A lot of people have reached out as a result of the Montreal Gazette article that ran yesterday (read it online here), and the last 24 hours have been really wonderful. There are emails and comments and messages and tweets that I’m going to respond to (I haven’t responded yet, but I promise I will!), but I thought I’d share one that has really stuck in my mind.
A new reader sent an email and shared with me her own struggles with weight. Because it was an email, and not a blog comment intended for public eyes, I’m not going to share any identifying details, but she ended her email with this sentence:
“Wish me luck because I feel so utterly hopeless right now.”
Hopeless. I read that word and immediately felt like someone had smacked the air out of me with a baseball bat. Hopelessness is a feeling unlike any other. It’s worse than depression or despair, because it carries with it the notion that things will never ever Ever EVER improve.
I know the misery and isolation that hopelessness brings, because I’ve been there. I’ve been crippled by it. I’ve felt it pressing down on my shoulders and clouding my vision, like a heavy fog. I’ve experienced how it dampens and obscures the positives in your life and affects every decision and choice you make throughout your day.
But I can also stand up tall and proud and say that I’ve won battles with hopelessness. I’ve kicked it to the curb. It’s not always easy (hopelessness often has a vice-like grip), and it requires a lot of work, reflection, and self-love, but it can be done.
It took me a long time to figure out how to deal with hopelessness. The first time it came a-knocking was when I was a teenager, and it stuck around and settled in for an extended visit. My feelings of hopelessness stemmed from low self-esteem and self-worth, both of which were tied to my weight, and as time marched on, those feelings of hopelessness tightened their hold on me.
Because I felt I had no place to turn, I ended up attempting to take my own life, on two occasions. (I’ve blogged about this extensively. You can click here to read about it, although be warned that it’s not an easy read.) Guess what, readers –That is not and never will be the solution. My second attempt led to a hospital stay, followed by a period in a psych ward, and through hours of therapy and classes and introspection, I began replacing, one by one, the cancerous thoughts with more healthy and truthful ones.
Truthful. That’s a word that I like focusing on when I’m feeling blue (or worse). Because more often than not, when I’m feeling depressed or hopeless, the first thing that gets warped is my perception of what’s true in my life. I know for a fact that I have family and friends that love me, but when I’m in a mood, I’ll start chipping away at that fact, and insist that I’m alone and unloved. I know for a fact that I’m smart, talented, funny, insightful, charming, and fun to be around, but I know how easy I can get to a place where I start ignoring all of those things, or deny them entirely. I know for a fact that I have a lot of love to share, and that I’m fully capable of sharing that love, and when I start thinking otherwise, I force myself to remember that I add so much value and light into the lives of others, and that’s really fucking special. I think about how the most important people in my life aren’t just here with me in Los Angeles, but spread out across the country and beyond (Michigan. Illinois. Colorado. New York. Washington. Sweden. Germany. On a ship somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.) and since I don’t let distance or time erode my love for them, why on Earth would I let some occasional feelings of despair do more damage?
While my teenage years were perhaps my most perilous, they weren’t the only time I’ve been plagued by hopelessness. There was a time in college that I felt overwhelmed, and occasionally in the years that followed, including the months leading up to my introduction to Richard Simmons and the beginning of my weight loss journey. But never again have I let myself get to a place where death was an option, and that’s because I remind myself, no matter how shitty I feel, of the good things in my life and the amazing people I share them with.
Most importantly, I remind myself, day in and day out, that I’m worth it. This is the biggest truth of all, although sometimes it’s the one that’s most difficult to recognize. But I don’t let that difficulty deter me, because I know, for a fact, that I’m worth the love that other people share with me, and the love that I share with others is invaluable. Most of all, I’m worth the love that I give myself.
So what can you do when you’re in a situation like my reader and feeling completely hopeless? My suggestion is that you remind yourself of the good things in your life. Make a list. Include the people that warm your heart and make you laugh. Include the places that fill your memories. Include your vision, your mind, your dreams, and all the other things that we all take for granted on a daily basis.
Then, reach out. What everyone forgets about hopelessness is that everyone has been there. You feel so terribly alone when you’re struggling with it, but everyone has struggled with it. Your family and friends have been there, and they want to help, and they want to listen. So talk. Sit down with a cup of tea and tell someone what you’re thinking and what you’re feeling.
Finally, make a change. If you’re like me, you’re not going to wake up one day and feel 100% better. It’s going to take effort, and that effort begins with one single step. Identify one thing you can do differently today. If you’re feeling hopeless about your weight, figure out a plan of action that involves eliminating one dessert or exercising, even if it’s only for 15 or 20 minutes. Make one choice that you can feel proud about, and start doing it every day. Once that becomes routine, add a second choice. Pay attention to the pride that you’re feel when you accomplish your healthy choices. Focus on it. Embrace it. Put it in your pocket and take it out a couple hours later when you’re feeling blue. Keep adding and building and finding new ways you can make healthy choices.
Two and a half years ago, I felt certain that I would never be able to lose weight. I didn’t have any hope, whatsoever. But I did exactly what I outlined above, and now I’m down 164 pounds, and I’ve kept it off for a year.
You, too, are capable of monumental, life-altering changes.
And you know what? You’re worth it.
Keep it up, David.