When things go wrong, we must stick to healthy habits: exercise, eating, and sleep. But also some honest introspection.

Despair and the spiral it causes has to be one of the biggest obstacles to overcome because it’s not an immovable obstruction but a vicious circle we move around. A web of illusions, like a maze in which we both participate and create. Our mistake is thinking our beliefs are facts without ever really testing them. The rut becomes well-worn because we can’t see the falsehoods and bad habits that keep us there.

To get out, we need to examine our life, the habitual patterns of thought and action we follow, and create new habits to break the hold of these illusions and create an upward spiralling circle instead.

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