I Despair: What I Do About It
I understand that many creative and performing people are prone to periodic, sometimes long lasting dark episodes. I find myself in despair more often than I’d like to. Luckily, I can share how I manage my despair with my students so that they, too, can learn to manage it.
First of all, I cannot reliably link my despair to real events. While the suffering is real, what triggers the suffering, or what may prolong it, may very well be a fiction. And so the first thing I do to tolerate my despair is to remind myself constantly that most, if not all, of what I am thinking at the time is highly suspect, and may be completely wrong.
Recognizing that I may be thinking fictions is, in fact, the most difficult thing for me to do, because I tend to believe my own thoughts. Perhaps I would rather be certain of why I am in despair, even if it’s wrong, than to ever be uncertain. But the truth is that uncertainty is more realistic and far healthier to tolerate.
The second thing I do is to remind myself that I will not be feeling despair forever. Of course, when I am in despair, it feels like I have always been and that this is my natural state (see number one). I never really believe myself when I tell myself that it will end, but at this point I’ve come back out of it so many times that I tend to give myself the benefit of the doubt.
And I do come out of it. In fact, when I’m feeling good, I get the idea that I’ve always felt good, and that I will always feel good. This is a fiction, too, obviously, and I’ve learned to be careful of it and see it as the other side of the same challenge.
The third thing I do is find ways to close circuits. That means finding a task to complete, or connecting with someone. This strategy is vital, because as opposed to the first two things, it doesn’t rely on me thinking or believing anything.
When I’m really down, I find it essential to get something done…DONE. Anything. If I can’t figure out something meaningful to do, then I have to find something trivial, like folding a towel. It doesn’t matter what I complete at first, as long as I close the circuit and complete an activity.
It’s also very helpful to connect with someone. This breaks my short-circuited mind and brings me back to a larger view of the world. In these days of electronic communication, it’s worth mentioning that facebook with my friends, for me, does not serve as a true connection the way even a conversation with a stranger in a bar does.
There’s no way anyone could take my despair away. I could mask it, perhaps lessen the suffering with medication or therapy, and this is a perfectly viable approach. In the end, however, I manage it because, at present, I find it important to continue the journey.
I don’t like to manage it. I have, however, reaped benefits from my struggle. The best thing that comes out of my despair is that I have the opportunity to share with whomever of you have also been going through this same thing.
Would you like to share your thoughts about despair? Is it periodic for you, occasional, or constant? What do you do?