THE STRUGGLE IS REAL
Recently, a tornado came through my life and has challenged my optimism, focus, strength, and hope. I was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer called Ocular Melanoma, my father passed away while I was still trying to process my diagnosis, I prepared for treatment and went through two surgeries within seven days, I planned my dad’s memorial and said my final goodbyes, and now I am learning to cope with my post radiation symptoms. With my eye treatment recovery, I feel like I take one step forward and then two steps backward. There are days when I feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Cancer alone has altered the trajectory of my life and there is nothing I can do about the fact that it is there. It was an overwhelming circumstance that just fell on me. To say life knocked the wind out of me would be an understatement. My life is thrown off balance right now and uncertainty is testing me.
Sometimes we have very difficult chapters in our lives. We suffer some serious hits that feel like an endless downward spiral. Challenges such as divorce, employment struggles, accidents, disabilities, addiction, death, infertility, financial struggles, emotional and physical pain, and a medical diagnosis can leave us carrying a heavy burden, grieving, feeling like a failure, disheartened, or cause us to lose our identity. Hard times hurt, and it can make it difficult to be happy and to believe that everything is going to work out for the best. At a time of our greatest vulnerability, we may lose faith that things will get better and it can be difficult to find hope. We may wonder, will the gray sky ever brighten? Will the load ever lighten? Does God really care?
THE ONLY THING STRONGER THAN FEAR IS HOPE
The loss of hope and optimism about life can be a very powerful force. Losing hope triggers living in fear. Fear may cause us to feel stuck, locked in, and trapped. But there is a rainbow at the end of the storm. Hope is a feeling or belief that a positive outcome lies ahead. Hope is being realistic and honest about your current situation while still looking forward to an optimistic outcome. Hope drives you forward. It keeps you from feeling desperate or taking desperate actions. In order to have hope, there have to be some grounds for optimism. There has to be a reason to believe the hoped-for outcome to be achievable. It is about shifting your mindset from the negative and open yourself up to new possibilities. The final quote in the blog post, The Greater your Storm the Brighter your Rainbowis “I will be strong now because things will get better. It might be stormy now, but it can't rain forever.” I love this quote because some days I live in fear and think my vision will never improve, that work is going to be a struggle, and my husband will have to drive me around forever. But then I reflect on that quote and remind myself that it WILL get better. Optimism arises as we gain confidence that our hopes are achievable.
LET YOUR HOPES, NOT YOUR HURTS, SHAPE YOUR FUTURE
Do you need a BOOST of hope right now? Do you need to FIND hope? Do you need to GET hope back? Do you need to HOLD ON to hope? Do you need to STRENGTHEN hope? I am writing this blog post as a personal strategy to help me strengthen my hope and keep perspective when the going gets tough. I need to remind myself to see the big picture because I know that rarely every aspect of my life goes awry at the same time. Right now I am feeling challenged and I have a choice to experience pain and fear, or I can focus on some practical strategies to keep me focused on hope. Maybe some of these ideas will help you too!
TEN WAYS TO CREATE HOPE WHEN ALL HOPE SEEMS LOST
#1: Information is Power:
Sometimes when you face struggles in life you conjure up visions of the worst possible scenario and fear takes over your rational mind. You can easily lose perspective and allow doubt to cause overwhelming feelings and unnecessary stress. Take time to collect fact-based research about whatever difficulty you are facing. Talk with your medical team, seek opinions, and learn as much as you can. This will help you verify what is real and not what is made up in your mind. Gathering factual information may help you stay focused on things you are able to control. This focus helps you take meaningful action rather than putting energy into building fear. Push for answers and find resources and strategies to improve your everyday life.
#2: Mantra Meditation:
When fear is taking over it is very easy to get caught up in negative self-talk rather than focusing on the positive. Take a moment to observe how you are talking. What language are you using? Is it positive or negative? If it is negative you need to change it and move on even if it is difficult. A strategy that can help is repeating a mantra. You should choose something short, it should be uplifting and it should inspire you and engage your heart. You need to keep repeating the mantra in your mind or even out loud, even if you don’t believe it at first. I have many mantras that I rely on such as; this too shall pass, all will be well, let go let God, but right now an African Proverb speaks to me, however long the night, the dawn will break.
#3: You are not alone:
During times of emotional stress, it is easy to push people away or shut down. Engaging with others and using your support system is an important way to boost hope. Sometimes your support system will surprise you and may not be the people you expected. Your support may come from family, friends, coworkers, support groups, or virtual friends. While these people can’t fix you or save you, they can pray for you and encourage you that it will be okay. Support groups, whether in person or online, can be very encouraging. People experiencing similar struggles can give you hope by sharing their stories. I am a part of a few Ocular Melanoma support groups online and I have already started to feel compassion for other people experiencing similar struggles, and in the process of helping encouraging others, I find myself feeling more positive and hopeful myself.
#4: Acknowledge your limitations:
When feeling pain or feeling discouraged it is important to allow yourself to feel. It is okay to cry and vent your struggles because you are human. Crying is a natural response to stress and grief and it has therapeutic value. Give yourself a moment to feel terrible so you can make room for more positivity to take over. However, resist the temptation to overreact which can aggravate the problem. Be gentle with yourself, you are doing the best you can. Remind yourself that your difficulties may take time to overcome, it is a marathon, not a sprint. Be patient with yourself. In addition, your strength can often be your weakness. Recognize that things in your life may have changed and you may need to change directions as a result. Do the smart thing and don’t push yourself because you may end up feeling disappointed. Set healthy boundaries for yourself and accept help.
#5: Fear ends where faith begins:
Try to find comfort through a belief such as spirituality, religion, or philosophy. There is something inside you propelling you and you just need to grab hold of it and let it ground you. It doesn’t matter what you call it, just find something that whispers to you to keep going and not give up. I tend to turn to my faith in God. Struggles have been a part of the human experience since the beginning of time and bible characters knew what it meant to struggle and to re-find hope. Faith is surrendering, letting go of the need to fix it, control it, or change it. Through the power of God, I believe that I am smart enough, informed enough, sensitive enough and strong enough to NOT feel hopeless.
#6: Look to the future:
When you feel trapped in despair and fear you may not think there is a way out. Looking toward the future can give you a sense of purpose. Can you get yourself to that next step? Can you hope for the next point? The blog post, Milestones, gives a good example: A marathon runner uses a stopwatch and checkpoints to track milestones. As the runner gets tired and their perseverance is tested, checkpoints along the route keep them going. They know that if they make it to the first checkpoint, they can certainly make it to the next. Eventually, all of those checkpoints become the finish line! To keep moving, ask yourself where you want to be in the next few months. It may only be a single step forward and that is okay. Don’t stay stuck in the past, believe in yourself no matter what and resolve to keep on keeping on. Stand firm.
#7: Celebrate the victories:
When you hit hard times it is easy to get caught up in pessimistic thoughts and assume things won’t get better. It is easy to forget that getting through the struggle always feels impossible until it is actually done. You are more resilient than you give yourself credit for. Overcoming hardships have made you who you are today and you learned from those experiences. Try making a list of times you rose above difficulties and then give yourself credit for accomplishing something, no matter how insignificant it might seem right now. Do not let darkness blind you from seeing the stars. Celebrate the good moments in life and say it out loud. During my one-year booze snooze, I celebrated small victoriesto help keep me focused on a positive path to my end goal.
#8: Count your blessings:
To avoid that feeling like nothing makes a difference during hard times, find a reason to be thankful at the moment. Having a grateful heart can bring a sense of abundance. Struggling to find gratitude? Try making a list of ten things that have gone really well in your life and repeat this as often as possible. Write it in a journal and look back at your list. This list might become a lifeline when you feel like you are drowning. The positive energy that will come out of brainstorming will help you become more resilient toward adversity. No matter how bad your situation is, you have something to be thankful for. You just have to be intentional about seeing it.
#9: Permission to pause:
During periods of high stress and heightened emotions it is more important than ever to take care of your body and emotions. You need to focus on self-care so you don’t let life get out of balance. Eat well, get some exercise, avoid alcohol and drugs, recharge your battery, and go to the doctor for a physical if needed. Take a walk, do breathing exercises, get a massage, attend a faith service, take naps, look into natural remedies, pamper yourself. Stephen Covey refers to this as Sharpen the Saw. "It means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have—you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental and spiritual." Covey says, “Renewal is the principle – and the process – that empowers us to move on an upward spiral of growth and change, of continuous improvement.” You can’t pour from an empty cup so you need to take care of yourself first.
#10: Feed your soul:
A troubled mind and heart cannot focus and this can be more powerful than hope. Your soul is the power and core of who you are, so feed it well. Take time to recharge and explore your gifts and passions. Connect with something you love and maybe even find a new purpose in life. Listen to music, play games, travel, bake, craft, take warm baths, hike, spend time with pets, write, play an instrument, serve others. It doesn’t matter what you do if it is something you love your brain will release serotonin which has an anti-depressant effect that calms stress and reduces pain. If it doesn't feed your soul, let it go.
You may not believe me right now. Heck, I may not even believe myself right now, but whatever challenges you are experiencing, it is going to get better. The day will come when the darkness is lifted and the voice of fear and doubt is quieted in your heart and mind. You will be okay. Your friends and family will be okay. I will be okay. A friend who posted a song on Facebook recently inspired me and reignited my hope that things are going to get better and my storm will pass. Stephen Curtis Chapman is a Grammy-winning Christian musician who wrote a song called “Glorious Unfolding”. It focuses on the truth that God is at work telling a story through both the wonderful and painful chapters of our lives. The song is about believing there is a story that is unfolding. Stephen describes in this video cliphow a tragedy in his life, the death of his five-year-old daughter, was the inspiration for the song and that we need to celebrate a hopeful heart.
Click on the picture below to listen to the song, which includes all of the lyrics and links on how to purchase the song.