The rut of despair and getting out

Probably the worst thing I had to deal with is the depression that can 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 can 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 suicide—such poisonous ideas and feelings feed on each other. Despair leads to us not to bother making any effort, which leads to more loneliness, 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. Once 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 makes a difference to their situation. You come to accept 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 own experiences, as long as you feel there is something wrong that gives hope. There’s always a reason, and 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. If you are talking, reading books, connecting to others on forums, searching, then you’re on the right path.

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

Despair comes from ignorance because it’s a feeling of certainty. That is you know without a doubt what the future holds, and you see there’s nothing to look forward to.

But this certainty is the mistake because no-one can be sure about the future. So despair is a feeling based upon flawed thinking or perception.

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.

So it goes back to the problem of ignorance. The feeling of despair creates the paralysis that stops us trying new things, making connections, 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. A form of Imposter Syndrome but for life, you feel fake, unworthy and disconnected.

The big first step is to realise as the Buddhists say, the reality we see and feel is a web of illusion we create ourselves. The negative beliefs we hold, our worthlessness, how bad we are at making connections, is a story we tell to ourselves about ourselves.

To step out of that narrative of worry, depression and ignorance and ask if what we believe is true. To understand our reality is not necessarily based upon facts. Casting doubt about what you know. The validity of your beliefs. To be sceptical of what your mind is saying.

One way is with CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) style analysis. Asking about the evidence, checking our reasoning, just as the Stoics advocated.

Another that comes from Buddhism, to be in the present moment. Looking at our minds and watching it as a Birdwatchers observes the birds—learning how our minds and work and what it does.

Another way is more active and involves risk. To go out and take action, experiment, to see if your beliefs hold to be true.

We fall into these pits of despair because we lack the coping skills for when life gets tough. Stress creates anxiety and depression. When things go wrong, we need to stick to healthy habits: exercise, eating healthy, 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 you grasp but a vicious circle we moving around with our habits. A web of illusions, like a maze which we both participate and create.

Our mistake is in thinking the beliefs we hold 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 upwards spiralling circle instead.

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