I’ve written about hope before, but hope isn’t a transient headline or health fad – it isn’t a Kardashian or hydrogen water – so its discussion is always relevant. Hope is timely and timeless. We all need hope—and by we, I mean literally everyone who currently draws breath on this planet. Whether we are working or unemployed, whether we are pious or momentary faithless, whether we are wobbling through our freshman year in high school or college or marching determinedly through that last year before retirement, we all need hope to get us through. We all need to believe that tomorrow will be better than today, so to speak, and we need to believe that our today is inherently worth something.
We need to believe that our touch-and-go financial situations will stabilize, we need to believe that our relationships will grow ever more fulfilling and meaningful, and we need to believe that our one tiny, singular shot at this life will stand out on the grand storyboard of existence. We need, perhaps more desperately than anything else, to believe that any pain we are experiencing will subside and give way to healing.
There is so much pain and suffering in this world. A person only has to read Google News headlines or watch the local, made-up mannequins at ten o’clock to know that. A person only has to speak with a coworker or neighbor to know that. When you run into an acquaintance at the grocery store and ask what’s new, it usually doesn’t take long for the suffering to spill out, does it? Oh, my wife just had surgery, the kids are struggling to fit in at the new school, and this job keeps me running around like a headless chicken. Those are the things we say when we are asked about life and want to hint at our pain. But if we were honest—if we really decided to bare our souls—we would share even deeper takes on our troubles. Oh, I was scared of death last week, I felt utterly alone the other day, or I’m feeling unfulfilled at my current job—or at every job I’ve ever had. I’ve been feeling depressed, anxious, or empty. I’ve been wondering about the point of it all. We don’t say such things to each other often, but we shouldn’t be afraid to. We all need to share our souls in order to find the sort of hope that will get us through our darkest times. We all need to spill our hidden pain so that someone else can tell us it will be all right.
I’ve been telling quite a few people that it will be all right lately. As a corollary to The Lovely Grind website, I’ve started a YouTube channel of the same name that is devoted to sharing anecdotes and inspirational tips with those who are suffering through prescription drug withdrawal. And there are so many people out there who are suffering in such a way. People are put on these medications, these antidepressants and tranquilizers, for so many reasons – depression, anxiety, facial tics, nerve pain, any reason really – and they are always surprised when the withdrawal hits. And why wouldn’t they be, because doctors don’t warn that such devastation might result from quitting these pills. The withdrawal I’m talking about doesn’t just last for days or weeks, but sometimes years (as it did in my case), and it brings with it a landslide of confusing symptoms.
People write to me, their words dripping with pain and desperation. They tell me they can’t sleep because their bodies and minds are restless; they say they can’t exercise heavily because they are perpetually fatigued; and they say they can’t think clearly because their brains are waterlogged and full of sinister thoughts. They all fear the pain will never get better.
One individual in withdrawal who writes to me has had to take a leave of absence from his high school teaching job. He’s about ten months off Xanax, which was prescribed to him because of a thyroid infection and stress. He has a wife and young child, and now he can’t work. His extended family call themselves Christian, but they want alternative explanations from him before they will offer compassion. They don’t believe that prescription drug withdrawal is real, and they argue and debate and cause him needless stress and worry. This individual needs daily doses of inspiration to cling to—he wants to know that the suffering will get better, and he wants to know that God hasn’t abandoned him. I hope that my words offer some comfort.
Another individual who writes to me, a nurse, has been off work since 2013. She stopped taking Klonopin—which she was prescribed for a heart arrhythmia and nervous-system issues—twenty months ago. But she’s still suffering. She’s trying to go back to work now, but she’s understandably nervous. She’s also raising a child on her own now—she recently said enough was enough to an abusive marriage—and she’s scared. She’s wondering when the withdrawal pain will get better. She’s a Christian, but she has intrusive thoughts about God and religion, and she’s starting to lose faith. She’s wondering when the belief will return. She desperately needs hope.
These people who write to me, they are always asking if they are dying. At times they don’t believe things will ever improve, but I assure them that their situations will get better. I know they get better, because I went through them, or a version of them. And I vowed that if I survived withdrawal, then I would share my hope with others. That is my little way of helping other people to hang on, hang on for another five minutes or day or week—hang on just a little longer, just until a little more sunshine can break through the clouds.
In 2018, who can you give hope to and how? Someone out there is currently going through something you have already experienced. What advice and reassurance can you offer that person? You don’t have to completely understand another person’s pain to tell them it will get better—you don’t have to be a psychologist or licensed counselor. You simply have to offer compassion and reassurance. You just have to say those words to them: It will get better. The exchange of those words is therapy and medicine. Just hearing those words—It will get better—begins a healing process. Those words give people hope, so look around you this week. Who might need healing? Who might need to hear those powerful words?
During the holiday season, a high-profile suicide shook my local community. A local pastor who was also the founder of his large Christian church took his own life. He had counseled so many others over the years, probably thousands—people no doubt suffering through depression, divorce, career devastation, and every sort of spiritual anxiety—but yet he felt so utterly alone with his own blackness (at least for a short time) that he felt no one could understand his situation and offer words of hope. Maybe he thought he had to appear strong for others. Maybe he felt like a fraud then, because he actually felt weak inside. Maybe he was full of guilt and regret, and maybe he couldn’t imagine that his black cloud would lift for even five minutes. We all feel like this at times! I want to yell that to everyone who is hurting right now. It isn’t just you! You aren’t broken! Just hang on another five minutes! Be gentle with yourself! Give yourself something to look forward to. Have a bath, have a cookie, have a beer, have a run, have a prayer, have a vacation, have a therapy session, have a screaming session, have a shopping splurge, have a career change, sell your house, do whatever you have to do! Just don’t give in to hopelessness!
We can’t always fully understand the pain of others, but we don’t have to fully understand it to help: That’s important to remember. That young high school teacher who is in withdrawal, his family feels that they must have a full label and diagnosis for his pain before they will accept that he is hurting. They have a checklist of conditions that they want met before they will accept that he needs rest and compassion. But that isn’t the Jesus model of healing! Just listen to those around you who are hurting—just let them talk when they want to talk and rest when they need to rest. You don’t need to understand every nuance of their pain. Just tell them that it will get better, and offer them little pieces of compassion and happiness. Sometimes the most profound and heroic acts of healing are the ones that are naively dismissed as trite or inconsequential. But often the little things are huge—they are often enough to save the day.
Those people who are hurting, take them out for a drink and a bowl of chips and salsa. Take them out for coffee. Watch a movie with them. Bring them a new pair of pajamas and a book. When they say they don’t want to talk, just sit with them in silence– and then make them talk just a little. Isolation—whether literal or of the mind and soul—seems to be the only thing that breeds true hopelessness. So work, in your own way, to fight any isolation that you might see around you. Write to people, talk to people, Skype with people, e-mail somebody, whatever you can offer.
There are no doubt people around you suffering right now, but you are no doubt suffering right now, too. In your own way, you are in desperate need of hope. That shouldn’t sound condescending or presumptuous: It’s just fact. Whether your head is full of anxiety, your heart is full of depression, or your days are full of spiritual confusion mixed with a little self-loathing, you need to hear that it will get better. Whether you have marital problems, medical problems, emotional problems, thinking problems, financial problems, career problems, or a dozen everyday stress problems, you need to believe that your life is more than just your problems. And it is. And so is mine. And hope allows our lives to be that way: hope for a little nighttime relaxation when the day is stressful, hope for a new dawn when the night is frightful, and ultimately, hope for spiritual healing and a way of living that isn’t just about pain. That last bit has a lot to do with Jesus and His Kingdom – a Kingdom that is about the promise of a pain-free eternity, surely, but one that is also about a way of daily living that transcends the puny concerns of the ego. Life isn’t just about having the perfect body, or the nice checking account, or the clear medical chart, or the most enviable social life, or the career that sits like a trophy among the masses: It is about finding little ways to make your day enjoyable, productive, and meaningful, and it is about finding ways to give a little hope to those around you. Little is big. Remember that!
So no matter what you are going through right now, I’m here to tell you, “It will be okay.” There is hope for you, there is hope for all of us. Just hang on for another five minutes and then another day. You’ll be amazed by how much brighter things will become. Just hang on to a tiny bit of hope—a thimbleful is enough—because that is all it takes to survive until a new dawn arrives.
MICHAEL PRIEBE is the author of THE LOVELY GRIND: SPIRITUAL INSPIRATION FOR WORKDAYS (90 Devotions for Stress Relief & Personal Growth). Get the book here, and sign-up for The Lovely Grind's mailing list here to receive all of Michael's blog posts and newsletters.